Here in Costières de Nîmes, the Volques are our wine-making ancestors. No one can deny the contributions made by the Romans in our beautiful area, but when they arrived here in 121 BC, they found an epicurean civilization that had already been cultivating vines for 4 centuries — the Volques Arécomiques. This Celtic confederation founded Nîmes and built the first version of the famous “Tour Magne” which continues to dominate our city. A people of Mediterranean commerce, they developed a taste for Etruscan wines, and planted the first vineyards of Gaul.
The Volque landowner had all the trappings of a hedonistic life. Simultaneously a farmer, a fisherman, and a rancher, his farm usually had a piggery, a salt house as well as a smokehouse. He vinified and pressed wine for his own consumption. His vineyards were planted in rows, much like the ones that now grow on our hillsides and valleys (in a future post I will explain how the excavations on our own plots have revealed traces of such ancient vines). Carefully preserved in clay “dolia” (and as of the first century BC, wooden barrels), these wines were enjoyed “Greek style”, with all the clay dishes (amphorae, jug and cup) that were considered an integral part of the culinary arts of the period. In short, we have to admit just how much we resemble our Volque ancestors in our epicurean lifestyle!
Later, with the Romans and their commerce, our local tradition of wine expanded, driven by their trade routes and the reputation of our wines. During the Middle Ages, wine making here was managed by powerful abbeys. According to ledgers from the “Palais des Papes” in Avignon, the area of our appellation was a main supplier of wine to the Popes of that era. Thomas Jefferson was one of the best wine connoisseurs of his age. During his travels in 1787 across southern France he drank a wine whose taste lingered on his palate for the rest of his life, and he imported it during his retirement years. That wine came from a vineyard near Nîmes.
Over the centuries viticulture has continually been a major part of our landscape. 2500 years of a wine tradition on the same soil, under the blessings of pagan gods; and then Greek, Roman and Christian! Can we say that Costières de Nîmes is the oldest living vineyard in France? I’ll leave that question for the historians, but at the very least it is an ancient love story between a land, its people and their wine that continues today.