What is it about Provence that gives it the privilege of being known as the homeland of Rosé?
Could the fact they’ve been making it for over 2000 years have a little something to do with it?
Let’s step back – way, way back – circa 600 BCE. Around this time, a group of seafaring traders, known as the Pheoceans travelled from what is now Turkey seeking new trading routes and markets. They landed in a beautiful Mediterranean bay and, finding the climate and the natives hospitable, founded the city of Massalia. Today you know this as one of France’s largest cities – Marseille.
Now, like any good adventurers from the ancient world, the Phoceans brought wine with them on their travels and, once they began to settle this new region, they imported vines to supply their growing population. And so began the vineyards and wine industry of France.
The wine they produced, for both their local consumption and for trade, was, according to scientific research, a pale colored wine. The reason for this can be traced to the fact that their means of production were pretty basic – harvest the grapes, crush them to release their juice and then let that juice ferment. The idea of skin contact and deep colored wines was to really come to the fore later in history, and that’s another story!
“Pink wines were the drink of the rich the powerful and the aristocracy. Rosé was made from free-run juice. Press juice, which was more densely pigmented, was fermented into red wine… the quaff of soldiers and workers. And this (drink culture) was the case until the end of the 18th and the 19th centuries. At the end of the 19th century, the rising bourgeoisie wanted to prove their wealth, so they built wine cellars and aged their cache of red wines as a sign of affluence.” James de Roany, Secretary General of the CIVP (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence)
As the age of Greek domination waned, the Roman Empire rose up and began its expansion through Europe. By 121BCE, they had taken Massalia, changed the name to Massilia and began to colonize the region. This became the first of the Roman provinces (hence the name Provence from the Latin ‘Nostra Provincia or ‘our province). Thanks to the Greeks, the locally produced wines were already a lucrative commodity and the new residents capitalized on this by planting more vineyards and exporting more and more rosé throughout the empire.
The Roman influence declined in the 5th century AD. The region was invaded by the rulers of Barcelona, Burgundy and the Holy Roman Empire, amongst others, many of whom introduced new grape varieties and winemaking techniques.
Rosé wines remained the style of choice and were popularized even more when, in the 14th Century, Pope Clement the V moved the Papal seat of power from Rome to a little town called Avignon in the southern Rhone Valley. The weather was often warm and the Popes adored the crisp, fragrant and refreshing Rosés. And what the Pope loved, everyone in his sphere of influence loved as well, making Rosé the wine of choice for the Royal houses of Europe and the aristocracy!
Provence became part of France in the latter part of the 14th century and the region became mostly agricultural. Along side the grapes, you’d find wheat and olives.
In the late 19th century, phylloxera began its devastation of Europe’s vineyards, starting with those of Provence. Eventually, the growers replanted and in 1935 when the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) system was created, the Provencal region of Cassis was one of the first to be recognized.
Today, Provence is synonymous with Rosé and is largest producer in the world.
Now that you know a bit more about its long and illustrious history, you can understand why Provence is the first place one thinks of when you sip a cool glass of Rosé.
Next post, we’ll go a bit ‘geeky’ and learn the winemaking techniques that have evolved over these 2000 years to make those lovely shades of pink.