This week Keith Van Sickle, author of One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, shares his recent discovery in Provence: the best value wine in France (as compared to the “best cheap wine in France”. That just sounds wrong). I reviewed Keith’s book a few months ago and met up with Keith and his wife in Provence last month. Over lunch, which of course included wine, Keith shared his love of wine as well as his knowledge about finding French wines of good value. After you have read this post you will likely be inclined, like me, to visit Estézargues and stock up on the wines!
Guest post by: Keith Van Sickle
Village Of Estézargues
Just ten minutes from one of France’s most famous sites, the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard, sits the tiny village of Estézargues. There’s not much there – no charming cafés or famous monuments. But on the edge of town you can find some astonishingly good wine— wine that you might consider the best value wine in France!
That’s where the local cave coopérative sits. A big, unassuming building. In a cave coopérative, winemakers share expensive equipment that none of them can afford by themselves. And they make wine together – everyone puts in their grapes and they divide the profits based on the volume that each contributes.
This is the reason that cave coopérative wines are inexpensive. It’s also why most of them are not very good. Think about it – each winemaker wants to maximize the volume of grapes that he or she contributes. And high volume grapes equal low quality wine.
Creating The Best Value Wine In France?
The clever winemakers of Estézargues have done it differently. Yes, they share equipment and yes, they each contribute grapes to make common wine. But for the most part they keep their grapes separate. They use the shared equipment to make their own individual wines and keep the profits. This makes them want to grow better grapes and make better wines.
The result is wines with prices that are almost as low as a typical cave coopérative but with quality that is light years better. I spend every spring in Provence and one of the first things I do is stock up at Estézargues. I go so often I even have a frequent buyer card, called a carte de fidélité.
This is a working winery and not a fancy place, but it does have a well-stocked tasting area. It’s in the front of the building and next to a storage space, so periodically someone will drive a forklift past you or wheel by a few cases of wine.
The ladies who run the tasting area are very friendly and informal. They let you taste all you want and are not afraid to open a new bottle just for you. They are also happy to give advice – “I think this one is particularly good right now.”
This year my wife and I were joined by some friends, including noted winemaker Steve Peterson of California’s Peterson Cellars. We tried a wide range of wines from the 2015 and 2016 vintages, made from classic southern French grapes like Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. They cost six or seven dollars a bottle but are worth much more.
I was curious to see what Steve would say about these wines I enjoy so much. Would he tell me that my palate is laughably bad and they are actually terrible?
Happily, no! Steve loved the wines. He thought they were well-made, balanced wines that reflected the warm sun of Provence. He especially enjoyed the “fresh berry” flavours from the Grenache grapes.
Vineyards And Picnics
One of the best things about the wines of Estézargues, besides their low prices and great quality, is that they are ready to drink right away. So we decided to do just that! We headed out to a secret picnic spot that the tasting room ladies told us about a few years ago.
It’s a 12th-century church that sits on a rise with beautiful views of vineyards all around.
The church has been abandoned for centuries and is currently being restored by a local volunteer group. Next to the church is a big grassy area just perfect for picnicking. It’s flat and shady and seems to invite you to lay out a blanket and enjoy some baguettes, cheese and wine. And maybe take a nap afterwards.
Directions To Estézargues
It is not well marked so here are the directions to this little gem.
- When leaving the winery, head north (away from town) on the D235 for one kilometer
- At the big traffic circle go left on the N100 for about 3 kilometers to the first traffic circle
- Take the first exit on the right onto the D192 towards St.-Hilaire-d’Ozinhan
- After about 2 kilometers take the dirt road leading off to the right (there is a sign that says “Huile d’Olive” by it)
- The church is about 500 meters down the dirt road, on the right
If you go, I hope you enjoy your picnic as much as Steve and Mica did!
Keith Van Sickle is the author of One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence.