Superb Quality from the Heart of Provence

Dom d'eole wineryDomaine d’Eole is a unique, if young estate created in 1992 by German oenologist Matthias Wimmer, purchased and transformed to certified organic farming by his partner, estate-owner and French financier Christian Raimont, and introduced into the United States by importer Olivier Daubresse.

The Domaine 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 Mistrial wind’s intensity – the fan is set to “medium” here rather than “high” – but still allow for some cool air from the Mediterranean Sea – just 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.

D'Eole Matthias Wimmer and Christian RaimontThe 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
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?

Dom d'eole bottlesAt Domaine d’Eole, things are a bit more serious. For red, white and rosé 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 only 30 hectoliters per hectare – half of the legal crop. Smaller crop levels make farming more expensive – it actually takes more work to grow 30hl/ha than it does to let 60hl/ha hang! – but it pays off in better ripeness, silkier texture, and much, much, more flavor and complexity.

Dom d'eole roseWe’re showcasing the unique benefits of organic farming and ultra-low yields in today’s featured wine, the Domaine d’Eole Rosé 2017. But you have to taste the red and white wines to understand the full story. Join us this Saturday as estate owner Christian Raimont pours great selections from new releases and wines aged to perfection, too!


Does Rosé Age? A Case Study with Vignelaure

outside roseWe often get asked, “Does rosé age?” And our answer: “no and yes!”

“No” because very, very, few pink wines are better at age four or five than they were on release. But “yes!” because almost all of the pink wine we buy gets better as it recovers from the shock of early spring bottling and shipment. I find that most good rosés peak somewhere between August and Thanksgiving and then hold nicely into the following year.

And if a pink wine has enough tannin and acid to protect it, it can keep right on improving for 24 months and is actually at its best in its second summer. The 93 point 2015 Vignelaure rosé is a perfect example.

Despite our eye-popping $9.98/ea by the case price (more on why that’s true later), this is not your typical, just-bottled and rushed to market rosé. But, then, Chateau Vignelaure is not your typical Provence wine estate.

A Top Site for Cabernet. Georges Brunet, owner of Third Growth Ch La Lagune in Bordeaux, discovered the Vignelaure site in the early 1960s. With soils perfectly suited to Cabernet and 1,300 feet of elevation moderating Provence’s intense sunshine, he planted the vineyard to Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings taken from La Lagune. By the mid-1970s, Vignelaure – meaning “the vineyard of the sacred spring” – had gained fame as one of Provence’s best, agreeable, and distinctive reds.

In his benchmark 1987 book on Rhone and Provence, Robert Parker called Vignelaure “one of the showpiece properties not only of Provence, but of France…Chateau Vignelaure specializes in red wine, capable of ageing 15-20 years, produced from a blend of two great wine grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Vignelaure’s wines are elegant expressions of Provencal wine-making at its best.”

ch Vignelaure bottleAdding a Rosé. Starting in 1993, Vignelaure added top-flight rosé to the portfolio, too. They blend 40% Grenache and 30% Syrah – the region’s classic rosé grapes – with 30% of their stunning Cabernet Sauvignon to create a wine with authentic Provençal character plus one extra notch of richness, power, and ability to age. The Grenache, Syrah, and most of the Cabernet ferment and age in tank while a little of the Cabernet rests in barrel.

The result is a rosé that was good when it landed here last summer but has only gotten better in the past 10 months or so. There’s been no dimming of the aromas and flavors of red berries, tangerine and crushed herb. But the texture is even better, round and plush and mouthfilling but still light and fresh. Delicious right now, but no rush: save a bottle or two for Thanksgiving!

A Note about the Price. This rosé released last year at a $20 price (we offered it at $16.98 last year). Why so much less this year? It’s a combination of factors. Start with Vignelaure’s fairly late arrival last year (we didn’t get any until late July) so that the importer didn’t sell all they had by the end of rosé season. Then add in America’s obsession with drinking only the youngest, just-released pink wines from the most recent harvest. Put those together with a wine that’s actually better than it was last year and you get one heck of a deal!

