Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hidden Wineries in the Steep Hills Above Nice - Visit to Chateau Bellet de Cremant in Bellet AOC

Zia at Chateau Bellet
(Summer 2014) Another afternoon during our two week stay in Nice to attend a French language school, we visited Chateau Bellet de Cremant in the steep hills above Nice. It was actually only a 10 minute drive from our gite that we rented in the hills, and is about 20 minutes from downtown Nice.

The Bellet AOC is the second smallest in France, after Chateau Grillet in the Northern Rhone. Bellot includes only 70 hectares of vineyards and 10 domaines (wineries). They do not advertise and there is no tourist office with maps to help you find the wineries. Instead you have to drive through the tiny winding roads in the steep hillsides above Nice until you see a small sign signaling a winery. Once you find one, it is necessary to call and make an appointment. Alternatively there are two open houses per year, if you arrive on the correct date.

The only winery that is open to tourists without an appointment is Chateau Bellet de Cremant, which is the largest. It is an impressive structure that looks like a small castle with stone walls, gates, and towers. A special feature is the massive stone balcony that provides amazing views of the Mediterranean Ocean and Nice far below. Technically it is considered to be one of the only wineries in a French city, though really it appears to be in the far rural outskirts of Nice.

The winery was established in 1906, and built on the site of an ancient Roman galley, where they stored treasure. Now that portion of the chateau is used for the barrel cellar.

Legend States Coco Chanel Visited Chateau Bellet de Cremant

Double "C" Logo Over Door
Another interesting story about the chateau is that the original owner used the logo “CC” for Chateau Cremant, but when CoCo Chanel apparently visited in the early 1900’s she fell in love with the logo and adopted it for her own. The owner, who adored her, gave her the right to use the logo and changed the logo of the chateau to “CK” – not nearly as exciting. However the original “CC” logo, which looks just like the famous logo used by the House of Chanel (one of my favorite places), can still be found carved into the walls and above the main door.

Vineyards of Rolle, Braquet and Folle Noire Grapes

We visited the tasting room and were greeted in a very friendly fashion, though we did not have an appointment. The service was excellent, and we were told the history of the estate, invited to walk through the facility and vineyards, and given three wines to taste.

In terms of production, the Chateau has 15 hectares of grapes and produces 40,000 bottles of wine per year. They do not export, and only sell at the winery and in select wineshops and restaurants in France.

Chateau Bellet produces 4 major grape varieties: Rolle, Chardonnay, Braquet and Folle Noire*. Farming is all organic and the vineyards are planted on narrow ledges along the edge of the steep hills. We walked into a Rolle vineyard (which is the French name for Vermentino) that had 3 x 3 spacing on a tall VSP trellis. We were told the soil is primarily “sand and stones called Poudingue.”

Steep Vineyards of Bellet
The red grape for which they are most famous is the Braquet, which originally came from the Braquetto region of Italy. It produces a lighter colored red like pinot noir, and has similar berry flavors, but a more earthy note.

Tasting of Three Wines at Chateau Bellet de Cremant

2013 Rose ($17E). 50% Braquet and 25% Grenache and 25% Cinsault. Crisp but with soft tannis and rounder on palate. Bigger mouthfeel from the Braquet grape. Drink young - within 2 to 3 years of release. 

2011 White ($20E) – 95% rolle and 5%chardonnay.  Aged in 100% new oak barrels for 50% of wine.  Tasted like heavily oaked chardonnay, but more of old world style.  Vermentino eclipsed by oak, but good acidity, with buttery ML. Aged 3 years in bottle before release. Signature wine. Very unique.

2010 Red ($23E) – 60% Folle Noire and 40% Grenache. Aged in oak for 12 months, then bottle for 2 more years. Berry, smoke, stone on nose as well as on palate, but with surprising white pepper finish that was very long. Rather amazing wine – also quite unique. Purchased this one. (*Note: I couldn’t find the Folle Noire grape in any book, but when translated into English it becomes Wild Black.)

Altogether, we enjoyed our visit to Chateau Bellet de Cremant, and would gladly return again in the future.

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