One of the highlights of our trip to France was an overnight stay at ProvenSol Winery in Venterol. Venterol is located on the eastern edge of the Cote d’ Rhone wine region. Nyons is the closest village of any size and it was a joy walking around a small town in France.
We arrived by bus and got off at a crossroads surrounded by lavender fields and olive orchards. Very shortly Dominique arrived and drove us to the winery. It was beautiful being situated slightly above the valley floor with a view worthy of a postcard. The scenery in every direction was vineyards, orchards, and more fields of lavender. At the foot of the Alpes Provencale, in the middle of the countryside, Dominique and Dominique welcomed us to “le Domaine ProvenSol”.
ProvenSol is owned by Dominique and Dominique Thouroude. So as to not confuse my readers, I will refer to them as Dominique, the winemaker and Dominique, the homemaker. Besides the winery, ProvenSol is run as a bed and breakfast. There are five rooms available that are uniquely different, yet simply beautiful. Each window looks out on the vineyards of ProvenSol. What makes this place extra-special is the friendliness of the owners and their willingness to make you part of the family along with other guests at the optional evening meal and breakfast. A copious breakfast is served in the “petit caveau” (small vaulted cellar) or on the shady terrace. You may dine at the “table d’hôte” (dinner with a fixed menu) in a convivial and relaxed atmosphere, visit the wine cellar, and taste the Domaine’s excellent Côtes du Rhône.
ProvenSol is home to 14 hectares (about 45 acres) of vineyards. Grapes grown are Marsanne, Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, and Cinsault for the red varietals and Roussanne, Viognier, and Mourvedre for the white varietals. A relatively new grape varietal, Marselan, is slowly replacing some Syrah rootstock due to Syrah’s propensity to not hold up well in the warm southern France climate.
Marselan is a cross between Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, first bred in 1961 in the French town of Marseillan. Marselan tends to produce large clusters of small berries that are mid-late ripening. It has strong disease resistance to botrytis bunch rot and powdery mildew, as well as to other infestations. Planted in France, mostly in the Languedoc and southern Rhône Valley, it is primarily used in blends, but a few vintners are beginning to use it as a single varietal wine. Marselan tends to produce deeply colored and highly aromatic wines that have supple tannins and the potential to age.
The grapes at ProvenSol are all harvested by hand, some paid and some volunteers. It takes about two weeks to harvest all 14 hectacres. Due to the vineyards of ProvenSol being about 800 meters in altitude, they are just beginning their harvest when the great wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape have already harvested and the must is being pressed. In addition, the proximity of the Alps brings the end of warm summer nights, allowing the grapes to ripen more slowly, accumulate greater fragrance and color in order to produce wines bursting with sunshine and better structure.
As we began a tour of the facility, we first walked the vineyards. Vines are trimmed and pruned narrow and vertical, allowing enough leaves to provide cover from the sun for the clusters. As the wind blows down the grape rows, it dries out leaves and clusters warding off potential disease, preventing mildew and rot.
Dominique, the winemaker, is quite the engineer, inventor of sorts, and itinerate tinkerer. He and Dominique moved from Paris 12 years ago to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city. They found their own little Eden nestled on a vineyard at the foot of the Mont Ventoux. Dominique oversaw the design and building of the winery, using as much local rock and materials as possible.
With his team, Dominique produces grapes in a certified organic agriculture. Dominique states, “Do as little to the soil as naturally possible. We pay special attention to, and have respect for nature and life of the soil. We want to use the diversified piedmont soil that promotes the expression of the minerality of the terroir in our wines.”
In 2011, they built the winery and vinified for the first time all the grapes from the Domaine. At the end of that harvest, they were able to offer their wine for tasting and sales. That first year they had a Rosé and three red wines: the Coucou Rosé and red Cuccou 2011, the red St. Perpetua 2011, and La Bohème 2011. Previously, they vinified with the help of a colleague a few hectoliters of grapes into their Prelude No. 6 2006 and Prelude No. 7 2007. We had the opportunity to taste a No.7 and it was a classic Côtes du Rhône wine with exceptional flavor and east tannins.
Since that first year, Dominique makes three wines he labels as CouCou. There is a Blanc (mostly Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne), Rosé (Grenache, Syrah, and a bit Viognier), and Red (mainly Grenache and some Syrah). All three of these are dry and a treat to consume. They discontinued the Prelude wines, but continue to produce the Sainte Perpetué (99% young vines Syrah), and La Bohème (99% Carignan).
Talking with Dominique in the winery, over dinner, or sitting in the courtyard enjoying wine, it was clear this was a man who was living a happy life. Running a winery is hard work, but at the close of the day, he could sit with his family and friends, dining el fresco, and toast to the good life with his own wine. I am not sure one could be more content. We left vowing to return with friends to absorb more of the leisurely style found in the Rhone Valley. Oh, and of course, the wine… I can’t forget the wine!
