A real highlight of my recent visit to the French Riviera was my wine tour with VidiVino, Provence. At 100 Euro for the day, this turned out to be excellent value for money in terms of time, the expertise and personal attention of our guide, the vineyards we visited, the (very generous) wine tastings and group size. It was also a day out in glorious countryside and off-the-beaten-track villages and trails that I could never have reached without a local guide.
I found the tour through the Azur Wine Tours website and it’s one of several tours run by VidiVino, https://vidivino.fr/en/small-group-wine-tour-from-french-riviera/. They do pick-ups from several points around Provence; I was staying at Cannes and they arranged to pick me up at the Cagnes sur Mer train station, about 15 minutes from Cannes. They take a maximum of eight guests on the tour. Lunch is not included but you are dropped at off at a medieval village to a recommended (and excellent) restaurant where you can spend 20-25 Euro on lunch. My pasta dish and a cup of coffee cost 20 Euro, including tip.
Wines of Provence – the basics.
I won’t lie – I love wine but I don’t have a very discerning palate. The complexities of wine tend to be lost on me but I DO KNOW that I love Rose when I’m in Provence, and Rose accounts for about 80% of wine production in the region. Cotes de Provence is the largest AOC region in France (Appellation d’Origin Controllee) as well as being the oldest wine-producing region in all of France (recent excavations of ancient Roman ruins attest to this). The region’s Mourvedre grape benefits from a balance between the warm Mediterranean climate and the Mistral winds. While it produces several varieties, Bandol and Cassis are among its most renowned.
I’ve done wine tours and tastings before but this was a far superior experience with wineries that were steeped in history and character. For instance, the traditional, aristocratic Chateau de Saint Martin is owned by a countess who inherited her winery from generations of women who managed the estate down through the centuries, passing it down from mother to daughter. Recent excavations unearthed tools used by the ancient Romans for vinification purposes and these are on display in the cellar, alongside portraits of her ancestors.
For a completely different experience, we visited a maverick producer of natural wines in a charmingly ramshackle, quirky little winery where we tasted wines from the barrels (Clos Cassivet). We tasted about six wines at each vineyard and I actually had to stop tasting after a while because we were given so much. We also visited a stunning winery with a Cistercian style cellar and incredible views of the surrounding mountain range.
Our guide, Erwan, shared both his knowledge and passion for wines with humour and ease. As a small group, we got to ask endless questions which were never dismissed, no matter how basic. Erwan knew about every aspect of the process, from the soil and the winds to the sensations on the palate. In fact, he harvests grapes with friends during the vendange so he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. These are the kind of details that give a really strong sense of a community, specifically the Provence wine community of neighbours and old friends.
The whole experience was informative and convivial, while the landscape was beautiful and very, erm, French. At the end of the tour, having tasted so many good wines, I swore I would go home and be a more discerning customer, sacrificing quantity for quality. You can imagine how long that lasted.