Images of Roaix

 

Frosty morning in Roaix

 

Looking east over the village of Roaix to the Baronnies beyond

 

Pebbly red and yellow clays of Roaix

 

Damien Chave of Domaine du Bramadou at the top of the Ventabren massif, very pebbly soils

 

Franck Molénat, president of Cave co-operative Les Vignerons de Roaix Séguret

 

Elodie Balme of Domaine Elodie Balme

 

Pebbly clay soils of Roaix looking south east towards Séguret and the Dentelles de Montmirail

 

The Ouvèze river, swollen here by heavy autumn rains, marks the south-eastern boundary of Roaix


Images of Grignan-les-Adhémar

 

Château Bizard

 

The grounds of Château Bizard

 

Tanks and barrels in Château Bizard

 

Grignan-les-Adhémar vineyards with the Lafarge concrete works in the background

 

Garrigues vineyards in the northern part of the appellation

 

Henri Bour of Domaine de Grangeneuve, previous president of the appellation Grignan-les-Adhémar

 

Mélina Monteillet of Domaine de Montine

 

Alain Bayonne of Cave la Suzienne


Images of Saint-Gervais

 

Claire Clavel of Domaine Clavel, one of the few private estates bottling wine in AOC Saint-Gervais

 

Frédéric Sablayrolles, Director of Production at Celliers des Chartreux on the Soleillan plateau in Saint-Gervais. They bought the local cave co-operative in 2015 and now make one white and one red AOC Saint-Gervais.

 

Limestone soils of the Soleillan plateau, the smaller of the two high-quality plateaux in Saint-Gervais

 

Domaine Sainte-Anne, situated on the larger Cellettes plateau in Saint-Gervais

 

Jean Steinmaier of Domaine Sainte-Anne

 

Autumn sunset over the Cellettes plateau


Images of Suze-la-Rousse

 

The village of Suze-la-Rousse, Mont Ventoux in the background

 

The Château of Suze-la-Rousse, which now houses the Université du Vin

 

Flat, stony garrigues terroir of Suze-la-Rousse

 

Ann Vermeersch of LePlan-Vermeersch

 

Vincent Boyer of Domaine la Bastide and president of the appellation Suze-la-Rousse

 

Outcrops of sand at the north of the appellation

 

Raphaël Knapp of Domaine La Borie

 

Rémy (l) and Luc Bayon (r) of Domaine des Gravennes

 

Gilles Cotin, archive manager at the Université de Vin who is retiring this year. Thanks to Gilles and the Université de Vin for giving me access to their formidable library. The university trains the next generation of wine professional, from viticulture and winemaking to marketing and oenotourisme. It also has short courses open to consumers; check out their website for more details.


Images of Saint-Andéol

 

Philippe Faure, President of AOC Saint-Andéol, in vineyards overlooking one of its four communes, Saint-Marcel-d'Ardèche

 

Most of the soil in the appellation consists of galets roulés on hillsides. The winery with the cylindrical tower in the background is Domaine Saladin

 

Roland Terrasse of Château Rochecolombe

 

There is a small zone of clay limestone soil in AOC Saint-Andéol - these are the lower terraces at Château Rochecolombe...

 

... and these are the higher ones, where the limestone is closer to the surface

 

Frédéric Dorthe of Domaine du Chapitre

 

Looking towards the commune of Bourg-Saint-Andéol


Images of Rousset-les-Vignes and Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes

 

The little village of Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes

 

The massif de la Lance, marking the limit of the Côtes-du-Rhône growing area

 

Jean-François Julian (l), president of the Cave Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes, and Philippe Barral (r) a member of the cave

 

Philippe's vineyard, 400m up in the clay limestone hillsides of Saint-Pantaléon, with the Lance massif in cloud

 

Bruno Gigondan of Domaine Gigondan, one of the two producers to bottle AOC Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes, along with the cave co-op

 

Neighbouring Rousset-les-Vignes

 

Sandstone soils of Rousset-les-Vignes, known locally as 'safre'

 

Wild thyme growing on safre

 

Belgian Jean T'Kint of Domaine la Banate, one of the three producers of AOC Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Rousset-les-Vignes

 

