There’s a sign by a small field surrounded by vines being baked by the hot summer sun of southern France, that reads … ‘You are welcome to camp here, but be warned, we harvest at night!’ The sign can be found at the organic vineyard Domaine de Montcalm found just to the west of the iconic Camargue national park in southern France.

The huge winery as originally owned by the Noilly-Prat family and used to make both wine and vermouth

I visited this vineyard in mid-August, when daytime temperatures can reach the high 30degC and reach maturity early in the season. Thus Vendage, the grape harvest, takes place at night when temperatures cool to around 20 deg, at which the grapes retain more of their aromatic elements. Picked grapes drop onto a conveyor belt which then drops them into a bin ready for a quick move into the cool cellars. Harvest begins mid-August and ends in early September. The soil is very sandy, and easily eroded so crops are grown amongst the vines in winter to minimise erosion.

The vineyard lies in the Vins de Sables region of recognised wine making, and the huge winery buildings were once busy with workers bustling around for Louis Noilly-Pratt, a member of the famous vermouth making family more commonly associated with production facilities around Marseille.

The Wines

Wines from this region are known by their finesse, delicacy, lightness and airy character, with their complexity is the result of blending different grape varieties.

“This diversity in grape varieties gives unique wines and keep a real typicity to the terroir of Sable de Camargue.

“The red wines, reflections of the terroir of sands, are characterised by the delicacy of the tannins and their easygoing, aromatic character,” says the regional wine board.

Colour range

The gris, gris de gris and rosé wines, very much in the majority, reflect the terroir through their pale salmon colour, their elegance on the palate and their freshness. Here, the gris wines begin life as pinot noir grapes before being pressed.

Juice is immediately separated from the skins, so no colour can leach into the wine, whereas for rose wines, the skins (mash) are left in contact for between just 4-12 hours.

In order to produce their wines, the winegrowers of the Sable de Camargue combine traditional regional grapes with popular and trusted national grape varieties.

The Gris, Gris de Gris and Rose (94% of regional production) are specialties of the region with Gris being a wine with a very light tint.

The principal grape varieties: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan Noir, Carignan Gris, Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris, Merlot, Syrah (70%). The secondary grape varieties: Aubun, Marselan, Tempranillo, as well as the varietals planned for the production of Whites.

Reds (4%)
The principal grape varieties for the reds: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Noir, Merlot, Marselan, Syrah, Petit Verdot (70%).

The secondary grape varieties for the reds: Alicante, Aubun, Carignan, Tempranillo.

Whites (2%)

The principal grape varieties for the whites are: Chardonnay, Chenin, Clairette, Grenache, Marsanne, Muscat à petits grains, Muscat d’Alexandria, Roussanne, Sauvignon, Ugni Blanc, Viognier (70%).
Secondary grape varieties for the whites: Carignan Blanc, Colombard, Vermentino.

Rice harvest picked for beer brewing

Montcalm has also recently released four beers brewed with red, whit, brown and black rice grown and picked locally. I bought bottles of white and red beer. The white beer as a very pleasant drink; aromatic, smooth and with a hint of spiced orange. While the coppery coloured rice beer is packed with caramel notes.

Bruce McMichael

Food writing, discovering food stories, meeting producers, chefs and food enthusiasts are all part of desire to inspire, inform my readers and fellow food lovers. I am a freelance writer, journalist and published author focusing on the international world of food and drink, culture and travel. In 2019 I graduated from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy with a Masters in Food Culture, Communication and Marketing. I am now a visiting Professor at the university teaching Food & Drink Writing. Based in London I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur. In 2017 I won an episode of the ITV (the UK-based national television channel) cooking competition show, 'Gordon Ramsay's Culinary Genius'. I took my children on holiday to Sicily with the prize money. As an experienced farmers' market manager and operator of a small marmalade/ preserves company, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding local food, farming, enterprise and the environment.

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