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Around the corner from Eric Pfifferling in Tavel, in a modest house at tte edge of the vines, live Nadia and Christian Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussières, who quietly produce some of the most extraordinary natural wines of France. The estate practices natural winemaking at it's very finest, beginning in the vineyard, where they work with organic and Biodynamic methods (primarily those of Maria Thun) and refuse to apply the permitted organic treatment of copper-sulfate as it is harmful to the life of the soil. (This is a key difference in farming as soil fauna, especially earthworms, are essential to the conversion of minerals in the bedrock to usable compounds for the vine.) As a result, they lost the majority of their crop in 2018, a freakish year for mildew in the southern Rhone. Vinifications here are totally without additives, essentially semi-carbonic, with the white spending about two years in vat and the red about three years and bottling is without SO2. As we said in our previous articles, this is not “laissez-faire” winemaking, but rather the work of intelligent, hard-working people who have the courage of their convictions to produce a pure and healthy wine from living soils. During our visit last January we tasted two new releases from the estate that are essential for any lover of natural wines.
The 2015 Vin de France "Cuvee Coquelicot" is made from 100% Grenache which undergoes an approximately two month carbonic maceration, followed by pressing and 3 years in vat (no wood). The living soils at Balazu des Vaussieres produced this unique and delicious natural wine, showing vibrant aromas of ripe black cherry, blackberry and cassis with citrus, violet, mineral and licorice notes. The palate is dense and bright with complex black fruits, earthy mineral and herbal flavors, licorice and firm acidity in the long intense finish. With a few days open, the wine concentrates becoming an essence of earthy black cherry confit, quite extraordinary. This is a beautiful wine and a great example of pure juice, complex, changeable and alive.
The 2018 Vin de France "Lune Rousse" is a sad but beautiful testament to the Charmasson's refusal to use copper sulfate. Freakishly damp and warm weather in the spring of 2018 brought a devastating attack of mildew to the Southern Rhone, a region usually spared from the worst outbreaks by the dry winds. Having lost 75% of their crop to mildew, the Charmassons made one wine from all the estates grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Viognier, Roussanne, Clairette and Cinsault. The wine shows pale orange/pink color and fascinating aromas of spiced raspberry and cherry with hints of almond and pear, showing the Roussanne and Marsanne. The palate is dense and intriguing, with stone, berry fruits, rose, peach and apricot, very sapid and long with saline minerals, citrus peel and berry fruits in the long juicy finish. 24 bottles available, 3 btl max please.
We've just received an early bottling of the 2019 "Sept Syllabes" Rosé, this year made with Mourvedre and Cinsault - it's a full-bodied and full-flavored rosé that will need 6 to 12 months of further aging to drink at it's best - we recommend it to natural wine lovers only at this point...
As Bert Celce points out in "Wine Terroirs," it's "no surprise that with Pfifferling of L'Anglore they're considered the Natural Giants of Tavel..."
La Ferme Saint-Martin
For many years now we've been working with the great father and son team of Guy and Thomas Jullien at La Ferme Saint-Martin in Beaumes-de-Venise, one of the first estates in the southern Rhône to practice organic farming and low-sulfur vinificatons. Guy's very capable and enthusiastic son Thomas is now in charge and the estate continues to produce some of the most naturally delicious wines of the Southern Rhône - and they are superb values as well.
The Beaume-de-Venise vineyards are on hillsides exposed due south on dry and stony Triassic-era limestone/clay terroir, in terraces from 600 to 1800 feet in altitude; plowing is done only near the vines, with a cover of vegetation maintained between the rows - organic regenerative agriculture. The grapes are hand-harvested and carefully sorted, and ferment naturally with the wild yeasts of each terroir. There are no additives during vinification and aging, in concrete vat or foudre, most wines receive a very small addition of SO2 before bottling, without fining or filtration. "Thus the wines express themselves fully, they each have their own personality, and the identity of each terroir is maintained" say the Julliens.
We tasted the three wines on offer today with Thomas Jullien last winter: 2019 is a great vintage for the Jullien's Ventoux "Estaillades" made from Grenache and Counoise grown on sandy clay/limestone soils surrounded by pines and garrigue in the commune of Barroux. The wine is deep and dense with aromas of garrigue and red/black fruits, with blackberry and cherry liqueur and a bit of licorice and menthol on the full, chalky palate. A perrenial favorite of ours is the Beaumes-de-Venise "Terres Jaunes," a serious wine from the yellow limestone terroir that is a bit brighter and more extravagantly delicious in 2018! The estate has been producing the "Cuvée Saint-Martin" since 1964, from 85% Grenache vines that are 60 - 105 years-old, with 15% Syrah. The 2017 is a superb wine, similar to the best Gigondas, beautifully deep and complex - decant if possible and enjoy over the next ten years.
The Jullien family is deeply committed to organic farming and the production of healthy, natural wines at reasonable prices - we hope you will try them!
