Perestrello Geller shoots from the hip about Chateau Vignelaure, as he continues his series on Provence wine
The owners of Chateau Vignelaure are not slow to boast about the exceptional nature of their vineyard, calling it the jewel in the crown of the appellation Coteaux Aix en Provence. It might be true, but I imagine it doesn’t do much for neighbourly relations.
The basis of this claim to superiority is a statement and review from the famous American wine critic Robert Parker. Parker states that Chateau Vignelaure is:
‘One of the showpiece properties not only of Provence, but of France.’
The uniqueness of the wine made by Chateau Vignelaure stems from its Cabernet Sauvignon grapes which in 1960 were grafted from the classed Bordeaux growths at Chateau Lagune by George Brunet. As a result the Chateau produces a Provencal wine which is capable of ageing for 15 to 20 years. At its best, so the owners claim, it is reminiscent of fine Bordeaux.
The chateau is located in the garrigue (countryside) between Jouques and Rians. It’s hot, dusty, rocky land and arriving at the Chateau I began to feel like an actor in a Spaghetti Western. Two horses stood head to tail, swishing the flies away from each other’s eyes. Besides these mares the place was empty. There was just me, my parched the throat, and a light so intense it scorched the eyes.
‘Is there anyone out there’ I shouted.
All that was missing was some tumbleweed blowing across the courtyard, a rifleman in hiding behind one of the arches, and some dramatic music. I found myself tapping my hip for a non-existent revolver – Perestrello Geller the fastest draw in Provence.
I’m sure Parker was received better when he called Vignelaure a showpiece property of Provence. Such is life I reflected, one rule for critics and journalists, another for the public, which is why I like turning up unannounced.
‘Is there anybody out there, anybody at all?’ I shouted again.
Down in the valley below a car backfired. One of the horses neighed excitedly, and a demure work-experience girl popped her head of out the door.
‘Can I help you?’
Thoughts of a starring role in a Western consigned to the memory, we proceeded with a tour of the vineyard, and as we did so I began to concur with Parker. The underground cellars of Chateau Vignelaure are as big as a city centre car park. At level -5 the air was a constant cool 12 degrees, over twenty degrees less than the outside air temperature.
Each level contained its secrets, with the overall objective to provide storage for hundreds of thousands of bottles. The chateau ages its wine before selling it, meaning customers can buy at precisely the right moment. On sale now are the 2004 and 2007 reds.
At level -2 there’s an art gallery filled with the photos of Henri Cartier Bresson, a close friend of the initial owner, and more recent works of modern art. At level -4 there’s a rock wall into which wine cuves have been built. At each turning in the underground maze there are iron grills which have to be locked and slid back to provide access to the precious wine of a particular year.
Anyone buying wine can ask for the same tour, during which one passes underneath the Spaghetti Western courtyard I mentioned earlier to emerge in the grounds of the chateau. The garden is a provencal dream with a terrace abutted by two basins, giving way to a row of plane trees running down to the gates. Everywhere there are works of art, highlights of which were a glowing silver spider and the tree-sized figurines dotted around the garden. It reminded me greatly of Chateau Lacoste.
Onto the wines. I tasted the Chateau Vignelaure rosé first, which at 15 euro a bottle is tending towards the uppermost limit of what I will pay for a pink. It was full, round and fresh, with a pleasing longitude in the mouth. Very hard to fault I noted down. The white which has been produced for the first time in the last two years, was fresh and fruity, and at 10 euros a bottle, a good fridge filler.
Next the reds. The entry level 2009 Page de Vignelaure (10 euros) was silky with notes of blackberry and fruits of the forest. For a 90 % Cabernet wine the tannins were already well mellowed. Next the 2004 and 2007 Chateau de Vignelaure. Both are priced around 23 euros, and are a blend of Cabernet and Syrah (70% to 30%). The dark colour one associates with most Provencal wines had in both cases begun to change to a pleasing translucent ruby. Both demonstrated incredible longevity in the mouth, and but for the beating of the cicadas and the surrounding pines, I could have been fooled into thinking I was in Bordeaux.
Chateau Vignelaure is a unique vineyard selling unique wine. A must visit.