Rose in their veins

Cezanne loved the rocky landscape of Provence, but it was the wine that held Mary Lou Longworth in awe

Puyloubier isn't chic. It is a quiet Provencal village whose existence has always revolved around the production of wine. One crisp autumn day I was stopped by a traffic jam on Puyloubier's main road composed solely of tractors. A few were state-of-the-art tractors but most were pre-Second World War relics. The smiling farmers were all headed for the same spot, Puyloubier's cave cooperative, with their trailers full of bouncing grapes. The long hot summer had paid off, and the holidays started the next day. Or were they smiling at life itself? For Puyloubier is firmly at the foot of the impressive Mont Ste-Victoire, the mountain that Paul Cezanne could never quite get enough of.

There is a twisting narrow road, the Route Cezanne (D17), which circles around the base of Mont Ste-Victoire, just east of Aix-en-Provence. The trip takes three hours, and the route is sprinkled with villages like Puyloubier and Le Tholonet, where Cezanne would walk daily to paint and have lunch. One can still eat well at Chez Thome in Le Tholonet, while watching locals playing boules. The road passes by olive orchards, farmhouses and larger houses, bastides, built by the 18th-century Aix bourgeoisie.

The route is also blessed with some very good vineyards, so good that the 28 vintners who grow grapes in the mountain's shadow have applied for their own appellation - Cotes de Provence Sainte-Victoire. Make a few stops along the route and you'll come away with a good understanding of the local wines. And by stopping at the cave cooperative in Puyloubier, or the cellar in nearby Pourrieres, you will see how most Provencals buy their wine - poured into a plastic jug with what looks like a petrol nozzle. Real Provencals never buy rose by the bottle.

Since 1975, more than half of the wine made in France has been produced by these co-operatives, and although their numbers have been declining, there are still over 1,000 of them, mostly in the south. For grape-growers, the cave cooperative is a godsend. Farmers can pool their resources, and the government offers generous grants and loans. The caves are up-to- date with modern, often expensive, wine-making equipment, and frequently a qualified oenologist on the staff. Farmers are encouraged to produce healthy grapes and are fined for rot, leaves and soil found in their crop.

Regardless of the region, the overall quality of cooperative wine has increased. Co-operatives now have competition from the supermarkets that have sprung up all over France, which offer good wine at cut-rate prices. The co-ops have had to become savvy, with an increased effort at marketing. Most offer a selection of bulk wines, from the everyday vin de table to the more expensive Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) wine. The better wines are bottled, with designer labels, some in hand-painted jeroboams. Many co-ops sell stylish boxed gift sets, complete with raffia bows. What hasn't changed, however, are the grouchy Provencal farmers' wives who work the cash-registers.

Most wine produced by co-operatives in the villages around Aix-en-Provence is still rose. The reds are made to be drunk early and rarely leave the sunflower fields of Provence. But while we me hope that the farmers and their co-operatives will always be here, a new generation of vintners has come to the area. They share the goal of increasing the quality and respectability of Cotes de Provence and Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence wines. Many are making high-quality red and white wines that can be cellared for up to 10 years.

One such winery is Domaine Mauvan, on Mont Ste-Victoire's south side. The wine-maker is a young woman, Gaelle Maclou, whose family owns the estate. We tasted her wines; they were fruity and fresh, but heavy enough to be able to withstand some time in the cellar. Maclou was complimented and said: "I love these grapes, this terroir. This isn't Bordeaux, and I don't want it to be."

Across the street from Maclou's Domaine Mauvan is Chateau Coussin. While Domaine Mauvan is a charming but faded bastide, where dogs lie in the shade of tall plane trees and winery equipment is scattered around the grounds, at Chateau Coussin, the grounds are landscaped with perfectly clipped olive and cypress trees. Chateau Coussin's owners and wine-makers are a pair of jolly grey-haired brothers, and like their neighbour Maclou, they are only too willing to talk about their wine. While you taste it in the castle's vaulted stone cellars, their enthusiasm will charm you.

On the north side of Mont Sainte-Victoire, the craggy white cliffs that towered above Domaine Mauvan and Chateau Coussin turn into deep-green rolling hills. It was the north face of the mountain that Picasso fell in love with, when he purchased the Chateau in Vauvenargues in 1959. He died there in 1972, and is buried in the estate's park, which is, unfortunately, closed to visitors.

North of Vauvenargues is the lovely village of Jouques, and just outside is Chateau Revelette, where German-born and California-trained Peter Fischer makes award-winning wines from his 17th-century property. His Grand Reserve White (Chardonnay) and Red (Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) are on every good restaurant's wine list in Provence. His Grand Reserve White is the Provencal wine strong enough to stand up to a bowl of bouillabaisse.

Domaine Sainte Ser, at the mountain's foot three miles east of St Antonin, is one of the 28 "Sainte-Victoire" wineries. While tasting Sainte Ser's delicious wines, I watched big black shadows pass over Mont Ste-Victoire. The shadows moved on, and once again the vineyard was bathed in bright, clear light. Whiffs of lavender wafted in through the open door and I thought again of Gaelle Maclou's words: "This isn't Bordeaux, and I don't want it to be."

PROVENCE

GETTING THERE

British Airways (tel: 0345 222111) offers return flights to Marseille for pounds 122, plus pounds 15 tax, before 26 March - book by 3 March. Or fly with Ryanair (tel: 0541 569569) to Carcassonne for pounds 82.99 plus pounds 15 tax.

WHERE TO STAY

Mas de la Bertrande, 13100 Beaurecueil (tel: 04 42 66 90 09, fax: 04 42 66 82 01), Ffr300 (pounds 31) double occupancy. You will forgive the smallish rooms when you see the views of Mont Ste-Victoire. It has a pool, parking and restaurant.

WHERE TO EAT

Chez Thome Le Tholonet, 13100 Aix-en-Provence (tel: 04 42 66 90 43), great value with traditional Provencal cooking in the quaint village of Le Tholonet.

WINERIES

Chateau Revelette, 13490 Jouques (tel: 04 42 63 75 43, fax: 04 42 67 62 04), 2pm-6pm, Saturdays 9am-6pm; Domaine Mauvan (tel: 04 42 29 38 33); Chateau Coussin (tel: 04 42 29 22 90); Domaine de Saint Ser (tel: 04 42 66 30 81), open daily until 6pm.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Tourist Office, 2 Place du General de Gaulle, Rotunde 13100, Aix-en-Provence (tel: 04 42 16 11 61).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment