Rhône

Domaine Salel et Renaud

In 1599, Oliver de Serre listed the main grape varieties of the Kingdom, including Chatus and Picardan….

Since 2007 Elise Renaud and Benoit Salel have been doing patient work as ampelographic archivists to find and replant old varieties which were once grown in the Ardèche Cévennes.

Like many of the more rural areas of France, the indigenous and ancient grape varieties of the southern Ardèche fell into oblivion. Along with the more familiar varieties that are found in appellations throughout the Rhône region, Elise and Benoit have patiently cultivated varieties such as Chatus, Dureza, Raisaine, and Picardan.

For them, these indigenous grape varieties are the soul and identity of the Cévennes Ardéchoises.

 

As Elise and Benoit have said, “There is nothing to invent, the future is simply what has been forgotten.”

 

Since 1994, Stéphane Otheguy has leased 1.5 hectares of vineyards from Vincent Gasse that are divided between the three northern Rhône appellations of Côte Rôtie, Condrieu and Saint Joseph. Stéphane left a career in education to study eonology at Macon after which he began working for Vincent Gasse. He spent seven years with M. Gasse farming in the organic and bio-dynamic methods that M. Gasse espoused and in 1994 when M. Gasse decided to retire Stéphane Otheguy took over and began making wine from these same vineyards. M. Otheguy is a member of Nature et Progres, an organization that oversees and certifies organic farming. The vineyards that Stéphane cultivates are among the most difficult in France to farm organically. They are extremely steep and rocky, making the use of machinery impossible and requiring a great deal ofintensive manual labor. His winemaking techniques are traditional or natural. The reds are fermented in open top containers. He has one of wood and one of cement. He does not introduce cultured yeast and fermentations are not controlled. For the extraction of the red wines, the cap is punched down (pigeage). The wines are unfiltered and unfined.

Domaine des Miquettes was created by Paul Estève and Chrystelle Vareille in 2003 in the village of Cheminas, a small village located on the high plateau above Tournon and Secheras, two towns located in the southern part of the Saint Joseph appellation. Paul and Chrystelle took over the farm from Paul’s family and turned one of the small farm buildings into a cramped and low-tech wine-making facility. In total, the domaine consists of five hectares. At the property in Cheminas, they have planted one hectare of Syrah and one of Viognier which are classified as Vin de Pays des Coteaux de L’Ardèche. They also have three hectares in Saint Joseph with 2.6 planted to Syrah and .4h planted to Marsanne. Paul had been working the Saint Joseph vineyard for the previous owner and when the owner decided to retire, Paul made arrangements to take over the three hectares.

The Saint Joseph vineyard is located in the high hills above Secheras at an altitude of around 350 meters. It is planted on a steep hillside with soils of granite mixed with micaschist and its exposure is east/southeast. The vineyards, both in Saint Joseph and the Coteaux de L’Ardèche are certified as organic farms. The vineyard rows are worked throughout the year with either a tractor or horse drawn plough which is used on the more difficult terrains.

All harvesting is done by hand and the fermentations occur with natural yeasts and little or no temperature adjustments. Both white and red wines are matured in large casks, “demi-muids” for a year before bottling.

Several years ago, during a visit to Georgia, Paul and Chrystelle were inspired to make wine in the ancient tradition in clay amphorae buried in the earth. They built a chai dedicated to 26 buried clay jars, and use them for the vinification and maturation of the red and orange wines they call Madloba (‘thank you’ in Georgian).

Domaine les 4 Vents, formerly Le Domaine de Lucie is the domaine of Lucie Fourel and her sister, Nancy Cellier. Lucie is a young “vigneronne”, who in 2006 took over 3.5 hectares in Crozes-Hermitage from her parents with the idea of making wines from her family’s vineyards under her own label. In 2013, her sister Nancy, decided to join the family business and the domain name was changed to Domaine les 4 Vents which was the name of the Auberge that Lucie and Nancy’s great grandparents owned next door to where the family house and winery is today. In 2015, Lucie and Nancy inherited the remaining 6.5 hectares from their parents, bringing the domain to its current size of 10 hectares. Before returning to the family estate, Lucie spent a few years as an apprentice with different wineries in the Rhone Valley during which time she developed her philosophy and practices for organic and bio-dynamic farming as well as natural vinification. Domaine Les 4 Vents has both organic and bio-dynamic certifications. Lucie does not use any sulfur during the winemaking process and only just before bottling does she add a minimal dose. The wines are fermented using only indigenous yeasts.

