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The Way of the Vine: Libations of the Luberon

The Way of the Vine: Libations of the Luberon

04 Oct 2015 BY Tim Wells

The Côtes du Luberon appellation (AOC since 1988, now designated AOP: “Appellation d’Origine Protegé”) covers a broad expanse of 3,500 hectares, between Cavaillon, just on the eastern edge of the Rhône valley, stretching down to Pertuis in the south, Apt in the north and Manosque in the east. Its vineyards are divided among 36 distinct districts or communes, among which are some of Provence’s most iconic villages – perennial members of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France”, Lourmarin, Ménerbes, Ansouis among them.

Spread over the rolling terrain of the Luberon mountain range within the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon in the southeastern Vaucluse, the region has an enjoyable Mediterranean climate influenced by the Alps and the Rhône valley, with plenty of sunshine – it is one of France’s sunniest areas. Wine has been produced in this area since Roman times, and the beneficial changes in temperature typically enjoyed by mountainous vineyards give the vintages real character. Most of the Luberon’s wine production is under the management of Caves Co-operatives, although there are over fifty private vintners as well. Some of the other more well-known communes include Pertuis, Cadenet, Bonnieux (with the oldest cooperative cave in the Vaucluse, dating back to 1920), Cheval Blanc (just south of Cavaillon and not to be confused with the magnificent St-Emilion vintage Château Cheval Blanc), and Mérindol.

The Luberon vineyards produce mostly red wines – around 70% of the vintage – although rosé and white wines are produced here as well. Most are best drunk when they are young, although recently there have been some red “vins de garde” (wines that can be aged), and most feature a variety of fruit notes and aromas. Red and rosé wines are produced mostly from Syrah, Grenache Noir, Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault grapes, and the whites from Clairette Blanche, Ugni Blanc, and Viognier varietals.

The spectacular scenery of the Luberon, with its wealth of châteaux, churches and abbeys, hilltop villages, and the mysterious bories that dot the countryside, offers wonderful outdoor activities of all kinds, especially hiking, rambling, and cycling – the Velo Loisir Provence, based in Forcalquier in the eastern Luberon, has itineraries of 450km of safe cycling routes throughout the region. You can combine these salubrious pursuits with the somewhat more hedonistic indulgence of exploring the area’s vineyards via a number of guided wine tours – by bicycle, by car, or on foot. Many of the wine-producing châteaux and caves in the Luberon offer invigorating and interesting vineyard walks, either accompanied by a guide who will explain all aspects of production, or with plenty of information available along the way, sometimes with a provençal picnic lunch provided, and of course, with a pleasant tasting session at the end of the road.

Finally, when you have had quite enough of provençal charm and beauty, make your way to Coustellet, the happily self-proclaimed ugliest village in the entire Luberon – modern, flat, and charmless, but on Sunday mornings it is home to one of the finest farmers’ markets in all of Provence, with mountains of the finest local produce, and of course plenty of local wines, on offer in abundance. The market enjoys a mid-week reprise as a marché nocturne on Wednesday evenings.