Ventoux AOC: Rhone Valley’s Hidden Gem

AOC Ventoux ©Norman Kergoat

One mountain defines a wine region by creating a distinct microclimate with altitude and freshness to the wines and combats global warming by sheltering the region with a cooler climate. Mont Ventoux is the backbone of the Ventoux AOC, and the AOC is a rising star in the Rhone Valley. It is a wine gem waiting for you to discover.

The Ventoux AOC is nestled between two natural parks and two UNESCO biosphere reserves. Its biodiversity comes from the 74,000 acres of forests and landscapes surrounding the AOC. In 1990 the area was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve because of its unique fauna and flora. In 2020 Mt Ventoux became a natural Park.

Many know of Ventoux because it is the site where cyclists in the Tour de France exert the most effort to climb the mountain. Others know of Ventoux as an area with many cooperatives, but that is changing. Today there are 130 producers.

AOC Ventoux ©Norman Kergoat
Ventoux AOC with Mont Ventoux in the background. Photo Courtesy of Norman Kergoat

Why Ventoux AOC is a Rising Star

The mountain brings altitude, freshness, and a cooler climate, which helps make rich yet fresh wines with structure and elegance. The AOC brings in a new generation of winemakers to the area who seek high quality with the incentive of affordable land.

The area gets the cooling breezes from the Alps and lacks the Mistral wind that typically flows through the southern Rhone Valley but instead is sheltered by the mountain range in Ventoux. The high altitude influences the wine to become all about the mountain.

In 2020 a significant change occurred; Frédéric Chaudière, a third-generation family-owned winemaker of Château Pesquié, became President of the AOC. In the past, this position was given only to the owners of co-ops. In October of 2021, Ventoux AOC came out with their Raison d’etre that defines the purpose of the AOC with goals to obtain by 2030. The idea, discovering ways to adapt to climate change and increase biodiversity.

Frederic Chaudiere President Ventoux AOC © Cori Solomon
Frédéric Chaudière – President Ventoux AOC

Ventoux AOC

Established in 1973, the AOC was originally called Côtes du Ventoux. The name changed to Ventoux in 2009. The vineyards are located along the lower slopes of the Ventoux mountain, at the foot of the Vaucluse Mountains.

Ventoux AOC consists of three areas, the Malaucène basin, The foothills of the Mont Ventoux, and Cavaillon.

Map of Venteux © Cori Solomon
Map of Ventoux

The Grapes

Red grapes produce 54% of the wine, Rosé equals about 41%, and white wine claims about 6%. In red and Rosé, the vineyards grow Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvédre, and Syrah. In the whites Bourboulenc, Clairette, White Grenache, and Roussanne are grown.

Overall, Ventoux produces lighter fruit-driven wines. The characteristics of the red include Blackberry, black currant, and spice that emphasizes a round structure. The Rosé is elegantly crisp, showcasing red fruits like cherry and raspberry. In whites, flavors of exotic fruit and citrus dominate with lots of freshness

Soil Types

Three types of soil exist in the Ventoux. They consist of either sand, clay, or limestone and bring certain qualities to the wine produced. Sandy soils promote light, fresh, delicate wine with elegance and low tannins. Clay delivers richly colored wine, high in alcohol with robust flavors and good tannins. Limestone produces light aromatic wines that are supple and well-rounded with good body with fruity and floral flavors.

Wine Corks From Ventoux @ Cori Solomon
Wine Corks From Ventoux

Ventoux Wineries

Two wineries that stood out as ambassadors of the region are Châreau Pesquié and Chêne Bleu. The estates are steeped with history with older vineyards that produce old vine Grenache and Syrah, as well as many other varieties. Both incorporate traditional methods of winemaking with innovation. The environment is at the forefront of their wine philosophies.

Château Pesquié

Located at the heart of the Ventoux AOC, three generations spanning 50-plus years have passionately produced wine at Château Pesquié. Meet the Chaudière family who has run this estate. The vineyards are certified organic by Ecocert, and brothers Alexandre and Frédéric practice biodynamic principles to cultivate their late-ripening vines.

It began in the 1970s when Odette and René Bastide renovated the Château and began planting the vineyards. It was before Ventoux became an AOC. Odette and René’s daughter, Édith, married Paul Chaudière and took over the estate in the 1980s. In the beginning, the estate was part of the cooperative, but it was Édith and Paul who decided to create the Château Pesquié cellar. Their first vintage occurred in 1990. In 2003 Alexandre and Frédéric took over the helm.

