ROCK ME MAMA: LE MAZEL, THE MOTHER LODE, JOCELYNE & GÉRALD OUSTRIC IN THEIR 1954 GRENACHE VINEYARD
Feeling outside the loop? Care for the environment? Dislike officialdom? Right, off you go to the Southern ARDÈCHE, find yourself four or five hectares of craggy valley vineyards, and you are all set.
This is the path trod by dozens of pioneers in the RHÔNE, a wave that is still in full flow in 2019, with new names coming along regularly. Indeed, it is hard to keep up, but there is a lineage attached to this movement that takes in organic farming with low intervention wine making and the rejection of added SO2 in the wines.
ROOTS FOR THE RHÔNE MOVEMENT IN THE BEAUJOLAIS
The story starts in the BEAUJOLAIS, where the merchant JULES CHAUVET spent many years studying yeasts and effects of fermentation, including the malolactic fermentation. His conclusions were that yeasts did not need to be added to grapes, and that a laissez-faire approach in the cellar stood up to scrutiny.
He was opposed to the grip of the big chemical companies and their sweet talk to growers that encouraged mass spraying of chemical products on the vineyards, and the application of cultured yeasts and adjusted acidities in the cellar. The large groups were pedalling a no risk modus operandi that resulted in a low common denominator in the resultant wines [and cheap prices], while CHAUVET was encouraging a risk-reward outlook that encouraged character and individuality in the wines [and higher prices].
MORGON, AN EPICENTRE
CHAUVET died in 1989, but by then growers in the BEAUJOLAIS had taken up his baton. I visited MARCEL LAPIERRE in the 1990s, by which time he was already well set on a path of low to no intervention from his domaine at MORGON. His wines of that time were pure, frisky, striking, well sealed, against a regional context of a massive amount of dull, loose, chaptalized – always much chaptalisation - wines. These were days when the tail called BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU wagged the dog of BEAUJOLAIS, the ID of the various crus and their mass of different terroirs subsumed to what was a brilliantly successful marketing campaign.
MORGON was a centre of operations for the organic-low intervention movement, with JEAN FOILLARD nearby another practitioner. I do not recall the wines being called NATURE in those days; I think that came along later, when the Japanese market notably had declared its taste for hells-a-popping wines that were as rootsy as could be – straight from vineyard to bottle with many a defect accompanying them – secondary fermentations, high Volatile Acidity and oxidation being prime evils in many unstable wines.
STEP FORWARD, GÉRALD OUSTRIC
The first stirrings of a RHÔNE movement came in the 1980s with GÉRALD OUSTRIC of DOMAINE DU MAZEL – now called LE MAZEL – taking over the old family vineyard that had been worked there since just after the First World War. GÉRALD joined his Dad PAUL in 1975, and assumed sole charge of the vineyards in 1982. At the time, the only outsider in the region was the Burgundian house of LOUIS LATOUR, who had spotted the potential of the limestone with clay soils for CHARDONNAY in 1979. That company has been producing a very respectable [first vintages a bit thin due to young vines] VIN DE PAYS DE L’ARDÈCHE CHARDONNAY, all steel handled, since then. It is a large scale operation, the vines machine harvested, bim bang, these days.
There was the usual fabric of CAVES CO-OPÉRATIVES in the 1980s; they had not yet hit the buffers then, with sales adequate to make up for inefficiencies, and quality acceptable to local consumers. The ocean of cheap, dull wine had not then accumulated. Among these CO-OPs was VALVIGNÈRES, founded in the late 1950s, where the OUSTRIC family sent their harvest, while also working en polyculture – cereal, cherries, apricots, the vines not the prime item.
“I worked the vineyards here from 1975, and three years after running them on my own, I went organic in 1985, and started to treat only at the base of the vines to cut down on treatments. I would do three runs through the vineyard – the griffonage [building the soils at the base of the vine], the retourne [restoring the soil back down around the base], and then chaussage - turning the soils at the end of the harvest,” GÉRALD recounts.
“I was isolated here in my adventure – I didn’t know the THIBON family [MAS DE LIBIAN] - my influences coming from the wines I liked to drink – BEAUJOLAIS with MARCEL LAPIERRE an inspiration, along with JACQUES NÉAUPORT and, in the LOIRE, GUY BRETON.
“The CO-OPÉRATIVE is now part of UCOVA at RUOMS [respectable wines, not dear]. It had maybe 250 members, of whom only 42 really lived from vineyards,” recalls GÉRALD. “The trouble was they were producing conventional wines – and if I wanted to make those, I wouldn’t have left the CO-OP in 1997. We were working 30 hectares at the time, but I have since reduced that to a more manageable 19 hectares. In fact, GÉRALD’s 11 “lost” hectares have been very much found, rental agreements setting growers such as ANDREA CALEK [about 5 ha in 2007] and SYLVAIN BOCK [3 ha in 2011] en route.
