Our first full day of visits and tastings gave us a wonderful view of the region. The sun shone in an azure blue sky, and our drive north west of Aix took us through increasingly lovely scenery.
We arrived at Chateau Beaulieu at 10am, and were greeted by Emmanuel, the manager of the hotel which is the ‘job’ of the restored chateau for most of the year. He explained that the estate had been bought by the Guénant family in 2002, and restored from ruin to its glorious current state. We were taken on a short tour of a couple of the lounges, with their perfect combination of traditional and modern furniture and artwork. The chateau has 11 bedrooms/suites and I think everyone agreed that if a wedding was on the cards – and money no object – this would be the perfect place. Some people took a rather enthusiastic interest in the option for massages in the vineyards.
Through the garden, just a bit too early for roses, but the irises were in bloom, and to the winery, where Michel, the winemaker was assisted by Emmanuel and Nadine (the export manager), to explain to us its story.
The arial photo of the estate showed the contrast between the paler chalky soil at the top of the estate and the darker basaltic soil at the bottom – the estate is enclosed in the crater of an ancient volcano, with the Durance river to the north. Michel explained that 90% of the grapes are for rosé, these are mechanically harvested and vinified off the estate. The small winery is reserved for making two reds and two whites, all very high quality. We started thinking that this mean the rosé ends up in the general Provence rosé ocean we had been hearing about, but a taste of Chateau Baulieu rosé proved otherwise – and at €20/bottle it is far from a drop in the ocean!
The other wines we tasted were the Cuvée Bérengère white and red (the ‘second’ wines of the estate, named after the owners’ daughter), and their flagship Villa Baulieu red and white. All were from the 2014 vintage, which following a perfect spring and summer delivered rain during the red harvest and half the grapes were unusable.
All hand made (ie hand picked, hand sorted, individually selected) these were all lovely wines. My favourite of the morning was the Bérengère white, a blend of Rolle and Sémillon, with a lovely fresh limey nose and rich spicy palate calling out for Thai food. The Sauvignon/Rolle Baulieu was more complex, showing its greater oak contact, and both had super acidity and were pleasingly low in alcohol at 12.5% – Michel described the heroic efforts at canopy management in the vineyard to prevent too much sugar being made, and to extend the growing season as long as possible.
Of the two reds I preferred the Villa Baulieu, a Syrah/ Cabernet/ Grenache blend I have had several times at home, which is very elegant and drinking beautifully. The Bérengère red (Cabernet/ Syrah) was slightly lighter but still had lovely structure, anda spicy finish.
Lunch was in what would have been an orangery if one needed to grow oranges inside (on the left of the photo of the chateau). It was fabulous – an asparagus and bacon soup, followed by lamb, three cheese and I will let the photo of the pudding tell its own story.
The pudding wine was the estate’s vin cuit – vinified from the must from the free press rosé grapes, which is warmed to about 70-80 degrees to concentrate the sugars.
This was a superb visit, not just because of the beauty of the surroundings and the quality of the wine but for the niceness of the people!
A 40 minute drive to our second visit was most welcome for general recovery.
At Domaine Richeaume we were greeted by Wanda, daughter of Henning and Julia Hoesch who created the estate in 1972. Henning had been a historian at Yale university, and their website tells their story. What we particularly learnt was that tasting wine on a beautiful terrace covered in wisteria overlooking the Saint Victoire mountains (as painted by Cézanne) is an awfully nice thing to do, and the passion of the family for natural wine making is evident! Richeaume was a charming contrast to the morning’s glory, and our visit to their altogether larger scale winery (still made with wonderful attention to detail), with Wanda giving her first every presentation to a group, conveyed the passion of the family for making wine as naturally as possible.
After a glass ofrosé under the wisteria, the rest of the tasting was in the winery. None of the wines are made under the AOC as Henning has wanted to use non traditional varieties, and therefore uses the IGP designation. All were from the 2015 vintage.
The Tradition Blanc (a blend of Rolle, Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier) and Red (Syrah/Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon) were great food wines with good structure and interesting fruit.
The single variety Carignan and Syrah wines were really interesting – both dense and inky, and in need of time for the robust tannins to soften, I would happily lay down a few bottles of each (Yapp supply Richeaume wines in the UK). My favourite was the Columelle blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon was also for laying down – named after the first ever viticulturalist (from Roman times), it had loads of fruit on the palate and was beautifully balanced.
We sadly left this beautiful place and had an hour or so’s rest before a short tasting of wines from Cassis and Palette on the terrace of our hotel – we will not be visiting these areas, so Tim bought some bottles in the name of research. I particularly enjoyed the 2014 Chateau Simone from Palette, which had a superb almost oxidised flavour and a great savoury palate – reminiscent of Savennière, a wine I love.
Some of us, Tim and I included, nipped over to the Casino for provisions, we are staying in an ‘aparthotel’, so we have small but pretty well equipped kitchens, and it was very nice to have a picnic on our tiny terrace.
Tomorrow is our rosé day!