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‘La Gordonne may be a dream, or even a myth, but when you are there, all of Provence becomes a reality’ Château La Gordonne.
In around 600 BC, the Greeks founded Marseille and planted the first vinestock on the hillsides there. From that date, viticulture and winemaking spread throughout Provence. It was not until the Roman conquest that winemaking moved up the Rhone Valley, from where it spread across what would later become France. The wines made during this epoch were light and rose-coloured, since the grapes' skins and pulp were not yet macerated.
A complex geologic history
The geologic history of Provence can be divided into four main periods:
The Provence wine region runs West to East, from the Alpilles to the Massif de l'Estérel. Located primarily in the Var and Bouches-du-Rhône départements, with a small section in the Alpes Maritimes, the Côtes de Provence, Coteaux d'Aix en Provence and Coteaux Varois en Provence appellations produce wines with highly varied aromas, with strikingly different accents, all featuring the sunny character of the Mediterranean climate.
The Provençal vineyard is essentially conditioned by its climate, characterised by low rainfall. The vines enjoy 3000 hours of sunshine each year. The mistral, the fierce north wind of Provence, purifies the atmosphere and limits parasites. For these reasons, the density of the vines (2.5 m’/plant) is suited to the soil's moisture potential. The vines are kept relatively low, both to help them resist dryness and so that they can withstand strong winds.
The vines are pruned short, generally using the double cordon technique, to ensure even distribution of the bunches in the fruit-bearing zone and limited production, which guarantees the products' concentration. Finally, due to the Mediterranean climate, the soils are very low in organic matter, a characteristic specific to the Provençal terroir. A large majority of the vineyard is not treated with chemical fertilizer but with organic manure from sheep farms in La Crau, in the Bouches du Rhône, near the vineyard.
Our estate grows the typical Provençal varietals that are used in making our red, white, and rosé Côtes de Provence:
The Côtes de Provence appellation's production area extends across three départements, the Var, the Bouches du Rhône, and a small part of the Alpes Maritimes, and a total of 84 municipalities. This area measures 20,500 hectares.
The terroir of the Côtes de Provence appellation has a complex geology, since it contains both limestone (North and East), crystalline rock (South and West), volcanic soils in the extreme east around Fréjus.
The overall climate is Mediterranean, but there are considerable differences depending on the relief and the maritime influence.
Pressing is the most vital step in making rosé wines. It consists in extracting the coloured pigments called anthocyanins and the flavours from the grape skins. This step may be done by pressing the grapes directly or by pressing the bunches directly, either whole or after scraping and crushing, or by letting the grapes macerate for a fixed amount of time (2 to 20 hours) at a set temperature ranging from 16 to 20 °C (skin maceration).
The choice of technique depends on several factors, such as:
‘Château La Gordonne has harvested all of its grapes at night, using machines, for nearly 20 years. We started harvesting some grapes by hand in 2008. By harvesting under the moonlight, we make the most of the cool night-time temperatures since we are so close to the sea. During the day, the temperature can easily exceed 35 °C in the shade of the vine leaves. In August and September, the Mediterranean climate helps the grapes soak up sunlight to stock up on complex fruity, floral, and spicy flavours.
At night, these notes take on a more sophisticated nature. After 11 pm, the temperature drops rapidly, falling below 20 °C after midnight. Then, the grapes are cool, and their flavours are naturally protected from oxidation, and we can start harvesting, in the cool night air. We taste the berries to get a sense of the grapes' full flavour and aroma.
Alcoholic fermentation occurs in clear juices. To produce clear grape juice, we use the settling process. Settling consists in eliminating the largest particles of skin, pulp, dirt, etc. The most common settling method is cold decanting (static settling]. The alcoholic fermentation process takes place at a controlled temperature of around 18 to 20 °C, to preserve the varietal and ferment aromas as much as possible
Malolactic fermentation is not systematically done on rosé wines. The wine is kept in stainless steel or coated cement vats to preserve the rosés' qualities. Rosé wines are aged on the lees, and some rosés are even barrel-aged.
There are two different methods for making rosé wines:
These wines are pale in colour, ranging from rose petal to coral.
To the nose, they are fruity, floral, and minty, with notes of citrus (pineapple, grapefruit, lemon), fresh almond, and stone fruits and exotic fruits (peach, lychee, mango). To the palate, they are characterised by vivacity, finesse, and tart fruitiness.
In general, these wines are more intense visually than wines made using direct pressing. They range from salmon pink to peony in colour. These wines express notes of berries (strawberry, sour cherry, raspberry, blueberry), spices (cinnamon, pepper, etc.), and herbs (garrigue, sage). They are structured on the palate. They procure a sensation of suppleness punctuated by pleasantly fresh end notes.
The wines' colour is determined by the length of contact between the grape skins and pulp during maceration. But different varietals have varying degrees of anthocyanins, the substances that give grapes their colour.
The choice of varietal is therefore very important to a rosé's final colour. The chosen winemaking method also plays an important role in colour. Wines made through direct pressing are very pale in general, often referred to as ‘flesh’ or ‘salmon’-coloured. For saignée wines, maceration time plays a key role in colour, with intensity increasing the longer the pulp and skins are in contact. Finally, the diversity of the Provençal terroir also explains the extensive colour variation in the region's rosés.
As the undisputed leader in the French rosé market, Provence is home to an incomparably precise institution, the Centre du Rosé research centre. The Centre de Recherche et d’Expérimentation sur le Vin Rosé was founded by a group of Provençal winemaking professionals in the Spring of 1999, in Vidauban, in the Var département.
The Centre's world-class scientific research and experiments provide professionals with pragmatic information for improving wine production. Today, all the winemakers in Provence benefit from the Centre du Rosé's research. The researchers have explained and quantified what was once merely empirical, and they answer winemakers' technical questions with greater understanding of the terroirs and greater mastery of winemaking and storage techniques.
The Centre's researchers also contribute to scientific discussion internationally and within France through their publications. Through this research and this concentration of information on rosé wine, Provence is helping to change the market for rosé wine, setting the bar ever higher. The Centre's studies tend to demonstrate and encourage the diversity and excellence of Provençal Rosés.
From harvest to cellar
The winemaker chooses the best method at each step of the process. For red wine, the grapes are scraped and crushed, and traditional fermentation (short or long) is the most frequent option If the winemaker decides to work with whole bunches of grapes, carbonic maceration is preferred. This technique involves placing the entire harvest in a maceration vat saturated in carbon dioxide. A small amount of sugar turns into alcohol through a phenomenon called intracellular fermentation.
The initial liquid (vin de goutte) is poured out of the vat, and the remaining marc is pressed to make the vin de presse. The wine is tasted to determine the proportions needed for the blend. For wines made using carbon maceration, the most aromatic pressed liquid may be augmented with the initial liquid.
As it is stored, red wine undergoes malolactic fermentation, the process by which lactic bacteria turn malic acid into lactic acid. The wine is aged to enrich and develop its personality. Aging may be done in recipients that are completely hermetic (stainless steel, steel, cement) or in wooden containers (barrels, casks, tuns).
Tasting young red wines
A traditional winemaking process and a short period of fermentation yield fresh, lively wines that are ruby to light garnet in colour. They have discreet tannins and aromas of red berries and certain flowers. Carbon maceration results in more supple wines that are paler in colour, ranging from ruby to bright garnet. They have appealingly tart, fruity notes.
Tasting red wines for laying down
These wines are made using traditional methods with a longer fermentation time. They are deep red in colour and more tannic. With aging, they will reveal complex notes of red and black berries, herbs, spices, and leather. The tannins will soften, brick and garnet colours will appear, and the aromas will develop Oak barrels will give wine characteristic toasted, vanilla notes.
This is an extremely delicate step, since white grapes are more sensitive to the oxidation that can occur during the harvest.
Most often, the harvest is either scraped, crushed, and then drained directly in the press or loaded into skin maceration vats. For the latter method, maceration is done at a controlled temperature (18 °C) for a short period, just long enough for the varietal aromas to spread from the skin to the pulp. The initial juice and the pressed juice are separated at first and may or may not be blended, depending on their aromatic potential.