Over some 25 years, I have evolved how I work in the cellar. My ideas have been guided by a desire to seek more flavor, more freshness and more tension in our family’s wines.
This tension, in my opinion, is provided in particular through whole cluster vinification. Using grape stems contributes a positive vegetal, not herbal, character — an interesting freshness to the final wine. I feel that stems also contribute to the wine’s texture. If the vintage allows, I prefer to work with whole clusters, but really, I’m not dogmatic. The proportion of whole clusters I use can vary, depending on the vintage and maturity of the stems themselves. For example, I used barely 20% whole clusters in 2010, but in 2014, I didn’t have to destem the fruit at all.
In 2010, we upgraded the cellar with technology that allows us to chill down the tanks. When I decided to do a pre-fermentation cold maceration, for four to five days at 13°C, I was able to capture more of fresh fruit’s purity of flavor. I choose only to do a cold maceration, however, but I don’t ferment at equally low temperatures. When you bring out the primary character of the fruit, the true fruit of the grape, even when the wine’s alcohol is elevated, for example, the pure fruit tempers it. The character of the soil then returns after five to six years of aging.
The wines of the 2012 vintage, for example, topped out at 15 degrees alcohol, thus it is necessary to enjoy these wines at lower temperatures (13°C to 15°C) — but because of the pure fruit, there is no “warm” alcoholic sensation, no flavors of overripe fruit, quite the opposite; the wines are refined and easy to drink. The Vacqueyras as well has improved its balance with cold maceration, and over time, these wines become quite Burgundy-like in flavor and aroma.
Since 2008, I have backed off on extractions, and as a result, my wines have gained in finesse. We now work the year’s harvest in small concrete tanks, punching down and pumping daily for eight to 10 days. Overall, the maceration period lasts a little over a month. Then we work the wines on their fine lees, which feeds them, giving them volume. We don’t rack the wines often, to maintain a maximum amount of carbon dioxide in the tank to protect the wines and thus avoid adding too much sulfur.
Until 1993, we aged our wines in very old large foudre. I have since replaced these foudre with barrels. I’m a fan of aging wine in wood. Doing so opens the wine; it helps to make aromas more complex; it encourages the wine to become more expansive, more delicate. Aging in barrel helps a wine maintain a sense of depth throughout its evolution, making it more noble. In short, it allows a wine to blossom.
From 1995 to 2012, we aged our wines exclusively in barrel. In 2010, I bought my first foudre from Rousseau in Burgundy, and since then, I’ve purchased a new cask almost every year. Our Gigondas is aged in foudre, while the Beaumes de Venise is aged in barrel. Our Vacqueyras is aged in barrel and demi-muid.
Our research continues. During the 2014 vintage, I combined Mourvèdre from a garrigue-covered plateau and Grenache from the vineyard on the Grande Bouïssière in a new foudre. I found that the Mourvèdre became far more expressive, with incredible finesse, very long in the mouth, and was juicy, with profound aromas of flowers and mixed berry fruit. The fruit expression here was more powerful, interestingly, than that of the blend for ‘La Font de Tonin’ that I was aging in barrel. The wine had gained in elegance and character, with a light but refined bitter note and a more delicate minerality.