Stéphane Barnaud of Domaine la Bouvade, the second producer of AOC Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Rousset-les-Vignes (the third is the cave co-op)

 

A refreshing glass of Côtes-du-Rhône rosé from by the Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes cave co-op at L'Auberge in Saint-Pantaléon


Images of Duché d'Uzès

 

Eastern part of the appellation, near the town of Uzès

 

Typical limestone soils

 

Patrick Chabrier of Domaine Chabrier

 

Michel Souchon, president of AOC Duché d'Uzès and president of Cave Durfort

 

Luc Reynaud of Domaine Reynaud

 

Western part of the appellation, approaching the Cevennes mountains

 

Nicolas Souchon of Mas des Volques

 

Nicolas Olivier of Domaine le Sollier, the most westerly estate of the appellation


Images of Costières de Nîmes and Clairette de Bellegarde

 

Classic Costières de Nîmes galets roulés soils

 

Cyril Marès of Mas Carlot and Mas de Bressades shows off a big one!

 

The Abbatiale Saint-Gilles du Gard in the town of Saint-Gilles

 

Anne and François Collard of Château Mourgues du Grès

 

Clairette rose from a book by H. Marès (an ancestor of Cyril Marès) written in 1890

 

Bruno Manzone of Domaine Manzone, president of the appellations Costières de Nîmes and Clairette de Bellegarde, and president of local co-op Vignerons Créateurs. Looking here rather like a New York baseball coach :)


2018 Rhône report now available on Decanter Premium

 

The 2018 vintage in the Southern Rhône is one in which simple rules of thumb don't apply. The region suffered the worst attack of downy mildew in generations, which decimated some vineyards and made for a very difficult growing season. Often it was organic/biodynamic growers that were hardest hit, and the disease had a cruel predilection for old vines. Great vineyards were overcome just as readily as average ones. But not everyone was affected; those who escaped the worst often went on to make delicious, ripe and juicy reds and whites.

The Northern Rhône in 2018 is a more straightforward tale of a very hot, dry year. They don't have the natural balance and charisma of the 2015s as acidities were often low and alcohols high. But those that achieved balance made some impressive wines.

My full report on both areas, including a selection of 300 of the most notable wines of the vintage, will be made available this week on Decanter Premium (the overall summary and Northern Rhônes are up now). If you don't have a subscription, you'll find an edited version of the report and a selection of wines in the magazine in the New Year.

If you're planning on buying some 2018 Rhône, it will steer you in the right direction.


When is a rosé not a rosé?

Among the first five wine appellations ever to be minted in France were two of the finest terroirs of the Rhône: Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel. Fast forward 83 years and Châteauneuf is famous the world over; Tavel is in the doldrums. It was once the most famous rosé in France but as tastes for rosé get ever paler, Tavel has found itself left out in the cold. One winemaker has ripped up the rule book and started afresh – with staggering results. Others are following. As a terroir historically famed for making red wines, is it time for local producers to go back to their roots?

Any shade – as long as it’s dark

Situated on the opposite bank of the Rhône river to Châteauneuf, Tavel flourished for decades making a complex and ageworthy wine, peerlessly deep for a rosé in both colour and flavour, with great application at the dinner table. It’s a rosé of maceration (grapes are cold macerated for a day or two before being pressed, then the free run and press juices are fermented together) made from a typical smorgasbord of Rhône grapes, based around Grenache. Unique in the Rhône, it’s a small but highly distinctive 911ha island of rosé in a sea of red.

The rise of rosé has been quite a phenomenon: global still rosé consumption has grown 28% between 2002 and 2017. This boom should have been a dream come true for Tavel. But if anything, sales have dipped. Canny marketing of Provence wines has changed the way people perceive rosé. Ask any sommelier and they’ll tell you the same story: the first question people ask when ordering a rosé is whether it’s pale.

So why don’t Tavel producers simply make lighter-coloured rosés? “Over the last 20 years, the wines have got paler,” confirms Guillaume Demoulin of Château Trinquevedel, but the depth of colour can only be reduced so far. Every French appellation has official guidelines about how the wine can be made, and the Tavel cahier des charges stipulates the wine must have a certain depth of colour to be legally called a Tavel. In the words of Elizabeth Gabay MW, the worldwide authority on rosé, “like many historic rosé wine producing regions, they are experiencing a rosé identity crisis.”

