There is nothing quite like taking part in the understanding and making of a truly organic, quality wine in the heart of wine making Rhone Valley in France says Heather Tyler as she visits the beautiful area of La Vaucluse, Provence…
This is winemaking in France, up close and organic. I’m at the Château les Quatre Filles vineyard in the southern half of the Rhone Valley watching grapes being crushed, tasting the raw product and then the vintage, and finally sitting down to lunch with descendants of the Granier family who have been here since 1750.
Château les Quatre Filles was created in that year to celebrate the Granier family’s four daughters.
At 40 acres it is medium-sized for the district. The largest in the area is 120 acres and the smallest two acres.
Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne is an appellation for quality red, white and rosé wines from the parish of Cairanne in the southern half of the Rhone Valley.
Cairanne lies to the east of Orange, just a short distance from banks of the Rhone river. The climate is typically Mediterranean – hot dry summers. The hotter it is, the better is is for the vintage. The soil is limestone and alluvial. The Aigues River passes right through Cairanne on its course to meet the Rhone River just west of Orange.
Harvests lasts a month – from mid-September to mid-October. The wine goes through two stages of fermentation. The first takes place 15-20 days after the end of harvest and second stage will be over by November 15. Bottling starts in January and won’t finish until October. No preservatives are added.
In 1999 Les Quatre Filles was the first Rhone vineyard to be certified organic. They still cork everything, unlike other producers who are moving towards screw caps. They say nothing is better than cork.
The family, who don’t speak English, are also somewhat shy of talking to journalists, and let chef d’entreprise Vincent Flesia do the talking.
Vincent says the heat of the afternoon compromises the quality of white grapes so they are picked early in the day – 7am-1pm and later the red grapes are picked from 8pm-midnight. Twelve workers, a French and Moroccan team, work eight-hour shifts for six days a week. Red grapes grown here are grenache, syrah and mourvedre.
“We’re limiting our export to China because it’s a thirsty market but we need to look after our other customers too. We don’t need to increase our production but maintain the quality,” Vincent tells me.
The cellar door attracts French, English, Belgian and German visitors. The Cotes du Rhone red is the most popular wine for customers. Prices start at a modest 6.7 euros.
I’m here with a small group of Back-Roads Touring travellers and today is a highlight of our tour. No tourist-plagued villages or overcrowded monuments. It’s just us, Vincent and the family. We all sit down to lunch at a long table shaded by trees, in front of the villa.
Catering is provided by Judy Harrison, a British ex-pat living near by, whose forte is terrines to die for. Lunch includes platters of cheeses, including goats’ cheese, which is all made locally. And jugs of wine, of course, redolent with the aromas of big plump raisins, cinnamon and berries.
I’m in organic heaven.
After lunch Grandpere Granier shows me some of the family artifacts dating back centuries, including a rifle from the Napoleonic era. He says he doesn’t think it’s been fired since then, but it’s kept cleaned and oiled anyway.
Vincent dusts off a very old bottle of red dating back to 1880.
“It looks very interesting but it doesn’t taste very good,” he says with a chuckle.
But everything else does.
Heather Tyler is a New Zealand/Australian author, editor and blogger at www.tastefortravel.com.au