Legend has it that the famous "Calisson d'Aix", a sort of marzipan confectionery, takes its name from a hillside on the Calissanne estate which used to be planted with almond trees. Without that sun-kissed slope, the legend goes, the "Calisson" might never have been invented... But vines and olive trees are what have built the latter-day reputation of this vast estate dotted with Mediterranean trees - which provide natural shelter for wildlife such as partridge and wild boar.
In the fourth century BC, Calissanne was the "Oppidum of Constantine", a stronghold occupied by Celtic-Ligurians; today it still surveys the estate, and its superb northern rampart, reworked by the Romans in the first century AD, is still highly visible.
It was during this era, as the Romans advanced northwards up the Rhône Valley, that the estate was planted with vines and olive trees. Calissanne retains plentiful traces of that Gallo-Roman period,including a first-century amphora - unearthed in 1990 during tilling between the vines - and the remains of several villas scattered at the foot of the Oppidum.
A place alive with history
During the 11th and 12th centuries, the estate belonged to the "Hospitaliers de St Jean-de-Jérusalem", who became the Order of Malta. At this time, the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Calissanne was known to contain remains of the Virgin Mary's garments.
In the 17th century a member of the Parliamentary Court of Aix, Monsieur de Leydet, commissioned the current château. In the 19th century, lastly, the estate was acquired by Charles Auguste Verminck, a Marseille industrialist who owned soapworks and oilworks. He gave a great impetus to the estate, setting up several farms on the site - Sainte Modeste, La Ferme Neuve, Font de Leu, Le Jas de Bayle, Le Moulin de la Durançole - and today, all of these buildings echo that era's extensive farming activity.
As for the château itself, the huge vaulted stables, the dovecotes with their varnished rooftiles, and the majestic horse trough, suggest the scope of the estate's activities.
After the grandeur of the Verminck era, Calissanne was gradually dedicated in the 20th century to cultivating vines and olive trees. In 2001, Château Calissanne was acquired by Philippe Kessler.He restructured the vineyards and olive groves, and extended and modernised the vinification cellar and the maturing cellars in order to enhance the quality of the wines.