The Vignoble de Diois stretches for 30 kilometers as it follows the path of the Drome River from the Vercors mountains of the Alps to the Rhône River valley near Valence. The area’s magnificent landscape brings hikers, bikers, and all manner of outdoor enthusiasts to the doorsteps of the Diois producers. Limited production, the tourism market and the idiosyncratic style of Diois wine have combined to keep The Clairette de Die appellation off almost everyone’s radar.

Along with his Percheron named Rafale, Thierry Marcel farms 7 hectares of vineyards in the sleepy village of Ponet et Saint Auban. The fifth generation of his family to farm in the village, Thierry took over in 2005 and moved toward an organic way of farming for which he received certification in 2011.

One of the 14 Côtes du Rhône Villages appellations, Rousset-Les-Vignes is situated in the northeastern corner of the Côtes du Rhône “méridonale”. The tiny village is set against the backdrop of the Montagne de la Lance, a mountain range that bleeds into the Pré-Alps. The location of Rousset-Les-Vignes gives its vineyards the dual influence of Mediterranean and Alpine climates. As its name suggests, the village has a long association with vineyards, yet today there are fewer than 100 hectares planted and most of the growers sell their grapes to the local cooperative, all of which has kept this remarkable terroir off the wine professional’s radar.

The four hectares of Domaine de la Banate were purchased by Jean T’Kint in 2011. He immediately began farming organically and received certification three years later.  Jean’s vineyard is on the village’s lower terrace at an elevation of 340 meters. The well drained soils are formed from deep alluvial sandy-clays mixed with surface stones.

The hilltop village of Vinsobres is situated between the Pré-Alpes and Mont Ventoux in the northeastern corner of the Côtes du Rhône “méridionale”. After having been classified as Côtes du Rhône Villages, Vinsobres was elevated to “Cru” status in 2006, becoming the first in the Drôme department. The majority of Vinsobre’s vineyards were planted as a result of the devastating frost of 1956 which wiped out the village’s olive groves. The slopes were re-planted with vines giving the appellation a high percentage of old vines. The vineyards range from 200 to 500 meters in elevation and Vinsobres’ unique terroir is considered by many to be the finest for Syrah in the southern Rhone.

Victor Taylor is an American wine professional who somehow wound up in the remote town of Nyons in the Drôme department (had to be either a witness protection program or an addiction to olive oil). In 2011, not far from Nyons, he stumbled upon some old vines sloping away from the Vinsobres plateau with a breathtaking view of Mont Ventoux and a “for sale” sign. Let us just say that after 5 years of relentless effort he and his partner, Xavier Nyssen produced their first vintage in 2016.

The 10 hectare domain lies at an altitude of 450 meters in the “lieu dit” called “Les Côtes”. The land is split evenly between vineyards and forest. The Serre Besson vineyard slopes down from the forested mountain crest with the Syrah planted at the highest elevation and the other varieties continuing down the slope. Within the 5 hectares of vineyards, there are 11 parcels, one hectare of which was planted in 1961 with mixed rows of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. The vineyard’s soils are a mix of clay, limestone and river stones rich in calcite. Victor and Xavier began farming organically in 2016 and obtained certification in 2019.
That same year they built a small winery into the side of the mountain allowing them to use gravity
rather than pumps to move their crushed grapes into the fermentation tanks. They harvest by hand and manually sort all of the grape bunches that enter the cellar.

Domaine La Luminaille is located in the “quartier” of Rasteau called “la lumière”. The name comes from the bright glow of the olive tree’s leaves under a full moon. Julie Paolucci is the fifth generation of her family to farm in the quartier of “la lumière”, and it was her father, Jean-Claude, who really developed the family’s vineyards. Today, Julie’s property includes 12 hectares of vines and 3 hectares of olive trees. She returned to the family property in 2014 after working as a sommelier in Paris. Soon after taking over, Julie gained organic certification and she has continued to develop a personal style of winemaking to create unmanipulated and elegant wines.

The village of Cairanne overlooks the Aygues River in the northwest quadrant of Vaucluse. In 2016, Cairanne became the ninth appellation in the Rhône “meridional” to be elevated to “Cru” status. Before arriving there, it went through many iterations. In the 1930’s the wines from the surrounding slopes of Cairanne were labeled as Côtes du Rhone. In the 1950’s that changed to Côtes du Rhone Cairanne, followed in the 1960’s by Côtes du Rhone Villages Cairanne, and finally, in 2016 simply Cairanne.

