The Urban Appellation

I can still remember the first time I tasted a wine from Bellet. It was the autumn of 1988. I had just started working in wine, and had flown down to Provence for a week of visiting vineyards, staying with my parents in their little holiday cottage. This last day, they were driving me back to Nice airport, then a small one building concern outside of Nice, seemingly perched on the beach.

An old view from Nice airport looking north west across the Var. Bellet on the hills to the right.

We stopped for lunch at the restaurant des Verriers in Biot, so named after the thriving local industry of the distinctive, bubble-filled Biot glass.

Biot glass jug

We sat on the terrace, and ordered a bottle of red 1982 Château de Crémat. It arrived in its distinctive squat bottle covered with a fine wire net. I can still remember the aromas and taste of this wine as memories of hot summers filled the glass: the dried roses and carnations of pot pourri, scenting warm cedar wood drawers, ripe strawberry fruit and hints of autumn plums. I remember the sommelier being very happy with my comments and he added that the scent of flowers was typical of the wines of Bellet, because the vineyards were scattered amongst the glasshouses used for growing carnations.

I decided this was a region I wanted to explore, and the next time I drove to the airport I would go via Bellet. I looked at the map and planned my route from the centre of the Var, past Fayence, Grasse, Gattières, across the Var and – voila – I would be in Bellet.

I had not bargained for the length of time this trip would take, and by the time I had reached Gattières, all I could do was gaze across the wide Var river at the vineyards nestled amongst the greenhouses glittering in the sun. Lots of greenhouses. And then I had to race to the airport.

Over the past thirty years the greenhouses have slowly disappeared. In some places, such as Domaine de la Source, the greenhouses have been replaced by vineyards. In other places they were left and abandoned. Now, amongst the vineyards there are a growing number of housing developments, and Bellet is an urban appellation.

As Nice continues to develop, and now expand up the Var river valley, there has been some concerns expressed as to the impact of increased developments on the micro-climate. Vineyards on the western slopes overlooking the Var in particular now look over the large Riviera Allianz stadium, a growing airport, tramlines, offices and housing. Campaigners struggle to fight for the valley to be an ‘eco-valley’ preserving the green spaces on the valley floor which were once market gardens, but the city continues to grow.

Riviera Allianz stadium seen from the hills of Bellet

I was reminded of this when I recently saw a chart from the American Association of Wine Economists, listing the most expensive vineyard areas in France, which included those of Bellet. This goes a long way to explain the high prices for a bottle of wine from Bellet and producers have risen to the challenge, consistently producing exciting wines from the region.

The price of vineyard land in France

The pot pourri and cedar are no longer hallmarks of the red wines. The floral scented Braquet is increasingly used in the appellation’s distinctive rosés, leaving red wines predominantly made from Folle Noir, with its Syrah-like spice and black fruit and Italianate mineral acidity and firm tannins. Rolle, once only found in the white wines of Bellet, but now all over Provence, is still the main white variety.

It is quite an achievement that the ten producers in just over 50ha have managed to maintain both a market presence and a high standard of wines.


Clos St Vincent, Bellet in The Wine Spectator

In Robert Camuto’s latest ‘Letter from Europe’ for the Wine Spectator, he writes about Clos St Vincent in Bellet. This region is often missed in the international press because of it is small size, so good to see some good coverage.

I will be taking a group of wine scholars with the Wine Scholar Guild to Bellet on their trip to Provence this June, when we will taste these wines and others at the start of the trip.

View of Bellet Vineyards

View from the vineyards of Bellet – looking west across the Var river


Framboise, the traditional grape of Nice?

Traditional Nicoises with vine

Traditional Nicoises with vine

In 2010 a Niçois manifesto was written encouraging people in the area around Nice to replant a grape variety known as framboise, claiming it was part of Niçois tradition, and a symbol of local identity.

“Si vous avez dans vos relations quelques vieilles familles niçoises qui ont participé à cet acte de résistance et que vous disposez d’un bout de terrain; n’hésitez pas plantez vous aussi une treille de raisin framboise; c’est un acte de résistance qui conforte notre identité nissarde et qui en plus vous apportera beaucoup de plaisir gustatif. Sans parler du plaisir d’emmerder les autorités de la puissance occupante.”

The website Gralon describes the variety as being azuréen typique (typical of the Côte d’Azur), while a wine thread on a forum website includes a thread where people are searching about the variety framboise – with memories of childhood delight in eating the juicy fruit and asking for, or offering, cuttings.

This variety has never, as far as I can establish been included in the wines of Bellet, so I was intrigued to discover more about this variety which is so highly regarded in the region.

Bellet has always been the largest and best known wine producing region around Nice, but, before the arrival of phylloxera, many more hills and valleys in the County of Nice produced wine. These ranged in style from strong red wines, light red, white, sparkling and sweet wines near the coast, to lighter and more acidic wines from villages higher up and further inland.