ENORMOUS DEMAND, WORD OF MOUTH PROMPTS
“When I started to vinify in 1997, I wanted to make the most natural wines possible,” GÉRALD continues. “Mt father supported me in this. Our sales of around 20,000 bottles were actually not complicated – there was an enormous demand for VINS NATURES. We were not very expensive outside the region, but were expensive for this region. A lot of importer interest was drawn by the renown of JACQUES NÉAUPORT. Hence the buyers came here to see and to taste – which made it easy.”
GÉRALD is a busy, restless person, always on the trail of moving his approach forward to greater refinement. He speaks quickly, urgently even. Nothing is allowed to sit and just be. That is why he stopped the retourne of the soils 10 years ago. “I want to preserve the contact of the soil at the top with the air, while the soil below should stay in contact with its amoebas. One row in two is grassed now, one row in two has worked soils.”
BOURGUIGNON, HÉRODY THE VINEYARD PROFS
The vineyard guru for many RHÔNE growers is CLAUDE BOURGUIGNON, his influence strong with vignerons such as JEAN-MICHEL STÉPHAN of CÔTE-RÔTIE in the North. In the SOUTHERN ARDÈCHE, there are around 15 vignerons and vigneronnes who have been trained with him and YVES HÉRODY, who is based at CHARENCY in the JURA region of Eastern France.
HÉRODY is a consultant, and much revered. His view is that the better one knows the soils, the better one can optimise them, so production is achieved that actually improves the soils. “A new model of understanding has been needed, since all the old models have failed, whether through destroying the soils or through insufficient levels of production,” he writes.
LET THE LAND, NOT THE PERSON, DO THE TALKING
His approach is an agriculture of optimisation – working with the natural functions of the soil to mobilise those elements that are indispensable to the plants/vines thanks to a well managed microbial activity, and also harnessing the notion of energy which defines the most efficient sources of alimentation. This is opposed to the more widespread agriculture of substitution, whereby what the plant lacks in the soil is replaced by the human hand – aka fertilisation. Let the land, not the person, do the talking, in other words.
DO NOT . . .
His list of what NOT to do makes for interesting reading. No-nos include:
Do not apply tired out compost, nor compost that is too old – apply the organic matter superficially, do not bury it
Do not apply massive doses of nitrogenous manure
Absolutely never apply lime to the soils
MOTIVATION, INSPIRATION OVER INTER GENERATIONAL DRUDGERY
One can well understand the zeal with which these youngish pioneers set off on their trail. Proper belief in what one is doing, a larger context for everyday activity. Contrast this with the relative drudgery of many growers who have wearily taken up the family baton across vineyards in FRANCE and the world over – duty prevailing over motivation.
These days, I see a generation of youngsters [relative to me, certainly] at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE who have the word Commitment emblazoned on their chests, those who want to make “better” wine, to be more sustainable, to explore further, who are not just looking at the bottom line.
One of the slow to disappear residues of the previous generation was trauma over loss of harvest – the 1970s and 1980s had been decades of chemical spraying since so many crops were lost or damaged in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, growers are starting to trust their own abilities to fashion a wine whatever the circumstances, in whatever quantity comes along. Superior vineyard care has already helped harvests to survive setbacks better than in the past.
I accept that this generation have an economic couch established that the previous generation didn’t always possess. But certainly, things are moving on from the clench of the past – shall we say the 1990s and 2000s - that stated that CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE must be extremely ripe, powerful, therefore high degree, full on, no hidden corners wine. Power over balance, strength over finesse – ce n’est plus le cas, thank goodness.
WHERE ELSE FOR VINS NATURES? HOW FEASIBLE?
VINS NATURES fit into this broader context of direct connection between grower and environment, greater traceability, more fun, too. Could there be more VINS NATURES elsewhere in the RHÔNE? Discussing CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, SOPHIE ARMENIER of the long-time biodynamic DOMAINE DE MARCOUX gave this observation: “the pH here is very high, 3.80 [low acidity, hindering longevity], for example, so it’s not evident. LIRAC has a lower pH, so there’s more chance there. CHÂTEAUNEUF is also meant to live for 20 years. We have lowered our SO2 thanks to my son VINCENT – now we apply the most after the malo, and a bit at bottling, a total of 50-55 mg. We can use less SO2 on our LIRAC and CÔTES DU RHONE because they are raised for a shorter time.”
ALMOST ALL ZERO ADDED SO2, VIN DE FRANCE
For everyday simplicity, nearly all these Zero added SO2 wines are VIN DE FRANCE, allowing growers more liberty with varieties than if they were IGP VIN DE PAYS. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the connecting theme that I have found very clearly is the good quality of the fruit. These are wines to drink young for the most part, while that fruit is buzzing along. There are some that, if well stored after a good, cool shipment, will evolve into greater complexity and foundation. The vines feeding them can also been decades old, the vineyards confidential given the rugged nature of the ARDÈCHE landscape that has not made it prey to large scale farming.
In the winemaking, the common theme is after hand harvesting, work with wild yeasts, nothing cultured. Whole bunch fermentations, often macération carbonique, are frequent. Raising is in vat, or used oak. New oak is very rare. There is no tinkering with acidity, no chaptalisation. No fining nor filtration. Multiple wines per domaine, too: small lots of each. Funky wine names and designs on labels. One could say that “in every bottle of VIN NATURE, there is an ARTISTE trying to get out.”
SELECTION OF DOMAINES
I will now give a snapshot of the best domaines I have so far encountered. They are mostly in the ARDÈCHE, where limestone-clay is the predominant terroir, with some old volcanic basalt around ALBA and LUSSAS, where vineyards stand at 400 metres and at SCEAUTRES, at 300 metres. “Basalt’s manganese, iron side brings fertility to the soils; the powder of basalt energises soils on its own, naturally, unlike limestone soils that can need nitrogen and working to activate them,” states SYLVAIN BOCK. Differences with the main RHÔNE VALLEY include less direct MISTRAL wind, and higher altitudes, certainly when compared to the sprawling left bank VAUCLUSE region.
1st vintage 2010, 21.5 hectares, low SO2 use. Worked in BURGUNDY at DOMAINE DE L’ARLOT. Wines show their ability to achieve finesse, with the whites notable, and the CARIGNAN NOIR [1960s] a triumph – elegant, tender. Check out the GRENACHE GRIS called L’INATTENDU, the 2015 ****.
1st vintage 2017, rented vineyards. Ex-sommelière, rare in the LUBÉRON to be a vigneronne who uses SO2, but very limited amou1st vintage 2010; nts - 10 mg/litre. Mix of VIN DE FRANCE and LUBÉRON. Note LUBÉRON LONG COURRIER RED [50% late 1960s GRENACHE, 25% SYRAH, 25% 1970s CAB SAUV], 2017**** fruit energy, most engaging.
1st vintage 2010; impetus with 3 hectares rented from LE MAZEL in 2011, now 6.5 hectares, inc 2.5 ha on basalt at SCEAUTRES. Hail attacks 2016-2017 prompted small merchant business to secure wine to sell. Provocative wines, remind me of racy, terroir approach of the likes of CHRISTOPHE BARON at CAYUSE, USA. Basalt wine NECK RED [100% early 1970s GRENACHE] was STGT **** in 2018, though from 2018 vintage, no year put on labels, just a code on back label. SUCK A ROCK [mid-1970s MERLOT, stony limestone soils] a BURGUNDIAN take, very good **** RHÔNE MERLOT, in 2016. Many wines, much investigation worthwhile
Czech, based at ALBA, has a devoted following, with creative labelling and fruit delivered with brio. Many wines. Given impetus with 5 hectares from LE MAZEL in 2007. Note BABIOLE RED, 2018 **** w.o.w. wine, BLONDE WHITE, mainly VIOGNIER, 2017 **** free, racy, a wine of verve.
1st vintage 2006. Old mixed family farm [almonds, goats, cows, vines]. 8 hectares, clay-limestone at 300-380 metres, so natural freshness. Interesting PAS À PAS RED, 70% CARIGNAN , 30% ALICANTE , 2018 **** supple, aromatic, w.o.w. wine. “I seek fluidity, not too much tannin.”
1st vintage 2009, 13.5 hectares, clay-limestone for part, basalt soils for other part. Major call-out for the LA REBOULE RED, given it’s 60% early 1990s MERLOT [a variety I am rarely comfortable with in the RHÔNE] from basalt at 400 metres, fermented by macération carbonique, the fruit entertaining, a w.o.w. wine. Also ZIG-ZAG RED [50% 1970s GRENACHE, 50% SYRAH, 25% used oak casks], well filled, dark fruit, structure.
Decades with family vineyards, 1st vintage bottled 1995, 12 hectares, neighbour of LE MAZEL. Both organic and biodynamic. 1ST family to plant CHARDONNAY at VALVIGNÈRES in 1987. A shout out for their PINOT NOIR [often overwhelmed in the RHÔNE] DU BOUT DES DOIGTS, on quite deep, fresh clay-limestone, semi carbonic vinification, 2018 **** floral, joli, tasty core, w.o.w. wine. The GRAIN…CHEUX RED [late 1970s GRENACHE] comes with mystery, complexity, the 2017 **** and capable of living well.
Most wines IGP ARDÈCHE, some zero added SO2. 25 hectares, organic since 2009. 12 wines, trademark purity and clarity, encouraged by clay-limestone soils at 250 metres. The vat-only CARIGNAN expresses finesse, with CARIGNAN fibre, the 2017 ***(*) wine for la table.
GÉRALD and sister JOCELYNE OUSTRIC. 1st vintage 1997. 19 hectares, classic ARDÈCHE clay-limestone with some stones. There is more structure, and hence longevity, in these wines, compared to many of the start-ups that favour immediate bottling and drinking of their wines. Note the VIOGNIER [2018 **** grounded, character], GRENACHE CUVÉE BRIAND [1954, 1976 notably, 2015 **** spine, strength], SYRAH CUVÉE LARMANDE [1958, 1978, 2015 **** expressive, nuanced].
