Diversity is the beauty of the Côtes du Rhône Villages in this valley of ours and over the next few weeks we will be visiting its vineyards and villages, revealing their individual characteristics as we go. We will also be exploring our approach to winemaking and vine growing, an approach which is based on the principle of allowing nature to take its course as much as possible – both in the vineyard and the cellar. We refer to this as ‘letting the wine decide’, whether at its inception on the vine or as it matures in barrel. Our journey starts with a two week ‘stay’ in Cairanne, Boutinot’s home in the Rhône since 2010 but where the cultivation of vines date back to Roman times.
THE BOUTINOT ESTATE, CAIRANNE: In 2010 a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arose to buy a spectacular plot of vineyards and a winery in Cairanne. Surveying the vines Eric Monnin could see they had huge potential – a jigsaw of four plots planted with old vines and two virgin plots ready to be planted in the hillside slopes of La Montée de Ventabren overlooking the church of Notre Dame de la Vigne et du Rosaire. Spectacular old bush vine Grenache Noir on the higher slopes, a windy plot ideally suited to Mourvèdre, while the lower slopes closer to the village are planted with two plots of Syrah either side of the winery at La Ruche.
LA RUCHE (Syrah): La Ruche is a south facing plot of low yielding Syrah, where 33 year old vines are planted on limestone-clay soils in rows running south to north. For the 2011 vintage, still in barrel, we are very excited for its future. After a year in our nurturing hands, the vines have been able to express their true potential. When buying the vineyard we never imagined Syrah from La Ruche could achieve such perfume and delicacy in such a short space of time: it is still early days and of course the 2011 vintage conditions were unusual to say the least, but we are excited that we are beginning to realise of the potential of this terroir through our more natural approach in the vineyard and in the cellar.
We have just completed the ‘relevage des fils’ on each row of vines, i.e. raising the rows of wires one level up in order to enclose the new flimsy branches. Syrah isn’t a very awkward grape variety grape, being tolerant of various soil types and conditions but its branches are unusually fragile, so it is very sensitive to wind. Here we are in Mistral country and the gusts of this southern wind can be quite violent, lasting several days. So it was important to secure the delicate flower laden branches to the raised wires, in order to help protect the developing bunches from the wind. From the flowers come forth grapes, so if no flowers, no grapes, no wine!
LA TRUFFIERE (Syrah): A former truffle orchard, we planted Syrah here in 2011 after rigorous analysis of the limestone / clay soil (classic ‘argilo-calcaire’ as in all the best vineyards). The analysis of the oligo-mineral elements in the soil suggested that Syrah would be best suited to this terroir.
Also south facing, here the vines were planted east to west on a fruit day, the best period in the month for planting according to the bio-dynamic calendar. Perhaps this terroir once suited to that most natural of and prized of perfumes – the famous black truffle of Cairanne – will imbue our Syrah with some wonderfully delicate nuances of scent and top notes.
Boutinot Rhône is neither certified organic nor bio-dynamic (a time consuming registration process over several years) but we rigorously follow the natural principles of the lunar cycle when pruning and planting our vines. In these ways we are working in harmony with nature, rather than against it, without embracing all the fussy bio-dynamic principles.
Harvesting La Truffière is not permitted until 2013 when the vines will be in their ‘third leaf’ (that said, the grapes in the first two years are of uninteresting quality anyway). Unlike in our other vineyards where we wanted the flowers to be in full bloom, here in La Truffière we stripped off all the green shoots, encouraging the vines’ energy to be directed into the roots, stimulating them to reach deeper into the limestone soil in search of those interesting oligo-elements.
For more information about other vineyards in the Boutinot Cairanne estate see our map and future posts.
BASICS OF AOP CÔTES DU RHÔNE: A ‘named’ village, Cairanne is currently applying for the higher Cru status, a process we will be fully involved in and will update as news develops.
In very simple terms the description – let’s avoid the term ‘hierarchy’ – of AOP in the Côtes du Rhône runs from straight Côtes du Rhône, up to a Côtes du Rhône Villages, then up to a named Côtes du Rhône Villages, of which 9 can be named on the label including Cairanne and Séguret. Then come the local appellations or Cru; currently 16 in total, including Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
This is a very basic description though – Rhône Wines gives a comprehensive and official overview. Even then it is difficult to completely categorise wine from an area as diverse as the Rhône: for instance our Boutinot ‘Les Coteaux’ Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009 may seem to be a humble wine according to the AOP on the label, includes a proportion of Boutinot Rhône’s classified Sablet, Séguret and Cairanne. As ever with wine, the best way to judge is to taste for yourself….
SYRAH and BOUTINOT CAIRANNE VILLAGES WINE: Syrah and Grenache Noir are the essential couple to produce red Côtes du Rhône in our valley. Syrah plays an important supporting role in our wines, such as in our Boutinot ‘La Cote Sauvage’, Cairanne, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009 and the Boutinot ‘Les Coteaux’ Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009 as it lends a perfume and finesse to the dominant Grenache Noir. However, the 2011 Syrah from our Cairanne vineyards is so exceptional that we look forward with eager anticipation to making the final assemblages. As always with Boutinot Rhône, the wine will decide, so look out for their release in 2015!
WHAT TO SEE IN CAIRANNE: Visit Cairanne in July 2012 and you’ll probably see locals painting their tractor trailers ready for a new exhibition during the village summer Fête on the 22nd July 2012.
You might also spot the newly installed Boutinot Bee emblem on the wall of the winery – a symbol of Boutinot Rhône’s philosophy of working tirelessly in harmony with the land to produce the best grapes and so in turn, the best wines.
Market day is Friday morning, following which the Boutinot Rhône team may be found at their favourite lunch spot Le Tourne au Verre in the heart of the village.