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).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...