The Rhône Valley in southern France is renowned across the world for producing premium red, white, and rosé wines. The distinctive topography that makes up the highly acclaimed area was created during the last Ice Age when the Rhône Glacier pushed its way across southern France to produce the Rhône River. The vineyards in this region, which date back to the 4th century BC, can be found on both sides of the river between Vienne and Avignon and are divided into two sub-regions: the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. This region spans a total of 505 miles from its headwaters in the Swiss Alps through France and into the Mediterranean. Even though the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône share the Rhône River, the two sub-regions are very distinct from one another and have different topographies, climatic conditions, soil types, and grape varietals.
The Northern Rhône Valley is a tiny wine region along the Rhône River that stretches from the town of Vienne to Valence. It takes roughly an hour to drive the entire region, which is around 75 kilometers (46 miles) long. This region is known for its granite soils and steep, narrow hillsides, which force vineyards to work with a constrained amount of space. As a result, vineyards are grown on terraces with low walls known as “chalais” that hold the soil in place. The temperature in the vineyards is milder than in the southern Rhône and rainfall prevents the vines from going through a drought.
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The Northern Rhone is much smaller than the Southern Rhone, measuring only 2,836 hectares. The region’s northern beginning is in Ampuis, which is 30 kilometers south of Lyon, and its southern end is in Valance, which is a little over 90 kilometers away. Chateauneuf du Pape is smaller in size than the entire Northern Rhone Valley! To put this in perspective, 95% of the wine produced in the Rhone Valley originates from grapes in the Southern Rhone. The Northern Rhone Valley produces only 5% of the wine made in the Rhone. Most people are familiar with the South Rhone. There is therefore much to learn from the Northern part of the Rhone Valley, which is why it should be on your must-visit list. The unique climate, terrains, and soils make this wine-growing region quite different from other places.
The best time to go is between April and July because the weather will probably be nice. Many producers will be on vacation in August, and they will be focusing on the next vintage in September. It can rain in October.
Grapes were produced in Marseille during the Greek colonization in the fourth century BC. In the first century AD, wine-growing began in the northern Rhone Valley. Soon, Rhone wines were on par with those from Italian vineyards. During this time, the most significant Roman winery discovered to date, the Gallo-Roman villa of Molard near Donzère, adjacent to the Rhone, was constructed. Amphora-making workshops emerged around the same time. The earthenware containers (or dolia), used to transport wines and fish sauces, show that clay was also present during this early time, as seen at Chusclan, Treques, and the Cèze massif.
Pope Gregory X received the Comtat Venaissin from French King Louis VIII in the 13th century. The papacy relocated to Avignon in the fourteenth century, and the popes—great admirers of the local wines—planted a sizable vineyard all around the city. The second of the seven popes from Avignon, John XXII, had a summer home constructed in Châteauneuf du Pape. The Palais des Papes was constructed on orders from Benedict XII, the third pope from Avignon. Later, around the end of the 17th century, and for the following 200 years, the Roquemaure (Gard) port developed into a significant hub for river cargo trade.
The Rhone Valley actively participated in the creation of French wine industry appellations out of concern for the quality of its wines. The brilliant Baron Le Roy promoted this admirable cause in the 1930s. He was a vineyard owner in Châteauneuf du Pape who pushed for the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée designation for this outstanding wine in 1933. His proposed terms of reference, which included restrictions on the growing area, grape types, regional customs, cultivation techniques, a minimum alcohol percentage, and a harvesting period, became the template for all later AOC decrees. Additionally, he advocated for Côtes du Rhône wines, a legendary brand that recently earned the recognition it rightfully deserved.
The following sub-regions can be found in the Northern Rhône: Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Château-Grillet, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Cornas, and Saint-Péray.
The main grapes grown in the Northern Rhone Valley for white wine are Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier. When Syrah grown in the Cote Blonde region of the Northern Rhone is added, Viognier is most frequently used as a blending grape in Cote Rotie.
There are several historical sites you should visit in the wine region.
- Château des Bachelards
The Benedictine monks of Cluny founded the Château des Bachelards vineyard circa 1100. The wines are a part of this line and have dual certifications as organic (FR-BIO-15) and biodynamic (Demeter).
- Chateau De Poncié
The Château de Poncié is a 1,000-year-old property; the earliest recorded accounts are from 949. It consists of 100 hectares that have been converted to organic farming, 40 of which are solely used for vines. In order to show visitors the full richness and wealth of the Fleurie en Beaujolais region, it conducts trips through vineyards and woods.