Framboise ripening at 1000m in St Martin Vésubie

Framboise ripening at 1000m in St Martin Vésubie

The wines of the Haut Pays and the higher valleys, including those of the Roya, Vésubie, Tinée and the upper Var, before phylloxera, were generally regarded as poor in quality. Foderé, in 1821, noted that the grapes rarely ripened sufficiently; the white wines were more thin and acidic than the wines of Alsace, and were made drinkable only by blending with red wine from Provence, although the grapes were delicious as table grapes – very sweet with good acidity. Much of the wine was distilled.

Along the coast the grapes were harvested in September, further inland, at higher altitude, not all ripened by late October, and the harvest was often not until early November, similar to those in north and north-west France. The sunnier, exposed slopes of Rimplas in Valdeblore were able to produce a more generous wine.[1]

Rimplas in 1906 with south facing terraces

Rimplas in 1906 with south facing terraces

Phylloxera arrived in Provence in 1863, one of the first regions to be infected in France. But it was not until the 1890s that grape growers in the Alpes Maritimes were offered American rootstocks (largely immune to the ravages of the phylloxera louse) for replanting their vines. Isabella, an old American variety, probably descended from the of a wild native vine Vitis labrusca and another, unknown variety, was one of several different rootstocks, but was found to be less successful than other American varieties in protecting the European vines from phylloxera .

Over the years 1894 to 1897, grape growers throughout the Alpes Maritimes applied for various American rootstocks and different Vitis vinifera varieties to be grafted on to the rootstocks. They were not always given the quantities or varieties they wanted, resulting in a very different viticultural profile of the region. Villages which received fewer vines than requested slowly made less wine, and many chose not to replant but instead turned to the lucrative business of growing flowers under glass for the society winter season along the Cote d’Azur and for exporting to northern Europe during the winter. The hills around Nice started to shimmer with greenhouses.

Greenhouses for flowers opposite Domaine Toasc

Greenhouses for flowers opposite Domaine Toasc

Despite its poor performance as a rootstock to protect against phylloxera, Isabella, or framboise as it was to become known locally, became popular for its dark red grapes. Its sweet, raspberry-strawberry fruit flavour, albeit tinged with a distinctive ‘foxy’, musky, almost animal-like character, made it a popular grape for eating fresh, for wine, eau-de-vie and jams, and is reflected in some of its local names in Italy, Corsica and south eastern France: Fragola, Framboisier or Framboise. Framboise’s ability to flourish in both the hot summers of southern France and the cold winters of the sub-alpine villages behind Nice, added to its attraction. Its high sugar and alcohol levels when mature made for a heady wine which never needed chaptalisation.

Its success was short lived. On 24th January 1935, a law was introduced by the senator Emile Cassez, of the Haute Marne and Minister of Agriculture, to ban the planting American vines (framboise, clinton herbemont, jacquet, noah and othello). The reason given for banning these were that they produce a higher level of methanol, due to greater amounts of skin pectins, which could apparently lead to madness. There was also concern that if allowed, including these in classic French wines would alter the traditional taste.

Framboise vine used on a trellis for shade

Framboise vine used on a trellis for shade

By the 1950s, any remaining American vines were compulsorily grubbed up, with compensation, although three vines were allowed per household, for domestic use. Many took cuttings and hid them, only to replant vines illegally after the inspectors left. These vines, unlike European vines, did not need grafting onto rootstocks and could easily be propagated with cuttings – so that nurserymen (pépinieres) were not needed to do the grafting.

The 2010 Niçois manifesto claimed that it had been banned under a false pretext with no medical or scientific paper proving that drinking framboise wine led to madness. The writer went on to claim that the main reason for banning framboise was that Cassez had personal and substantial interests in the wine trade in Algeria and that his business, supplying strong alcoholic red wine for bolstering up weaker French wines, was being undermined by the use of wine made from framboise for blending.

Framboise as table grapes

Framboise as table grapes

In 2003 the law against planting these vines was lifted. Today, many houses in the arrière pays behind the appellation of Bellet, have framboise vines in their gardens, often grown over a pergola for shade, sometimes in a short row in a garden for eating. Many people make a sweet jelly with the fruit, although I find the foxy flavour dominates the fresh raspberry acidity, and prefer, English style, to add vinegar to mask the foxiness and to serve it as a savoury relish.

[1] Fodéré ‘Voyage aux Alpes Maritimes’ (1821); Thevenon, Luc monograph ‘Vignobles de la Montagne Niçoise’; Durante, Louis ‘Chorographie de Comté de Nice’ (Turin 1847)

New Beginnings at Château de Bellet

While I was giving a tasting of Bellet wines on a super-yacht in Monaco, Chateau de Bellet held their opening night for their new cellars and tasting room.

