Keith Van SickleTasteWines and Spirits of Provence

Mas des Tourelles Wines How to Drink Like a Roman

Near the town of Beaucaire is something unique in the world. Built on the site of a Roman villa, it is a faithful reconstruction of a Roman winery. Visitors learn how winemaking was done when Rome ruled the world. There is a chance to sample wines that have been made using ancient recipes—fenugreek, anyone?

Fine wine has been made on the site of Mas des Tourelles for millennia. The current mas (large stone farmhouse) was built in the early 17th century. The vineyard’s wines have been praised by Rabelais and served by French kings.

Such wines are still made at the Mas des Tourelles, but Hervé Durand decided to try something new one day. Working with archaeologists, he recreated a Roman vineyard and wine cellar and decided to try Roman winemaking.

Touring Mas des Tourelles

A Roman garden leads to the vineyard, where vines are supported by different structures—trellises, pergolas, even olive trees. A path runs alongside an orchard and an aromatherapy garden, leading to the archaeological remains of a Gallo-Roman amphora-making workshop with its potters’ kilns.

Mas des Tourelles wine press from winery

The winemaking cellar has a giant wooden press, plus woven baskets used for the harvest and earthenware storage jars. Highlighting it all is a film demonstrating Roman winemaking techniques. There are plenty of explanatory panels, and all of the information is presented in French, English, and German. The staff speaks English as well, and the film has English subtitles.

A Roman perfumery has also been recreated, with its monumental wedge press (perfumes were based on olive oil.) A film and explanatory panels introduce this important part of Roman culture.

The winery also includes a game room where kids and adults can play Roman games. During the summer, there are special events for kids, like workshops on making mosaics or oil lamps (reservations required.) There is also an introduction to archaeological techniques, led by an archaeologist and appropriate for adults and kids ages 6 and up.

The visit ends with a wine tasting (grape juice for the kids) where you can buy some to share with friends. Half-bottles are available, including a starter kit with one bottle of each of the Roman wines.

The Wines

Mas des Tourelles Roman Wines

The winery produces three Roman-style wines:

Mulsum (literally “honey”) was praised by Pliny the Elder and often served as an aperitif. It is a blend of wine and honey, infused with spices like pepper and cinnamon.

Turriculae is a classic dry Roman wine. Based on a recipe from Lucius Columelle, its ingredients include iris, fenugreek, and—most surprisingly—seawater! Definitely a unique taste.

The recipe for the sweet Carenum comes from the poet Palladius. Grapes are harvested when they are very mature, and to their juice is added defrutum, a concentrated grape juice heated with quinces.

Mas des Tourelles Roman Wines

When in Rome

If you are in Provence in September, stop by for the traditional “Roman harvest.” Workers in tunics pick the grapes, then stomp the fruit by foot before it is pressed.

Mas des Tourelles Roman Wine Harvest

Here’s a short video that shows what it looks like (in French.)

Mas des Tourelles, with its lovely setting and unique ambience, is popular for events like weddings (togas not included.)

Practical information

Mas des Tourelles (website)
Website in English
Address: 4294, route de Saint-Gilles, Beaucaire
Phone: +33 (0)4 66 59 19 72
Price: 5.80 euros (kids under 18 accompanied by parents are free)
Hours: 9 am-12 pm and 2 pm-6 pm (last entry one hour before closing), closed on Sunday mornings

Image Credits:

Bacchus: public domain
Wine press: Mas des Tourelles website
Wine book: Mas des Tourelles website
Wines: Mas des Tourelles website
Harvest: © C. Parent

This article is based on content that Keith is collecting for his third book, “An Insiders Guide to Provence,” with a publication date of December 2021. Click here to pre-order the book.

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Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle

Keith and Val Van Sickle made their first trip to Provence decades ago, and it was love at first sight. After that, they came back every year until 2008, when they began a part-time life there, splitting their time between Provence and California.

Over the years, they’ve travelled all over Provence, seeing sights both well-known and obscure. Their French friends have introduced them to favourite restaurants and wineries and picnic spots and taught them funny local expressions (not all for polite company).

Keith now shares this local knowledge in his new book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Packed with the Van Sickles’ favourite things to see and do, it’s a must-have for anyone travelling to this glorious corner of France.

Keith previously published two books about the couple's experiences in Provence. One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both are available from Amazon.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.

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