Guest Wines Tour de France
The weather had certainly changed as we started our journey through the Northern Rhône. No longer were we greeted with beautiful sunshine, instead, lots of rain! La Côte-Rôtie? More like La Côte-Rainy indeed! Still, those hillsides looked imposing and impressive!
Driving along the valley famous names started to appear on large billboards on the hillsides amongst the vines, as we had seen in books but nothing really prepares you for seeing it with your own eyes! Firstly, Guigal, then Condrieu, then Paul Jaboulet Aîné and Chapoutier to name just a few. The slopes were extremely steep and in the pouring rain, with mist hanging low on the hills, it made for dramatic scenery. It reminded me of many a place in Asia, such as Southern China or Vietnam.
Much the same as we first experienced in Burgundy’s Côte-d’Or, the vines were trained straight up stakes rather than on trellis systems, which are not so practical on the steep slopes. Geek alert: we found this fascinating to see as so far we had mainly seen the Guyot system, most widely used nowadays.
Our first stop was by appointment with a producer in Mercurol, Domaine des Remizières, but despite us endeavouring to get there on time in the rain we arrived about 14 minutes later than our estimated arrival and were refused the appointment. We were extremely grateful that the Domaine had agreed to see us on a Sunday as they would not usually be open on this day but we were so disappointed to be turned away despite our long drive in torrential rain on roads that we had not travelled on before but sadly the proprietor was unwavering in their decision. We felt that their reaction was a tad extreme but hey, there were plenty more Rhône wines to be had so onwards we drove.
So our first tasting of the day was at the cooperative winery Cave de Tain, in Tain l’Hermitage, thankfully one of the few places open on a Sunday! We were given a taste of their range to get an overview of what they produce and were pleasantly impressed, for the price of 10 euros, the Saint Joseph Classique 2012 was smooth and fruity. Unfortunately, the Hermitage Classique 2009, at 25 euros, was corked and although a little apprehensive to point this out to the advisor since there were several French people also tasting this wine who had not raised any issue, we were very pleased when he agreed and threw the wine down the drain, but not before getting other staff members to smell and taste it as part of their education on an example of a corked wine. Another WSET success there – Hoorah!
The Cornas and Hermitage reds were particularly tasty, especially the Cornas ‘Les Arenes Sauvages’ 2007 and Hermitage ‘Gambert de Loche’ 2007. As a bit of experimentation we also picked up a bottle of the Vin de Pays Syrah 2010 for all of 3.60 euros, and it wasn’t half bad whiling away an evening in our Premiere Classe Hotel on the outskirts of Avignon.
Next to visit was M. Chapoutier wine shop, also in the town of Tain. Whilst waiting for the shop to re-open after lunch, we took the opportunity to have ours sat on the railway station platform, with the impressive backdrop of world famous vineyards to gaze upon (you wouldn’t expect anything less of us, would you?).
The wine advisor at Chapoutier talked us through a wide selection of wines and treated us to taste their single vineyard Ermitage ‘Le Meal’ 2001, which had the most amazing fruitcake aromas held up by a very good structure, the 2010 vintage listed would set you back at least 230 euros! We were particularly impressed by the Hermitage Chante-Alouette 2011 from Marsanne grapes, beautifully soft with creamy cooked apricots and hints of orange, lovely mouthfeel, as well as the Côte-Rôtie Les Bécasses 2010, showing classic gamey/rubber with dark, spicy fruit.
Before leaving the shop, we thanked our wine advisor for the tasting to which he thanked us, i.e. the English, for helping Hermitage wines to exist, he then went on to explain the history further, how Merlot and Cabernet were brought from Bordeaux in 18th century to be blended with Syrah – hermitagé became the term used for blended Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet, hence hermitage came into existence, although now without wines from Bordeaux of course!
We made the most of having a day in one place and in between showers were able to walk around Tain, enjoying the views of the Rhône River as we crossed over to Tournon on the other side, a glimpse of sun even shone through for us!