Fellow blogger Chrissie McClatchie of Riviera Grapevine attended and wrote up the event for me.

“Back in 2012, it was announced that the acclaimed Nice vineyard Château de Bellet had been sold to La Française Real Estate Manager (REM), a management company with a demonstrated interest in the wine industry, counting over 30 French vineyards in their portfolio.

REM had acquired this historic vineyard, so intertwined with the history of Bellet wine itself, along with another vineyard in the small Niçois appellation, Les Côteaux de Bellet. Continue reading

A winter’s day at the Bellet “Portes Ouvertes” open weekend

Bellet vineyards host two open day ‘Portes Ouvertes’ weekends a year – one in May with the new vintage, the other at the end of November – to provide an opportunity for customers to visit each of the domaines in a festive atmosphere and taste Bellet wines in-situ. We went along for the second day. Despite the heavy grey clouds and blustery winds, the weather remained dry, so there was a good turnout of visitors. The Saturday had been less well attended, possibly due to a rugby match in the stadium below the vineyards in Bellet. Continue reading

Bellet ‘Portes Ouvertes’ 29-30 November 2014

Next weekend (29 and 30 November 2014) the vineyards of Bellet will be opening their doors (from 10h – 18h) for visitors to come and taste their wines and make their selections for the Christmas festivities and gifts.

A wet, but warm, welcome at the 2013 Bellet Portes Ouvertes

Last year it rained solidly throughout the weekend, making the dash from car to cellar a very wet experience, so I am very much hoping that this year will be a slightly drier event.

Most domaines will be offering tastings of their current vintages of rosé and white wines from the 2013 vintage, with some older, oak aged whites and red wines of various vintages.



domaine de la source voucher

Gift voucher from Domaine de la Source





The brother and sister team of Carine and Eric Dalmasso at Domaine de la Source are offering socca and roast chestnuts with their wines, They also have gift vouchers for wines and a vineyard visit.


St Jean chocolate bottle

Red wine and chocolate on offer at Domaine St Jean





Nathalie and Jean-Patrick Pacioselli at Domaine St Jean are offering a gift package of a bottle of their red wine with a chocolate wine bottle made by a local chocolatier…. looking forward to tasting that combination!

Many vineyards also have their own olive oil as well.




The route round Bellet forms a neat circuit on the hills above Lingostiére and St Isidore.


The Bellet route des vins on the hills north of Nice




New Vintage 2013 Tasting of the wines of AC Bellet

The annual new 2013 vintage tasting for the small (around 60ha) appellation of Bellet is always extremely civilised. With only twelve domaines, each showing three to five wines, it is easy to taste all the wines in one morning, to chat to the producers and the other tasters, largely sommeliers working in the hotels, restaurants and wine shops of the Cotes d’Azur, and enjoy a light lunch together. Very few, if any, tasters come from outside the region and the wines of this appellation remain very much the wines of the wine connoisseurs of Nice.
This year was no exception. Set in the conference/tasting room at Chateau de Crémat, hosted by Cornelis and Jarmilla Kamerbeek, the room was flooded with spring sunlight and tasters could look over Nice, reminding us that this is very much an urban appellation. Views to the south of the Mediterranean and the foothills of the Alps to the north were reminders of two of the major influences on the microclimate of the region. Despite the early date (24th March) for this year’s event, it was warm and sunny enough for lunch outside on the terrace.

The tasting itself was of particular interest due to the weather in 2013. A cold, wet and long spring which had set ripening back by two to three weeks delaying harvest time into the wetter autumn season. Quantity was down, how were the wines?

Bernard Nicoletti of Domaine de Toasc, said that Rolle (Vermentino) vines often have two bunches in each main bunch. In a good year they are harvested together, with the smaller, interior bunch providing the acidity. In 2013, the extra acidity was not required, so in some cases, two harvests were carried out when the second bunch was riper. The winemaker at Chateau de Bellet mentioned that unusually, instead of all the Rolle being harvested before the late-ripening Braquet, in many cases the Rolle was harvested after the Braquet.
Overall, the impression of the wines from this tasting was one of freshness.

Continue reading

Bellet 2013 Vintage – Annual Tasting

The annual professional Bellet tasting of the new white and rosé wines from the 2013 vintage as well as the rest of the Bellet wines currently available will be held on March 24th 2014 at Chateau de Crémat.

Last summer was cool and damp until June, delaying ripening by upto two weeks, with some very hot spells in July and August. Due to delayed ripening, harvest was set back to late September early October when threats of rain further threatened the harvest. It will be interesting to see how these wines taste.

Domaine de la Source June 2013

Domaine de la Source June 2013