And let me offer this: if you are headed to southern France any time soon, make time in your schedule for at least one night at Domaine ProvenSol. It will make for an experience of a lifetime. Tell them John and Natalee sent you! Contact information is below.
Domaine de ProvenSol
Cleduny, Route de Vinsobres 26110 Venterol
Tel. +33 475 279 781 / +33 663 558 833
Wines I recently tasted
The first two wines listed I enjoyed on flights to and from Europe. Each was served in a 187 ml PET bottle.
2016 Sol Casal Sauvignon Blanc – Vino de la Tierra de Castilla – Castilla, Spain
With this wine, there was not much nose at all, just a slight hint of citrus. A golden yellow color with white fruit and some floral on the palate, it finished with a clean acidity. Very acceptable for wine served on British Airways. 11.5% ABV
2014 Reina Carlota Viura Verdejo – Castilla, Spain
This was another white wine from Spain’s Castilla region. This was one of those wines where, while nothing is wrong with it, there was nothing notable about it either. It drank very pleasantly and would be fine for a summer afternoon wine. It would go well with mild cheese and crackers. 11.5% ABV
2013 Pillastro Primitivo Puglia – Cantine due Palme – Puglia, Italy
The wine, Primitivo, is best known by its alter-ego, Zindfandel, but when grown in the Puglia region it becomes a lighter version of what you think about Zinfandel. Primitovo can be a brash wine, but this one I found to be quite smooth with balanced tannins. The nose had lots of berries and pepper. The palate offered red berries and cranberry. The mouthfeel seemed to offer a bit higher alcohol, but it measured only 13.5%. This would go well with a tomato sauce pasta or chicken dish. 13.5% ABV
2015 Chateau de Fontcreuse – Cassis – Provence, France
This was simply a splendid wine to enjoy on a summer’s afternoon while looking out across the harbor in Cassis. A wine created by the sun of southern France. The wine was made from Grenache and Cinsault in the Provence region. Its beautiful pink orange hue reminded us of peaches, while the nose teased us with a fresh cut peach fragrance. The mouthfeel was smooth and bright. On the palate we got more peach, but melon and a hint of citrus came into the profile. The finish didn’t disappoint as it sweetly remained for our enjoyment. You could drink this on its own or serve with seafood, pizza, or maybe a Japanese dish. 13.5% ABV
Thoughts on Choosing Wine
More and more I am finding myself seeking wines, not so much by grape, but by where the wines are grown – hence the terroir. It seems there are as many similarities between wines that share a terroir, or similar terroir, as there are between grapes.
For instance: cool weather usually means lower acid, fewer or softer tannins, and often lower alcohol levels. This is regardless of whether the grapes are grown in California, New Zealand, France, South Africa, or wherever. Also, with cooler climate grapes, herbal or floral flavors are commonly more prevailing.
On the flip side of the weather coin, warmer climates usually produce bigger wines with higher alcohol levels, greater aromatics on the nose, and the tannins may need to breathe a bit before consuming. With warmer weather grapes, you often get more red fruit and spicy flavors on the nose and the palate.
Of course, I am speaking in generalities, but this holds true more often than not. With this knowledge, your wine selection becomes a bit easier. On a warmer day, you may not want to sip a big wine on the deck with friends. Consider finding a wine (red or white) produced from grapes grown closer to an ocean (North Sonoma Coast in California/Marlborough, NZ), higher up a mountain slope (Western Europe/Roija from Spain), or produced in a region that is known for cooler weather (Midwest wines/Willamette Valley, OR). You can discover this by reading the label and doing a quick search on your smartphone. A white wine grown under these cooler conditions will likely have a brighter palate with crisp flavors. A red wine will also be a bit lighter on the palate, maybe not quite as much aroma, and may not possess a finish that stays with you a long time, but it will be refreshing.
I do understand that more is involved with how a wine tastes than climate, soil, sun days, and geographic influences. The entire wine making process from time of harvest, to fermentation, oak, stainless, or concrete vats, and many other steps along the way can affect the taste, body, and flavors of the wine. But generally, my experience is that I can have a pretty good idea of what is in the bottle by learning where the grapes are grown.
Try it yourself. Pick one of your favorite wines and learn where the grapes originate. Then, pick a wine made from grapes harvested from similar climate but from a different country or at least a totally different producer. See what you think about the similarities and differences. It is a wonderful way to expand your wine horizons and learn about new areas.
I’d love to hear what you find out. Write me a JuliensJournalWineGuy@gmail.com. Let’s share a glass or two!