Tag Archive: winery visit



Hidden deep within the dramatic landscape of Roussillon, there is a power dismissed as rumour.

 

View from “The Disco Bus”. The last “real” thing I can confirm.

Layers of subterfuge and encryption prohibit a true understanding of the goings-on within what appears to be a simple garage facility from its unassuming front door. 

…and others may happen here


Some of the things that are said to happen happen here..

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are things said and done within Vingrau in the heart of Roussillon that I heard, and saw, and tasted that deny tradition, deflect rational thought, and defy all I have learned.

 

Confusing the senses.


 

There are things that may or may not be occurring in Vingrau that, like the elephant in the room, are undeniable but about which one does not speak.

 

Subterfuge of a mad scientist.

There was a man — a bright and genial, but shadowy, man — who spoke in clear and concise language of methods and intents. He told us of truths while casually diverting attention from facts.

 

Renaud Chastagnol (unconfirmed).

There are things happening in Vingrau…I felt them…there are things I can not comprehend, but I know them to be true. 


That’s right — more CdP! 

From the center of town we make a short trip to the property of Domaine de Chateaumar. Here, as with several generations before, father and son, Jean-Felix and Frédéric Souret, sustainably manage the vineyards and make the wine at the winery just steps away from the majority of vineyard plantings. 

The family business. Sly Bastien is next in line.


 

This is the most modernized facility we have visited so far. Pristine, and well-organized, it is a stark contrast to the ancient Roman structures on the property.

The entrance to the Chateaumar tasting room and winery.


Ancient Roman farm structure adjacent to the Chateaumar winery.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vines grown with no herbicides. The soil around the vines is turned frequently to discourage other flora from leeching off water and nutrients.


Here we see that the soil is clay-heavy, richer, and more forgiving than at Gradassi’s property. These vines produce generous fruit, much of which goes into juicy, lush, declassified wines at very attractive prices.

Today we tasted the 2011 and 2012 vintages of Châteauneuf-du-Pape As well as two custom cuvées made for Bourgeois Family Selections: “Bastien”, a 100% Grenache; and “Vincent”, a (very unusual for the region) 100% Syrah.

Discussing the 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape at the pristine, new winery facility at Domaine de Chateaumar.


I already carry the “Bastien” in the store and knew that it was a ripe, approachable expression of Grenache. This bears out through the 2011 and 2012 (barrel sampled and to be bottled in June) vintages. The surprise was the “Vincent”. It is fair to be somewhat leery of a Southern Rhône Syrah with expectations of high extraction and difficult alcohol heat. Fears were unwarranted as both vintages produced well structured wines that integrate the relatively high alcohol well. 

The Châteauneuf-du-Pape samples showed similar characteristics. Very ripe, jammy raspberry/blackberry fruit on both, but not at the expense of acid or soft tannins. Lots of spice and licorice show on both the 2011 bottling and the 2012 barrel sample. These will be wines that may not age too well and should be enjoyed primarily in their youth, but they are just so satisfying and fairly priced that none of that should matter.

All-in-all, these are wines with character and prices for all to enjoy made by a kind and friendly family. Its hard not to like that combination.


Today begins with an early jaunt over to the ruins of the castle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. What a fascinating place! Situated high atop a hill with a view extending about 30 miles, this was a prime location for a fortified home of, arguably, the most powerful man of his time, Pope John XXII (1316-1334).

View from Castel Gandolfo

Ruins of Castel Gandolfo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a time, before its repeated sacking and burning by protestants in the 16th century and the destruction of its north face by German forces stationed there in 1944, that this was a cultural center of the civilized world as well as the home of the finest wine cellar on the planet. From this location, one will marvel at vineyards planted as far as the eye can see.

So many world-renowned wineries exist here that it is mind-boggling. Today, we will visit with one of the tiniest wineries in the region, Domaine Jerome Gradassi. Mr. Gradassi, the former owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant (a fact that will reveal its value soon enough) biodynamically farms only 3.3ha of vineyards in the nearby outlying area of Bois-Dauphin.

First we got a look at some of Mr. Gradassi’s vineyards. Two vineyard locations just about half-a-mile from one-another exhibited strikingly different soil types.

Grenache and Mourvèdre vines atop a hill. More forgiving soils here.

