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The Rhône Valley Wine Region

Rhône Valley's vineyard is a mosaic of Terroirs with 2000-year-old history shifting around a fluid axis 250km long, linking continental Europe and the Mediterranean Sea.

The region draws its strength from the rich and powerful River Rhône, which shapes its landscape and moulds its character. The wines draw their strength from the sun and caressing wind, and from the determination of the region’s wine-growers to produce quality wines while respecting the environment.

Round and powerful red wines, dry and refreshing rosés, very rare whites. Rhône Valley wines are relatively high in alcohol and low in acidity, with velvety tannins. This is the place where the grape varieties Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier for the whites; Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan for the reds, reveal their finest expression.

Rhône Valley wines ladder of quality includes 16 top villages appellations, split between the Northern Rhône (6% of AOCs) like Côte Rôtie, Condrieu, Saint-Joseph, Hermitage and Cornas, fine and rare, built for ageing, as well as the warmer and fruitier wine blends in the Southern Rhône (8% of AOCs production), such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac, Tavel, Beaumes de Venise, Rasteau and since 2015, Cairanne.

Let's not forget also the more affordable 22 Côtes-du-Rhone Villages like Chusclan, Gadagne, Laudun, Plan de Dieu, Puymeras, Rochegude, Sablet... (11% of AOCs), and the most popular regional appellation Côtes du Rhone (46% of AOCs) as well as the Vins de Pays (IGPs), available in all 3 colours, medium bodied, fruity and easy to drink, for every day drinking.

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A unique landscape

The Rhône Valley was the result of an epic geological clash between the Massif Central and the Alps, creating a rift valley which was flooded by the Mediterranean Sea.

300 million years ago, volcanic activity in the Massif Central produced the granitic rocks of the northern Rhone, while in the South, successive layers of marine sediments formed such reliefs as the Dentelles de Montmirail – a huge bar of worn limestone – and Mont Ventoux (culminating at 1910m).

40 million years ago, the Alps were pushed upwards, causing the valley separating the two massifs to collapse. The Alpine Gulf created in this way was filled by the Mediterranean Sea, which gradually deposited a base layer of hard limestone and marl (calcareous clay).

Later, the closing of the Strait of Gibraltar considerably lowered the level of the Mediterranean Sea, with the result that the River Rhone began digging itself a deeper bed, creating fluvial terraces on either side of the valley and mixing the different elements in the hillside soils: sands, clay containing flinty pebbles.

Today, the valley’s soils consists of four different types of rock: granite, sandy silica, limestone and clay. The bedrock plays an essential role in the way in which the growing vines are supplied with water, determining the varied aromas and flavours of Rhône wines.

 

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A long history

In the 4th century BCE, during the Greek colonisation, grapes were grown in Marseille. In the northern part of the Rhône Valley, wine-growing developed in the first century AD and Rhône wines soon rivalled the products of Italian vineyards.

This period saw the building of the Gallo-Roman villa of Molard, close to the Rhône at Donzère, the most important Roman winery identified to date (estimated production of 250 000 litres per year). Workshops making amphorae developed at around the same time. These archaeological finds, together with historical research, prove that the Rhone vineyards are some of the very oldest in France, together with Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence.

The Romans, sailing up the Rhône, founded the town of Vienne and planted vineyards, which soon became famous for their wines. This involved heavy labour: double-digging, the planting of the vines and the construction of retaining walls for the terraces which can still be seen today!

The result was a flourishing wine trade. The collapse of the Roman Empire, however, was a severe blow to the development of the industry, suddenly deprived of outlets for its wines.

In the Middle Ages, it was the influence of the Church which gave fresh impetus to the wine industry when the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon (Clement V 1309 – Jean XXIII 1418) and the popes, great lovers of the local wines, planted extensive vineyards around the city.

Later, at the end of the 17th century, and for the next 200 years, the port of Roquemaure (Gard) became a great centre for the shipping of goods by river.

 

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The World’s First AOC

Concerned for the quality of its wines, the Rhone Valley played an active role in the establishment of the French wine appellations. In the 1930s, the visionary Baron Le Roy, a lawyer and winemaker at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, fought for the recognition of the characteristics of this great wine and defined the terms of reference of an "Appellation d'Origine Controllee" (AOC): geographic limits of the growing area, grape varieties permitted, local viticultural practices, harvesting period, minimum alcoholic content… which Châteauneuf-du-Pape received in 1933, becoming the world’s first AOC and a model of reference for all subsequent French wine appellations and other wine producing countries to establish their own classifications.

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Key Figures

The Rhône Valley is the second largest French AOC wine area, after Bordeaux. The third area in size after Languedoc-Roussillon and Bordeaux.

Vineyards surface area = 68 000 hectares. 28 AOCs and 13 IGPs.

Hot and dry Mediterranean climate = 2800 hours of sunshine / 13.9C average temperature / 580 mm annual precipitation.

34 grape varieties (Reds: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, Counoise… Whites: Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc…)

+5000 wine growing businesses, 50 negociants and 90 cooperatives.

300 million litres harvested in 2018.

110 million bottles exported in 2019, equivalent to $775 million.

75% Red, 15% rosé, 10% White.

6 000 hectares of organic AOC wines : 10% of the total vineyard surface area.