The 2015 "Cuvee Coquelicot" from Christian and Nadia Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussieres is made from 100% Grenache which undergoes an approximately two month carbonic maceration, followed by pressing and 3 years in vat (no wood). This is perhaps the most "natural" of all Southern Rhône reds, as the Charmassons use no SO2 or other additives in the wine and refuse to use copper sulfate in the vines. The living soils at Balazu des Vaussieres produced this extraordinary natural wine in 2015, showing vibrant aromas of ripe black cherry, blackberry and cassis with citrus, violet, mineral and licorice notes. The palate is dense and bright with complex black fruits, earthy mineral and herbal flavors, licorice and firm acidity in the long intense finish. with a few days open, the wine concentrates becoming an essence of earthy black cherry confit, quite extraordinary. This is a beautiful wine and and an essential purchase for any lover of natural wines. Our thanks to Nadia And Christian Charmasson for their committment to living soils and winemaking with zero additives. David Lillie
Although within the Tavel appellation, Nadia and Christian Charmasson have long rejected the rules of the AOC in favor a "Vin de France" classification. Balazu des Vaussières is a completely natural estate, using zero additives in winemaking and zero chemcials in the vines. Even the organic approved preparation of copper-sulfate is not used against mildew as it is harmful to organisms in the soil - thus living soils that produce vibrant living wines. The 2019 “Sept Syllabes” was made with Mourvedre and Cinsault - it’s a direct press rosé with little or no maceration and no added SO2. The wine spent approximately 7 months in vat before bottling. The wine is rather concentrated in color. The fruit on the nose is deep raspberry and cherry, with hints of green herbs and citrus. The palate is warm and dense with a mix of savory red berries and cherry/plum skins. Just a hint of clove. The structure is full, offering a light tannic touch and a slightly funky earthy, mineral component to the ripe fruit. Give the wine an hour or two open and it's really singing of the stony soils of Tavel and Roquemaure - pure wine and a pure, deep expression of the terroir and the Charmasson's courageous winemaking. DH & DL
At about 900 ft elevation in the Ventoux, the Juliens have Grenache and Counoise in a parcel sheltered from the mistral surrouded by pines and garrigue that yields this delicious, supple wine that's a fabulous pairing with any grilled meat or stews. The sandy clay limestone soils are plowed only around the foot of the vine with vegetation maintained between the rows. The grapes are hand-harvested and ferment naturally with no additives, aging is in concrete vat, minimal SO2 is added before bottling without fining or filtration. The 2019 "Estaillades" is deep and dense with aromas of garrigue and red/black fruits, with blackberry and cherry liqueur and a bit of licorice and menthol on the full, chalky palate. Delicious now and will drink beautifully over the next 3 - 5 years. This serious Rhone red is a great value! David Lillie
An excellent value from Beaumes-de-Venise, 'Les Terres Jaunes' is a blend of 75% Grenache and 20% Syrah both from 30+ year-old vines grown on a unique terroir of Triassic limestone/clay soils. Organically farmed with vegetation maintained between the rows; fermented naturally with no additives, aged in concrete with very little sulfur added at bottling, this is a truly terroir-focused wine. I love the rich texture with powdery tannins, and after some time decanting, it definitely softened and opened up. Full of ripe black cherry, plum, and preserved raspberries with more savory undertones of olive, oregano, dried tobacco and a touch of dark chocolate. The wine is dense and long with delicious supple fruit, a bit brighter than the 2017. Plenty of complexity in this deep Southern Rhône wine to sit and contemplate, and would be excellent with heartier or gamey fare. MD
Guy and Thomas Jullien at la Ferme Saint-Martin are making some of the finest wines in the Southern Rhône on their organic estate in Suzette, near Beaumes-de-Venise. One of their best wines, the Cuvée Saint-Martin is made with 85% Grenache from 60 to 105 year-old vines grown on clay over limestone (Triassic) soils. Vinification is with wild yeasts, with no added SO2 until a tiny amount before bottling - this is a "natural" wine of great quality. The 2017 shows a deep red/black color, with ripe plum, red currant and strawberry aromas, very floral, elegant and lush with hints of licorice, garrigue and earth. The palate is ripe and dense with deep chocolately blackberry and plum liqueur with earth, licorice, mint and spice, finishing with firm acidity and citrusy red fruits. This is an outstanding southern Rhône red and a great value - serve with grilled foods, Moroccan tagines and Provençal stews. David Lillie
In 2018 Nadia and Christian Charmasson of Balazu des Vaussieres in Tavel, who refuse to use the organic approved copper sulfate in their vines, lost 75% of their crop due to devastating attacks of mildew in the spring. Thus all of the estate's grapes were used to produce this one cuvée of rosé: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Viognier, Roussanne, Clairette and Cinsault. The wine shows pale orange/pink color and fascinating aromas of spiced raspberry and cherry with hints of almond and pear, showing the Roussanne and Marsanne. The palate is dense and intriguing, with stone, berry fruits, rose, peach and apricot, very sapid and long with saline minerals, citrus peel and berry fruits in the long juicy finish. This is a beautiful natural wine to sip and contemplate, or serve with Moroccan tagine, grilled chicken with rosemary and lemon. This is highly recommended for any lover of natural wines - only 48 bottles available for the US. David Lillie