THE 2018 VINTAGE
ANTONIN AZZONI, LE RAISIN ET L’ANGE: “there was a lot of spring rain in 2018; then from mid-June, it became very dry until early August. There was very heavy rain of 180 mm (7.2 in) on 10 August, which expanded the grapes. The trouble was, the skins didn’t ripen as much, so the outcome was a lot of sugar, and not very ripe skins. That meant I performed shorter vinifications.”
SYLVAIN BOCK: “there was more mildew to the south of us in 2018. We are a bit later ripening, so temperatures for mildew weren’t so bad as down there – our “tropical Vietnam” phase wasn’t during flowering. There’s a lack of acidity and freshness, but the wines aren’t too bad under analysis. It’s a vintage of finesse, a lot of fruit – 2017 was more rich, more substantial, and you should drink 2018 before 2017.”
CHRISTOPHE COMTE, LES VIGNEAUX: “2018 is a fresh enough vintage, easy to drink, the wines gourmand. We lost 30% from the mildew.”
JÉRÔME JOURET: “2018 was a complicated year, but the wines are elegant. We lost 25% of the Grenache.”
|****||Sylvain Bock VdFr Neck||2026-27||05/19||life, kick, serene depth, STGT|
|****||Andrea Calek VdFr Babiole||2023-24||02/19||naked, energy, w.o.w.|
|****||Les Deux Terres VdFr La Reboule||2022||02/19||entertaining fruit, firm flow|
|****||Les Deux Terres VdFr Zig-Zag||2024||02/19||good filling, bright, ensemble|
|****||Dom de Ferrand VdFr L.126 by Ferrand||2022||10/19||verve, purity, zero SO2, w.o.w.|
|****||C & J Grieco VdFr Debut d’une histoire||2027-28||05/19||fruit appeal, vivid, off piste|
|****||Jérôme Jouret VdFr Pas à Pas||2022||02/19||supple, fine, aromatic, w.o.w.|
|****||Les Vigneaux VdFr Du bout des doigts||2021-22||05/19||floral, joli Pinot noir, w.o.w.|
|***(*)||Laura Aillaud VdFr terre à terre||2022||02/19||clear, peppery, nicely natural|
|***(*)||Sylvain Bock VdFr Fruit jazz||2021-22||05/19||floral, free fruir, w.o.w.|
|***(*)||Brunier IGP Vaucluse Le Pigeoulet des Brunier||2023||10/19||joli fruit, dash, drinkability|
|***(*)||Andrea Calek VdFr A Toi Nous||2021||02/19||cosy fruit, juicy appeal|
|***(*)||Dom Dieulefit IGP Medit Amour de fruit||2021||02/19||soft, floral, cool, w.o.w.|
|***(*)||Dom du Joncier VdFr L’O de Joncier||2021||02/19||tender; v likeable fruit|
|***(*)||Jérôme Jouret VdFr En avant doute||2023-24||02/19||discreet muscle|
|***(*)||Jérôme Jouret VdFr Java||2021||02/19||juicy channels, good core|
|***(*)||Dom des Maravilhas VdFr Alice||04/2020||02/19||spiced, cool, exuberant|
|***(*)||Famille Perrin VdFr L'Oustalet||2022||10/19||fine, fresh, has verve|
|***(*)||Dom Rabasse Charavin VdFr Ribouldingue||2021||03/19||sleek fruit, v tasty, V|
|***(*)||Les Vigneaux VdFr Salto||2022||05/19||suave texture, tasty, pleasing|
|***(*)||Les Vigneaux VdFr Syrah||2022||05/19||fruit tingle, fresh, structure|
|***(*)||Mas de Libian VdFr Vin de Pétanque||2022||02/19||fine fruits, aromatic, w.o.w.|
|***||Laura Aillaud VdFr tout feu tout femme||2021||02/19||joli fruit, hands off style|
|***||Dom Chaume-Arnaud IGP Medit Pontias||2021||03/19||spiced, upfront fruit, lift|
|***||Les Deux Terres VdFr Vin Nu||2022-23||02/19||solid, grippy, red fruits|
|***||Jérôme Jouret VdFr La Coulée Douce||2023-24||02/19||vibrant fruit, grippy, dark|
|***||Mas d’Intras IGP Ardèche Grenache||2021||02/19||fresh, peppery, dentelle|
|***||Montirius IGP Vaucluse Les Violettes||2022||02/19||mild gras, clarity|
|***||Raisin et Ange A Azzoni VdFr Fable||2021-22||02/19||peppery, streaming, perlant|
|***||Raisin et Ange A Azzoni VdFr Hommage Robert||2021||02/19||direct, ferrous, naked|
|***||Famille Pierre Usseglio VdFr L'Unique||2026-27||10/19||weight, spice, scale, gasping|
|***||Domaine Vigne IGP Ardèche Syrah||2022||05/19||gourmand, willing, savoury|
|**(*)||Montirius IGP Vaucluse Le Cadet||2021||02/19||raw fruit, grippy|
|**(*)||Raisin et Ange A Azzoni VdFr Brân||late 20||02/19||tinny, uneven, some gras|
|**(*)||Domaine Vigne IGP Ardèche Nature Vautour||2023||05/19||fleshy, red-fruited|
|****||Le Mazel VdFr Mias Viognier||2025-26||05/19||character, strength, firm gras|
|****||Brunier IGP Vaucluse Le Pigeoulet des Brunier||2026-27||10/19||direct gras, garrigue, genuine|
|***(*)||Sylvain Bock VdFr Faux sans blanc||2021||05/19||juicy, free wheeling, tasty|
