Feature Coverage

The Two Faces of Ventoux

“In many ways, Ventoux is a state of mind as well as a re-emerging wine region.

“Although it has a long history as a producer of Rhône Valley wines—it was especially prominent during the Avignon Papacy—Ventoux has mostly been somewhat quiet and relatively ignored in recent centuries.

“Draped around the western and southern slopes and the foothills of the Rhône’s most prominent landmark, the towering Mount Ventoux, this wine region could be considered the Rhône Valley’s version of the Languedoc, but as Languedoc existed a generation ago. Even though their topographies are different, both regions share an air of wildness of terrain, a somewhat sparse population and a definite attitude of rebelliousness.

“So it is not surprising that the winemakers of Ventoux, located east of Avignon, are proceeding along two very different tracks. One is to improve the quality of basic everyday wines and move up the organized ladder of recognition, as it did in 1953 when it was granted VDQS status as Côtes de Ventoux, and 20 years later received Ventoux AOC recognition in 1973.

“The other track is the insurgent one, as a few of the top producers have taken their cue from Tuscany’s rebels from the last quarter of the previous century. Their path is to ignore Ventoux’s winemaking regulations to create what they are calling “Super Rhônes” but which are officially labeled IGT Vaucluse. Although Ventoux’s wines are considered to be Rhônes, administratively it is a part of the Vaucluse department and, like Luberon and Provence, is located within a different French administrative region from the rest of the Rhône Valley…

A Super Rhône Manifesto

“ … some of the high-quality, well-financed wineries in the region are rebelling against that restrictive view of the marketplace. Nicole Rolet, who was educated in the U.S. but has worked around the world as a banker, has become the face and voice of the Super Rhône movement as owner (with financier husband Xavier Rolet) of Chêne Bleu, a relatively new winery near Crestet in the mountains west of Mount Ventoux and at the northern edge of the appellation.

“Rolet is quick to give credit to Eloi Dürrbach at Domaine de Trévallon in Provence, as well as Mas de Daumas Gassac and Granges des Pères, both in Languedoc, for pioneering work in making expensive wines that they declassified. But it is Rolet who has written what might be considered to be the Super Rhône Manifesto, following a recent Super Rhône tour to Asia. She posted it in February to the Chêne Bleu site.

“‘The purpose of the Super Rhône tour was to showcase the producers from the Rhône Valley,’ she wrote, ‘who are not (or who are no longer) completely affiliated with the appellation system, at least not for their top wines, but who are nonetheless perceived as punching above their weight.’

“The rationale, Rolet argues, is similar to the one that started the Super Tuscan movement several decades ago: ‘[The] mismatch between terroir and appellation, more frequent in the South of France than in carefully thought-through and delineated areas such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, has frustrated certain winemakers, convinced, for objective and/or subjective reasons, that their terroir is best suited for other things in terms of quality or style. It has led a handful or two of us to take matters into our own hands and step out of the appellation when we feel our whole vineyard, single plot or individual cuvée would benefit.’

“Rolet cites a personal example. ‘In the case of Héloise [a red blend that sells in the U.S. for $95], things came to a head early on with our decision to include a splash of Viognier in the blend, as in Côte-Rôtie, despite that it’s not allowed in any of the appellations on, or contiguous to, our property,’ she writes.

“‘There was just no question that [it] made a better wine: more fragrant, more complex aromatically, and benefitting from nice lift from that elegant, intoxicating hint of perfume that one associates with Northern Rhône, Condrieu-style Viognier,’ Rolet contends. ‘That empirical epiphany, rather than an ideological stance, was the evidence that put us at a fork in the road and led us to leave the appellation.’ …”

To read the full article, click here.

Roger Morris, April 11, 2017
The Two Faces of Ventoux