The vineyards of Cairanne range from 100 to 300 meters in elevation with a few different terroirs loosely divided into the upper slopes, the terraces near the Aygues river and the lower terraces near Plan de Dieu. The AOP laws mandate red wines have a minimum of 50% Grenache and a minimum of 20% Syrah/Mourvedre. The AOP also includes white and rosé wines, but little is produced.

Loïc Massart is an industrial engineer turned vigneron. As a result of visits to his family in the Beaujolais village of Julienas, Loic harbored the idea of producing wine for a decade before re-educating himself at Tain L’Hermitage and then working for some wineries in the Ardèche. In 2013 Loic found 8 hectares for sale in Cairanne on the terraces overlooking the Aygues River. The roughly 6 parcels all have a sandy limestone soil with varying concentrations of pebbles that have been washed down from the Alps by the Aygues.  After purchasing his 8 hectares, Loic constructed a winery in the nearby village of Vaison la Romaine in five months and received his first harvest in the fall of 2014. Recently, he added a parcel of 1.5 hectares to his holdings bringing the total to 9.5. Interestingly, when Cairanne was awarded its Cru status in 2016, two hectares of Loic’s land were not included in the newly drawn map and are classified as Côtes du Rhone Villages.

From the beginning Loic has farmed organically and his vineyards were certified as organic in 2018. Many of the vines are more than 70 years old. To understand the differences between his parcels, Loic began by vinifying each variety and each plot separately. He has in the past couple of vintages moved away from that in favor of co-fermenting different varieties. His winemaking philosophy is non-interventional. The harvest is made entirely by hand and brought to the winery in small bins. He allows the indigenous yeasts to ferment the juice and uses little SO2 throughout the process. Fermentations are carried out in small cement tanks.

On the right bank of the Rhône in the Gard department, Angela Weidner and Maxime Aerts assembled three hectares of vines in the forested hills near the village of Saint-Alexandre. With recently gained diplomas in oenology and agroecology, they created Terres du Gaugalin (ground of poppies) and began their winemaking adventure in 2018. Their vineyards, planted in the 1970’s are both hard to access and labor-intensive to farm. Angela and Maxime have farmed organically from the beginning and the estate is in conversion to organic certification. They produce three wines: Grande Rando – a red wine, Déferlante – an almost red wine, and, Clair Obscure – a Pet Nat, all without any intervention (additives).

The vineyards of Côtes du Ventoux are part of the southern Rhone and are for the most part spread out around the town of Carpentras just north of Provence. They are set against the backdrop of Mont Ventoux which dramatically rises 1912 meters above the valley floor. This imposing mountain range, the tallest in interior France, has been classified by UNESCO as a “Reserve de Biosphere”. Mont Ventoux and the Rhone River have combined to create a variety of soil types in the Cotes du Ventoux appellation and in addition to grapes, there is a rich array of crops that grows on these southern Rhône fields.

Domaine de Berane’s vineyard is situated in the village of Mormoiron at an elevation of 350 meters and with south-east exposure. The vineyard is composed of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. The domaine works according to the principles of organic farming.

The Côtes du Luberon extends the map of Rhône Valley appellations to the doorstep of Provence with the Durance River forming a natural border. The Côtes du Luberon didn’t receive AOC classification until 1988 and still today, it is rarely visited by wine professionals. The surface area is
spread out among 36 villages and the total hectares under vine are fewer than in Châteauneuf-du- Pape. Interestingly, the entire appellation is contained within the protected zone of the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon.

After working for domains in Provence and elsewhere, Ludovic Blairon created Campagne Sarriere in 2017 by piecing together a number of small and remote plots in the villages of Peypin D’Aigues, St Martin de la Brasque and La Motte d’Aigues, all on the south side of the Mont Luberon. The vineyards have an average elevation of 450 meters. Ludovic’s goal is to create an “integrated” farm that includes diverse crops and animals. He farms according to bio-dynamic principles and the winery is certified organic. He is one of a small group of vignerons who does not plough his vineyards, preferring to leave the ground completely undisturbed with the exception of cutting the natural grasses twice a year. In his own words, Ludovic says that his winemaking techniques are original and leave room for improvisation, all in the service of creating wines with a strong personality.