The “Chêne Bleu” vineyard, a place like no other – Meanderings through France n° 94
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
Did you ever get that strange feeling of belonging when going for the first time to a place where you’ve never been before? That is what happened to Xavier Rolet when he discovered “La Verrière”(The Glassworks), in 1993. This beautiful 9th century priory had been neglected for years and the vines as well as the buildings were in a bad state. Nevertheless he fell in love with this peaceful and enthralling landscape and so did his wife, Nicole, his sister and her husband, Bénédicte and Jean-Louis. The four of them mustered up their courage and their different skills to give back the estate its former beauty and achieved much more than that.
This unique vineyard is located next to the Mount Ventoux, the highest mountain in Provence, and to the Dentelles de Montmirail, slender peaks whose dark shapes stand out against the deep blue sky. With an extraordinary view over these mountains and the Vaison-la-Romaine valley this area has always been a favourite spot for hikers and artists such as the Prince of Wales who came here in 1989 to paint. The name of the vineyard, the “Chêne Bleu”, the ‘Blue Oak”, comes from the work of an artist, Marc Nucera. He used Bordeaux mixture, this blue liquid made with copper that is used in all organic farms over the world, to paint a big and old oak tree that died in 2003. You can still see it today next to the vegetable garden.
Situated at an altitude of 550 meters it is the highest vineyard of the region and it enjoys a microclimate which favours the optimum ripening of the grapes: with 300 days of sunshine per year and strong wings such as the Mistral alleviated by the mountains, the vines have here ideal conditions.
Xavier Rolet and his family were well aware of taking care of a rough diamond and their main concern was to respect it while getting the very best of it. For them respect not only means organic farming and biodynamic methods, but also ultimate wine making methods. Thanks to their decades of neglect the vines that were already growing on the estate were free of pesticides and herbicides and the 40 years old Grenache vines and the 30 years old Syrah vines only waited to be taken care of. New grape varieties were planted such as Roussane, Marsanne, Viognier or Mouvèdre. These local varieties allow new wine blending to constantly improve the quality and the taste of the red, white and rosé wines made at “Chêne Bleu”.
The estate produces its own compost used in the vineyard and in the vegetable garden, and a herd of sheep takes care of the weeding and fertilization! This blessed land has several springs to water the plant and Xavier had a water recycling system put in. This ingenious system uses bamboos to clean dirty water. No need to say that the area now is heaven for the wild local life: birds, insects and small mammal find there the perfect conditions to live and breed. Mediterranean and mountainous plant grow everywhere: wild varieties of thyme, rosemary, lavender, sage, euphorbia, orphys, bellflower, oak, pines … create an amazing landscape and once there you just feel relaxed and allayed.
The demand for quality is there at every step of the wine making: manual harvest, double sorting of the grapes, oak, concrete and stainless-steel vats are time and money eaters but meant to produce exceptional wines. Nicole calls them ‘haute couture’ wines. Benedicte and Jean-Louis make 3 red wines, one white and one rosé wine and blend the different grape varieties and “terrroirs” to create award winner wines.
They also produce a cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, organic lavender oil and honeys. Xavier is an expert beekeeper and his bees make honey from the lavender, linden, rosemary, thyme, white oak and cedar trees growing on the property.
The priory, now called “La Verriere”, has been beautifully restored and four suites and three large bedrooms welcome guest from all over the world for special events, wine-tasting sessions or for a relaxing stay in a unique place. Here too quality is expected: top of the range mattresses, Frette sheets, Canadian silk duvets, Provencal decoration using materials from Pierre Frey, Nina Campbell, Nobilis or Chelsea Textiles. Swimming in the infinity-edge pool overlooking the vineyard is irresistible! The chef makes delicious plates using the vegetables from the garden and of course gives priority to local produce.
Every Wednesday evening from 5 pm to 8:30 pm you can have an “Apero Bleu”: along with a plate of tasty dishes (a bento like plate) you will taste one or several wines by the glass. The plate is only 20 euro for two, plus the wines. There are also guided tours of the vineyard and cellar to discover these high quality wines.
The “Chêne Bleu” is not only a family business, it’s a dream come true, a never ending commitment and an incredible place that they are happy to share with all their visitors. Be their guest!
For more information: http://www.chenebleu.com/english.html
About “La Verriere”, the restaurant and the suites: http://www.laverriere.com/main.html
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny