French Wines: Rhone

The Rhône Valley has been a center for viticulture for well over 2,000 years. The valley has long been a route of communication between France and Northern Europe and the Mediterranean Basin. The Greeks used the Rhône as a trade route to Gaul and beyond, with wine production increasing with the Romans in 125 BC. During the first century AD, there was great competition between the Italians and French over wine and other food items. There is archeological evidence that amphorae were produce in the south of France at the same time, showing that the Rhône Valley has one of the oldest documented histories of wine trade. In the upper valley, the Romans planted vines to protect the terraced walls along Côte Rôtie, St. Joseph and Hermitage. The city of Vienne and its vineyards were famous since this time. Starting in the 1400s, seven French Popes were based in Avignon, at the new castle of the Pope (Château neuf du Pâpe), and the 17th and 18th centuries showed remarkable growth in wine production. It was during this period that a Côtes du Rhône district was formed in Uzès, and regulations were introduced in 1650 to guarantee the origin and quality of the wines. At the beginning of the 20th century, the winemakers of Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe were the first to introduce national criteria to protect their wines from imitations and fakes and guarantee quality to the public. In 1918, they proposed the first laws for Appellation Contrôlée, which were finally ratified in 1938. Now there are many appellations in the Rhône area, many of which are as famous as they were centuries ago.