Les Baux de Provence Vineyards
Last weekend was the ‘portes ouvertes’ of the 12 vineyards that comprise the small appellation of AOC Les Baux de Provence. They were celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the creation of their small AOC. These vineyards are located next to some of the most stunning scenery. Just another excuse to taste their wines and olive oils…
Due to the calcium-rich soil, the white and rosé wine is quite dry here. They’re perfect to accompany meals or are known here as vins de fourchette. The reds are fruity, ‘puissant’ and often quite alcoholic from the high sugars produced from the hot sun. These pungent reds are often given some time to settle down. The reds are left to age in their bottles but generally not more than around 6 years.
Almost all of the wines here are bio/organic, they need aerating. However, as there are so few added sulfites the wine doesn’t need to be decanted for hours before you consume it. A really good swirl in your glass will do.
We noticed that Les Baux de Provence is following a trend here in Provence. Some vineyards are playing with the results of rosé that has spent time in oak barrels. I must say it’s not for me. However, many people appreciate the complexity it gives to the usually tart and fresh rosés.
AOC Les Baux
The AOC of Les Baux de Provence determines watering regulations and grape varieties among many other variables used to produce wine. The varieties of grapes for this AOC are Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cabernet sauvignon, Cinsault, and Counoise. What is interesting about this specific AOC is that every vineyard, except one, is either certified organic or biodynamic. I was also quite surprised to find that many of the vineyards we visited still traditionally harvest by hand. When the grapes are hand picked here they come into the cave completely brown rather than ruby red, as the merciless Provencal sun has baked them throughout the summer months.
Last Sunday Robin and I decided to try and make the most of the open house celebration. Typical me, it’s all or nothing. Out of 12 vineyards we visited 5 throughout the space of one afternoon. Not bad eh? It was so interesting to see how different all the vineyards are in terms of style and how they receive their clients. There was everything from very haute de gamme (classy/high-end) vineyards with jazz musicians and plush manicured gardens to a dirt track that goes for miles before you come to a little shop where you have to ring a bell.
Either way, all these vineyards in Les Baux de Provence are stunning with their expansive olive groves, as if the pairing of wine and olive oil were mandatory in this dry land, and the vibrant green vines left to the mercy of the Mistral. Some domains have to be surrounded by fences to keep the wild boar from gorging on the ripening fruit. Thankfully they welcomed us!
After warming up with a vide grenier in Maussane, we headed over to Château Estoublon where I normally wouldn’t traverse their intimidating gates if it weren’t for this annual fête. We drove along the perfectly straight road with roses at the end of each row of vines. It reminded me of some of the well-known vineyards in the Bordeaux region.
Once we reached the Château, armed with wine glasses, we headed past the swanky décor store, restaurant and wine shop to the cave where there was a line of bottles on top of upturned barrels each manned by staff to help guide you through the vineyard’s entire range of wines.
Château Estoublon is celebrating its nouveau millèsime, which is actually not last year’s wine but their 2011 vintage. The owners have decided that as a matter of principle all their red wine especially will be aged inside the cave and will only then be available for sale.
What is interesting about trying the same wine from different years at this vineyard, as well as most bio vineyards, is that the wine is essentially made in the same way, with the same mix of grapes every year. The only thing that really changes is the weather. The difference in taste, smell and alcohol levels is very surprising. Part of their range of products is wines produced with 100% Mourvedre (the Bandol grape that is so red it’s called sang de boeuf or blood of beef), 100% Grenache, and 100% Syrah wines respectively to really illustrate the difference between the years that is determined solely by the weather.
Before we could reach the unmanned barrel holding the top of the line cuvée we were distracted by the wine and cheese pairing demonstrations in the charming central courtyard. What really stood out was the Château Estoublon magnum wine. It’s golden colour was deliciously paired with Tomme de Provence. After an interesting explanation of the British invention of magnums (essentially) due to the desire for large quantities filled with only the best wine, we meandered back over to that line of bottles where the owner himself was pouring the Cuvée Mogador. All I’ll say is even though we were driving- we couldn’t spit that one out.
I was ready to while away the afternoon when the Jazz band starting playing but it was time to conquer new territories…
Mas de la Dame is a family owned vineyard with an extensive olive oil production right under the cliffs of Les Baux de Provence overlooking the castle ruins.
As this was a special event, after our tasting we were offered a rather large glass of wine for 5 euros with an invitation to help ourselves to various tapenades, saucisson, and all matter of delicious bits. We were told about the mysterious story of the stolen Van Gogh painting of the old mas (farmhouse) on the property. Apparently the authorities thought the family had had it stolen and consequently rifled through all their possessions to find no masterpiece. After our meal, we rode in a caleche driven by two characters through the olive groves overlooking the Alpilles mountains. It was stunning.
The next two places we headed off to were sadly either closed for lunch or closed because the woman who owns the biodynamic vineyard of Domaine Hauvette isn’t really interested in anything other than making her wine and riding her horses. There is a sign above the gate that says never open for tasting. Haha. I suppose I can’t blame her.
The long road that leads to the end of the vineyard of Terres Blanches is lined with panels that indicate the many grape varieties planted there. I’m quite certain that when we rung the bell we woke up the man who was most likely taking his after-lunch siesta.
His preference for the red wines of the domaine was quite obvious but I love the white from Terres Blanches. I’d had it before. It isn’t as dry as many others in the region.
This biodynamic vineyard also has another stunning white road which leads to the cave. You pass the ruins of the 13th century Order of the Knight’s Templar castle. Then, you turn around to see a view of the whole Mont Ventoux valley. The cave itself is closed for renovation. This is a shame. From pictures it looks like an underground cathedral that has been carved from the rock face. However, the spacious domain store was open. We tasted wines to the sound of opera in the cavernous space. It was kept cool from the blistering sun outside by the thick walls of rock.
Coming into early evening we thought we’d push on through to one more vineyard. The least known, and the youngest (2007) of all the vineyards we had visited. This didn’t seem to bother the owner. He was wrapping up crates and crates of his red wine to be sent to restaurants in Paris. We couldn’t even try any as he had sold out!
The cave is built out of impressive massive blocks of stone taken from the same quarry that was used to build the Pont du Gard. The almost blossoming lavender reaches the height of the lower branches of the century old olive trees. We stuffed one more case into our little mini and called it a day. I’ll now be eating chickpeas all week to make up for my expensive day on Sunday. At least my wine rack is full…
You don’t have to wait for an open house to visit these vineyards. Many are open all the time. You just have to muster up the courage to drive down their long drives without the ever so Anglo-Saxon worry that you may be bothering someone. Just don’t go between 12-3pm. Some of the vineyards will give tours and tastings only if you call ahead. Many will make an effort to speak English. Even if they don’t- I’m quite sure that one can get by with hand gestures!
To find out more about the appellation Les Baux de Provence: