Jamie Ivey heads north towards Mont Ventoux to discover a great Provence wine
Last year a new wine shop opened in the village of Lourmarin. The vineyard responsible, Paul Dubrule, is renovating its cave on the road to Cucuron. While the work progresses sales have been transferred to Lourmarin presumably because of the high footfall – over 250,000 people pass through the village every year. Even with these crowds, the latest sign to appear outside the shop demonstrates just how hard it is to sell wine.
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Adding to the Hollywood, Oscaresque feel are some newly arrived giant gold wine barrels. It’s all eye-catching stuff, and part of modern wine selling. Once the new cave – described on the vineyard website as an architectural work of art – is completed there’s a plan to create an exclusive wine club with tasting and other events.
I discovered a similar, but for now more developed version of this event orientated strategy, being pursued by Chateau Pesquie near Bedoin at the foot of Mont Ventoux My previous experiences of Ventoux wine were for commercial reasons. In the days when I sold rosé in the local Provencal markets, I used to offer a Côte du Ventoux from Chateau Blanc in Roussillon. It was definitely drinkable, but the main reason I sold the wine was price. The pink cost me €2 euros a bottle and I sold it for €7, still sending customers away happy that they hadn’t overpaid.
Before my trip I’d never bought a Côte du Ventoux wine for personal pleasure. In my head the Ventoux area was dominated by growers co-operatives whacking out mass produced wines at minimum cost. Then I read a review on E-Robert Parker.com that advised readers to buy a particular Côte de Ventoux wine by the crate load. Further research also uncovered favourable reviews from the Financial Times’ wine doyenne Jancis Robinson. Since the vineyard in question was only an hour up the road I thought I would pop up and investigate.
I’m not going to talk about the quality of the Chateau Pesquie wines here, on the basis that the recommendations of Parker and Robinson are far more valuable than my musings. Instead I’m going to describe the buying experience. The first thing to note about Chateau Pesquie is the location. I’m not a Provence virgin these days. It takes much more than a few rows of lavender and some faded shutters to impress me. Yet the view as you crunch up the gravel drive to Chateau Pesquie is worth the trip alone – rows of century old plane trees, a glorious imperious Chateau and framing the whole view the white giant of Provence – Mont Ventoux, which was still capped with snow when I visited.
You taste Chateau Pesquie wine in the cave to the right of the Chateau, but before a bottle is uncorked there’s an exhibition to enjoy. The walls are hung with arresting colourful paintings from local artists. For those of a more geographical bent there are man-size test tubes filled with slices taken from the various contributing terroirs/soils of the vineyard and 3-D topograhical maps. For the gourmand there are shelves of vinegars, and olive oils and jars filled with truffles. Leaflets advertise farmers markets, and art exhibitions in the grounds of the Chateau. There are also truffle hunting tours and wine trails. The attention to detail of the vineyards’ owners Frederic and Alexandre Chaudiere has even extended to a small children’s play area to the right of the tasting counter. The assumption being that parents are much more likely to linger over a tasting if the kids are happy.
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The interesting thing about all these extra efforts is how little financially they contribute to the success of the vineyard. Frederic explained that sales in the shop account for 10% of the overall turnover of the business, and that additional items such as vinegars, and olive oils only 10% of that 10%. In other words all the extra effort, the truffle hunting tours, the wine trails etc…only increase turnover by 1%. Wasted time you might think, but as Frederic explained they all contribute intangibly to the reputation of the Chateau. This is a Chateau at the heart of its community, that embraces visitors and celebrates artists. A vigneron in Sancerre once said to me that every wine speaks of the people who make it. It’s no surprise then that Jancis Robinson describes Chateau Pesquie as ‘very jolly lively and friendly.’
And back in Lourmarin I’ll be watching forthcoming Dubrule blackboards with interest. Brad Pitt was spotted in the village at last year’s Yeah festival, so who knows, one day it may not all be marketing spin….
Provence Guru – The Insiders’ Guide to Provence, top tips:
The area around Mont Ventoux offers great value for a Provence villa rental. All the Provence Guru Provence vacation rentals have pools and if you are looking at the South of France as a travel destination then our villa rental listings are comprehensive and cut out the need to wade through lots of different sites.
We also specialise in Provence boutique hotels with Aix en Provence boutique hotels, Avignon boutique hotels and Arles boutique hotels. See our great hotel pages.
For more vineyard reviews and ratings see our Provence wine listings.
And finally if you’re planning a trip and want to get into the mood before hand, why not knock up one of the Provence recipes from our fantastic Provence Food Pages.