the Côte d'Azur

and its wines

Vineyards
full of surprises!


1) Presentation
2) The vineyards of the Bellet
3) The vineyards of Saint-Jeannet
4) The vineyards of Saint Paul de Vence
5) The vineyards of Villars sur Vars
6) The vineyards of Cannes - Ile Saint-Honorat


The Côte d’Azur, or French Riviera, is one of the regions of France that is the least well known for its winemaking. Perhaps this is because the total production is indeed very small and only comes from a hand full of locations.

And yet, the Riviera is actually one of the original areas of wine production in France going back to antiquity, and in fact has been making highly prized wines for longer than you might think.

Let’s go on a short tour of the key vineyard areas…

We all know the Côte d’Azur for its resorts like Cannes, Antibes, Menton, Monaco and of course Nice – the regional capital, with its rich history and diverse culture.

However, less well known than these famous names, and just a few short miles back from the coastline you’ll find vineyards tucked away in the hills with some of the most stunning views over the Mediterranean.

You don’t actually even have to leave the city of Nice to find one! – The Bellet, this jewel of an Appellation is one of the oldest in France (recognised in 1941); one of the smallest - with only nine vineyards; and the only AOP in France that is contained within city limits…

The vineyards of the Bellet are to be found on the hill of the same name at Saint-Roman de Bellet, immediately to the north-west of the city centre, and having climbed up over 200m/650ft in altitude. Here city streets give way to narrow, winding lanes which lead to splendid mansions and villas with views to die for – fields and greenhouses that give a clue to the horticultural past of this area – which now comprises of 650 ha (1,500 acres) of protected land, but of which only about 60ha (130 acres) are actually currently planted with vines. The nine vineyards, between them, only produce around 200,000 bottles per year – and all have decided that organics are the way forward. Really quite unique!

Vignobles de la Côte d'Azur - Wineries in the Côte d'Azur French Riviera

The steep slopes are cultivated in man-made terraces that date back to the Roman period, when this vineyard was first planted. Here the soils are a very particular mixture of rolled pebbles and sand with some clay veins, the deposits of a long-ago geological period when this area was on the sea bed. This is well draining soil that is low in organic matter and allows the vines to push their roots deep, to look for water in the hot summer months.

The climate is of course Mediterranean – long, hot, dry summers with intense periods of rain in the late autumn and mild winters. However there is also a secondary influence and this comes from the Alps immediately visible to the north. This combination of sea breezes and mountain air brings a cooling freshness at this altitude that gives the resulting wines much of their distinctive style, which you’ll discover if you come on a tour with us.

In addition, the Bellet has two grape varietals that are unique to this very local area, known as Folle Noire and Braquet. Both black varietals that get used in the production of the powerful Reds and gourmet Rosés for which the Bellet is highly prized.

The Rosés of the Bellet are quite simply outstanding. Often exclusively or majority based on the Braquet grape, these wines demonstrate a nose often of wild roses, violets and some sweet spices. Unusually amongst Mediterranean Rosés, these are wines capable of aging well and after several years develop more complexity and accentuated soft spice notes, like saffron. These are truly gourmet Rosés, to be appreciated with food as opposed to quaffed.

The White Wines of the Bellet – for which the whole area was famous back in the 19th and early 20th Century, are often quite citrusy with a hint of salinity resulting from the onshore breezes. The typical Rolle grape, sometimes blended with a touch of Chardonnay, produces wines of great finesse and style – perfect with Mediterranean seafood and even local cheeses.

Now that you have begun to appreciate some of the treasures that are just on our doorstep – we can explore a bit further up into the hills and continue our French Rivera wine tour…

If we head a bit further west, across the valley of the river Var we arrive at the village of Saint Jeannet.
Perched a bit higher than Saint Paul de Vence, its more famous neighbour, Saint Jeannet is a village worthy of a scene on a postcard, nestled at the foot of the cliffs of the Baou which rises to some 800m (2,600ft) above sea level. For over 2,000 years vines have grown high on this hillside, and that tradition is maintained today by two brothers who each run their neighbouring estates.

Saint Paul de Vence Côte d'Azur French riviera

Originally planted by the Romans, the vineyard of just about 8 hectares on the south-facing slopes overlooking the Mediterranean, benefits from a very special microclimate whereby its altitude and its position sheltered by the Baou from the north winds coming down from Alps, creates a perfect environment for the vines.