|***(*)||Clos des Mourres VdFr Pompette||end 20||02/19||joli fat, soft n’easy|
|***(*)||Les Deux Terres VdFr Vin Nu||2020-21||02/19||juicy, liberal, fleshy|
|***(*)||end 21||10/19||soft, tender; saltiness|
|***(*)||Les Vigneaux VdFr Viognier||2022||05/19||tasty, suave texture, nice length|
|***(*)||Raisin et Ange A Azzoni VdFr nedjma||end 2020||02/19||clear drinking, salted, fresh|
|***||Les Deux Terres VdFr L’Adret||2024||02/19||butty, knit, has fond|
|***||Mas d’Intras IGP Ardèche Chardonnay||07/20||02/19||fat, ripe, easy to like|
|***||Mas de Libian IGP Cotx Ardèche Cave Vinum||2020||02/19||soft centre, early wine|
|**(*)||Mas d’Intras IGP Ardèche Montagnère||04/20||02/19||soft, supple, low acidity|
|**||Domaine Vigne IGP Ardèche Salamandre||2021||05/19||fair gras, but hesitant|
|**||Domaine Vigne IGP Ardèche Viognier||2020-21||05/19||candy flavour, excess power|
|**||Mas d’Intras IGP Ardèche Viognier||mid-20||02/19||uneven, here and there|
|***(*)||Domaine Jean David VdFr Janot||mid 20||02/19||soft fruits, glides, pleases|
|***(*)||Mas d’Intras IGP Ardèche Champ Filles||04/2020||02/19||clear, soft, inviting, w.o.w.|
|***(*)||Les Pallières VdFr au petit bonheur||2020||10/19||fine freshness, toot, toot|
|***||Laura Aillaud VdFr entre deux eaux||2020||02/19||easy, clear drinking|
|***||Dom Dieulefit IGP Medit Amour de Fruit||04/2020||02/19||red fruits, tender, soft|
|***||Mas de Libian VdFr Bout d’Zan||2020||02/19||soft; easy drinking|
|**(*)||Domaine Vigne IGP Ardèche P’tit||04/2020||05/19||juicy, up front, unusual|
EARLY 2000s GRENACHE & CINSAULT, EAST FACING, ON LES VESTIDES, ONE OF THE HIGHEST VINEYARDS AT TAVEL, DOMAINE DE L'ANGLORE VINEYARDS ON LAUZES, CHIPPED LIMESTONE SOILS
With mildew decimating some of the vineyards across the river at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, there was a brighter picture at TAVEL in 2018. Indeed, the GARD , right bank, profile was considerably different to that of the VAUCLUSE . Rain came during the leaf, vegetative phase, with bunches not yet formed, which was the decisive factor for the vignerons of the right bank. Correct doses of copper were used, around 4 to 4.5 kg, with green harvesting also performed to help to avoid mildew.
ROBUST CLADDING IN THE 2018s
As a result, yields were only a little down, but the high heat of the mid to late summer certainly marked the wines, bringing robust cladding to them. Growers seeking a PROVENCE rosé style were therefore going against nature’s flow if they sought lightweight, skipping styles, and I certainly found in my tasting – a high 45 wines or so – that the 2018 collection showed more red-hued robes than in the previous few years - a slight return to TAVEL à table wines for several.
A DISCUSSION ON VINEYARD WORK NOW THE SUMMERS ARE SO HOT, AND HARVESTS "EARLY" COMPARED TO THE PAST
Vineyard work has been evolving given recent incidences of very high heat and very dry summers, and I talked at some length with ÉRIC PFIFFERLING, who is organic, and uses very little SO2, about this, as we walked around his vineyards. “Some of the pruning that would have been done in January is now more like 10 April,” he related. “That means there’s a large interval across the pruning dates, so ripening doesn’t come at the same moment – you spread out the flowering, and it aids you to achieve different ripeness levels. For instance, you can prune early on the precocious vineyards, or leave the fresher, cooler vineyards for later.
I have early ripening plots on VAUCROSE [red clay, some galet stones] and LES SABLES[sandy]. In the past I would even prune these around mid-December, whereas now I prune them in March, expressly to delay the ripening. Then there’s a plot here that I prune at the end of January – early, because there are often blockages in its ripening, which means that we can harvest at 13° to 13.5°, with no imbalance. We also harvest our four weeks.
This approach cannot be done by the big system domaines,” he continued; "we have been working like this for two to three years now.” ERIC has been joined by his two sons THIBAULT (July 1991) and JORIS (April 1994) since 2015 and late 2016 respectively, which has allowed such an increase in detail.