It’s tough to make a living as a Grenache vine here on the valley floor. Old river bed stones dominate the landscape and force vine strain.

All of these vines are harvested manually in small containers then driven to the small garage winery in the center of the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape where they are sorted for quality and, ultimately, vinified.

Domaine Jerome Gradassi’s garage winery.

Tight quarters in the tiny garage winery of Jerome Gradassi.

You will notice a large horizontal wooden press and large fiberglass tank dominating about a third of the space of this garage. Sorting, pressing, and fermentation of the red wine takes place here. Below is a small barrel cellar where the white wine is fermented and all the wines are aged. Here we tasted through the 2009-2011 red bottlings as well as barrel samples of the 2012 white and red. Mr. Gradassi provided an impressive buffet showing off his equally obvious skills in the kitchen.

Large horizontal wooden press.

The tiny Gradassi barrel cellar. This represents all of the winery’s production.

  • 2012 Domaine Jerome Gradassi Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (tank sample): See that very small fiberglass tank in the back of the cellar in the photo above? That’s all the white wine produced annually here (roughly 350 bottles). Tasting this was a very special opportunity. 90% Clairette/10% Grenache Blanc vinified and aged entirely in fiberglass tank. Golden with green edges. Rich pear, melon, and ginger flavors. Full and fruitful with a grainy mineral edge. Mr. Gradassi projects 20 years of ageabilty with this wine.

It’s gold, Jerry! Gold!

The reds (typically 80% Grenache/18% +/- Mourvèdre with a touch of Syrah, Clairette, and Bourbolenc field blended in) were sensational across the board. These are all wines I would love to drink and offer my customers. Vintage variances were obvious, however, with the 2009 and 2011 showing denser, riper, gamier blackberry fruit. The 2010 was a far leaner, higher-toned raspberry expression.

The Gradassi home-cooked buffet. Brilliant winemaker and chef?!?This man is the catch of the century.

  • 2012 Domaine Jerome Gradassi Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge (slated for April 2014 release) will be a star. Lithe, bright, and focused raspberry fruit with sanguine and earthy undertones, this is already showing exceptional balance though a bit light on its feet. I cannot wait for this release.
These wines are very traditional. I have stated repeatedly over the last few years that I have never been more disappointed in wines than when I have opened Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the last decade. It is refreshing to find a winemaker who is not looking to meet the American palate and make flabby, short-lived, unstructured Châteauneuf-du-Pape as has been the mode of so many for the last two decades. These are wines of elegance and finesse, never sacrificing structure for extraction. These are wines I want to drink.
Here’s a poll:

Charcuterie. Perfect pairing with Bourgogne Blanc at Domaine des Gerbeaux.

 

Domaine des Gerbeaux’s Solutré Chardonnay vines from the door to the winery.

 

Apparently, Pouilly-Fuissé goes great with ham (with Steve White of Click Wholesale Distributing, WA).

 

Brilliant four seafood entrée in a light cream sauce (immediately following the biggest hunks of foie gras I’ve ever seen, and just before the salad, killer cheese plate, and elegant dessert) at a roadside diner-looking family seafood restaurant in the Pierres Dorées in Beaujolais.

 

About to have a generously prepared home-cooked meal in the dining room of the Maillet family of Domaine de la Berthete.


Arc de Triomphe d’Orange from underneath the main arc


 

Arc de Triomphe d’Orange: an awesome bit of history.


A good, long drive from the Pierres Dorées to Orange for an after-dark arrival at Domaine de la Berthete marked this leg of the trip. Upon stepping out of the Disco Bus, we were all nearly knocked off of our feet by the bone-chilling Mistral winds. Probably about 35℉ with winds gusting at about 40MPH here this evening (which probably only seems unbearable after an afternoon of napping in a van).

Pascal Maillet explaining his winemaking methods.


 

Here, winemaker/owner of Domaine de la Berthete, Pascal Maillet, graciously gave us a tour of the vinification area adjacent to his home. Maillet practices as close to organic (technically “sustainable”) as possible in his vineyards planted to Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Blanc, and Bourboulenc. His vines are planted in Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages, and Principauté d’Orange and average over 30 years of age. Red wines are fermented in the large (60hL) stainless steel tanks seen above and whites in stainless steel and fiberglass tanks. Some of the reds then see up to a year in new French oak barrels. 

