Vacqueyras, a wine in three colours

Vineyards of Vacqueyras © T.Joly
A small appellation located in the southern Rhone Valley Vacqueyras was elevated to AOC status in 1990. A hiking trail, a guided stroll across the vineyards and various workshops allow you to discover excellent wines, beautiful landscapes and lovely villages.

[ Practical ]

Getting There
- By road
680 km on autoroute A6 till exit n°22 at Orange Sud, then D 907, D 950, route des Hautes Ribes, route du Cabridon and route des Roques till Vacqueyras.
- By Train
TGV Paris Gare de Lyon – Avignon (2h40) + taxi or rental car to Vacqueyras (33 km)
TGV Paris Gare de Lyon – Orange (3h15) + taxi or rental car to Vacqueyras (20km)
- Hotels
Hôtel Montmirail
Domaine de la Ponche
- Bed and breakfast
Domaine du Vieux Clocher
Domaine l’Ousteau des Lecques
Maison d’hôtes de Bernard Manganelli
Au Coin des Figuiers
Le Mas de la Fontaine
La Ferme des Sablons
- Gîtes
Les Mazets du Mas des Cyprès
Clos de Caveau
Café du Cours
Hôtel Montmirail
Getting around
It is better to have a car
Horse carriage tour
300 € per two hours, up to 7 people.
Richard Sommer : 0609883814
Vignerons de Caractère
Tel : 0490658454
- Vaucluse Tourist Office
Tel : 0490804700
- Vacqueyras Tourist Office
Tel : 0490123902
- Maison des Vignerons
Tel : 0490658837
Among all the vineyards of the Côtes du Rhône, only one has been awarded an AOC for its red, white and rosé wines, Vacqueyras. Located near Avignon and Orange, it covers 1 400 ha and bears the name of a peaceful village of 1 000 inhabitants. It’s hard to believe that in the 12th century it was a widely known place. That’s indeed there that was born one of the most famous Provencal troubadours of the Middle Ages, Raimbaut de Vacqueyras.

Church of Vacqueyras © T.Joly
 Mediterranean look
However at that time it was only a small-fortified burg huddled on the hill being now its historical heart. Some remains of the ramparts are still visible including a 12th century watchtower transformed in an elegant Provencal bell tower. Beside, an ancient gate gives access to a maze of winding alleys and staircases leading up to the summit where stand two monuments : a small 16th century castle that was revamped in the 18th century and a Romanesque church bearing a Baroque façade. They were built at the time the village was part of the Comtat Venaissin, a territory that belonged to the Popes till the French Revolution. Wine connoisseurs, these most likely contributed to the growth of the vineyard but its origin probably dates back to the Romans. In the 19th century, once reunited with France, Vacqueyras grew up outside the walls. The neighbourhood then created bears an undeniable Mediterranean look with its numerous fountains and its main street – Cours Stassart - lined with plane trees.

Vineyards of Vacqueyras © T.Joly
 Stroll through the vineyards
It doesn’t take much more than one hour to have a look at all the monuments and ancient buildings but there are two pleasant strolls to do in the surroundings. The shortest one follows a botanic path where one can identify the most common plants of Provence. The second one is 8 km long and requires three hours walk. Named “Parcours du Vignoble”, this way marked path was created by the winegrowers. It goes through woods, runs alongside rows of cypresses protecting the field against the mistral - a wind blowing from the North - and winds amidst the vineyards of the appellation. It passes by the plateau de la Garrigue where are said to be the best vineyards. Planted on a clayey-stony soil with many rolled pebbles, the vine stocks enjoy generous sunshine but the mistral brings freshness and these conditions allow to produce powerful red wines that are also delicate, harmonious and well balanced. Everyone, kids included, can do this easy ramble.

Vineyards of Vacqueyras © T.Joly
 Ten grape varieties
However, on request it is possible to do most of it on horse carriage. All along the way, 16 bilingual illustrated boards provide information about the encountered hamlets, the landscape, and some curiosities - like this 14th century papal boundary stone standing near a fountain - and of course about vine growing. They explain the climate, the soil composition, the concept of terroir, the methods of cultivation and the grape varieties that are grown. Those are black grenache, that accounts for a minimum of 50% of the red and rosé wines produced here, syrah, usually the other predominant grape, mourvedre and cinsault, as well as white grenache, bourboulenc, viognier, clairette, roussane and marsanne used to make white wines.
In addition, from May to the end of September, the wine cooperative - Les Vignerons de Caractère - offers each Friday afternoon a 2 hours 30 minutes guided tour through the vineyards located East of the village.