A historical stich-up

If anything, the history of Tavel is more illustrious than that of Châteauneuf. In building a temple to Dionysus near Tavel the ancient Greeks were clearly fans; the popes that made Châteauneuf famous only arrived in the 14thcentury. The root of Tavel’s current predicament however is much more recent.

When it was originally established in 1935/6, the appellation d’origine contrôlée  system included just five French regions: Arbois, Cassis, Monbazillac, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel. These new laws were spearheaded by Châteauneuf winemaker Baron Le Roy of Château Fortia. In a move that helped avoid competition at the time (but in retrospect smacks of being a stitch-up…) Châteauneuf was granted the appellation for red and white wine; Tavel was given the appellation for rosé.

In fairness, Tavel was known for making lightly-coloured reds. The appellation grows a lot of Cinsault, a grape which produces wines with a naturally pale colouring. But a rosé and a pale red are very different things. The entry for Tavel in the 1933 edition of the Larousse Encyclopaedia describes it as a “vin rouge… peu coloré”. The root cause of Tavel’s current crisis is a kind of vinous misgendering that has since been set in stone.

Rosé was once a broader church than it is today, from dark to pale, light-bodied to full. What’s acceptable to today’s rosé drinker is increasingly narrow and skewed towards the pale. The changing notion of what a rosé ‘should be’ has pushed Tavel even further from its red roots and created an increasingly manipulated wine. Cold maceration, cold fermentation, ‘flotation’ clarification with nitrogen, blocking malolactic, filtration… rather than being led by terroir, much Tavel is now a commodity manufactured to serve an existing market.Over half is sold in supermarkets at low prices.

“Along the way, we forgot how to make wine,” says Gaël Petit of Domaine de Moulin la Viguerie and outgoing president of the appellation. Inspired by his neighbour Eric Pfifferling, Petit is one of an increasing number of Tavel vignerons who are converting to organic viticulture and looking away from the cellar and into the vineyards for an alternative vision. “Now I’m going back to square one,” he says.

The Pfifferling effect

Until 1988, Pfifferling took his grapes to the local cave co-operative but increasingly he found he couldn’t drink the wines, describing them as “very chemical, very technological – they gave me a kind of indigestion.” In 2002, after travelling around France spending time with Natural wine luminaries such as Thierry Puzelat, Jean Foillard and Pierre Overnoy, he struck out on his own.

He now looks beyond colour and appellation boundaries and looks to his terroir to make the best wines he can, usually by carbonic maceration, from his 20 hectares of organic vineyards spread across Tavel, Lirac, Côtes-du-Rhône and IGP Gard. If this means blending across Lirac and Tavel, or making red wines from Tavel terroir, so be it, even if it means bottling them as Vin de France. Some top Tavel producers are happy for things to stay as they are, and see this new direction as lacking typicity. But for others, like Gaël Petit, “Eric has opened a way.”

To work like this is risky. It’s arduous, expensive, and winemakers risk losing the appellation, making them difficult to sell in traditional markets. But the growing interest in Natural wines and increasing acceptance of Vin de France as a serious category are opening a window of opportunity.

Some have touted the idea of making paler rosés in order to meet demand, but history suggests an alternative: allowing Tavel vignerons to label their wines as red. At their darkest they are already the colour of paler Gamay, Ploussard, Mencia, Cinsault or Pinot Noir – no other administrative change would be necessary. Although many of today’s Tavels are more substantial and rewarding than most pale rosés, Eric’s versions are likely to be closer to what it used to taste like: less manipulated, fresher, darker – and totally thrilling. Perhaps in time it’s what Tavel will taste like again.

Top producers from Tavel terroirs

Eric Pfifferling

Domaine Moulin la Viguerie

Balazu de Vaussières

Domaine des Carabiniers

Domaine de la Mordorée

Château d’Aqueria

Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine

Other good producers

Château de Ségriès

Domaine Pélaquie

Prieuré de Montézargues

Domaine Amido

Roudil Jouffret

Domaine Maby

Château de Manissy

Château Trinquevedel

First published on timatkin.com.