 

A cute display of the wines in the tiny tasting room at Domaine de la Berthete.


From here, we escaped the chill stepping into the tasting room adjacent to the winery offices. The tasting included three 2012 barrel samples (including Maillet’s first Châteauneuf du Pape bottling from a friend’s one-acre parcel) as well as a makeshift approximation of the 2012 “Sensation” red blend.

The rosé is a blend of, predominately, Cinsault, with Grenache and Carignan making up the balance. It is made in the Saignée method, which is, essentially, a bleed of the first gentle press of the grapes that will become red wine. However, this wine is a carefully constructed blend of the juice from those pressings rather than the afterthought that is frequently the case with such wines. The resultant wine is gentle, Provençal-style, pale salmon-colored with a a faint violet cast showing strawberry and peach on the palate with a soft, mouth-filling texture.

The Côtes du Rhône (normale) shows rich, dark wildberry fruit and licorice more or less belies the simple stainless steel vinification and aging. This will be a great little everyday wine when ready.

The Côtes du Rhône Villages (Plan de Dieu) will be a lovely wee beastie when bottled. Deep red with violet edges, this wine is carried by very ripe blackberry, a lively acid streak cutting through a velvet-soft mouthfeel, and a long licorice-tinged finish.

The 200 case-production Châteauneuf du Pape bottling will be a fine showing after about six more months in barrel and some time to settle in bottle. Translucent garnet with blueish edges; currently a very closed nose; palate of rich, floral wildberries.

 

The “Sensation” blend is a proprietary label for Bouurgeois Family Selections. It is comprised of all of the red varieties planted by Maillet in the Côtes du Rhône Villages region, aged up to 12 months in new French oak barrels, and then blended with up to 15% of the prior vintage’s wine. This makes for a rich, soft and ready-to-drink wine. Our tasting sample of this wine was approximated on the fly by Mr. Maillet in a graduated flask. Ultimately, this should end up a well-structured wine with a richness and oak-spice influence built for the American palate. I currently carry the 2011 in the store and it is one of our best-selling Rhône wines.

Upon conclusion of the tasting our group was invited into the Maillet’s beautiful home for a lovingly prepared home-cooked meal (highlighted by lentil soup with foie gras, and a ridiculous cheese plate). The welcoming nature and generosity of the family will not be forgotten. These are lovely people making wonderfully approachable wines priced for all to enjoy. 

We made our way back to the hotel in Orange with a quick stop to see the Arc de Triomphe d’Orange. Regrettably, I was too exhausted to make a trek to the brilliant-looking Roman amphitheater in Orange the following morning. Next time . 

 

 

 


Deep into Burgundy and into Beaujolais, this afternoon. Here we continue to enjoy some brilliant Chardonnay, but also the criminally underrated/misunderstood (in the US) Gamay grape. 

 

A view from the property of Domaine Marion Pral


It’s substantially warmer here in Southern Burgundy — perhaps in the high-40’s. The walk around the property is not the bone-chilling task of the last day-and-a-half. Owner/winemaker, Pascal Chatelus, gives us a quick tour of the tiny neighboring parcel (just a wisp of the 50 acres under vine) of Gamay vineyard. These vines are planted on rolling hills of a thin layer of top-soil on a bed of granite. The resulting fruit is full and intense in a way most American consumers would find surprising if only exposed to that November outburst of sweet and easy juice. 

 

Hilly vineyards of Gamay.


 

In the vinification room.

The vines on the immediate property (10 miles from Villefranche) have an average age of 40-45 years. All vineyards are sustainably farmed. As we passed from the vineyard to the winemaking facility a few of us stopped to inspect the bags of fertilizer (mostly cow manure) to be used for the coming season. Mr. Chatlelus and wife, Marion Chatelus (née, Pral) are the latest in several generations to farm these vineyards in as ecologically sound a manner as possible. Winemaking shows minimalist intervention, as well, with hand-harvestincool simple temperature controlled fermentation, and aging in concrete tanks.

 

 

Harvest is off-loaded through these doors to the vinification area.


It’s all over but the tasting at this point. I carry the basic Beaujolais Cuvée Terroir and Beaujolais Blanc, so I was already familiar with just how wonderful these wines were. They serve as brilliant introductions to the region as well as being fine bridges to Burgundy for the US consumer who may have a predilection for riper domestic stuff. 