Safres © T.Joly
 Beautiful rock formations
This area has a more hilly landscape and the vine stocks are often planted on small terraces topped by the Dentelles de Montmirail. These peaks are so called because they are formed by strata of limestone that have being folded and forced into a nearly upright position and subsequently eroded into sharp-edged ridges and spikes. On the way, the ramblers are offered a light snack made up of local specialities accompanied by Vacqueyras wines. From a crest they can enjoy a great view of the vineyards of the appellation that stretch as far as Sarrians, 7 km away. Bigger than Vacqueyras, it has roughly the same history and the same urban plan being too built on and around a hill where stand a nice church, a former castle and remains of the walls. Between the two villages, here and there one can find strange rock formations sculpted by nature through erosion in which men sometimes dug cellars or dwellings. They are locally called safres.

Cécile Dusserre © T.Joly
 Numerous wine estates
But, of course, the region also offers the opportunity to visit independent winemakers to discover and taste their wines. Here are some estates worth a visit to name but a few. Domaine de Montvac, owned by women since five generations, where Cécile Dusserre creates elegant and slightly spicy red wines. Domaine Le Clos de Caveau whose vineyards are surrounded by forest and produces fine chiselled organic wines.
Domaine de la Guarrigue that produces full body and complex red wines as well as one the best rosé in France. Domaine de la Monardière where one finds excellent red wines and white wines exuding an incredible bouquet. Domaine Montirius, where wines are produced using biodynamical methods. Domaine Roucas Toumba, that belongs to a young winemaker making an excellent red wine. And don’t forget the cooperative that has a very nice winery with a modern design and offers various oenotouristic activities. The late afternoon stroll we evoked earlier and three workshops.

Vignerons de Caractère winery © T.Joly
 Tutored wine tasting
Organized every day, on condition there are twelve people registered, the one called “From the vineyard to the glass” takes the visitors in the heart of the cellar where they learn the characteristics of the grape varieties grown in the area and the process that transforms them into wine. Then the visit ends with a tutored tasting of the wines produced by the cooperative. Each Tuesday, wine enthusiasts can attend the workshop “Discover our terroir and wine tasting” that consists of two parts. First a wine grower leads them in the vineyards to show them the cultivated grape varieties, and to explain them what is a terroir as well as the diverse factors that give a wine its personality. Then, once back in the winery they learn how to taste a wine, how to serve it, as well as techniques allowing them to put flavours into words and identifying their own preferences. A workshop suited for families since there is a specific program for kids who can taste a selection of Provence herbs and non-alcoholic grape juices.

L'Eloge restaurant © T.Joly
 Innovative and sophisticated dishes
It can also be organized on any day and in English if at least five people sign for it. These conditions also apply to the last one, “”Original wine and food pairings” that is usually scheduled on Thursday. Participants taste six wines and six dishes and at the same time learn how to serve wines, how to pair them with food. They also receive advices about creating their own wine cellar. It takes place at L’Eloge, the restaurant that the Vignerons de Caractère recently opened in the winery. In a modern, original and attractive setting where each table is surrounded by a white veil, the chef Eric Ballan serves innovative and sophisticated dishes based on local fresh products. A gastronomic stop that shouldn’t be missed especially since wines and menus are reasonably priced.

July 01, 2014
Thierry Joly 

[ Wine picks ]

Domaine Le Clos de Caveau
- Red
Carmin Brillant 2011
Fruit Sauvage 2012
Domaine de Montvac
- Red
Variation 2011
Vencilia 2010
Domaine La Monardière
- Rosé
Rosé 2013
- Red
Les 2 Monardes 2010
Domaine La Guarrigue
- Rosé
Vacqueyras 2013
- Red
La Cantarelle 2010
Maison Arnoux & Fils
- Red
Château Lestour Clocher 2011
- Rosé
Vieux Clocher 2013
Maison Gabriel Meffre
- Red
Laurus 2010
Domaine des Semelles de Vent & Montagne Vieille
- Red
Vacqueyras 2011
Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux
- Red
Doucinello 2011
- White
Minéral 2010
Vignoble Alain Ignace
- Red
Sous la Robe 2012
- White
O Pré de Juliette 2013
Domaine Roucas Toumbas
- Rouge
Les Restanques de Cabassole 2010