A family story...
In 2000, two young people in their twenties from Saint-Rémy, brother and sister, Anne and Gilles Brun, decided to open an oil mill in Saint-Rémy de Provence.
They come from a line of five generations of Saint-Rémy farmers and are descendants of the branch of the poet Frédéric Mistral, and their attachment to the area gave them the determination to overcome all the obstacles that they were to encounter.
The various traditional Alpilles varieties were replanted around the Mill:
After more than 40 years’ absence from Saint-Rémy de Provence, oil-making has begun again in the commune with the Calanquet oil mill, which was inaugurated on 8 February 2001, at the dawn of the third millennium.
Its name stems from the lovely site on which it is built, in the countryside 4 kilometres from the centre of Saint-Rémy, on the old Roman road. It originates from the word "calan", meaning a rock used as a welcome shelter from the Mistral.
The history of the Mills of Saint-Rémy de Provence
The Greeks and Romans grew olive trees on the northern slopes of the Alpilles. On the Glanum site (a Roman town 1 km north of modern St Rémy) there is a large stone slab intended to support an olive grinding wheel in the corner of the “Doric portico” and traces of a press on the western side of the Rue des Thermes. From the Middle Ages to modern times, oil was produced for home consumption only.
In Saint-Remy-de-Provence, there is evidence of the work of mill owners during a number of periods. In 1829 there were 3 mills producing 450 hectolitres over the year. In 1888, two mills employed 24 workers and operated until 1956. In addition, the third mill in the “Impasse du Lapin Blanc” (now rue Hoche) was still operating at the start of the 20th Century.
But the olive plantations painted by Van Gogh suffered from periodic frosts, especially those of 1889 and 1956. Production fell from 800 quintals of olives in 1912 to 125 quintals in 1930. After the catastrophic frost of 1956, the last remaining mills became oil merchants in Saint-Remy-de-Provence and the region, then ceased to operate. In 1969, over 3000 olive trees were declared to be “regenerating” and 400 were planted.
The second birth of green gold in Saint-Rémy
In 2000, the remains of an oil mill over 2000 years old were discovered in Saint Remy, to the north of the modern town.
In the meantime, a number of lovely 16th and 18th Century oil mills had become well known cultural venues or decorative shops. The olive growers on the north side of the Alpilles therefore had nowhere to go to press their olive oil.
The baptismal oil of the Kings of France
The Bishopric of Reims traditionally received the revenues from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, which explains why the town supplied oil for the coronation of the kings of France. In 496, Saint Rémy baptised Clovis in Reims, who thus became the first Frankish king converted to Christianity. To baptise him, he used olive oil produced in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. This tradition was carried down through the centuries, up to the French revolution.