A Birthday in Cassis

I absolutely adore birthdays – especially mine! Ask any of my friends and they’ll summarily inform you I’ve brainwashed them into remembering the day without fail. June 18th. Every year. Same date.

Honestly, I can’t tell you how much I love celebrating my birthday. It’s like a national holiday. Usually, I plan what I would consider unique experiences in places that, surprisingly, are situated in or near a wine region. Last year was no exception and I chose Provence’s adorable port town of Cassis. As it happens, Cassis also has its own AOC and makes lovely wines. Moreover, I had seen amazing photographs of the incredible Clos Ste Magdeleine vineyards and was eager to see them firsthand.

Upon arriving, you’re greeted by gently rolling hills covered in vines. But my eyes were immediately drawn from the port to the most impressive vineyard of them all – the spectacular Clos Ste Magdeleine. Vines run steeply from the water’s edge all the way up to the dominating, ominous stone outcropping of Cap Canaille, the highest sea cliff in France. Pictures are simply incapable of doing this place justice. For my birthday, I arranged a winery tour for my friends with the promise of a tasting afterwards (not everyone is as taken by beautiful vineyards as I am, so I do my best to accommodate them!). After all, many of them travelled considerable distances to be here with me so I had better make it worth their while!

The estate has been in the Zaliropulo family since 1920, with the family’s fourth generation now at the helm. The vineyard is actually even older, being founded at the end of the 19th century – even receiving a gold medal at the 1990 Universal Exhibition in Paris. Although it was original composed of 20 acres in the Bouches du Rhone AOC, Clos Ste Magdeleine was reclassified upon creation of the Cassis AOC in 1936. The AOC is relatively small but punches above its weight with the 11 vineyards producing quality white and rosé wines. Clos Ste Magdeleine prides itself on its organic farming and sustainable agriculture with some of the vines being up to 40 years old. It certainly is spectacularly stunning with the vines planted in terraces that sweep up the slopes to the Cap Canaille.

After a stroll through the vineyards and an informative, entertaining talk by our guide, we made our way to the tasting room to sample some of this vineyard’s consistently produced, beautifully balanced wines. Marsanne is the principal grape for the whites, followed by Clairette, Ugni Blanc and Bourboulenc. While tasting the whites, I noted a slight saltiness which I believe is the key to identifying wines from this area. After all, these vines benefit from the cool, salty air as it lazily drifts off the Mediterranean Sea. The rosé is made from equal parts Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre and displays a lovely minerality. We all loved the wines! And, after stocking up, we meandered back down to the port. As we dangled our legs off the dock with a golden sun speckling the water it was time for one last Happy Birthday cheers with my friends. We raised a chilled glass of rosé and I couldn’t imagine a better birthday – at least until next year!