- Belvedere Museum
The two Belvedere buildings were created by renowned Baroque architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt in the early eighteenth century to serve as Prince Eugene of Savoy’s summer retreat.
The small vineyard Le Clos de la Bonnette has a fascinating past. It has been there on the hillside in the middle of Condrieu since the Roman era, and who knows, perhaps much before. Using stones they extracted from the hillside using a mattock, men and women constructed terraces on the steep slopes for many generations, protecting them with dry stone walls. History was carved out of the rock and is a tale of arduous labor, sweltering heat, and thirst.
Stéphane Ogier joined the family estate, which had been established on the Ampuis Mountains for seven generations, in 1997. By taking over from his father Michel, he made the decision to perform meticulous work on his several terroirs in order to showcase the distinctive character of these historic locations. With a commitment to explore and elevate new terroirs, the estate has expanded its boundaries beyond those of the hamlet throughout time. Stéphane Ogier retains the sense of grace and subtlety that has come to be associated with his wines from his time in Burgundy.
The best Viognier and Syrah grapevines are harvested by the Domaine Niero on terraced hillsides in order to produce exceptional vintages of Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie. For a wine-tasting experience, it is the best winery to go to.
It’s difficult to think of a more enjoyable experience than dining at this establishment. Its terrace offers amazing views since it stands adjacent to the castle walls. Fine produce, fine wines, and provencal cuisine.
This magnificent hotel, housed in a 17th-century country house and two annexes, is located on three acres of parkland, 5 kilometers from Saint-Clair-Les Roches train station, and 12 kilometers from the medieval Vienne Cathedral and the remains of a Roman Theater.
Visualize a former fisherman’s home with bedrooms that overlook the Rhône and a patio that is at the water’s edge. This hotel is a haven of quiet and a getaway for individuals who enjoy the tranquility. It is located in Condrieu, at the base of vine-covered hillsides. The inside is well-lit and features carved furniture, floral drapes, and gentle, warm shades of yellow, ochre, and white. The food is a flavorful fusion of Lyon specialties with elements from the south of France. Gastronomy is highly valued here, and visitors can even attend cooking classes!
This charming rural inn, housed in a 13th-century turreted castle and surrounded by woods, is 17.6 kilometers from the center of Bougoin-Jallieu. There are formal, separately designed rooms in both the main house and other annexes. Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, minibars, oak or tile floors, and several canopy beds are included in every room. Seasonal cuisine is served in a chic restaurant with stone arches over the ceiling. A heated outdoor pool and five meeting spaces decorated in the period are additional features. Breakfast as well as wine and cooking classes are offered.
This peaceful B&B is located on lush grounds with sweeping views of the Alps and is 1.2 km from the Rhône river’s banks and 1.7 km from Gare de Miribel train station. Private balconies or terraces are a feature of the spacious suites with wooden accents. They all have flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi, and bathrooms with en suites. A suite has two bedrooms and can accommodate up to five people. In a cozy dining area, breakfast is offered. There are also evening meals offered. Rich gardens, an outdoor pool, terraces, and a BBQ are additional luxuries. A lounge with a fireplace is also present.
The best way to save money in the Northern Rhone Valley wine region is to focus on exploring the small villages. Such villages have the best and the most historic sites thus giving an amazing experience at lower costs compared to townships.
The Northern Rhône is regarded as a somewhat sacred area and is best known as the birthplace of Syrah. The Northern Rhône, which covers about 7,000 acres and contributes only around 5 percent of all Rhône Valley wine production, is renowned for the quality of its wines rather than its sheer quantity. Additionally, although Syrah is what makes the Northern Rhône famous, the area also makes excellent Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. The only grapes cultivated in the Northern Rhône are these four varieties. This location is a fantastic wine tourist destination that you must visit because of the historical sites, landscapes, and people.
The vibe: Since Gallo-Roman times, wine has been produced in the Northern Rhône, which follows the River Rhône from Vienne to Valence. In Côte Rôtie and Hermitage, steep slopes with golden-hued stone terraces are tilled by hand with horse-drawn ploughs; you can find the sought-after reds. White wines with a strong scent, like Condrieu, are also produced in this picturesque area. Visits to the Ardèche or Vienne can easily be coupled with a trip to this must-see area.
- Rhone Wine Tours website