It was a warm Autumn afternoon when I revved the car up the very steep and rocky driveway to the vineyard. My thoughts were more about whether or not I could ever get down it than what was to greet me when I arrived. It was some arrival. The view made me feel glad I was sitting down.
Then two black dogs bounded up playfully, followed by Richard, the winery owner, welcoming me to my newly discovered corner of quintessential French Provence.
“People think it’s strange because I am so happy,” he remarked, several days later as I was glumly contemplating my departure.
“But I love my life. Do what you love doing and the rest will follow.”
And who wouldn’t, surrounded by this splendour on his doorstep with its soft soothing light, the warming colours that seep into your soul, the washed stone house and rocky terrain lining the gentle slopes. A tall church spire rises up in the distance, vines as far as the eyes could see. The vineyard, with its ten hectares of vines, sits right opposite the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range, a view one could spend hours just gazing at, taking the thousandth photo of the sun setting over the hills.
Welcome to Suzette, a tiny Provençal village in the Rhone Valley, a stone’s throw from Beaumes de Venise. The rocky terrain, with its limestone, clay marnes and galets roulets, and its warm Mediterranean climate gives rise to wines with appellations such as Beaumes de Venise, Cotes du Rhone, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Ventoux. The main grape varieties are the typical GSM variety of the Rhone Valley (grenache, syrah, mourvedre), with their rich, round, fruity sunsoaked flavours, yet it is the lesser-known whites I really fell in love with. Viognier, grenache blanc, clairette, marsanne, roussanne, bourboulenc to name a few, that are almost as indulgent as the reds, with exotic fruits like pineapple and stone fruits like peach. The region is also home to a sticky wine, the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, made from muscat petits grains. Which incidentally produces a nice dry, fruity wine as well.
Wishing to get a feel for ‘life on the farm’, I chose my lodging well. Sitting just above the town is the bed and breakfast and winery, Demoiselle Suzette. The owner, Richard, is a man of many talents. As warm and welcoming as the scenery, he manages his 10ha of vines alone, but in fact he is never alone, and the house is always humming with guests or visitors, more often enjoying his tasty drop. It reminded me of the book A year in Provence, with people coming and going and nothing ever being a problem, the sun always shining.
Yet the work of a wine maker is a more serious affair. Like many one-man band wineries in France (or anywhere) holidays are a rarity, the vines are always in need of him or her. If it is not tending to the health of the vines, it is tending to the winemaking process. From vine to bottle, it never stops.
After enjoying my first taste of the place on the terrace overlooking the vines and chatting to fellow guests I decided the much-talked about hike up the neighbouring hill could wait no longer. Accompanied by the faithful, energetic dogs, I was led through vines and forest to a lookout offering even more spectacular views of the mountain range and soothing slopes and wineries below. I had come in mid-pandemic, there were few people around and I wondered what it would be like in July. So accessible, so beautiful. The views and images that postcards are made of.
Whether it is lazing by a pool or cycling up the nearby Mount Ventoux, this is a place for anyone who wants to disconnect from the chatter in their heads and to-do lists and breathe in the heady energy that nature has to offer. And its not just wineries, though there are lots of them, there are lavender fields to admire, mountains to hike and bike up, ancient villages and monuments to stroll around, rivers and lakes to bathe in and never-ending sunshine. Come in Autumn, as I did, when the crowds are fewer and the colours…oh those colours…you won’t peel your eyes away.
The Luberon. I stayed in Suzette which is about 40 minutes from Avignon. Best to have a car
A thing to do
For those looking to burn off some of the wine and cheese consumed, take a cycle up the Mount Ventoux is the thing to do. Only 20kms long but 1500m of altitude to gain, it is not for the couch potato but promises huge rewards at the top.
Failing that, there are numerous hiking and biking trails everywhere.
Where to stay
Other good options in the area can be found on the Chambre d’Hotes website
Délice des sens (white): a blend of white grenache and viognier, this rich white explodes with exotic fruit like pineapple and peach. One of my favourites.
Beaumes-de-Venise (red): Rich and fruity, clearly very sunsoaked, a little on the heavy side so best with a hearty meal.