Looking further back, ERIC also reflected: “when I started at the end of the 1980s, there was more regularity from one vintage to the next – you didn’t have to take such measures.” As for soil work, ERIC states that “it’s important to cultivate the soils, to perform agriculture, and to eliminate the problem of erosion and competition to the vines. Hence freeing up and loosening the soils can eliminate the pressure of grasses on the vines. Having forests fringe the vineyards is also necessary if you want water to be present – the woods fabricate the water, and transfer it. The soil can then retain organic, bacterial matter close to the vine. With no woods around it, TAVEL becomes a desert.”
GOBELET BETTER THAN WIRE-TRAINED VINES
ERIC also takes issue with wire-trained vineyards – “they consume more water than Gobelet-trained vines [which stand alone]. On wires, there is much more distance between leaves and soils – you expand across rather than up – the latter being what Gobelet represents. The wire-trained vines are all exposed, but get through more water.”
ERIC has a vineyard on EYROLLE [chipped limestone, termed LAUZES, very stony soils] at LIRAC planted between 1971 and 1973 by my old chum CHARLES PONS-MURE, who was an adventurer and larger than life character, who came to LIRAC in the late 1960s having lost the family vineyards near ORAN after the Algerian War of Independence. “He was very wise in planting at a low density of 3,000 plants per hectare,” ERIC told me. “He got it right – it’s not a question of playing catch-up with irrigation because of the dense modern planting; it’s better to simply plant fewer plants per hectare.”
SUPERB 2018 CINSAULT
The oldest ANGLORE GRENACHE dates from 1953-54, and forms the base of their two cuvées, the regular one [all raised tronconic oak vat, 18-20,000 bottles] and the longer raised blue label wine [raised half concrete vat, half tronconic oak vat, 3-5,000 bottles]. ERIC finds the 2018s wines come “with a good level of ripeness, gras richness, and also loose enough to be enjoyable. The CINSAULT was superb, especially from the lauzes [chipped limestone] soils, no health problems there. The degree runs between 13° and 13.5°, and I find the 2018s digestible, that helped by all the early rains – there’s less dry matter in the wines than there was in 2016 and 2017.”
GOOD COLLECTION OF ORGANIC DOMAINES AT TAVEL NOW, WINE SELLS FOR c7% MORE
ERIC is one of several organic growers at TAVEL now, which is encouraging. Others are the CHÂTEAU LA GENESTIÈRE, CHÂTEAU DE MANISSY, CHÂTEAU DE TRINQUEVEDEL, DOMAINE DES CARABINIERS, DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-ÉPINE, DOMAINE FLORENCE MÉJAN [now sold and divided up, including to GENESTIÈRE and ANGLORE], DOMAINE DE LA MORDORÉE, DOMAINE MOULIN-LA-VIGUERIE, the PRIEURÉ DE MONTÉZARGUES and the DOMAINE LA ROCALIÈRE.
There is a slight premium for the organic TAVEL over what the French term the conventional – the average price per hectolitre on bulk wine transactions between August 2018 and May 2019 being €342.6 for the organic, and €318.80 for the conventional, 7% or so extra. 44% of TAVEL is sold in bulk – merchants such as OGIER, VIDAL-FLEURY, GUIGAL, LAVAU, TARDIEU-LAURENT and CHAPOUTIER to the fore.
TRICKY EARLY SEASON, MILDEW HOVERING
From the organic DOMAINE LA ROCALIÈRE, SÉVÉRINE LEMOINE gave me a full rundown from her point of view; she favours elegance over power in her wines, of which there are two cuvées. “With reference to the weather, it was a very tense start to the growing season,” she told me, “especially as we work organically. It rained all though weekdays, then it was OK to treat on a Saturday, which we did – then off went the rain again.
The mildew didn’t spread to the bunches, and the climate then turned in our favour, meaning well placed rainfalls during July and August – a strong storm on 15 August was a great help if your vineyard hadn’t already been hit by mildew. There was a hot spell in July, that came with cool nights.
It wasn’t a precocious year, with the harvest at the end of August. 2017 had been picked mid-August, earlier. The harvest turned out to be healthy, and not a lot of sorting/discarding was required. My quantity was similar to 2016. During the season, the soils weren’t looked after, because you had to get crop in, and not touch the soils in favour of making the harvest secure – that was the number one priority above all. Hence after the harvest, there was a lot of work to do on the soils. Healthy crop, dirty soils was the safe option.
2018 MUCH DIFFERENT TO 2017
As for the style of the wine, with 2017 a year of a very small harvest, and floral, live, balanced wines, 2018 presents a different profile. The wines are evolving now, in early summer 2019 – there’s fruit, not bad quality fruit, with more spice than usual. They are only quite fresh on the palate, and may not live that long, since it’s a low acidity vintage, with some oxidative notes. I know that there have been some stoppages of fermentation, though not for me.”
RICHARD MABY admitted that “this year we lost 25% of the harvest, but at least that was better than 2017, when we lost 45%. The harvest was very ripe, and that is reflected in the wines. Hence, it’s a vintage that is different from usual, one with less fresh fruit, and lower acidity than normal. We let our macerations last longer in order to help the structure of the wine, encouraging a move towards tannin to help its foundation.”
