Provence is the birthplace of the French vineyard. The ancient Greeks (traders from the city of Phocaea) brought wines and vines to southern France around 600 BC, when they founded the city of Marseille. In the 2,600 years since, the art and culture of winemaking have become central to the local way of life.
In the time of the Greeks, all wines were generally pale in color – the color of today's rosés. By the time that the Romans reached the area in 125 BC, the rosé wine produced there had a reputation across the Mediterranean for its high quality. But even with the Romans' introduction of red wine, rosé held firm in the area the Romans called Provincia Romana – today's Provence.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, various invaders came and went, each influencing the Provençal winemaking tradition through grapes brought from their home regions. It wasn't until the Middle Ages, however, that winemaking in Provence saw real growth. This was brought about by the monastic orders in the local abbeys, who made rosé wine a revenue source for the monasteries.
Starting in the 14th century, the nobility and military leaders acquired and managed many vineyards in Provence, laying the foundation for the region's modern-day viticulture. Rosé became prestigious, the wine of kings and aristocrats. At the end of the 19th century, however, the phylloxera epidemic reached Provence and devastated the region's vineyards, forcing vintners to replant.
The birth of the railroad opened up new markets for Provençal wine, and in the 20th century, as the tourism industry grew up along the Côte d'Azur, rosé production increased. In 1935, the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) was founded to define and establish the terroir and production criteria for individual winegrowing regions, called AOCs.
In recent years, a new generation of winemakers has begun incorporating modern techniques into the traditional methods of rosé production, improving the wine's character and quality. After having been largely ignored outside of France for decades, rosé – perhaps Provence's best-kept secret – is being rediscovered worldwide as a modern, versatile wine that complements today's lifestyles.
Today the best and truest rosés still come from Provence, the rosé center of the world.