 

Mr. Pascal Chatelus presenting his wines.


 

  • Beaujolais Rouge Cuvée Terroir 2012 (juicy cherry lozenge, ripe but young and edgy — bottled just three weeks ago)
  • Beaujolais Rouge Cuvée Terroir 2011 (super-darkly fruited, silky soft with firm tannins, incredibly long finish)
  • Moulin-à-Vent 2012 (unfiltered, big cinnamon nose,bright and prickly raspberry fruit — carbonic maceration has not settled down in bottle yet — very youthful grippy tannins)
  • Moulin-à-Vent 2011 (shows where 2012 will be in time, cinnamon/cherry nose and palate, silky and juicy fruit)
  • Morgon “Les Charmes” 2012 (dusty leather/clove nose, dark and firm but still unsettled, this will be a beast)
  • Morgon “Les Charmes” 2011 (poured from magmun, rich and soft but short and not as deeply expressive as 2012 will prove to be)
This was a lovely visit with some true farmers and winemakers. From here day two will conclude after a long drive to Orange…stay tuned.

 

 

 


Here are some extra visual goodies from my France trip:

Champagne Philippe Fontaine

A commitment to excellence expressed by pumps in the snow.

 

Nice place, but to heat the thing would be a bear.

 

Pruning on those slopes must be a difficult task.

 

A fairly small operation.

 

A cute display at the “HQ”.

 

 

Domaine Debray

Unassuming entry to another world.

 

Students of the game in the cave.

 

We’re we really there that long?!?

 

 

In the town of Beaune

The hotel and restaurant was open just for us. A lovely meal and a good night’s sleep.

Camaraderie building early.

 

Pre-food coma at Restaurant L’Horloge.

 


Terrine of awesome.

 

“When in Beaune, do as the Beauners do.” — Steve White

 

The Epoisse that nearly killed us all as it was almost too good to bear.

 

Disco Bus hits a snow-down.


Back on the road headed to Domaine Debray, a young winery (first vineyard purchased in 2006) that produces bottlings from around 25 different crus. We would soon taste them all. The team of owner, Yvonnick Debray and his oenologist, Jean-Philippe Terreau, have quickly established a prolific range of high-quality wines that will be hard to overlook in the coming years.

So unassuming from the outside, but…

This was an intensive tasting inclusive of five 2012 barrel samples and 20 bottle tastings from the 2010 and 2011 vintages. There was about a 60:40 ratio of red to white tasted. The thing that stood out most with this tasting was the precise detail of the entire experience and the intense professionalism of the two gentlemen. These are men committed to creating the best wines possible via exacting methods in the vineyard (sustainable practices, establishing vine-strain, ensuring small yields) through harvest and in the cellar (destemming, gentle pressing, meticulous temperature control, natural fermentation, etc.). The same behaviors were reflected in the nearly ritualistic nature of the tasting.

Where good stuff happens.

It would be foolish and daunting (and nigh-unreadable) for me to post all of my tasting notes here. Suffice it to say that my overarching comment on the wines when asked about possible favorites as we neared the end of the tasting was, “…difficult as it’s all just varying degrees of very good…”. I think that sums it up. There is not one wine in this visit that I would not personally buy or not enjoy drinking. There were, however, highlights:

Never enough Burgundy.

whites

  • 2011 Savigny les Beaune (tropical,spicy/toasty)
  • 2011 Meursault 1er Cru LesBoucheres (fleshy baked red apple, cinnamon, mineral)
  • 2011 Corton Charlemagne (fruit blossom melange, silken mouthfeel, marshmallow finish)

reds

  • 2012 Pommard 1er Cru Les Chaponniéres (mossy/earthy cherry nose, powerful, high-toned, high-extract)
  • 2011 Bourgogne Rouge (modern, sagey, ripe and bright, great value)
  • 2011 Mercurey 1er Cru Sazenay (cherry lozenge, sage, toasted marshmallow, cardamom, lavender)
  • 2011 Aloxe Corton 1er Cru Les Velozieres (black cherry, vanilla, full and rich)
  • 2011 Corton Grand Cru (old-school, black cherry, sanguine, high-toned)
  • 2011 Vosne Romanée Les Barreaux (intoxicating cinnamon/clove nose, über-ripe cherry, baking spice, chewy texture)
  • and the utterly ridiculous 2011 Clos de Vouget Grand Cru (dark and dense, silken, mixed herbs on front with red cherry bringing up the rear, impeccably structured: ripe fruit, sloping acid, velvety tannins)

2nd from left: Mr. Terreau, 2nd from right: Mr. Debray, far right: Philippe Bourgeois

This is a winery to watch.


