AOC Coteaux Varois en Provence attained its official status in 1993. The region encompasses a wide variety of soils and elevations, with Chateau Routas situated at the center, about an hour north of Bandol.
Well known among rock climbers for its limestone cliffs, the Varois is gaining recognition as a wine region through the efforts of serious producers like Chateau Routas. The region's reds can display a robust, Rhone-like richness, and its whites show breeding and verve.
Chateau Routas abounds in the agricultural diversity that is key to vine health. The estate's 260 hectares encompass wheat fields and olive trees, and black truffles stud the earth. Red poppies give way to brilliant yellow sunflowers, and in the fall, the surrounding forests yield abundant mushrooms-cepes (porcini), fragile girolles, and morels. Helpful insects play their part in keeping the vines disease-free. The terrain is punctuated by a stunning geological anomaly, the 885-deep Infernet Hole (Devil's Hole), a canyon thought to have been created by a meteor collision. The hole is a favorite refuge of the local wild boars, which are unfortunately a little too fond of the Chateau Routas grapes!
As in all the best properties, the Chateau Routas soil varies dramatically, resulting in small vineyards that are often unusually shaped. Some plots are red as crushed brick, while others are of crumbly grey limestone mixed with bright red stones that bleach in the hot summer sun. At 1,300 feet above sea level, the elevation is among the appellation's highest, providing cool nights that slow the ripening of the grapes, contributing complexity and dictating harvests that are up to a month later than those below.
Jean Louis was raised about five hours to the north in Chablis, with its famed limestone soil. Upon leaving school, however, he headed for Provence and learned the art of making exquisite rose at Bandol's Domaine Ott, a skill he has brought to bear on the acclaimed Chateau Routas rose.
A tall man with worker hands and half-moon eyebrows, Jean Louis loves to discuss his philosophy of wine. He speaks of grape varieties in almost human terms. "It is not a good idea ever to have a 50/50 blend," he said; "they fight each other for dominance."
Raised virtually in the shadow of Chateau Routas, Philippe Saraciva has Varois dirt under his nails. He discovered his life's work early on, learning from his grandfather how to taste grapes for ripeness and prune the vines in wintertime. He joined Chateau Routas fresh out of school. "Professionally, I grew up here," he reflected.
Philippe sees his challenge as producing the best possible grapes for winemaker Jean Louis. With almost twenty five years’ experience working together, the two have a near-telepathic rapport, timing the harvest for optimum acidity and complexity of flavour.