FORTUNATE AUGUST RAINFALL
A couple of growers signalled the August rainfall as being beneficial in 2018, with the cheery, rock music-loving BRICE BEAUMONT, based in LIRAC, telling me: “it’s a year of very supple feel, full on its fruit. We had the luck to have 100 mm (4 in) of rain in three to four falls in mid to late August, so avoided blockages of ripening, and I harvested from 4 September onwards.”
PASCAL LAFOND of the high quality organic DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-ÉPINE has been joined by the next generation in the shape of FRANÇOIS and JEAN-BAPTISTE recently, and gave this summary: “I am confident about quality. We had a rainfall of 100 mm (4 ins) on 10 August, rain over several hours, with no hail, after six weeks of extreme high heat. The yield is correct, on the mark. We didn’t suffer too badly in the GARD from mildew – it was greater at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE.”
A COUPLE OF OUSTANDING 2018s, BOTH WITH A STRONG BACK STORY
2018 features a few – not many - outstanding, fully dimensional top grade wines, which are the complete package, with wholesome palates, good freshness and balance, and very good length. The two ****(*) wines are CHÂTEAU LA GENESTIÈRE and DOMAINE LE VIEUX MOULIN, the former STGT, the latter w.o.w.
In the first edition of THE WINES OF THE RHÔNE [1973-74], I wrote: “the best TAVEL of all comes from a domaine just outside the village, M.GEORGES BERNARD’s DOMAINE DE LA GENESTIÈRE. His wine is outstanding. Beautifully pink in colour, it has a perfect balance of fruit and finesse which makes it a joy to drink. In more peaceful days [before Pol Pot and the time of the Killing Fields, JL-L], his wine would regularly go as far abroad as CAMBODIA, and more than 25,000 of his 35,000 bottles annually are sold to the Chinese restaurant trade in PARIS.”
The VIEUX MOULIN was one of the leading names at TAVEL when I first visited in 1973, under GABRIEL ROUDIL, with around 50 hectares. I call the ROUDILs Royalty of TAVEL, one of the bedrock families over the decades. Their wines were firm, full, and heavier than others. Until the late-1970s they would raise the wine in oak casks for two to three months.
PLENTY OF **** WINES TO CHOOSE FROM
Then there are very good 2018 wines, which deliver attractive, peppy fruit and good body for la table, the full range of Mediterranean dishes in view. These wines situate around **** and include two STGT wines, the CELLIER DES CHARTREUX domaine wine, the DOMAINE LES HAUTES ROCHES and the CO-OPERATIVE of TAVEL & LIRAC’s wine from the lauzes soils, called LES LAUZERAIES. It is commendable that the now combined CO-OPERATIVE also came up with two other **** wines, the CUVÉE ROYALE from galet stone covered clay-limestone soils, and the TRÉSOR DES SABLES, the latter from sandy soils.
WINES WITH FAULTS, TOO, CAN BE DULL
2018 is a vintage with faults, so there are some humdrum wines that don’t inspire – safe, but dull. One or two lean towards early oxidation. There is the clumsy use of carbonic gas in one or two. I reckon 2018 is a vintage to drink up: usually TAVEL will drink fine over three to four years, but I would term 2018 an early drinking year, unlike the very well-filled 2016s, for example.
PARISH NEWS, INC SALES & PURCHASES
Turning to parish announcements and matters, M. CHRISTIAN LATOUCHE of FIDUCIAL has bought a few domaines at TAVEL, notably the CHÂTEAU DE LA GENESTIÈRE, the vineyards of the SEIGNEUR DE VAUCROZE, followed, most recently, by the DOMAINE DE TOURTOUIL of CHRISTINE LEFÈVRE. He is now the second largest producer of TAVEL behind the CO-OPÉRATIVE.
Other recent changes have been the sale of the cellars of the DOMAINE FLORENCE MÉJAN, bought by ERIC PFIFFERLING, who has his two sons now working with him. Around half of the 36-hectare MÉJAN vineyard was bought by M. LATOUCHE, who is apparently an amateur of TAVEL, catching the bug from his father who liked to drink it. The CAVE DE TAVEL picked up 9+ hectares, with ERIC PFIFFERLING satisfied with his 1.4 hectare of 1940 vines. The DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-ÉPINE, with two sons on the go now, also stepped in to buy around 5 hectares on the sandy and prized LE SAUVAGE site at LAUDUN.
MARCEL GUIGAL has reduced his TAVEL purchases – his regular source has been MONIQUE FRAISSINET, who has described the visits of ETIENNE GUIGAL and his son MARCEL, followed by MARCEL and his son PHILIPPE, as always “un grand jour” over the decades that she has worked with them. I am told – not checked – that GUIGAL no longer buys from her, which may explain my disappointment with their 2018 TAVEL.
