The Southern Rhône is in Provence, which is famous for many things, notably wine, of course. Then there are food, sunshine, an easygoing joie de vivre, and the people with their beautiful Provençal accent that is unique in France. It is also a center of perfume production and much of that perfume is made from a flower characteristic of the region: lavender.
If you are coming to taste wine in Provence at the right time of the year, the late spring and through mid-summer, you will have the added attraction of seeing lavender growing in the fields. You may catch a few buds in April and there are stragglers in the fields after the main harvest in the middle of July, but the radiance of the fields in full bloom is a reason to visit in the prime months.
Much as with grape vines, lavender is planted in orderly rows, so that it appears that fields and hillsides are striped in purple. Of course we call that shade of purple by the name of the flower, but lavender takes on different hues, depending on the time of day. In the hazy sun of morning, the plants are almost pink in hue. In full sunlight, it takes on the light violet color we associate with lavender. If you see the fields in the waning light of early evening, the plants appear to be a deep blue purple.
The scent of lavender hanging over the villages cannot be adequately described in words. This indescribable fragrance envelopes you, leads you on, holds you back, entices, seduces and ultimately leaves you with a wistful smile that lingers in your memory. If it is hard to summon the notion of a village embraced in this aroma, it is impossible to communicate the idea of an entire region smelling of lavender.
You ought to visit the Drôme Provençale, where you’ll find the charming villages of Nyons and Grignan with its château. You can take a tour of the Distillerie Bleu-Provence and see how they process the flowers into lavender oil. You will also enjoy a tasting of lavender tea and of course visit their attractive shop.
Our Provençal friends in Nyons have told us that they rub their arms and legs with lavender oil in the hot summer to avoid mosquito bites. It certainly smells better than what we find here in the US.
Even if you miss the high season, there are lavender products available in all the Provencal towns throughout the year. In almost every gift shop, you can find dried flowers, cosmetics, bottles of oils and tablecloths with lavender design. Lavender is sometimes mixed in herbes de provence and there are those who sprinkle the flowers on salads.
We like to think that some of the aroma of lavender finds its way into the more delicate wines of the southern Rhône. Search for it the next time you open a Côtes du Rhône.