Here, we find grape varietals that are unusual for many parts of Provence and the south of France. The two brothers took over from their father in 1981, and he was a great experimenter. Unconstrained by the rules of an Appellation he planted vines such as Merlot, Viognier, Gamay, and Muscat. These added to the already common local varietals such as Syrah and Grenache and some of the same as we find across the valley in the Bellet – Folle Noir and Rolle.

The results are some quite remarkable wines, where blends can have up to nine different grapes and where hand-crafting and artisanal skills are still in full view. Another major surprise is the local Saint Jeannet tradition of allowing some of the wines to spend time stabilising in giant glass demi-johns out in the sun – both summer and winter. This feast for the eyes adds yet another layer of complexity to these organic wines – bringing out honey notes and flavours of spices and nuts. Truly a feast for the palate as well as the eyes!

If you can, we recommend that you take the time to go and explore the narrow streets and lanes of the village – and even to hike (less than an hour) to the top of the Baou, from which, on a clear day, you can see the mountains of Corsica, some 140 miles (230km) distant out in the middle of the Mediterranean.

Tracking a bit further west on our journey, we arrive at one of the most famous spots of the Riviera, Saint Paul de Vence, and the neighbouring village of Tourettes-sur-Loup.

It is said that one of France’s most famous kings, François 1er after a trip to Saint Paul in the 16th Century recommended the local wines to the good people of Paris. But like so many of the vineyards of the south of France, to find its origins you have to go back to the Romans and the Greeks.

Cannes île monastique de Lerins Côte d'Azur French Riviera

The vines at Saint Paul are planted on the slopes below the medieval ramparts of the village, which themselves pre-date François 1er by several hundred years. Here, just two hectares of vines remain.

These vines of Mourvedre, Folle Noir, Rolle and Clairette are tended by Julien Bertina who has been running the Domaine Saint Joseph in neighbouring Tourettes since 2011. As a rising star of the organic wine movement, he is also, like many other local vineyards a producer of the local olive oil made with the famous “Olives de Nice” – which has its own Appellation and can be tasted at the winery.

Now we head up the valley of the River Var to Villars-sur-Var, some 20 miles (30km) north-east of Nice – to a tiny enclave of the Appellation Côtes de Provence.

Le Clos Saint-Joseph is unique in that it is the only vineyard of Côtes de Provence that is set on the slopes of mountains within the Alpes Maritimes. This family owned vineyard of just 5 hectares is probably best known for its white wines, made from old vines and following biodynamic principals. Here, everything is on a boutique scale….and nature takes its course.

Started by the current generation’s great grand-parents, this sheltered pocket of vines produces just 20,000 bottles of wine of great quality, with reds that will age well in the cellar and where the climate that has both Mediterranean hot days and yet cooler mountain nights is influenced by the nearby river. A delight for all the senses and well worth the journey!

Cannes – with its famous film festival, la Croisette and its Palace hotels, its glamorous beaches – also has its vineyards!

The Iles de Lérins are the two islands that you can see when looking out from la Croisette, just 15 minutes away by boat.

The nearer and larger island of Sainte-Marguerite is probably the best know and most visited, where the Man in The Iron Mask was imprisoned in the late C.17th (later to become the subject of a book by Alexander Dumas and a film starring Leonardo diCaprio); and just beyond lies the island of Saint-Honorat, somewhat smaller and more discreet.

The island of Saint-Honorat is home to the Abbey de Lérins where the monks are also wine makers – as has been the tradition now for 16 centuries!

Some 8 hectares of the island are given over to vines which are tended by the monks under the watchful eye of brother Marie-Pâques. The island has a truly unique geology and climate. The soils are a mixture of clay and limestone, sand and silt; and the heat from the long hours of sunshine is softened by the constant influence of the sea just metres away from the vines. This rare combination produces wines that can indeed by classified as exceptional. The tiny quantities produced means that they are only available to be bought at the Abbey itself or if you are lucky, to have shipped directly to your home.

We hope that this short journey has awakened your interest to find out more about the vineyards of the French Riviera and will inspire you to make your own pilgrimage to some of the most beautiful vineyards to be found anywhere on earth.

And don’t forget, we’re here to help you find your way – with a tour accompanied by one of expert, local guides

please don’t hesitate to contact us

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