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Ultimate Guide to the Provence Wine Region

Provence Wine Region History and Culture

Provence is France's oldest wine producing region. Its roots can be trace­d back 26 centuries when the Phoenicians first planted vines there. For a long time however, the region wasn't known for producing particularly good wine. It's just been in the past few decades that Provence, with a new focus on quality, has begun to produce wines that have people talking about the birthplace of French vineyards.

Romans gave the region its name when they settled there four centuries after the Phoenicians. They called it Provincia Romana, or Provence. As the Roman Empire conquered the surrounding areas and extended its borders, vines followed in the wake and wine production increased considerably. As history tells us, the empire would later fall, and with it, vines stopped developing [source: Vins de Provence].

Monastic orders resurrected wine production in Provence. From the fifth to the 12th century, they produced wine that was carefully marketed, contributing greatly to the revenue of the monasteries. Of course, it wasn't all for profit. The monks produced wine for their own consumption and religious ceremonies.

Some time in the 14th century, great noble families, and then Grand Officers of the Royal Army, began to acquire vineyards in Provence. Under their management, the groundwork was laid for present day viniculture in the region.

Five centuries later in the late 1800s, tragedy struck the vineyards of Provence. An insect, phylloxera vastatrix, had already devastated many vineyards throughout France, but Provence had remained unaffected. Then, in 1880, the insect invaded the region and wiped out almost all of the vineyards. Phylloxera vastatrix originated in the eastern United States. Therefore, the eventual solution came from grafting French plants onto American plants that were resistant to the insect. The crisis was stopped and vineyards began to rebuild. It took a huge amount of effort and financial resources to resurrect the Provence wine region [source: Vins de Provence].

In the 20th century, a cooperative movement was born. From its birth sprung the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine, or INAO. To receive a distinguished Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) label, wine has to be of the utmost quality. Provence wine producers got to work and now have eight official appellations among them.