Clos du Caveau
This proudly organic domaine nestles in the foothills of the Dentelles right on the Gigondas/Vacqueyras border. Current owner Henri Bungener’s father purchased the property from wine guru Stephen Spurrier – famous for his 1976 Judgement of Paris taste-off (USA vs France.when the USA swept the floor, astounding the French wine community) -and latterly executive editorial director of the wine magazine Decanter. Henri’s father Gérard was a maverick pioneer of organics in the region – thought completely crazy by his neighbours when he refused to spray – Organic certification was not introduced in France until 1985. Henri, who took over from his father in 1993, is one of the most interesting/complex vignerons that I introduce my guests to – he is at once by profession (and still practicing part time) psycho-analyst, passionate winemaker, and superb amateur chef. The domaine covers 14ha of which 12ha is AOC Vacqueyras with 2ha on the plateau making Cotes du Rhone. The terroir is fascinating : the geology just here on the escarpment of the Dentelles allows for three entirely different soil compositions within meters of each other giving rise to three distinctive Crus named Fruit Sauvage, Carmin Brillant and the haut de gamme ( made in exceptional vintages) Lao Muse. All the wines are based on a similar 70/30 Granache to Syrah blend – it’s entirely the terroir that drives the nuances of style. The wines here are full bodied and rich ripe black fruit driven wines – often with an “animal” garrigue /spice character. Having just a bit more altitude than most wines of the appellation the wines always exhibit pleasing acidity/freshness. Yields are kept low – a maximum of 28hl per ha.There is also a small quantity of Rosé produced. A regular summer treat has been taking our guests to meet Henri and his partner for an al fresco lunch on the terrace in front of the vines – his cooking is subject to as much care and precision as his wine making!
The essentially dry climate of the Southern Rhone renders organic farming comparatively easy – vignerons with the AB certificate are quite common – not so bio-dynamic producers: Montirius were one of the pioneers of Bio-dynamics in the region (first certified 1999) and one of the leading players in the movement today.This is quite a large estate, 61ha in total but the focus here is wholly on quality rather than volume. Owners Christine (our very eloquent and generous hostess for our visits) and Eric Saurel converted to the bio-dynamic philosophy following their experience of applying homeopathy to their children. Viticulture is entirely chemical free and driven not only by the moon phases but the planetary calendar. Specially approved preparations – organic and minera, horn dung and horn silica, for example, “dynamised” in a water vortex, are used to substitute for the usual chemical treatments. The estate comprises land in the Crus of Vacqueyras (33ha) and Gigondas 16ha) with the balance Cotes du Rhone and IGP. The style of the reds is (of course) big and beefy but in wonderful balance, the alcohol never showing though and always freshness. A particular feature of the winery is the refusal to have any truck with wood for maturation – the Saurels like the purity of the fruit to shine through unmasked. Without wood to tame the tannins these are wines that will reward some considerable cellaring. The Saurels are the type to be constantly questioning themselves and looking for new opportunities -out of their obsessive regard for nuances in their terroir has given rise to new Crus Gigondas “Confidential” and the Vacqueyras “Le Clos” ( a favourite of mine). A small quantity of (excellent ) white Vacqueyras is made – a steely mineral wine that develops honeyed notes once aged. The smaller Cotes du Rhone wines /IGP represent great everyday drinking value.
Amouriers, an estate of 30ha on the “garrigue” plateau west of the village of Vacqueyras is one of the leading lights in this appellation. The heir of the Chudzikiewicz family who had first arrived in the area at the turn of the last century is Igor – sadly Igor’s father died young in a motorcycle accident when Igor was a teenager -too young to take over the wine making Igor was gradually apprenticed to manager Patrick Gras who still works at the estate though these days it is the 33 year old Igor who calls the shots, but working in close partnership with his old mentor. The name Amouriers refers to the old provencal name for a mulberry tree – there is one just outside the door of the caveau. The estate comprises both Cru Vacqueyras (red and some delicious white), Cotes du Rhone and IGP de Vaucluse.The estate has been fully organic since 2014. Most of the wines here are raised in tank – however there are two :”Truffieres” and “Haut Terraces” that are kept in demi-muids. The later is 100% Syrah so couldn’t by law be a Vacqueyras, so is made at IGP level – a mini Cote Rotie this, developing wonderful earthy aromas when aged. The Vacqueyras here comes in three cuvées , Signature , Genestes and Truffieres. For my money the Genestes works best – this is 65/35 Grenache to Syrah blend with maturation in concrete vat for 18 months. In a good vintage a fabulous example – dark brooding black fruit confiture, tar and game and even Christmas cake. Definitely a wine for the cellar if you have the patience. Most of the production goes to domestic French customers and restaurants – only around 30% is exported.