On leaving Tain, we headed South, driving through Cornas and Saint-Péray, interested to see where the wines we had just tasted that morning had come from. Stunning castle ruins balance almost precariously on rocky outcrops all the way down the Rhône, which was an amazingly emerald green colour with wide and high waters. The small town of Rochemaure, had a particularly impressive castle overlooking the streets below!
The landscape strangely changes between the Côte-Rôtie and Southern Rhône where the expanse of vines disappear to be replaced by heavy industry. In contrast to our experience so far, many of the famous names of Southern Rhône, such as Gigondas and Vacqueyras, were further off the beaten track and the next vineyards we hit were at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Luckily, we were in for a treat as the skies cleared, a rainbow stretched out above us and the sun shone across the goblet shaped vines shimmering against the large pudding stones all around. It looks so stony, it’s a wonder anything grows but it shows the resilience of the vines that reflects that special ‘terroir’.
Whilst here we sought out another of the producer’s we have bought wine from at the Paris Vignerons Indépendants Fair, Domaine de la Millière, more out of interest to see where they are based rather than expecting any kind of tasting, as it was Sunday so not general opening hours. It certainly is a beautiful area, which rather impressed us.
Extremely happy with this lovely end to our journey through Rhône, we headed towards Avignon and even managed to find our hotel by 8pm, just before it turned dark!
Next we skim the Mediterranean sea through Languedoc to arrive in South West France.
Day 6 in Roussillon
It was an early start today to tidy the winery ready for a group of American and French journalists who were arriving for a tour and a tasting.
Leaving Jonathon to host them, I went to see the 25th International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan with Rachel, Georgia and Jill. The photographs are exhibited in various buildings across the city, some of which are not usually open to the public. So it is a fantastic opportunity to see some rarely visited places as well as beautifully shot photography although the images were often shocking and at times disturbing. I must admit the majestic Serengeti lions made up for the dark violence of human behaviour.
A lovely lunch at a nearby cafe gave us a chance to sit and have a break from the intensity of the exhibition after which we were ready for more.
Then on our way home, a caramel ice cream from Olivier Bajard was most welcome, possibly one of the best ice creams I have ever tasted!
picture sourced from http://ecole-olivier-bajard.skyrock.com
Back at the winery, I took a short walk around Troullias before settling down in the evening sun with a glass of Pierre Andre, Les Craies Bourgogne Aligote 2010, which I had bought at Les Caves Maillol and was planning on using as the mystery wine for everyone to taste that night.
The wine had a flinty, smoky nose with some tropical pineapple and passion fruit aromas. Both Jonathon and Georgia were impressed and we all liked it a lot, not bad for something under 10 euros. It matched extremely well with the barbecued duck, rice and salad that we had for dinner.
We were treated to Treloar’s Tahi and Le Secret as well as a taste of the co-fermented Carignan/Syrah that is still in barrel. What a powerful wine, beautiful voluptuous nose of violets, black and red fruits, spice, the gripping tannin is to be expected but should integrate and soften out nicely. I look forward to getting hold of a bottle of this next year!
As yet unnamed Carignan/Syrah
The wine was flowing and everyone was chatting, Jonathon got his guitar out and entertained until bedtime.
Join me for the final episode in my Roussillon experience next week.
Day 5 in Roussillon
A Sunday lie in didn’t really happen this morning, if anything I was awake earlier, lots of noises disturbed my slumber last night. The chickens were bloody lively so I hope its chicken for dinner today, sweet revenge!
I got up for a coffee and decided to make the most of a bit of down time to write up my notes. I can now see the bruises developing nicely on my arms and legs alongside the scratches, ah the signs of hard work!
So far, it’s been an interesting experience at Domaine Treloar. I’ve certainly learnt a lot in a short time and had the chance to do a variety of jobs already, all very important in learning how to run a small winery. It’s nice to know my French is coming in useful too, helping with customers and sending out messages to the pickers. Rachel and Jonathon’s lives are certainly pretty hectic but its really not a bad lifestyle at all.
The town of Troullias seems like a nice little place, on my first day a couple of ladies out walking said good morning and commented on the heat, which came as a welcome surprise in contrast to my frequent visits to the small town of Ceret where I have visited my sister for near enough 12 years, possibly as Ceret receives so many foreign visitors each year.
