“Sacre Bleu! C’est un crime! We’ve been in France for almost three weeks and we haven’t yet visited a vineyard!”
This realisation dawns on me as our final day looms, despite the fact that we are staying in the splendid Domaine de Clos, less than a kilometre from what is allegedly one of the best wine producers in the area. It’s a situation that has to be rectified toute suite, before someone calls Inspector Clouseau to investigate.
Ordinarily, visiting times would have been established and appointments made but on this trip, our schedules had to be as liquid as the country’s best known export and there had been no opportunity for such niceties. Arriving at the 17th century Chateau Mourgues Du Gres, we hoped we might at least be able to chat to someone, get some photos and hopefully even get to sample a little wine. But as each door we tried around the pretty courtyard failed to yield, we thought our luck was out and turned on our heels to devise plan B. Just as we did so, a door opened and a smiling face asked if there was anything she could do to assist us.
“Just a moment,” said the lovely Beatrice, disappearing into the office. Moments later she emerged with the vineyard owner, Anne Collard.
In 1995 Anne gave up her career to join her husband Françoise in the family estate of Mourgues Du Gres in the southern Rhône Valley. Passionate about the land, the grapes, the flora and fauna that make up her patch of Heaven on earth, Anne’s enthusiasm for what she and Françoise are trying to do here is contagious. With two rough collies seemingly attached to her heels, Anne loads us all into the 4X4 and sets off into the vineyard, explaining as she goes about how the land shapes the vines so that each of the resultant wines has its own history and story to tell.
“This area is a thousand years of Provence,” she says. “This land has borne almond and olive trees for centuries, their fruit destined for the famous market of Beaucaire.”
Care of the environment is paramount for Anne and Françoise. The wines are produced organically using traditional vineyard husbandry. The land is composed of flat, round stones, or galets, in clay limestone soil which allows the vines to draw nutrients from deep within the soil. Fanned by the southern breeze and the cold, dry Mistral; fed by the waters of the Rhône and blessed by almost perpetual sunshine, the vines thrive in their exceptional terroir.
As we climb up through the rows of olive trees and vines, I notice small information boards placed at intervals alongside the path.
“The estate is open for people who want to walk amongst the vines or to cycle along the paths, and these boards tell them about their surroundings,” says Anne. “This one says what birds we have in the area and their songs, and this one is about the soil. Further on I talk about the grapes and about the wild flowers. Everything that comes from this land has a role to play in the production of the wines; each one comes with its own botanical, geological and architectural footprint, our terroir.”
Anne stops the car and we walk to the edge of a plateau and survey the land that spreads beneath our feet. From our vantage point we can see all the way to the spire of St Gilles and the wetlands of Camargue; across the Rhône to Tarascon and Arles. At our backs the train speeds by, its passengers seeing little more than a blur of pine trees, vines and olive groves while we stand and stare.
“I’m thinking of putting a picnic table here,” says Anne. “So people can just bring their own food and eat it here amongst the vines while they enjoy the view.”
I can’t think of a more idyllic spot in which to languish over a lazy lunch.
Returning to the car, Anne stops the dogs from climbing in and instead, tells them to go home. “They should be herding sheep,” she tells me. “They need the exercise.”
All the way back the dogs lead the way, never getting more than a few metres ahead of the car. My heart is in my mouth lest we run them over as Anne continues to point out features of the land, her eyes only occasionally darting back to the track. But the dogs know the drill, and Anne knows the dogs. Like everything else here, it all works in perfect harmony.
Back at the Chateau, Beatrice introduces us to the wines which are of the Costières de Nîmes region and are consistently lauded by the upper echelons of French wine guides. The Galets Rouge 2011 is a delightful blend of Syrah and Grenache with Mourvèdre, Marselan and Carignac to produce a fruit filled, spicy wine. Next is the Terre d’Argence, blended from Syrah, Grenache and Carigan, whose concentrated blackcurrent and plumb flavours have a vaguely mineral overtone.
Habitually a red wine drinker, I usually think of rosé as a light summer wine and rarely order it in a restaurant but the Les Capitelles des Mourgues with its vanilla and fruit depths which come from the oak matured blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenach, completely wins me over.
We arrived unannounced and unexpected in the hopes we might get a bit of information and maybe a taste of the wines. We are leaving with a selection of superb wines at excellent value for money and a respect and admiration for a vineyard where the owner can’t help but share her passion for the fruits of a thousand years of Provence.
Chateau Mourgues Du Gres, on the D38 between Beaucaire and Bellegard; +33 (0)4 66 59 46 10; email@example.com; open Mon-Fri 9am-noon, 2pm-6pm, Sat 10am-noon; walks of half an hour to two hours (guided or self guided) and cycle rides around the estate are available by prior appointment; wine tours and tastings by appointment; ring or email for prices. All tours available in English.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+