Sunday, January 4, 2015

The soils of Tavel AOC (Southern Rhone), the Rosé wine region

Tavel, illustrated by the red oval in the map below, is at once the solitary Rosé-only AOC in the French appellation system and (maybe because of that fact) the country's most famous Rosé. I visited the region as part of a DWCC2014 Pre-Conference Press Trip in October and will be sharing my experiences beginning with this post's discussion of the soils of the region.


The Tavel AOC encompasses the vineyards in the communes of Tavel and Roquemaure, with said vineyards planted on one of three distinct soil types: sandy, Lauses, or smooth pebbles.

Sandy Soils
The lowest part of the macro-vineyard is located on sandy soils dating from the Miocene and Pliocene eras (Jacques Fanet, Great Wine Terroirs, UCP, 2004). The sea, which had covered the region during the Cretaceous period, returned during the Miocene and Pliocene periods leaving thin deposits of clay and sands at the bottom of the slope (James Wilson, Terroirs, 1998; The ancient Tavel vineyards were located on these sands which possess the following characteristics (Rolf Bichsel, Tavel: The People and the Wines, Feret, 2011):
  • Poor in organic matter
  • Visible portions consist of yellow, acid, decarbonated coarse sand and pebbles from the surrounding Villafranchian terraces
  • Clay at 30-cm depth
  • Bedrock (compressed Pliocene sands and non-decarbonated limestone sands) at 60-cm depth.
According to Bichsel, grapes grown in this soil produce wines with the lowest alcohol and highest yield of the three soil types and possess a strong aroma.

This type is comprised of shallow soil covered with stone tiles mixed with red clay on a limestone bedrock. Heavy machinery is used to break up the top layer (60% limestone rocks). At 30-cm depth, 90% of the soil consists of rocky debris and marly limestone supplemented by a few pockets of clay. Bedrock begins at 60 cm and is comprised of solid limestone with slight cracking.

This area is 300 ha in size and is the hardest of the Tavel soils to cultivate. It is the most arid and poorest with the paucity of surface or near-surface water and nutrients driving the vines to create deep and extensive root systems (Bichsel).

Grapes grown on this soil produce wines that have (Bichsel):
  • High minerality
  • Finesse
  • Low yields
  • Fruity aromas.

Smooth Pebbles
Throughut our visit to Tavel and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the team had recurring discussions as to the proper nomenclature for the polished stones synonymous with this region. Many members of the team, especially the American bloggers, could not bridge the gap between the images conjured up in their minds by the word pebble and the actual size of these stones.

According to, in the Villafranchian period (1.9 to 1.8 million years ago), powerful rivers with immense force were generated by the melting glaciers and pushed the rocks in their path for hundreds of kilometers, polishing them along the way until they became the smooth pebbles found in Tavel, Lirac, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape today. In Tavel, these pebbles are found in an area of the vineyard called Vallongue, an integral part of the Villafranchian terraces that stretch from Chateauneuf-du-Pape to Nimes (Bichsel).

Seventy-five percent of the subject soil consists of these large, rounded pebbles which can range in size from 10 to 40 cm in diameter. The pebbles are, generally (Bichsel):
  • Smooth and silky
  • Reddish and ochre in color
  • Mixed with whole blocks of stone and quartz sands
  • Range in depth from 5 and 15 meters
  • Flanked, intermixed, or covered with more recent strata of alluvial soil.
The most striking characteristics of this soil type are (i) the accumulation of heat during the day and its release at night (an aid in grape ripening) and (ii) its excellent drainage which, in turn, forces the vines to develop deep, extensive root systems.

Wines made from grapes grown in this soil are powerful and vinous, exhibiting great body, alcoholic strength, and structure (Bichsel).

Further posts in this series will detail the remaining terroir aspects of Tavel AOC as well as its viticulture and viniculture before switching to a similar treatment of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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