As picking was still delayed, more grape samples were required so Georgia and I headed out to the vines.
Sample taking was easier today because it was overcast, so was much cooler, however, the trip out was a tad less peaceful than usual when a single and very loud gun shot rang out across the vines scattering a flock of birds sky high. I nearly jumped out of my skin and not for the last time as the shots continued to shake the air.
It was very unnerving not being able to see where the shots were coming from, they sounded too close for comfort a couple of times. In the Grenache vines on the hill three grouse flew out as I disturbed them, flipping heck I wondered if I would end be the next target. Further down the hill, in the Syrah, the shots felt very close over head and a hare ran past me, terrified. Again, I thought I might get hit if the hare was the target. Then I noticed a man standing behind camouflage at the tree line, rifle in hand, who was responsible for the shooting.
Sam, Domaine Treloar’s dog, seemed non fazed, which was good in a way as I was jumpy enough and glad to head to the next parcel out of the way of gun fire. Nevertheless, Sam got his comeuppance as something startled him in the vines, Georgia said she might have seen a snake, yikes, maybe that spooked him but whatever it was made him yelp and run like the wind. We frantically shouted for him hoping he hadn’t run into the road but there he was, tail between his legs at the end of the row. Silly pooch!
Back at the winery, Jonathon checked the alcohol and acid levels of each sample. Still none were ready for picking yet, as the acids were high and skins not quite ripe enough, further delaying the harvest until after I leave, which is a shame.
The next job to be done was to transfer the white juice we pressed on Thursday from the steel tank to barrels, these needed washing out and then rolling under the concrete tanks. This was not a nice job and was made even nastier when each tank had to blasted with CO2. Jonathon looked on the verge of fainting. We stuck our noses in it and it smelled very strong with a burning sensation like peroxide up your nose.
After filling the barrels, it was once again cleaning time! With a slight wobble, I climbed the ladders up to the top of the tank to hose it down. Just when Georgia and I thought we might have finished for the day we then had to re-rinse a couple of the concrete tanks, detach the sluice doors and clean out the gully, making sure all pump hoses were rinsed thoroughly and detached. Phew, done by 7pm.
As the sun set and the clouds have cleared, the sky was once again blue. The grapes will welcome the sun and heat now.
We were treated to a Sunday dinner of beautifully tender lamb shank with roast potatoes and green beans! Along with a bit of Domaine Treloar’s Motus, 100% Mourvedre, and Domaine Trilles Incantation Rouge, it went down a treat.
To hear what happens next don’t forget to follow the series.
Day 1 in Roussillon
When I was told the harvest in the Roussillon was likely to be around three weeks late this year my heart sank as I was meant to spend early September at Domaine Treloar, Trouillas, specifically for this purpose, so the question arose as to whether I should go or not. However, having booked my flights an age ago, and not being able to change them without charge, I hoped that cancelling was not an option. Thankfully there was plenty that still needed doing in the winery and around the vineyard in the run up to the harvest, and Rachel and Jonathon were happy to have me come over.
It was a scorcher the week I was there, hitting at least 30 degrees in the height of the day and it just got hotter. Was this really September and the time kids were heading back to school? The only nip in the air came from the occasionally bolschy winds that whipped down the valley on a couple of nights, boy are they competition for the North Easterly winds we are subjected to at home.
My first day at the vineyard was spent with Georgia, an Australian intern spending 8 weeks at the Domaine, she is studying viticulture and oenology in Montpellier. Luckily we hit it off straight away as we were to share a room for the next week.
The sun was shining and the sky was blue as we set off on our slightly rickety bikes to find the vineyards for my first job of collecting grape samples. This was done by walking up and down selected rows of vines counting a number of paces so as to get a good spread and only choosing 5 grapes from each bunch. Wearing shorts wasn’t such a good idea as I came across many spider webs stretched between the vines.
The wasp spider will bite if disturbed but isn’t as deadly as it looks, thankfully!
It became very hot work by midday but surrounded by vines with the mountain ranges rising defiantly in the distance, it was truly breathtaking. I felt like I was floating on cloud 9, sun, heat, vines, mountains and peace!
