It’s stunning, right? This was a labour of love that rose from rubble, rubble that was profoundly caked in bird and animal excrement. Painstakingly restored from that to the picture above took a decade and a priceless amount of patience.
I first met Nicole Sierra-Rolet on a flight back from Vinexpo, the international trade fair held bi-annually in Bordeaux, about 10 years ago. It was an unforgettable meeting, she was so full of energy and enthusiasm for the project and we didn’t stop talking the entire journey. Her husband, Xavier Rolet, had bought the property, Domaine de la Verriere, before they were married and on their first date he told her that the house and the project were part of the package. Undaunted, together they went on to achieve one of the most breath-taking private renovations I have ever seen.
Because it wasn’t just the house, nor the high altitude vineyards that the team restored in the surrounding land but also the vision of this extraordinary privilege as a place to be shared and enjoyed by as many people as possible. Nicole wanted to create a space that could be used for political, ethical and artistic forums where people would come together and produce something that would have a real and positive impact on the world.
That sounds grandiose, but she meant every word and I have seen that she has both the fire and the charm to make that happen. Their motto is ‘non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis’ – ‘not mine, not yours, its ours.’ They believe whole-heartedly in collaboration.
It’s already happening and in 2010 before they had released a bottle of their own production she hosted a Grenache Symposium at Chêne Bleu. For a woman who came from outside the rather cliquey establishment of the wine world it was a remarkable achievement – there were over 200 people from 27 countries who attended. Influential people, who were excited by this event and wanted to participate.
Of course a few local feathers were slightly ruffled in the process of an outsider – an American, no less – coming in to the region and championing a rather uncelebrated grape when she didn’t, as yet, have anything to contribute herself. It has taken time and diplomacy to change this attitude but her neighbours see that she is genuine in her passion for the region and the grape variety.
Nicole is adamant that the wines are not in the same style as her neighbours but are entirely complimentary and so pose no competition, she wants to live in a supportive framework of vignerons.
The estate is managed by Nicole’s brother and sister-in-law: Jean-Louis Gallucci in the winery and on the viticultural side, Benedicte Gallucci, with Nicole taking care of international marketing and sales. All four of them, including Xavier, make decisions and collaborate on the style they want to achieve together.
Their wines are often called Super-Rhônes, the term having first being coined for the Super-Tuscans which started with Sassicaia in the late 1970s (originally as a family hobby). These wines were made from Bordeaux varietals outside the requirements of the DOC regulations in Italy and therefore reduced on the label to the lowly term Vino da Tavola. The wine-buying public however took to them with great joy and paid handsomely (much more than most DOC wines could command) for a taste of this exciting ‘new’ wine.
There are similarities, of course. The wines are made in a lush style with lavish new French oak treatment. They are vibrant and succulent and appeal to a very modern palate.
And yet they are not made in a region like Maremma where the Super-Tuscans were born that had no tradition of winemaking. Xavier had found ancient vineyards on their land – abandoned, almost lost and felt they had a duty to restore them. When they embarked on their ambitious restoration project, winemaking was not part of the plan.
Another fundamental difference was the absolute belief that the grapes of the region – Grenache and Syrah predominantly for red and Viognier, Roussane and Marsanne for white – were the ones which would make the kind of wines they wanted. Among their friends and colleagues the Rolets’ ferocious attention to detail is legendary and they undertook extensive studies to ensure they were both protecting the heritage of the place as well as realising its full potential. Their wines are a pean to this commitment.
So to the wines:
Rosé 2013 Grenache from 40+ yr old vines
This vintage has the most expressive nose yet. Astonishing potency without sacrificing any elegance. A smoky pale grey-pink – so very pretty with notes of redcurrents and meringue.
Perfumed but not cloying, lifted orchid aromas. Luscious viscosity but with acidity running through it. The oak is there and integrating. Each time I taste this it gets better.
Aliot 2010 Roussane / White Grenache / Marsanne from 9 yr old vines
A delicate white floral nose, with a hint of jasmine incense. Here you have vivacious, fresh, exquisite fruit but it is a powerful, food wine. Really beautiful.
Astralabe 2009 Grenache 70% / Syrah 30% from 40+ yr old vines
Juicy red clay autumnal fruit, top notes of palma violets and late summer roses. It has warmth and generosity with a liveliness that belies its 5 year age. There are dark lines running through this too and there’s no hint that this will grow old any time soon. It is their ‘baby’ red wine but grabs attention for all the right reasons.
Héloïse 2007 Syrah 60% / Grenache 37% / Viognier 3% made from 30 & 40 yr old vines
On the nose, sweet cinnamon spices and soft brambly fruit. The fruit though soft is intense and the tannins are really beautifully ripe and integrated. As is the oak – which on release was much criticised but now feels entirely justified. Gorgeously well put together.
Abelard 2007 Grenache 90% / Syrah 10% made from 40+ yr old vines
This is the jewel in the crown for me – although in group tastings everyone has their own favourite – a rich ruby red with still some hints of purple, amazingly given the age. There’s an agreeably savoury mountain scrub herbaceousness alongside the intense dark brooding fruit. Such purity with power and fleshy roundness too. Truly stunning.
Look out for a tasting collaboration early next year with Chene Bleu wines and make sure you book a ticket. No opportunity taste these wines should be missed.
Producer Profile (1)
South Africa (1)
Vinho Verde (1)