Villars-sur-Var, a thirty-minute drive north of Nice, has a long tradition of winemaking, but today Roch Sassi of Clos Saint-Joseph is the only grower to bottle wine eked from these incredibly rocky slopes. His wines fall under the Côtes de Provence appellation, even though the much cooler, mountainous terroir here has little relation to the rest of the AOC. Villars is like a cross between Provence and Savoie, with Mediterranean and Alpine influences combining to allow for full ripening at low alcohol levels, maintaining bright acidity and lively fruit. Tragically, the village suffered a violent summer hailstorm in 2017 that decimated virtually the whole crop. Roch nonetheless achieved normal production numbers, thanks to generous donations of grapes from Provençal vignerons from appellations such as Côtes de Provence, Coteaux d’Aix, Bandol, and Les Baux, including fruit from Domaine Tempier, La Tour du Bon, and other top producers. The wine is thus classified as an IGP Méditerranée. Much of the donated fruit comes from less-exposed or less-ripe parcels in order to maintain consistency with the cool-climate character of Villars. You might, however, notice slightly plumper, riper flavors than in other vintages, as this red is a prototypical summary of Provençal red wine across all the region’s top terroirs.
Roch Sassi of Clos Saint-Joseph (named for his great-grandfather) is the only grower to bottle any wine eked from these incredibly rocky slopes. His wines fall under the Côtes de Provence appellation, even though the much cooler terroir here has little relation to the rest of the AOC. Villars in fact represents an isolated enclave of Côtes de Provence that enjoys a unique microclimate, the dry heat buffered by cold air currents from the surrounding mountains. These conditions allow for full ripening at remarkably low alcohol levels, maintaining lively fruit and bright acidity in the wines.
Perhaps there is no region more closely aligned with the history to Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant than Provence. Provence is where Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters, lived, and introduced Kermit to the great producers of Provence, most importantly Domaine Tempier of Bandol. Kermit also spends upwards of half his year at his home in a small town just outside of Bandol.
Vitis vinifera first arrived in France via Provence, landing in the modern day port city of Marseille in the 6th century BC. The influence of terroir on Provençal wines goes well beyond soil types. The herbs from the pervasive scrubland, often referred to as garrigue, as well as the mistral—a cold, drying wind from the northwest that helps keep the vines free of disease—play a significant role in the final quality of the grapes. Two more elements—the seemingly ever-present sun and cooling saline breezes from the Mediterranean—lend their hand in creating a long growing season that result in grapes that are ripe but with good acidity.
Rosé is arguably the most well known type of wine from Provence, but the red wines, particularly from Bandol, possess a great depth of character and ability to age. The white wines of Cassis and Bandol offer complexity and ideal pairings for the sea-influenced cuisine. Mourvèdre reigns king for red grapes, and similar to the Languedoc and Rhône, Grenache, Cinsault, Marsanne, Clairette, Rolle, Ugni Blanc among many other grape varieties are planted.
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