You can find the Ventoux AOC (the French designation for viticultural area) in the southern part of the Rhône valley. Last spring, Anne attended a winemaker dinner featuring several of the AOC’s winemakers and their wines, and talked specifically to Nicole Rolet, of Chêne Bleu.
Rolet was there to represent the region as well as her own winery, which she owns with her husband.
“My husband had just bought the property when we met,” Rolet said. “And I ended up being an accidental winemaker because it’s one of those ‘things you do for love.’ and the original plan was that I was gonna support him and his passion. The plot twist is that I got bitten by his mindbug and ended up with a worse case of it than the one he started with.”
But the whole point of the fabulous dinner, put on by Kali restaurant in Los Angeles, was showing off the wines from the Ventoux region. And they were spectacular. Alas, since Michael could not attend, we did not get tasting notes, but if you see Ventoux on a label, the bottle is likely to be worth grabbing.
What the land is like
It’s a relatively new viticultural region in France.
“It’s the new France. We’re pioneering these very remote areas that were somewhat marginal to the more established ones, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but they have incredible, biodiversity, amazing forests, you know, it’s a UNESCO biosphere reserve,” she said.
The Ventoux is one of the few places in France where you can buy land cheaply that still has the potential to make great wine, Rolet said. The region sits at the foot of Mount Ventoux, between the Swiss Alps and the Mediterranean ocean. Rolet said that her property, which is at the highest elevation in the region, gets a lot of sunshine, which helps ripen the grapes. However, because of the cool nights, the wines, especially the whites and rosés, are very crisp and fresh. The red grapes (and Rolet principally grows grenache) are also able to develop the kind of finesse that is often lost in hotter growing areas.
“So most winemakers have this Faustian choice. They either get the sunny fruit or the elegant,” Rolet said. “In the Ventoux, you get to have your cake and eat it too.”
The area has been affected by climate change, as is all of Europe. But Rolet said that because their region is so cool that they are hoping to get a bit of reprieve. To that end, they are managing water and what they’re planting . A lot of the vineyards are fairly new, too, which makes that kind of management easier.
Rolet, though, has a 79-year-old grenache vines on her property, which produce very interesting characteristics. The disadvantage is that the vines do not produce a lot of fruit.
“The yields are atrocious at our winery,” she said. “This is not a winery for the faint of heart. It’s only for … people who are comfortable with very extreme situations because there’s going to be a definite yield problem.”
The results were still amazing. Rolet’s rosé was fresh and crisp, as advertised, with some vermentino added. She brought two reds, one from 2006 and a second from 2013. Both were rich and very food-friendly.
You can find out more about the wines of Ventoux on the English version of their website, aoc-ventoux.com.