One of the optional tours available during our Viking cruise on the Rhône was a brief visit to a vineyard and winery in the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region of Provence. However, the timing of this tour conflicted with their tour to the Pont du Gard aqueduct that we also wanted to take, so we decided to go all in on a wine tour of our own before starting the cruise. We arranged for a chauffeured (we wanted to drink, but not drive) full-day wine tour with a guide that we had picked based on recommendations in a Provence guide book by Rick Steves.
On our first full day in Provence, Olivier Hickman of Wine Uncovered picked us up at our hotel early in the morning. After a quick stop back at the Avignon TGV station to pick up another couple who were also taking the wine tour (and who were a lot of fun to talk to), we headed north beyond Avignon on the way to visit four different wineries in the Southern Rhône, with stops in Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Séguret and Châteauneuf-du-Pape
The tagline for Olivier’s business is “Solving the Mysteries of Terroir.” While there is a lot of technique and technology involved in the production of wine (crushers, de-stemmers, steel vs. concrete vs. barrels, blending choices, etc.), we learned from Olivier that it’s the terroir that determines much of a wine’s character.
We learned that fertility is not any kind of advantage for a vineyard. Indeed, growing conditions that encourage vines to grow roots deep into the soil for moisture helps to develop flavor, minerality and complexity in the wine. As you can see from this picture, the soil is rocky and certainly not very rich:
It was enjoyable sampling a wide range of wines at each of our four tastings (even if we often found ourselves feeling guilty about spitting out the wine!), and our stops ranged from a cold, spare room in the vineyard owner’s home to high-end wine merchandising outlets. The highlight of our day was having glasses of wine (no spitting!) paired with each course of our lunch at Logis Hôtellerie du Domaine de Cabasse, made even more delightful by being able to enjoy our meal outside on the winery’s terrace, even though it was mid-November.
We’re sorry about the lack of food snapshots, but just take our word – it was wonderful. This picture doesn’t do the setting justice, but it was both relaxing and almost decadent:
For a more complete view of the hotel and restaurant terrace, I’d encourage you to look at this 360 picture from Google Maps. (I think that on this day I was enjoying the wine too much to remember to take more pictures for this blog.)
Part of the view from the hotel/winery was the hilltop village of Séguret:
Unbelievably, lunch-time entertainment was provided by a formation of eight jets from a nearby French Air Force base that roared over us several times:
Even though we were able to sit outside for our lunch, pretending that it was still summer time, we did notice that fall colors do eventually come to the vineyards:
As we continued on our tour, we could see that the landscape had not yet turned to its winter colors:
Our tour guide at a Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard:
Believe it or not, Olivier told us that they do actually plow in between the vines. Here, the ground looks more like a river bank than a vineyard:
We would not hesitate recommending Olivier to anyone looking for a wine tour guide in the Southern Rhône wine region. We’re so glad we made plans for this tour ahead of time.
One thing that we did mess up on in our planning, though, is that we also had reservations for dinner at our hotel that evening. The cuisine at our hotel’s restaurant La Table d’Yvan was wonderful and memorable, but having two multi-course French meals in one day turns out to almost be work!
We can take it, though. After all, we had reservations the next day at a Michelin two-star restaurant in Arles. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!