Last week I was afforded the honor of accompanying a small group of American wine professionals on a trip to French wineries represented by Bourgeois Family Selections (Asheville, NC). Our group included Jean-Philippe Bourgeois (president of B. F. S.), Jem Emery (B. F. S. office manager), Martin Von Ellen (N. E. sales manager for B. F. S.), Tom Lally (Sales Manager, Okoboji Wines, IA), Steve White (Wine Brands Manager, Click Wholesale Distributing, WA), Chris Horn (Wine Director, Purple Café, WA), and our chauffeur, Alain Paquet. This trip covered most of France’s major wine regions and a total of 16 wineries were visited/represented over the course of seven days. 

Posts will be in a day-by-day account.
This was my first ever international travel experience and it all went surprisingly smoothly. Dulles to JFK (4-hour layover) to Paris-CDG by 6:15 am. It was snowing upon arrival in Paris, but that only delayed pick-up from the airport by half-an-hour to 9:40 am.

Not enough sleep on the flight over.

From here I met with the group on our Mercedes Sprinter van (outfitted for traveling bands — which later became known by the group as “The Disco Bus” for it’s blue LED interior lighting and odd French radio selections) — and off we went to our first winery visit.

Champagne Philippe Fontaine

Gorgeous place with the river running under the mansion and a watermill located at the back.

It was snowy and cold (about 30° F max) in Balnot sur Laignes. Our rear-wheel-drive van could not make it onto the snow-covered property, so we hoofed it a bit. We were greeted by the lovely couple of Salomé Fontaine-Garcia and Louis-Antoine Garcia who gave us a thorough tour of the property and explanation of their viticultural and winemaking methods.

Gyropalettes for riddling.

Just a little limestone here.

The Fontaine’s grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, and somewhat surprisingly, Pinot Blanc (from which they make a 100% varietal bottling) in both Balnot sur Laignes and Riceys. These images are from the main property in Balnot sur Laignes.

From here we retired to the Fontaine’s charming little home in the village of Balnot sur Laignes. Here we met up with the winemaking patriarch, Philippe, who preferred to keep a low profile throughout our visit. This is where we tasted all the current bottlings of their production and enjoyed a lovingly prepared lunch — heated at a neighbor’s house due to a lack of electricity in their home at that time — including an incredible smoked salmon and foie gras terrine. The family was incredibly kind and generous with their time, energy, and passion while providing us with a wealth of information about their wines and the warmth of their home.

All the cuvées of Champagne Philippe Fontaine.

  • Brut Tradition: 70% Pinot Noir/30% Pinot Meunier — rich, soft lemon curd and light toastiness in an almost extra-dry style but with striking acid and a keen minerality
  • Cuvée des Lys: the oddball of the bunch made with 100% Pinot Blanc (the family does not feel that Chardonnay makes for a good sparkling wine and chose Pinot Blanc after an off-the-cuff experiment) — higher-toned than the Tradition and with more spice evident on the nose and back-palate
  • Brut Reserve: same blend as Tradition — palate of very rich and gentle apple and restrained acid, lusher mouthfeel than those preceding
  • Brut Prestige: 40% Pinot Blanc/35% Pinot Noir/15% Pinot Meunier/10% Chardonnay —very spice-driven nose with mouth-filling baked apple and cinnamon on the palate, super-satisfying
  • Brut Millésime 2007: 100% Pinot Noir — kind of the disappointment of the afternoon with a very tight nose and closed palate showing only a bit of toffee
  • Brut Rosé: 50% Pinot Noir/50% Pinot Meunier — beautiful strawberry color, floral/ yeasty nose, palate of mixed berries and dried flowers with a soft yeasty note on the finish
Day 1, Part Two: Beaune to follow…
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