Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wineries in the Rhone Valley, part 1

We love wine, if you hadn't gathered that yet.  We love meeting the people and seeing the process, making the bottle so much more of a story.  We have a pretty good handle on American wine, and have had some French, Italian and Spanish wines in restaurants, usually guided by the sommelier.  In general, French wines are very intimidating to me, for several reasons - so much to learn and it's in another language!  I didn't even know where to begin...

After our week in Provence, I'm feeling so much more comfortable with French wines!  It's not nearly as complicated as I thought, I just need to learn more about it.

They don't classify their wines by varietal like we do, it's much more based on the AOC, or Appellation d Origin Controlee.  This is a ruling system that was created in the 20's in France to help control the quality of the wines throughout the country.  Everything is controlled from the grapes the vintner can use to the number of bottles produced.  It serves as a guide to the consumer to guarantee quality and style.

Once you learn the region or AOC that you're in, and some of the terms on the label, things get much easier.  Chateau and Domaine simply mean estate!  That might seem like a 'no duh' statement, but when French is so completely foreign to me, it was certainly helpful to learn.

We visited several wineries during our trip, starting with Chateau Val Joanis in the Luberon AOC.  

Syrah, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault are the main grape varieties used in the production of reds and rosés in the Luberon AOC.  They are very specific and strick about the percentages of the grapes going into their wines - for example, to have the Luberon AOC listed, they might require at least 60% Syrah and at least 1 other varietal.  It's very different. 

Chateau Val Joanis has a huge fabulous garden that we explored after our tasting.

They were doing some pressing in the winemaking facility while we were there!

Tuesday afternoon after our cooking class, we met up with winemaker Philippe Gimel of Saint Jean de Barroux.  He was fantastic and incredibly passionate about the Rhone region and winemaking.  He first took us up into his vineyard for a full tour.

Then we followed him a few miles to the warehouse space that he rents to make his wine.  Still relatively new, he has big dreams of a beautiful facility...but for now, this will do.  This really shows the behind the scenes, unglamorous side of winemaking - his small staff was very busy while we were there, cleaning tanks, de-stemming grapes by hand, and packaging up orders.  

Concrete tanks are very popular there, we saw several of them.  They are completely neutral like steel but still allow the wine to get some air, like oak.  And you can fit a lot more wine in each one.

After the tour, we snuck over to the side out of the way, and tasted Philippe's wines.  He was fantastic, and very informative.  The setting was beautiful, looking out the big barn doors into the garden.

After I told him of my love of roses, he went and got a little for us to try - this will be his first rose, and still has a little ways to go.  But it was still yummy!  I will caution on visiting Philippe - I don't think he'd be for the beginner wine drinkers/tourers.  It's not fancy, by any means, but we loved him and seeing his facility.  One more tip - go to the bathroom before you meet him...because the only one they have is out back, under a me ;)

On Wednesday, we went on the Avignon wine tours...more about that later!

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