TAVEL REVERTING TO THE FULL TABLE WINE OF YORE, AWAY FROM PROVENCE
Since 2016 or so, there has been more confidence, and a concerted strategy, to re-stamp TAVEL as the full-bodied, red-hued table rosé of former times – before the PROVENCE ROSÉ invasion. The image of a CRU on its own terms is foremost once more, which makes sense. Increased purchases by OGIER, the CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE based merchant, as well as an upping of quantity by the local CELLIER DES CHARTREUX, which sells the wine of the CHRISTOPHE CHAUDEYRAC-owned DOMAINE LES HAUTES ROCHES, CHRISTOPHE now a Vice-President of the TAVEL SYNDICAT DES VIGNERONS, taking over from the former President, GAËL PETIT of the excellent DOMAINE MOULIN LA VIGUERIE. No-one wanted to be full-time President, so there is just the V-P for now.
It is also said that the PRIEURÉ DE MONTÉZARGUES is for sale. It is part of the RICHARD coffee empire, along with CHÂTEAU DE LA NERTHE at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE and the VAUCLUSE  based DOMAINE DE LA RENJARDE at MASSIF D’UCHAUX.
|****(*)||Château La Genestière||2022||05/19||rich, tasty, high quality, STGT|
|****(*)||Domaine Le Vieux Moulin||2022||05/19||stylish, tasty, salted, w.o.w.|
|****||Cellier Chartreux Dom Hautes Roches||2021||05/19||fresh, live, genuine. STGT|
|****||M Chapoutier Beaurevoir||2021||06/19||vivid fruit, genuine, la table|
|****||Château de Ségriès||2021||05/19||bonny fruit, style, suave|
|****||Domaine Amido Les Amandines||2021||05/19||trim, live, can be stylish|
|****||Domaine de L'Anglore L'Anglore blue label||2023-24||05/19||stylish gras, tender length|
|****||Domaine de L'Anglore Vintage pink label||2024-25||05/19||solid heart, gradual developer|
|****||Domaine des Carabiniers||2021||05/19||sunny, succulent, nourishing|
|****||Domaine Corne-Loup||2021||05/19||live, stylish, authentic|
|****||Domaine des Muretins||2021||05/19||firm content, snug, long|
|****||Alain Jaume Le Crétacé||late 20||05/19||style, length, mineral clarity|
|****||Dom de la Mordorée La Dame Rousse||2021||05/19||stylish, nicely fat, jaunty|
|****||Dom de la Mordorée La Reine des Bois||2022||05/19||vivid, fuelled, ample|
|****||Ogier Etamines||2021||05/19||refined, genuine, light spice|
|****||Domaine Saint-Ferréol||2021||05/19||gourmand, sleek, balance, length|
|****||Vignerons Tavel & Lirac Cuvée Royale||2021||05/19||pleasure, fresh lining, w.o.w.|
|****||Vignerons Tavel & Lirac Les Lauzeraies||2022||05/19||freighted, true, convincing, STGT|
|****||Vignerons Tavel & Lirac Trésor des Sables||2021||05/19||neat gras, salted, savoury|
|***(*)||Château d’Aquéria||2021||05/19||upfront, driving, good bundle|
|***(*)||Château de Manissy Langoustière||mid 20||05/19||fleshy, sweet, plump|
|***(*)||Château de Manissy Trinité||mid 20||05/19||comfortable depth, mild drinking|
|***(*)||Domaine Amido Les Gourmandines||late 20||05/19||squelchy, supple, plump|
|***(*)||Lavau||2021||05/19||refined fruit, bonny freshness|
|***(*)||Ogier Héritages||2021||05/19||good fruit level, has kick|
|***(*)||Vignobles & Cie Les Combelles||2021||05/19||local weight, low-key|
|***(*)||Vignobles & Cie Réserve des Chastelles||2021||05/19||suave content, fleshy, fresh|
|***||Arnoux Vieux Clocher Remus Tradition||2021||05/19||juicy, open, one dimensional|
|***||Chateau de Trinquevedel||mid 20||05/19||firm, close-knit|
|***||Domaine Brice Beaumont||mid 20||05/19||consistent fruit, freshness??|
|***||Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine Esprit||2024-25||05/19||vinous, oaked, nutty, table|
|***||Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine||2021||05/19||compact, butty, nuggety fruit|
|***||Domaine Maby La Forcadière||04/20||05/19||mild, plump, downbeat|
|***||Domaine Maby Prima Donna||2021||05/19||manly, muscular, firm, power|
|***||Gabriel Meffre Saint-Ferréol||2021||05/19||tangy, cool, pared back|
|***||Domaine Pelaquié||mid 20||05/19||light richness, correct|
|***||Domaine La Rocalière le Classique||mid 20||05/19||spiced, tangy, lacks lift|
|***||Rocca Maura Domaine Laurent||2021||05/19||plump, fat, bit ponderous|
|***||Domaine le Vieux Moulin My Tavel||late 20||05/19||supple, simple; soft berries|
|**(*)||Ch de Trinquevedel AutrementTavel||late 20||05/19||low flesh, gas distracts|
|**(*)||E Guigal||2021||06/19||subdued fruit, compact, stubborn|
|**(*)||Domaine La Rocalière Perle de Culture||mid 20||05/19||soda pop, low-key|