Thursday, February 19, 2009

The wines of the Rhone Valley

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Ellen and I joined a small group in a wine class. It was presented by Philip Reddaway, a British transplant living in Malaucène, a nearby village. Philip and his wife Jude run “Rhone Wine Holidays” ( from their 12th century home, formerly a Benedictine priory. Their longer wine tour packages include rooms, meals and wine education for the wine enthusiast.

For three consecutive Tuesdays, we forced ourselves to taste wines from the area. The course included presentations by Philip in La Madelène’s atelier and tastings—in the atelier, at lunch and on-site at selected winemakers’ tasting rooms. Philip’s WSET (Wine & Spirits Educational Trust) certification and experience give him a knowledge of the wines of the area and the wine-making process. But he also knows many of the Rhone wine makers and selected from among many good ones to take us to some wonderful wineries. We tasted wine in some of the most picturesque locations we have seen in Provence. We talked with the wine-makers and, in several instances, went into the vineyards. We walked through the famous stone fields of “La Crau” in the Chateauneuf du Pape region and through mountaintop vineyards in Suzette and above Seguret. We met vintners who have embraced bio-dynamic production and have thus eliminated the use of herbicides. We enjoyed wonderful lunches prepared by Jude Reddaway at “La

For the final Tuesday of the course, Ellen’s high school classmate and her husband joined us and our classmates. (Nancy and Tony live in London.) They got to go to Chateauneuf du Pape ( &, back to La Madelene for lunch and then to the top the hill above Suzette to try some white wines and red wines from the high hills ( I have included a picture from Domaine St. Amant. When we were at Domaine de Nalys in Chateauneuf du Pape, we got a tour of the winery. Different from the little wineries, the whole site is set up for tours (VERY clean & neat). Even the barrels have the Domaine’s shield carved into the oak. …and they make some fine wine there. At the second winery, we climbed into old trucks and went out to see “La Crau.” It is hard to describe, but think of a field of stones – a white stone like those you find on the shores of Michigan as far as you can see – and growing in this field of stones are vines. In the summer, the stones get hot – but reflect a lot of the sun, keeping the plants a little cool during the day and keeping the plants warm all night long. The clay under the stones holds moisture well, so the plant roots – which might go down one or two meters – find the moisture to nourish the plants and the grapes. The woman who was showing us “La Crau” had to shout in order to be heard above the sound of the Mistral which was whipping across La Crau at amazing speed. As Philip had mentioned in class, the stones are unique but also very difficult for walking and thus it can be hard to find laborers who will work the fields at La Crau (winter pruning, summer pruning, fall harvest, etc.)

In addition to the sites that Nancy and Tony got to enjoy visiting with us during their five days here, Philip also took us to:

Domaine de Mourchon ( This winery is located at the top of the hill between Vaison la Romaine and Séguret – on the same route that Tish and I took when we walked from Vaison to Séguret.

Chateau de Saint Cosme ( is located just at the north part of the village of Gigondas. The winery has been owned by the same family for 14 generations and they produce a wonderful Gigondas.

Vincent Rochette runs Domaine Roche-Audran (, a winery started by his grandparents. In the past few years, he has switched to a “bio-dynamic” method of managing his vineyards. He is very pleased with the success of the changes that he has made – the vines are doing well and he produces some fine wines. Ellen especially liked his white wine. It was very different from most of the viogner-based white wines of the Rhone Valley. (Ellen also liked the white wines that Philip served at lunch: one from Lirac and another white from Philip’s neighbor at Domaine de Champ-Long.)

Domaine des Bernardins ( is located in the village of Beaumes de Venise and, as one might guess, they offer wines made with muscat. Interestingly, they offer both a sweet (doux) Beaumes de Venise and a dry Beaumes de Venise. It is hard to tell the difference when you smell the wines but one is very sweet. One is dry – without losing the flavors of the Muscat grapes. Beaumes de Venise is now a “CdR-Village” appellation and at Domaine des Bernardins, they also make red wine.

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