Welcome to La Madelene : Rhone Wine Holidays

What a difference a dung makes…

This is a piece I recently wrote for the Brighton community newspaper the Whistler :



Driving around the vineyards of the Rhone valley we see the “bio” (aka organic) sign everywhere..organic viticulture is very popular here facilitated by the hot dry climate and the mistral winds. But there are some vignerons who are prepared to go one step beyond…they call themselves “bio – dynamic” producers. This is a philosophy of agriculture based on the work of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, perhaps better known to Brightonians for his alternative approach to education. Those who follow the Steiner creed in winemaking believe that better wine results from maximum natural vigour in the soil. To achieve that goal they administer homeopathic quantities of quite bizarre treatments onto their land, for example : cow dung packed into a cow horn, which has been buried under the ground for the duration of the winter, flower heads of yarrow fermented in a stag’s bladder as well as stinging nettle tea. Furthermore the timing of these treatments is determined by lunar and stellar cycles as well as time of day…usually at dawn. If that sounds wacky to you, it does to many of our clients…one recently declared it to be “hog-wash”.

However just this week I took a party to the bio-dynamic domaine Montirius which makes a Gigondas and a Vacqueyras. We sat on a sunny terrace overlooking the vine and heard owner Christine Saurel speak passionately about their approach and how it stemmed from the success of treating their daughter’s illness with homeopathic remedies 15 years ago. We couldn’t help but be impressed by her integrity and her commitment. And when we were invited to inspect her vines close up they were noticeably healthier than any I’ve seen in the last month…mildew from the May rains has caused extensive damage in the Rhone, but not it seems here. The ultimate proof of the pudding of course is the effect on the wine itself. We tasted a white Vacqueyras made from Roussanne, white Grenache, and Bourboulenc (waxy citrus/grapefruit with a lovely lingering finish), a red Vacqueras Le Clos from 50% each Grenach and Syrah (seductive aromas of garrigue wild herbs, red fruits and black cherry), and a full bodied, deliciously concentrated Gigondas which would put many lesser Chateauneuf du Papes to shame. Christine’s Le Clos has just been awarded the red wine of the Avignon festival by a blind tasting amongst the region’s best sommeliers. What can I say? Hogwash to some, maybe, but for my money bio-dynamic producers are clearly onto something here that others can only grasp at. If you want to try for yourself, Montirius wines are available from posh merchants Berry Brothers in London, the fabulous 2005 Vacqueyras Le Clos being a steal at £132 per case.


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