Back in March, Meg and I braved the gusty Mistrial winds to attend and taste several hundred wines at Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône, the bi-annual festival in Avignon featuring winemakers and wineries from across the Rhone Valley.
It was a delight to meet the energetic, slightly mischievous, Marie Pirsch and Philippe Danel of Domaine du Tix (Philippe will be at Chain Bridge Cellars on Saturday, Oct. 17!) – and tasting their wines one of the highlights of the show.
The level of style, polish, and sophisticated fun we found in each of their wines is unusual for Cotes du Ventoux, and that’s undoubtedly due to the estate’s charming owners. Marie and Philippe came to Domaine Tix in 2001 looking for a retirement home after successful careers in the fashion industry. They found about 10 acres of table grapes planted, a decrepit house, and soils and a microclimate so perfect for making authentic, delicious, Provençal wine that they couldn’t resist!
After first grafting the table grapes over to wine varietals – all traditional grapes for the Ventoux area – Marie and Philippe gradually expanded their plantings, today farming about 20 acres in total. In 2006, they expanded their staff by one-third – hiring their nephew Vincent to take charge of the vineyards. When their brand-new, pocket-sized, winery opened in 2008, production reached today’s levels – a whopping 3,000 cases per year.
On the Slopes of Mount Ventoux
Domaine Tix’s vineyards are about 18 miles due east from Chateauneuf du Pape about 300 meters up on the western slopes of Mount Ventoux, the tallest mountain in this part of France (reaching nearly 2,000 meters at its peak). As in the rest of the Southern Rhone, there’s plenty of sunshine, which should make ripening Rhone grapes like Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan a snap.
But ripeness in the shadow of Mount Ventoux is anything but certain. The elevation brings down temperatures a bit, but the real challenge is the cold air that flows down the mountainsides every night. The alternating warm days and cool nights help wine grapes retain bright acids and firm structures, but mean they need to be farmed carefully at low yields and with plenty of vineyard work in order to get ripe fruit flavors and supple tannins.
Marie, Philippe, and nephew Vincent clearly take the time to do the hard work needed to get fine grapes into the winery and then allow them to transform themselves into excellent wines. Even better, each wine is clearly infused with both classic southern Rhone character and a touch of playful style. These are wines that impress on first meeting and improve with longer acquaintance. All are very nicely priced, too, as they were brought to the USA just for us. I recommend them very, very highly!