Ventoux wine appellations

The Ventoux (formerly Côtes du Ventoux) appellation lies between the area designated as Côtes du Luberon (now Luberon) in the south and the massive Mont Ventoux to the north. It is a large appellation covering some 50 communes over an area of 5800 hectares and producing over a quarter of a million hectolitres of wine annually.

The limits of the appellation are marked by local towns. The appellation lies south of the ancient Roman city of Vaison-la-Romaine, east of Beaumes-de-Venise and in a line down to Carpentras then all the slopes of Mont Ventoux to the east of this line encompassing communes such as Caromb, Le Barroux, Mazan and eventually to the outskirts of the regional city of Apt.

Whites, reds and rosés are found here of varying quality ranging from some of the most interesting wines in the country to some mediocre ‘cooperative wines’. However there has recently been interest in the area from some of the better wine makers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Burgundy.

Reds and rosés are primarily made from the following grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Cinsaut, Carignan and Mourvèdre. As with the nearby Luberon appellation it is permitted to use secondary grape varieties such as Picpoul and Cournoise provided they do not exceed 20% of the blend. Carignan must not exceed 30% of the blend. The whites are made from combinations of Bourboulenc, Clairette and Grenache Blanc with Roussanne also being permitted but limited to 30% of the blend.

Some good wines are also made at La Vieille Ferme, made by Jean-Pierre Perrin, proprietor of the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape winery, Château de Beaucastel. The rosé he makes is also quite smart.

Domaine Santa Duc, the producers of fine Gigondas wines are now producing wines in this area. Their white Côtes du Ventoux Santa Duc les Rossignols made from 35% Roussanne, 24% Grenache Blanc and 41% Clairette is well worth a try.

Other labels to seek out are Domaine Chaumard, Domaine de Cressenton, Domaine de Font Alba, Domaine des Anges, Domaine Chene Bleu and Domaine de Fondreche.

You can also pick up bargains at the local co-ops, for example the Chais du Grillon from the nearby Les Vignerons du Bédoin.

However if we we had to pick three winemakers form this diverse region they would definitely include the following.

Chateau Unang

There are many producers in this beautiful wine region. We are particularly fond of the wines of Chateau Unang which lies in a beautiful location at the mouth of the stunning Nesque Gorge. The wines here are made with precision and care. The Chateau Unang La Source (a red blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan) and the Cuvee Adeleine (a rich white wine made from Clairette and Roussanne) are so good that they were the impetus for us to start a wine importing business in Australia! (www.terroirwines.com.au).

Domaine Saint Jean du Barroux

On the other side of the appellation, in sight of the lacy Dentelles de Montmirail, the mountains that run down the eastern side of the plain where the great Rhone appellations of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Beaumes-de-Venise, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne lie, is one of the best organic vineyards we have ever found.

A Ventoux orchid in Philippe's vineyard

It is near the perched village of Le Barroux where Philippe Gimel at Domaine Saint Jean du Barroux is doing amazing things bringing a dormant vineyard back to life. His wines are a reflection of his passion for the environment whether it be the quality of the soil, the health of the thousands of trees that proliferate throughout his plot or for general biodiversity with his encouragement of worms, ladybirds, native orchids, birds and even wild boar that roam his domain at night digging up the soil and fertilising it as they go about their nocturnal activities.

Here he makes a single red and a single white, both of enormous power and elegance from extremely low-yielding vines (20hl/ha). Only natural yeasts are used to ferment the wine and wood is used judiciously. The white wine is a blend but our favourite white grape from this region, Clairette is always dominant.

We have long been fans of Philippe Gimel’s wines. That is why we are importing these iconic, fascinating, complex reds and whites into Australia. We had tried his wines while we were visiting Provence.

However we hadn’t seen the vineyards, so on our most recent trip we determined to redress this omission. Numerous phone calls to Philippe had set dates and changed them because of adverse weather conditions. There was lots of autumnal Provencal rain.

On a cool autumn day in April while we were busy working in our Provencal house, Philippe finally rang to say the vineyard was dry enough for us to visit. We were delighted and after a brief meeting outside Caromb’s local pub, we set off to Le Barroux along bumpy gravel roads to find his vineyards.

We had absolutely no idea of what awaited us. We stopped at the bottom of the hill where his vines follow old terraces. He talked to us about the geology of the area, he talked about the soil, he talked about the climate, he talked about the terroir. He pointed to Mont Ventoux and talked about its effect upon the climate. He pointed to the Dentelles and talked about their shielding effect. We started to realise how serious he was about vineyard management and wine production!

We got in our cars again and drove on narrow, rutted, storm-damaged roads towards the top of the hill to the stunning spot where Philippe intends to build his winery and visitor centre. We looked to the east and the top of Mont Ventoux complete with a snow capping was visible. We looked west and the dramatic Dentelles de Montmirail with their lacy, craggy peaks were looming. In between these icons,  the castle of Le Barroux, the third dramatic element on Philippe’s wine label was clearly in view.

We were facing north. Surely the vines would not get enough sun? This was about to be explained.

Perhaps we should first tell you a bit about Philippe. He is no ordinary winemaker. He is a perfectionist. He is obsessive. Some of this may have been influenced by his time with the famous Claude Papin in the Loire.  He then moved on to be one of the winemakers at Chateau de Beaucastel in nearby Chateauneuf-du-Pape  – in fact many commentators have compared the power of his wines to those of the more famous neighbour.

As we walked along the vineyard terraces Philippe excitedly showed us every plant (including Ventoux orchids and wild asparagus) that share space with the vines along with almond, cherry, walnut and pear trees among many others.

He explained how he nourishes the soil and attracts a diversity of both plant and animal life. Wild boar roam the property at night but they are not fenced off because they dig in the ground and aerate the soil. Only preparations approved by Demeter are applied.

At every point he was able to explain the age of the rocks (his red is called Oligocene because the red vines grow on rocks from that period).

We then went to his winery where over thirty tanks and barrels of wine line the walls. He then started explaining the differences and the treatment given to each. We started tasting and this proceeded for four hours. We were told why he doesn’t use any new barrels – he doesn’t want the oak to obscure the beautiful fruit flavours. He explained his use of concrete tanks – it lets the wine breath. He showed us the difference between the huge 2003, the powerful 2004 (the one currently on sale) and the more elegant but still profound 2005 and 2006 which will be released progressively over the coming years. We also tried tank samples of the more recent vintages.

It was a magic day spent with a man of passion and enthusiasm. It was so interesting and so compelling that we all forgot to have lunch!

La Ferme Saint Martin

This beautiful vineyard lies in the hills high above Beaumes-de-Venise close to the village of Suzette. The drive from Beaumes-de-Venise through Suzette and on to Maulacene is one of the most beautiful in France making this vineyard an excellent place to visit. Most of this vineyard is in the Beaumes-de-Venise, however about five hectares fall within the area designated as Ventoux.

The vineyard is owned by one of our favourite restaurateurs, Guy Jullien who is the chef and owner of the Mondragon venue La Beaugraviere, which is equally famous for the wonderful truffle dishes served in the depths of winter as for the stunning collection of Rhone wines.

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