A brief history
By vocation, the Rhône Valley has always been a special point of passage between the Mediterranean world and Northern Europe and the Atlantic Coast. In Antiquity, the Greeks made incursions into the heart of Gaul, where they traded. The vine-and-wine culture continued with the Romans' arrival in 125 BC.
In the first century AD, competition between growers in Italy and the Gaulish Rhône Valley resumed. It was around this time that the Gallo-Roman villa of Molard, in Donzère, was built, along with the region's amphora workshops. These amphorae were used to transport wines and fish sauces. A number of archaeological discoveries, together with a long-standing tradition of historical research, enable us to say with some confidence that the Côtes du Rhône wines have a longer history than many other French wine-growing areas.
The Romans built the city of Vienne and then planted the Vienne vineyards, which soon developed considerable renown. The Romans had to undertake huge double-digging projects to plant the vines before building the walls to protect the terraces. The very rugged slopes of the right bank appealed to the Romans – Côte Rôtie in Saint Joseph – who then went on to annex the left bank, i.e. Hermitage. They transformed the region into one of the most beautiful in Narbonnese Gaul. From the first century onwards, it was at the forefront of commercial wine production, thanks to the Romans.
In the 14th century, the Avignon Popes were supplied by the local wine producers. John XXII, the second of the seven Popes to be based in Avignon, had a castle built at Châteauneuf du Pape. His successor, Benedict XII, began the construction of the Papal Palace.
The 17th and 18th centuries saw rapid progress in Rhone Valley wine production.
In the 17th century, “Côte du Rhône” was the name of an administrative district in the Vicariate of Uzès (Gard), where the wines were particularly renowned. Regulations were introduced in 1650 to guarantee their origin and their quality.
By an Edict of the King in 1737, all the casks that were to be used for carriage and sale had to be branded with the letters "C.D.R.". It was only in the middle of the 19th century that Côte du Rhône became Côtes du Rhône, by including the vineyards on the left bank of the Rhone. This notability, which had been steadily accrued over the centuries, was given official recognition by the High Courts of Tournon and Uzès in 1936.
Then came the ultimate recognition, thanks to the endeavours of Baron Le Roy – a man with courage and vision – with the creation in 1937 of the Appellation d’Origine Controlée Côtes du Rhône. An AOC award acknowledges both a contemporary reality and a tradition founded on several key elements: one or more varieties of vine, a clearly defined territory and superb expertise in wine production.
The rules that guarantee the quality of AOC products are laid down by France's National Institute of Appellations of Origin (INAO), which also regularly verifies that these products meet criteria based on: yields, territorial extension, grape varieties, cultivation methods and harvesting techniques. To be granted an AOC, a wine must also undergo analyses and, of course, tasting, to ensure its quality and that it maintains local characteristics.