Sable de Camargue blush wines have just been awarded a stand-alone appellation. But where are the wines grown and why are they referred to as blush or Gris/Gris de Gris? We take a closer look at this specific coastline appellation where sand is king.
- The Vins Sable de Camargue wine region
- Pre-phylloxera vines
- Gris or Gris de Gris?
The Vins Sable de Camargue wine region
If you travel along the coastline between Sète and Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, via seaside locations such as Marseillan, Le Grau du Roi and Aigues-Mortes, you will see 3,000 hectares of vines planted in sand. The landscape, with its brackish lagoons, salt flats, shades of pink and flamingos – the appellation’s emblem – is unique. But it’s not just the scenery that stands out – on these poor, highly permeable soils subjected to a maritime influence and buffeted by the wind, the surrounding biodiversity is outstanding. Over 1,000 species of fauna and flora bask in 300 days of sunshine a year.
From the small grape growers who farm a few rows of vines to the family-run wineries and one of Europe’s largest operations, a total 89 people farm vines here, 90% of them either organic or converting to organic. As the Sable de Camargue producers’ organisation points out: “We are one of very few appellations that can claim to have virtually all of our vineyard acreage farmed organically”.
At the end of the 19th century, this parasitic aphid came from the United States and decimated millions of acres of vineyards, in Europe and across the globe. This tiny 0.5mm insect continues to abound, except in a handful of countries like Chile or in just a few vineyard blocks, which are usually protected by small walls, as at Clos Cristal in the Loire Valley. Another exception is the Sable de Camargue wine region where the naturally sandy texture of the soil prevents the formation of galleries where the aphid spreads. Vines are therefore own-rooted – or not grafted onto a resistant American rootstock – unlike most of the world’s vineyards.
Gris or Gris de Gris?
The difference between Gris and Gris de Gris lies in the grape variety and whether the wine is blended or not. If you taste a Gris de Gris AOP Vins Sable de Camargue, it will be a single varietal Grenache gris. If you choose a Gris, it will be a blended wine. In the vineyards of the Camargue, the main grape varieties are Grenache noir, Merlot and Grenache gris, though there is also Cinsault, Cabernet-Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Grenache blanc and Carignan.
From a winemaking perspective, as the Guide Hachette points out: “Blush wine (or Gris) is produced by fermenting grapes with coloured skins (black or pink) as a white wine, using direct-to-press with no soaking. It is a rosé with a very pale colour”.
In terms of colour, Gris and Gris de Gris wines are different from conventional rosés in that their colour is very light, with a pale salmon-pink hue.
Benedictine monks certainly made no mistake when they planted vines in the 7th century in Saint Laurent d’Aigouze in the southern part of the Gard department in the Occitania region. The new AOP Vins Sable de Camargue is truly unique.
Anne Schoendoerffer ©AdobeStock_Rostislav Sedlacek