Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Oldest Papal Vineyard in France. And it’s not where I thought.

The Oldest Papal Vineyard in France
And it’s not where I thought.

The oldest papal vineyard in France is not where I thought*. Not in Châteauneuf but near Malaucene in the Vaucluse département of Provence, about 40 minutes to the north-east of the former papal city of Avignon. 

Pope Clement V was elected pope in 1305 and his coronation was in Lyons, not in Rome. In 1309, he moved the papal throne to Avignon (on the Rhone) and also planted this vineyard in the Abbey of Le Barroux under the stern gaze of Mont Ventoux, not too far from the famous Dentelles, in an area where you’ll also find the more famous vines of Beaumes de Venise.

The entire vineyard is, as you might expect, mountainous in nature. Lots of hard work on the slopes including the vintage by hand. On their estate, the monks and nuns have raised their cultivation methods to high levels. “More than a motto, Garde et Service (custody and service) of nature are the two main lines of our conscientious cultural approach, in order to make it possible for our vineyards, for Provençal agriculture and the the heart of men to bear their fruit in due course - today and tomorrow.”

And, thanks to the presence of Gabriel Teissier, Directeur du Developpment at Via Caritatis, at last week’s Liberty Wines Portfolio tasting in Dublin, I got a brief history and also got to taste three of the wines: the Vox Domini Blanc, the Vox Caritas Rouge and the Lux in Domino Rouge.
Gabriel Teissier at Liberty Wines Tasting

The Vox Blanc is a blend of Clairette (90%) with Roussanne and Grenache blanc. They have two Clairette plots, one 40 years old, the other just 11 and it is from this second that the outstanding freshness comes. Soft pressing in the winery is followed by a slow fermentation, and the wine is “then rested on lees for six months, giving a lovely texture to the finished wine.” Very impressive, with excellent acidity as well.

The Grenache (90%) led Vox Rouge is expressive with ripe raspberry and blackberry fruit. On the palate, the wine is ample, powerful and well balanced. Again you’ll note the acidity. The flavours are concentrated and layered with notes of spice and liquorice which linger on the finish.

The grapes were hand harvested and subject to a rigorous sorting process upon arrival at the winery. Fermentation took place in concrete vats which are also used for the Lux rouge below. After malolactic fermentation, the wine rested in concrete tanks for nine months before bottling. Another impressive wine.

The outstanding Lux Rouge comes in a deep red. The nose boasts aromas of ripe black fruits  and a touch of liquorice from the oak hint at excellence to come. And it comes. On the palate, the wine has a rich mouth feel, with silky and opulent tannins, powerful but well-balanced with bright acidity. 

This is one to lay down as the concentration of flavours as well as the excellent structure of the Lux Rouge, along with the “thousand and one skills of the art of wine making” will see it age and develop over the next ten years. Fermentation takes place in concrete tanks and then the wine is aged for 18 months, 80% in concrete tanks and 20% in 500L new oak barrels before blending and bottling.
The day I got to the top of Ventoux! But it was warm and sunny down below.

The history of wine in Europe is deeply connected with monastic life. In 2015, united by a wish to revive their region’s winemaking history and support local winemakers, the monks of the Abbey Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux and the local cooperative, Beaumont de Ventoux, joined forces to create a range of wines from their combined 30 hectares of vineyards. The quality of the grapes and the impressive community partnership attracted the attention of illustrious Rhône oenologist Philippe Cambie, who has since become consultant winemaker for Via Caritatis.
The Dentelles. Sunny here, having come down from foggy Ventoux earlier

The men and women of Via Caritatis (the way of charity) are determined that their terroir will produce beautiful wines for hundreds of years to come. Lots of stirring stiff in their brochure but I’ll leave you with just one line by Max Philipe Delavouët. 

“.. We just need to plant trees, in turn: one day they will bear plenty of fruit for those hands already raised in the mists of time…. Let us go, we will never be rich enough, we who are passing, like those who are coming, to let anything be lost.” Garde et Service!

Read all about the excellent Liberty Wine Portfolio Tasting here

* The first pontifical vineyard  was exactly settled in the place-name "Groseau" ( which used to be a benedictine monastery at the time of Pope Clement V and was given by the monks to the pope. This place-name is located on the land of the municipality of Malaucène, neighboring Le Barroux village. When the benedictine monks resettled in the region, they built their new monastery on the municipality land of Le Barroux. Nowadays the place-name of Chapelle du Groseau is in the heart of Via Caritatis vineyard which spreads on the tree municipality of Le Barroux, Malaucène and Beaumont-du-Ventoux. 

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