Philippe Cambie: 'I am really addicted to Rhone wines, particularly those made from the Grenache grape. They are truly great because they evoke such strong emotions!'
The Rhone 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. causing the valley separating the two massifs to collapse. The Alpine Gulf created in this way was filled by the Mediterranean. Later, the closing of the Strait of Gibraltar considerably lowered the level of the Mediterranean, with the result that the 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 Rhone wines.
In the fourth century BC, during the Greek colonisation, grapes were grown in Marseille. In the northern part of the Rhone Valley, wine-growing developed in the first century AD. Workshops making amphorae developed at around the same time. These earthenware jars (or dolia), designed for transporting wines and fish sauces, provide evidence of the presence of sand and sandstone at this early period and of clay. These archaeological finds, together with historical research, prove that the Rhone vineyards are some of the very oldest in the world.
In the 13th century, the French King Louis VIII granted the Comtat Venaissin to Pope Gregory X. In the 14th century, the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon and the popes, great lovers of the local wines, planted extensive vineyards around the city. John XXII, the second of the seven Avignon popes, had a summer residence built at Châteauneuf du Pape. Benedict XII, the third Avignon pope, ordered the building of the Palais des Papes.
Concerned for the quality of its wines, the Rhone Valley played an active role in the establishment of French wine-industry appellations. In the 1930s, the visionary Baron Le Roy championed this worthy cause. A wine-grower at Châteauneuf du Pape, he fought for recognition of the characteristics of this great wine, securing Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status for it in 1933. The terms of reference he presented became the model for all subsequent AOC decrees: limits of the growing area, grape varieties, local practices, methods of cultivation, minimum alcoholic content, harvesting period.
“Just imagine! 250 km from north to south, 250 communes (local authority areas, often villages)… The vineyards of the Rhone Valley are a world apart, a shifting landscape which winds and unwinds around a fluid axis: the Rhone, king of rivers, carrying silt and a sense of history. The Rhone is the linking factor, holding together these contrasting landscapes.
The region draws its strength from this rich and powerful river, which shapes its landscape and moulds its character. The wines grown between Vienne and Avignon, between the Massif Central, the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, draw their strength from the sun and caressing wind, and from the determination of the region’s many wine-growers to produce quality wines while respecting the environment… These wines, crafted and inspired by a great variety of grape varieties and terroirs, give pleasure to wine-lovers in all parts of the world.