Of all the peaks that surround the southern Rhône, there is one that dominates the skyline and can be seen for miles around: the white-crested Mont Ventoux, ascending skywards 1,909 metres.
The wider area is known for its sun-warmed reds, but as you approach the ‘Giant of Provence’ in the southeast of the region you sense an altogether fresher climate. Vincent Vincenti, co-president of AOC Ventoux, says; ‘What makes the Ventoux appellation unique among other Rhône Valley vineyard appellations is its climate – the grapes ripen under the influence of a mountain that’s nearly 2,000m high.’
The Ventoux appellation occupies 6,000 hectares of prime vine-growing land that surrounds the mountain. It straddles two regional nature parks – Ventoux and Luberon – and benefits from the rich biodiversity that these promote.
The Mont Ventoux Biosphere Reserve is home to 1,400 species of butterflies and over 120 species of nesting birds including the Golden Eagle and the Little Owl which is a protected species of biodiversity in the Ventoux. The mountain also has a remarkable influence over the local vineyards.
This gives Ventoux wines their own distinctive personality – a particular balance and freshness thanks to their mountain hideaway. These are some of the coolest, latest-ripening vineyards in the southern Rhône, but it’s not just due to elevation. Cold air billows down the mountain at night, blanketing the surrounding vines, resulting in a marked difference between day and night temperatures – known as diurnal temperature variation or thermal amplitude. This helps the vines retain their acidity and aromatic brightness, making for particularly energetic and drinkable wines – in all three colours.
Just over half of production is red, blended from classic Rhône Valley grape varieties. Grenache brings roundness and red fruit flavours; Syrah brings pepperiness and textural finesse. Mourvèdre and Carignan both bring a certain weight, intensity and spice. Cinsault also plays an important role, especially for rosé wines, bringing a fresh florality and lightness to the wines. White wines are relatively rare but capture the exhilarating freshness of the terroir, typically blends containing Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier.
With a wealth of flora and fauna and a unique wine style, there is much to treasure here; the appellation has been working closely with local agencies to understand how best to protect it, and to help local winemakers farm sustainably. Abundant natural beauty and a uniquely fresh terroir; no wonder so many dynamic new family estates are putting roots down in this rugged, unspoilt terrain, just waiting to be discovered.