There have been a fair few changes up at Château de Bellet, in the hills of Nice, over the past few years.
The vineyard, so synonymous with the appellation itself, boasts a history dating centuries and a winemaking tradition passed down through the generations of Barons of Bellet who have called the château home.
Yet in 2012 the property was sold, along with neighbouring Bellet vineyard, Les Côteaux de Bellet, to La Française Real Estate Managers (REM), a large management company with a wide scope of interests, including wine.
Whilst it’s easy to bemoan the seemingly inevitable foray of the corporate world into this boutique, family-oriented appellation, I’m staying Switzerland on this one. Ghislain de Charnacé, the grandson of the last Baron of Bellet and appellation stalwart, is also the man who will be remembered for making the rather bold move to sell a family vineyard steeped in tradition. Yet, he obviously had his reasons for doing so.
REM must be applauded, however, for their commitment to maintaining the tradition of Château de Bellet whilst bringing the vineyard and its winemaking technology into the 21st century.
The new vintages still remain faithful to many of de Charnacé’s winemaking techniques; after all Braquet and Folle Noire are not varieties that every winemaker has experience cultivating. There was a long handover between de Charnacé and the new winemaking team. The first vintage without his involvement was 2014.
REM have heavily invested into the property as well, planting new vines and building a new, 800m2 cellar which includes state of the art, gravity fed winemaking equipment. As with other vineyards in the appellation, Château de Bellet is organic, having obtained their certification in 2013.
So, how has this change of ownership affected the visitor experience?
Firstly, visitors are welcomed on a new site; the once incredibly private family chapel dating from 1873 has been deconsecrated and converted into a tasting room and boutique which can now be accessed from an entry point at 482 route de Saquier. The setting is spectacular: perched on one of the highest slopes in Bellet and surrounded by the vines used to make Château de Bellet’s most prestigious white wines, Cuvée La Chapelle and Cuvée Baron G. The chance to discover this hidden treasure is worth a visit itself.
The Côteaux de Bellet annexe, at 327 route de Saquier, which served as a makeshift tasting room and boutique since the start of the work, is now closed.
A new visit and tasting formula is now proposed; for €20 per person you are invited to enjoy a ‘balade libre’ in the vines, a walk through the vines around the chapel. Visitors are provided with a map introducing the grape varieties and terroir. Well placed arrows ensure there’s no chance anyone will get lost! It’s now actually one of the rare opportunities to get in amongst the vines in Bellet, as so many properties don’t have vineyards on site.
From there, visitors are taken on a guided tour through the new cellar facilities, which also serve as a function space outside of harvest time, before returning to the terrace of the chapel to select four wines to taste.
Overall, it’s a highly recommended Nice wine experience.
As I’ve mentioned before, the best way to access this vineyard, along with the other Bellet vineyards, is by car. If you are, however, limited to public transport, catch the bus 62 to Poste de Saint-Roman and then follow the signposted shortcuts, known as raccourcis du Pilon 1 & 2. This map may help.
Children will also enjoy discovering the property; from the walk through the vines to the impressive cellar facilities. When it comes to the adult stuff, the tasting, the vineyard are on hand to offer colouring in supplies and grape juice to keep them entertained.
Visitors are welcome without any prior appointment, Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5.30pm.
For more information, visit the Château de Bellet website.