Back at the winery with our bags of grape samples, we squished each berry so we could drain the juice into glasses for testing the alcohol levels. The colours of the sample juice really struck me as the Syrah juice is so pink, whilst the Grenache is cloudy green like apple juice, yet both have black skins. One of the Grenache plots is referred to by its Catalunyan name of Lladoner, which is a new synonym to me.
After a tasty lunch of leftover curry and salad cooked by Jill, who was over from New York on holiday, Georgia and I helped Jonathon clean the winery and get things tidied for the start of the picking the following day. I just loved the Champagne 2000 retro yellow press that is suspended on the upper floor of the winery.
We had to dust all the equipment down and wash it, something we would become very familiar with doing. Bloody hell, power washing the floor was enlightening, the black mould vanished leaving behind a light coloured concrete floor, it looked like Mary Poppins had worked her magic. The picking crates arrived and sat outside waiting to be stacked and sorted on the tractor’s trailer, déjà vu of cleaning these crates at Koopmanskloof Winery in Stellenbosch came flooding back.
After all that we were ready to go picking the next day. So thankfully it seemed I would get a taste of the Roussillon harvest after all.
Read more in the next of this short series when I shall be picking in the vineyard.
Kel’s experience lending a hand at Domaine Treloar in the Roussillon last year coincides with Ruth’s journey to the same Domaine a year later – this week in fact, so what better time to introduce this particular producer and tell you a bit about why we like their wines so much.
Jonathan Hesford and Rachel Treloar own and run this winery in a lovely corner of The Roussillon in the very south of France and make a range of wines to match.
Both gave up their New York City careers in the wake of the 9/11 event, living only blocks from the heart of the attack on the Twin Towers, they decided to change direction and head for a life making and selling their own wine. Initially moving to New Zealand, whereby Rachel can claim Maori Royalty in her blood, Jonathan spent time learning his trade with Neudorf Vineyards, becoming Assistant Winemaker, and qualifying at Lincoln University (NZ).
Moving to France in 2005, they found an old winery with parcels of mature vines in 2006, which is now established as Domaine Treloar and has enabled them to create for themselves the types of wines that they enjoy.
Domaine Treloar produces a complete range from white, rose, red and fortified. The wines have names that are representative of either the 9/11 events, Bruce Springsteen or Rachel’s Kiwi heritage, for example, their flagship red Tahi means “1” in Maori.
We have enjoyed all their wines with particular favourites:
La Terre Promise: Grenache Gris, Macabeu, Carignan Blanc – Medium bodied, dry white wine, well rounded and balanced with a fruity honeyed nuttiness (even a touch of wet stone) and mineral edge.
Three Peaks: Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache – Lovely deep ruby colour, red and black fruits, strawberries and blackberries, violets and chocolate, hints of rosemary underpinned with smooth silky tannins.
Motus: Mourvedre – Dark sour cherries, raspberries and blackcurrants, dark chocolate, notes of black olive and white pepper. Well structured wine.
Muscat de Rivesaltes: Muscat à Petit Grains – Late harvest, sweet Muscat, dried fruit aromas of orange peel, apricot and honey, rich mouthfeel and a nuttiness to the finish.
Kel arrived last year just in time to lend a hand with picking the Mourvedre, as the harvest had arrived earlier than originally expected. On the other hand, this year it looks as though it will be a few weeks later! However, we are sure that Ruth will be kept busy.
Vineyard downtime last year was utilised by constructing decking for the gîte holiday accommodation and by all accounts is still looking good too.
Also last year, Jonathan was experimenting with a batch of Carignan grapes, of which Kel had a go with punching down the cap the good old fashioned way by … feet. This has now been bottled under the title of Le Maudit which translates as The Damned! Something that we are looking forward to trying.
If you want to know what wines from the Roussillon are all about, then Domaine Treloar would be a good way in which to be introduced, as we think that they are a great example of how to make fabulous wines from this part of the world.
No doubt Ruth shall have a tale or two to tell when she gets home, including an update on all those wonderful wines.