Given its location and the role it has played in shaping the history of the vineyards, Avignon can justifiably be called the capital of the Côtes du Rhône. The history of Avignon is closely linked with the story of the appellations, a symbiotic relationship where each strengthens the other’s reputation. Avignon’s love and support for its local wines is evident all over town – in its many restaurants, or through wine-related events such as the Bar à Vins des Côtes du Rhône in July, the Ban de Vendange (harvest celebrations) in late August or the Millévin Festival to celebrate the new vintage, held on the 3rd Thursday in November.
The history of the Côtes du Rhône vineyards is rich and varied. For over 2,000 years, men and women here have been growing vines, producing and selling wines which faithfully reflect the quintessential character of their land. Over these 2,000 years, the vineyards have seen periods of growth, of crisis and of development, a shared history on which our 5,000 winegrowers and wine merchants can now look back as they make their wines; wines which are not out of place on the world’s finest dining tables. What an achievement it has been – countless individual adventures drawn together to shape one great story that gives Côtes du Rhône wines their inimitable character.
A wine’s terroir can be defined as the natural environment of the place where it grows, combined with the human interaction that goes into producing it. Part of the natural environment of the Côtes du Rhône vineyards is the unique historical legacy which has helped shape their character, and a favourable climate in which the vines thrive. The Rhône Valley with its steep slopes and rolling hillsides also features a broad variety of soilscapes resulting from its turbulent geological past. Add a sunny climate and a range of different weather phenomena, and the result is a panoply of terroirs producing distinctively different reds, whites and rosés. Because Nature too has a major influence on Côtes du Rhône wines.
The Rhône Valley’s geography and climate would mean nothing were it not for the hard work put in by winegrowers and merchant houses, who continue to nurture the gifts given to us by nature and history. The skill and expertise of these men and women are universally acknowledged, inspiring new generations of wine professionals the world over. Blending wine is one of the Côtes du Rhône specialities and gives winemakers a broad range of aromas and flavours to work with. The appellation grows 23 varietals in total, the best-known being Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, all native to the Rhône Valley region. The local blends have been a source of inspiration for many winemakers in the New World, where the term ‘Rhône Blends’ is commonly used to describe wines inspired by our region. Quite an accolade!
The Côtes du Rhône appellation dates back to 1937, just two years after the Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system was created. The speed with which accreditation was awarded was no doubt due to the appellation’s long-standing reputation. The Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation, closely linked to the regional appellation, appeared in 1967, followed by the Côtes du Rhône Crus, the latest of which is Cairanne, with Cru status since 2016. This 3-tier hierarchy makes up the Côtes du Rhône ‘quality pyramid’; strict criteria ensure standards are met, the quality of work is recognised and the character of the terroir is expressed. The Côtes du Rhône vineyards are in constant pursuit of excellence.