The superb quality of Provence’s 2015 and 2016 vintages demands serious attention, perhaps more serious than any of us have given it in the past.
Our guide to the great wines of France, importer Olivier Daubresse introduced many of you to the wines of Domaine d’Eole over 15 years ago. Since then, we’ve featured them in emails, stacked them on the floor, put them on the shelves, and taken special joy in using older vintages in special tastings and dinners to show off how well they age. And, because Olivier purchased huge amounts of outstanding vintages like 1999, 2001, and 2003, (all of which have continued to improve with time) we haven’t needed to work with new vintages over the past 3-4 years.
But the combination of great vintages plus big ratings from Wine Advocate encourages us to jump on these relatively young wines before the rest of the world catches on.
You may have tried Dom d’Eole wines in the past; perhaps the pretty, fruity pink, the fresh and earthy red, or even – in past vintages – the lightly exotic white. But you have never tasted d’Eole wines – heck, any Provençal wines – like Dom D-Eole’s Cuvee Lea and Cuvee “S.”
Ecocert Organic Certified
Some background. Domaine d’Eole sits in the heart of the Provence, south of Avignon and northwest of Aix-en-Provence, at the base of the low Chaîne des Alpilles mountain range. The Alpilles block some of the Mistral wind’s intensity – the fan is set to “medium” here rather than “high” – but still allow for some cool air from the Mediterranean Sea – 25 miles south – to reach the vineyards.
What doesn’t reach the vineyards is a lot of rain, and what rain that does fall drains quickly through the complex, very ancient limestone soils. The vines drive their roots deep for nutrients and water, and the alternating hot and cool, but always dry climate is perfect for farming without chemical additives, pesticides, or sprays.
The estate’s first and only winemaker – German-born Matthias Wimmer – pointed towards organic farming from the estate’s founding in 1992 and achieved Ecocert Organic Certification in 1996. That same year, French financier Christian Raimont purchased d’Eole and enabled Matthias to invest in a state-of-the-art winery and maintain his commitment to organics and ultra-low yields.
Seriously Small Crop Farming
And about those yields. The Coteaux d’Aix en Provence appellation is most famous for its rosé wines and the farming rules here are built on the assumption that fresh, fruity, and pink is about all that’s required for success. So, vineyards in this rugged, non-irrigated region can go all the way up to 60 hectoliters per hectare, a level that’s normally achieved by letting the vines groan under the weight of berries and not worrying about getting everything ripe – after all, you’re just making pink wine, right?
At Domaine d’Eole, things are more serious. For both red and white wines, the goal is perfect ripeness with plenty of intensity and structure. In the winter, vines are pruned severely, limiting the number of fruit-bearing buds that can form in the spring. Then, the “second crop” that forms in late spring is removed and the main crop adjusted by “green harvesting” – cutting off grape bunches – to ensure that each vine is balanced and prepared to deliver ripe grapes. Last, during harvest, trained harvesters inspect each grape bunch, leaving any that aren’t fully ripe and perfect condition on the ground to rot and, eventually, feed next year’s crop.
Across the d’Eole vineyards, then, the maximum yield Wimmer and Raimont allow to ripen and reach the winery is 30 hectoliters per hectare – half of the legal crop. And, for these wines, yields are lower still, as low as 20 hectoliters per hectare for Cuvee Lea.
Grand Cru-Level Winemaking
Having grown, harvested, and brought to the winery perfect (and expensive!) grapes, winemaker Wimmer treats this, the best of his harvest, with the kind of care normally found in only much more expensive wines from much more famous regions.
The luxurious Grenache and Syrah used for Dom d’Eole’s Cuvee Lea are crushed and go into large cement vats. Temperature control units allow the must to reach a moderate 78-80 degrees – perfect for extracting color and tannin without bitterness or damage to fruit flavors – and then hold that temperature for 18 days. Two or three times daily during the time in vat, Wimmer uses gentle pumps to pull fermenting wine up from the bottom of the tank and pour it over the cap, extracting still more color and intensity.
After fermentation, Cuvee Lea is a bit of a beast, so Wimmer racks the wine into expensive French oak barriques and lets it rest there for a year to soften, round out, gain richness, and prepare for final blending. After blending, the wine gets a six-month rest in cement tanks to integrate and soften a touch more before bottling. It then rests again in bottle in the cellar.
The Newest Direction
Dom d-Eole’s Cuvee S Syrah is part of the estate’s newest direction, working to match their all-natural, organic farming with more natural and minimal intervention winemaking. After fermentation, some of the vineyard’s finest Syrah goes into a unique, egg-shaped tank made of untreated concrete.
The egg-shape encourages a natural circulation, mixing the fine lees (dead yeast cells) left after fermentation with the wine to provide a creamier, more complex, texture. And slightly porous concrete allows in a touch of oxygen – like barrels do – to soften the wine’s firm tannins but not add any oaky spice or vanilla flavors.
The Best of Provence?
With Provençal rosé so successful these days, it’s hardly surprising that most estates and growers can’t be bothered to make the investment, do the work, and take the time to make wines like these. Unless you’ve had previous vintages of Domaine d’Eole’s Cuvee Lea, then it’s very unlikely you’ve ever had Provençal wine of this quality and style.