Saint-Victoire is one of Provence’s high quality ‘break away’ appellations. Covering around three-thousand hectares to the east of Aix-en-Provence, in the heart of the Côtes de Provence appellation, these sheltered valleys consistently bring the perfect conditions for low intervention viticulture. It is known for its rich and robust red wines, and elegant rosé.
Located at the foot of the Saint-Victoire Mountain, surrounded by pine trees and olive groves, nine villages were deemed eligible for the appellation. Pourcieux and Pourrières are both in the Var department, while the remaining seven - Châteauneuf-le-Rouge, Le Tholonet, Meyreuil, Peynier, Puyloubier, Rousset and Trets - are in the Bouches-du-Rhône. Following an intensive cataloguing and detailed analysis of the area’s vineyards the decision was made in 2005 to grant Sainte-Victoire its own AOC.
Despite its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, Saint-Victoire experiences elements of a continental climate. Protected from maritime influences to the south by the Monts Auréliens and the Sainte-Baume Mountain Range, it covers the rocky hillsides of the upper Arc Valley. Sainte-Victoire’s rocky ridge confirms this continental micro-climate and reduces the impact of the Mistral wind. Many growers consider the Mistral to be beneficial however, aerating the vines and lowering the risk from disease.
Shallow clay and limestone soils are widely distributed throughout the appellation. Although shallow and poor in places, they are generally well drained, taking advantage of sandy elements.
Rosé wines are made from blends of Grenache and Syrah, supplemented with Cinsault. They are generally expressive and well balanced, showing a freshness typical of the Sainte-Victoire terroir. They are also characterised by notes of red fruit strawberry and raspberry in particular. When it comes to making red wines, the most important grape variety is Syrah, and then Grenache. Small proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre usually make up the blend.
They offer a beautiful aromatic complexity, with notes of black fruit, cocoa and garrigue. Some have vegetal notes, a well-structured, elegant palate with personality. In the first months they have an astringency still present, which requires aging for a few months before tasting.
While there are some white grapes cultivated in the area - Rolle, Clairette and Ugni Blanc - the Sainte-Victoire appellation is reserved for red and rosé wines only. White wine made here carries the Côtes de Provence label. This could change however as producers continue to seek to differentiate themselves under the banner of Sainte-Victoire. Monovarietal Rolle is quietly winning attention.
Production rules are designed to protect quality. Yields are kept to a maximum of 50hl/ha. Premium quality focussed producers have long been in search of a way to distinguish themselves from the region’s sea of generally commercial wines.