We knew we were off the beaten path as our bus rumbled over rocky dirt roads searching for Domaine L’Obrieu. As we rounded a vine-covered bend, we found more vineyards on a hilly slope with a historical farmhouse under reconstruction. Jean-Yves Perez, his wife Cecile, and their children are in the process of reclaiming more than just the house. Just outside of the tiny town of Visan (population 2,000) hugging a small spring-fed stream is the hill of “Les Antonins” creating an idyllic microclimate for grape-growing and farming. The spring-fed fountain in the old farmstead’s courtyard creates a Zen oasis amidst all the rebuilding. Grape vines surround this homestead, on the upper slopes, leaving the lower slopes for vegetables and wild scrub forest. Picturesque would be the perfect adjective for this small vineyard, which wasn’t so small after all (60 acres).
Jean-Yves’ father started the reclamation of this plot of land, finding old vine vineyards and planting new. Jean-Yves has brought them into the 21st Century through his commitment to biodynamic farming. Here we see old and new, side-by-side, since everything is hand harvested and naturally whole-cluster fermented, while using very modern methodologies. The old vine Grenache and Syrah range from 40 to 75 years of age and the general planted ratio is 70% the former and 20% the latter, with Mourvedre and Carignan making up the balance. Most of their production (about 95%) is unoaked, using stainless steel and concrete tanks with natural yeasts. They keep a handful of oak barriques for smaller production wines and new experiments. Our guide from Margate Imports, Jonathan Shiekman called it a “natural boutique estate.”
We sampled the Cuvée Les Antonins, named after the hill, a blend of 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah. 2013 was a difficult year, ending up low-yield, where harvesting was very late, around October 6th rather than September 20th. There is less of the wine but it was dark and rich and seemed ripe. Our sampling actually started with their Grenache Blanc-based white wine, which was light and floral with a refreshing minerality. Paired with some “cod spread,” it was delicious, and would work with a whole range of Florida seafood. Lunch was also homemade by Cecile, Daube Provencale, the Provence version of Boeuf Bourgignone, using black olives and carrots instead of mushrooms and potatoes. They used their wine for the marinade and slow cooking (in a French Crock Pot) which then paired perfectly with this stewy beef dish flavored with black olives and Herbs de Provence.
We compared the 2011 and the 2012 vintages. Both had the classic nose of garrigue herbs, but the high proportion of Grenache brought out ripe cherry notes and a fresh pomegranate-like acidity. Both were garnet-hued with just a touch of purple on the edges. The 2011 was the denser vintage, with slightly higher alcohol and spicier notes on the finish. The 2012 was an easy quaffer, with softer acids and paired perfectly with their assortment of fromages: Comté, Roquefort and two local chevres, one rolled in Herbs de Provence.
Considering that the Cuvée Les Antonins is a Cotes-du-Rhone Villages for under $15 at your local ABC Fine Wines and Spirits, you are getting an incredible value in this wine. The high percentage of Grenache in this particular Rhone blend can make it appeal to a lot of Spanish Old Vine Garnacha lovers, as well as make it the perfect summer red, with its lighter tannins and abundant fruit. I feel so lucky that I got to meet Jean-Yves and Cecile, break bread, drink wine and share their home, if just for an afternoon. They really bring back that handmade quality missing in so many of our larger, commercially produced wines. Most wineries started as family businesses, so I was thrilled to visit one that still is. Salut!