Chateau Pesquie © Chateau Pesquie
Château Pesquié. Photo Courtesy of Château Pesquié

The profile of the estate’s soils includes fine gravel and clay-limestone hillsides. Diversity exists within the soils, including a predominance of limestone (Urgonian) and different types of clays, marls, and sands that enhance the complexity of the wine. The Mormoiron basin offers one of the richest geological zones in the Vaucluse. Find ochres and warm-toned clays contrasting against white chalk and the grey-blue marls, that ingratiate the landscape.

With a primary emphasis on Grenache and Syrah, Château Pesquié also grows Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Marselan, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette, Grenache blanc, Bourboulenc and Chardonnay. The wines accentuate the freshness and purity of fruit yet promote the saline flavors due to the minerality in the soils and achieved through aging in barrels, demi-muids, concrete eggs, stainless steel, and concrete vats.

Chéne Bleu

This family-owned vineyard lies secluded mountain saddle high up in the Dentelles De Montmirail mountains near Gigondas. With 500 years of local history, Nicole and Xavier succeed in integrating tradition and innovation with a commitment to respect the environment. This philosophy is signified in Xavier and Nicole Rolet’s motto, “Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis ‘Not mine, not yours, but ours.’”

Chene Bleu ©L.Pamato
Aerial view of Chêne Bleu. Photo courtesy of L.Pamato

Named for the blue oak tree residing on the estate, Domaine de La Verrière is an isolated medieval priory above the village of Crestet. At almost 1600 feet, it is one of the highest vineyards in the Ventoux AOC. Surrounded by pine and oak forests, the soils consist of limestone and clay. Farming of the vineyards follows biodynamic principles.
Chéne Bleu’s two flagship reds, Abélard and Héloïse, are named for lovers in the middle ages who were forced into separation and tragedy. One wine, Abélard, reflects the distinct characteristics of a full-bodied Grenache blend, while the other, Héloïse, is dominated by the elegance of Syrah.

Nicole Rolet Chene Bleu © Cori Solomon
Nicole Rolet, Owner Chêne Bleu

Favorite Ventoux Wines

St Jean du Barroux, La Montagne Blanc: This wine consists of a blend of Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, and Clairette. The 40-year-old vineyard’s soil profile is sandy clay. I found a bright yet balanced wine characterized by roundness.

Château La Croix des Pins, Les 3 Village Blanc: Combining Vermentino, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Rousanne gives this wine citrusy flavors and allows you to taste the Vermentino and Roussane.

Château La Croix Des Pins Les 3 Villages © Cori Solomonlanc
Château La Croix Des Pins Les 3 Villages Blanc

Château Pesquié Quintessence Blanc: A blend of Rousanne and Clairette; the Roussane ripens early ferments in both barrels and cement eggs, followed by aging for eight months. The Clairette, a late ripener, ferments similarly. The wine delivers body with a rich roundness with some lemony lime flavors accented with apple and pear.

Ventoux Whites © Cori Solomon
Ventoux Whites

Martinelle Rouge: This wine exhibited the most body compared to other red wines at the tasting. Blending Grenache and Syrah from stony clay and limestone soils, the wine is smooth with nice depth. The Grenache dominated the palate.

Martinelle Rouge © Cori Solomon
Martinelle Rouge

Château Pesquié, Silica Rouge: The wine consists of Grenache and Cinsault. The name refers to an element used in biodynamic farming. The grapes ferment and age 12 to 15 months in 60% barrels and 25% in a concrete egg. On the nose, find red berries. On the palate, find a bright, elegant red wine with silky tannins and flavors of red berries.

Chêne Bleu Abélard Rouge 2013: This blend of primarily Grenache from 80-year-old vines and Syrah from 65-year-old vines. The wine ages 18 months in French oak and showcased a rich, full-bodied wine with flavors of dark cherry and other black fruit

Chene Bleu Abelard © Cori Solomon
Chêne Bleu Abélard

Chêne Bleu Abélard Rouge 2007: Showing the difference of what bottle aging provides by showing the depth of structure, texture, and complexity of Ventoux’s wine.

Discovering the Ventoux AOC is like opening an oyster shell and uncovering the pearl that lies inside.

Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer attended a hosted wine tasting luncheon. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.

The featured image of Ventoux AOC is courtesy of Norman Kergoat.