Côtes du Vivarais AOC occupies the north-western flank of France’s Southern Rhône (right bank), just south of Montélimar and immediately opposite Grignan-lès-Adhémar (formerly Coteaux du Tricastin). The vineyards are dispersed across a wide area comprising fourteen communes in the southern part of the Ardèche department and five in the Gard department (see below for full list). Production is dominated by co-operatives (Oxford Companion 2015, p.803).
AOC Status: Côtes du Vivarais became a Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS) in 1962, the first such in the Rhône, then an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in May 1999.
History: Evidence suggests vines were grown in this area between the Rhône and the Cévennes by the Gaulish Helvien tribe, more than 2000 years ago. However, viticulture did not develop on a large scale until the Middle Ages. At the end of the 16th century, Olivier de Serres, the father of modern agronomy, praised the wines of the Vivarais as being “so precious and delicate that there is no need to seek elsewhere”. Until the 1789 French Revolution what was the then province of Vivarais corresponded roughly to what is the modern day Ardèche department. In the early 20th century, the wine growers banded together to establish cooperative wineries, which still continue to process the bulk of the crop. In the late 1950s, a handful of individual growers took up the challenge of improving the quality of their wines. The vineyards were replanted with “noble” varieties suited to the character of the soil: Grenache noir and Syrah for reds, Grenache blanc and Marsanne for whites.
Terroir: The region comprises a limestone plateau (Plateau des Gras) which has been eroded in two by gorges (Les Gorges de l’Ardeche) created by the Ardèche river over 15,000 years. The undulating landscape is called the Grands Causses, below which are subterranean caves, avens (chasms) and bubbling springs. The Aven d’Orgnac, one of the largest natural cavities in the world, was declared a Grand Site de France in 2004.
Altitude: Around 250 metres (820 feet).
Climate: Mediterranean continental, influenced by the mistral. ‘Much cooler and wetter than the rest of the southern Rhône,’ (Oxford Companion 2015, p803).
Communes (14): Barjac (Gard dept). | Bidon (Ardèche dept). | Gras (Ardèche). | Issirac (Gard). | Labastide-de-Virac (Ardèche). | Lagorce (Ardèche). | Larnas (Ardèche). | Le Garn (Gard). | Montclus (Gard). | Orgnac l’Aven (Ardèche). | Saint-Montan (Ardèche). | Saint-Privat-de-Champclos (Gard). | Saint-Remèze (Ardèche). | Vinezac (Ardèche).
Village designations: The village designations Orgnac, Saint-Montan and Saint-Remèze may be added (each has its own cooperative).
Production: 2016 220 hectares (544). 9,712hl of wine. 52% red, 6% white, 42% rosé. Average yield: 44hl/ha. | 2013 The vineyard area had fallen to 321 hectares (793 acres) by 2013 (Oxford Companion 2015, p.803). | 2002 33,892hl from 647ha (Guide Hachette 2004, p.1075). | 1988 30,000hl of red/rosé and 2,000hl of white from 830 hectares (2,051 acres) (Clive Coates, 1990, p.252).
Côtes du Vivarais Blanc AOC: Grenache Blanc (minimum 50%), Clairette Blanche and/or Marsanne (minimum 30%).
Côtes du Vivarais Rosé AOC: Syrah (maximum 80%), Grenache Noir (maximum 60%), Cinsault (minimum 10%).
Côtes du Vivarais Rouge AOC: Syrah (minimum 40%), Grenache Noir (minimum 30%), Cinsault (maximum 10% 2017+) & Carignan (maximum 10% 2018+).
Clive Coates MW, The Wines of France (London, 1990).
Oxford Companion to Wine 4th edition ed. Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW (Oxford University Press, 2015).