Digging Deeper: Rosé

This weekend’s rosé festival got us thinking about the history of our favorite seasonal wine.  It’s such a fun style that it’s easy to just gulp away without much thought (not that we discourage this, by the way), but the story of rosé is actually pretty interesting!

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One of our favorite things about the beginning of rosé season is admiring its many different shades of pink.  Grape varietal accounts for some of this, but a lot of the color variation comes from the winemaking method used.  There are three main methods.  In the Skin contact method, the juice sits with the skins of the red grapes for 1-3 days before it’s pressed and the skins are removed, is usually used when the grapes are only being used for rosé.  In the saignée method (From the French “to bleed”), pale pink juice is ‘bled’ from the grapes before they go into tanks.  This method produces both rosé, and makes a more concentrated, darker red wine from the remaining juice.  The third method is blending, which is pretty self-explanatory: a small amount of red wine is blended into white wine to give it a pink color.  Most wine regions don’t allow this practice, but it is allowed in Champagne.  Here are a few other fun facts to help you think pink!

Ancient Roots.  Though rosé, especially dry rosé, is relatively new in terms of popularity here in the US, it’s actually one of the more ancient styles of wine.  Back before more powerful presses were created and grapes were stomped by foot (or hand), the resulting wines were pretty light, and looked more like what we think of as a rosé color.  Even after better presses were invented, in Ancient Greece and Rome, lighter wines were considered more desirable.  Bordeaux’s wines done in this style were especially prized, while darker, more robust wines were considered coarse and inferior.

A Happy Accident.  We all know about the White Zinfandel craze – but whose bright idea was it?  Like chocolate chip cookies, White Zin was invented by accident.  In 1975 Sutter Home’s Bob Trinchero had been making a White Zinfandel that really did look and taste almost like a white wine.  One year, while making this still “blanc de noirs,” if you will, he had a stuck fermentation that he just couldn’t fix.  He set the wine aside, and upon tasting it later, decided to sell it, even though it was sweeter and pinker than he intended.

This cellar disaster took off in a big way, and White Zinfandel and the various off-dry ‘blush’ styles it inspired are still popular, although not as popular as they once were.  As much as we like to roll our eyes at White Zinfandel, its popularity did get a lot of people drinking wine who might not have otherwise tried it, and at least some of those people probably ended up being wine lovers and graduating to more classic styles.  The White Zinfandel craze also preserved old, bush-trained Zinfandel vines that date back to the 19th century and would have otherwise been ripped up to plant Cabernet or Merlot.

The Classic.  Ah, Provence.  Just the name makes you want to hop on a plane and turn your life into a passage from a Peter Mayle novel in which the most strenuous part of your day is throwing on a linen blazer to head down to the local cafe on your scooter and enjoy a glass of pale pink, crisp, refreshing Provençal rosé.  These fantasies always involve linen and designer sunglasses in my mind…

Wine was first made in France in Provence, and today over 75 percent of its output is rosé.  Most is made under the Cotes de Provence AOC, and the approved grapes for making this classic style are Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and a local variety called Tibouren.  Rosé can be made either in the saignée method or by merely pressing whole grapes to make an extremely light, salmon-colored wine.  Provençal roses tend to be very light pink compared to roses from other regions, and have a wonderful combination of fairly full body and crisp, refreshing acids.  Sometime it’s best not to mess with the classics!

What’s Your Style?  Whether you’re a fan of a classic Provençal style rose, a fuller, fruitier Spanish, or something in between, rosé goes with just about anything.  Lighter styles will taste almost like a white wine at first, but can be deceptively full-bodied, making them a great partner to a wide variety of foods.  Darker rosés, like the ones often made from Garnacha in Spain, will have more red fruit flavors, and can be very ripe, so that they almost taste sweet for a moment before they finish crisp and dry.  Wines like this are great with barbecue and other pork dishes.  Most importantly, rose is almost always good by itself on a sunny day, making it the perfect partner to spring and summer!