Let the Wine Decide: More from the vineyards of Cairanne…..

June 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Following on from last week’s post about Boutinot’s Syrah vineyards in Cairanne, we now move up to the top of La Montée de Ventabren to our two plots of old bush vine Grenache Noir, planted just under 50 years ago in 1968.

Terraces of Les Sept Terraces and La Pauline, Boutinot Rhône, Cairanne

LA PAULINE (Grenache Noir): La Montée de Ventabren rises to 300m above sea level and just 20m down the slope is La Pauline with its knarled old bush Grenache Noir vines, each about 1m in diameter, lying in rows south to north on terraces cut in broad swathes deep into the mountain slope. From this highpoint you can see the newly insulated and freshly painted beige walls of Boutinot Rhône’s cellars at La Ruche and the landmark village church of Cairanne in the mid distance.

What really hits you though, when you stand in this vineyard is the exceptional terroir. Take your eyes off the view and under your feet you’ll see the much sought after ‘argilo-calcaire’ – round limestone pebbles, reminiscent of the ‘galets roulés’ of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, sitting on a base of water retentive clay . The pebbles absorb the day’s sun and radiate their heat back to the vines at night, gently lengthening the hours of ripening. So close to the top of the mountain, the vineyard benefits from the sun all day long but is so well-exposed it is frequently cooled by freshening breezes as well as by the wilder gusts of the famous ‘mistral’. These winds are really important, as when the sun comes out after rain, they quickly dry the vines, cleansing them against the humidity which would favour the onset of disease.

The combination of all these factors really struck me when I first stood in La Pauline in the autumn of 2009 – although difficult to define succinctly at the time, I could see that exceptional ‘terroir’ was staring me in the face” remembers our winemaker Eric Monnin. Eric sensed he was standing in some of the best plots in the whole of Cairanne and the taste of the deeply concentrated grapes of the 44 year old vines confirmed his belief that Cairanne is southern Rhône’s undiscovered gem. “I couldn’t wait to get started – I knew that incredible wine could be crafted from the fruit of La Pauline and its neighbour in Les Six Terrasses“.

Limestone pebbles - les galets roules - over clay in La Pauline, Boutinot Rhône, Cairanne

Limestone pebbles – les galets roules – over clay in La Pauline

Old Bush vine Grenache Noir at La Pauline, Boutinot Rhône Cairanne

LES SIX TERRASSES (Grenache Noir): Just across the uphill path on the left of La Pauline is another plot of old vine Grenache Noir, also planted in 1968. Like La Pauline,  Les Six Terrasses is south-west facing but again due to the mountain top aspect enjoys day-long sun as well as cooling and drying winds.

Yields are low from both plots, averaging a little over 30 hectolitres per hectare in 2011 at Les Six Terrasses and slightly lower at La Pauline which averages between 20 and 25 hectolitres per hectare (the permitted level in the Cairanne appellation is 40 hectolitres per hectare). Yields in 2010 were half those of 2011, due to the ‘coulure’ of the Grenache Noir, the worst since 1975. It was our very first vintage, but the wines are silky yet intense and developing impressively in barrel.

Grenache Noir, old bush vine at Les Sept Terrasses, Boutinot Rhône, Cairanne

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE VINEYARD: Our vineyard Estate Manager reports that “Flowering is now over and the first berries have now started to appear. We are now busy keeping the vines as healthy as possible and we’ve just finished clipping – taking off the new shoots and leaves so that the vines energy can be directed towards nourishing their grapes.

First Grenache Noir grapes, June 2012, Les Six Terrasses, Boutinot Rhône, Cairanne

First berries of Grenache Noir in Les Six Terrasses

The clipping has to be done carefully though: we have to balance leaving enough leaves on the vine as these are essential for the process of photosynthesis which creates sugar to feed the grapes, whilst removing wasteful leaves and shoots which would sap the vines’ energy and spread its vigour too thinly.  In La Pauline and Les Six Terrasses we do this by hand, so it’s quite a meticulous job in the hot sun and blustering wind.

We walk through all our rows of vines regularly, checking for any signs of potential maladies. The amount of rain we seem to be having now – about 2 hours a week – is good for the water reserves in the vineyard and hasn’t yet caused any precursors to the onset of mildew or oïdium. Once these take hold, you’re fighting on the back foot, so prevention is always better than cure! 

We check the soil too; gently tilling to remove weeds, as this too reduces the humidity and conditions conducive to the onset of maladies. So far the vines are healthy and I’m hopeful for the 2012 vintage, although there is still a long time till the harvest, maybe some in September or in La Pauline and Les Six Terrasses maybe not till early October.”

GRENACHE NOIR  and BOUTINOT CAIRANNE VILLAGES WINE:  Grenache Noir must make up a minimum 50% of Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne.  The quality of the old vine Grenache from La Pauline and Les Six Terrasses adds minerality from the limestone pebbles and a richness, given by the water retentive clay, to the final wine.

Complex maturation is also important – more on this in later posts.  For the 2009  Boutinot ‘La Côte Sauvage’, Cairanne, Côtes du Rhône Villages  wine was matured in a combination of new fill and third and fourth fill French oak barrels and demi-muids, which together with the minerality and richness already present in the grapes added to the finesse and finely grained texture of the final wine.

 WHAT TO SEE  IN CAIRANNE: It’s starting to feel like summer in our Friday morning market with stalls full of ripe cherries, the first apricots and the famous strawberries of Carpentras.