DOMAINE NATACHA CHAVE “ALEOFANE”
DOMAINE JOHANN MICHEL
DOMAINE LES DEUX TERRES
DOMAINE MARCEL RICHAUD
DOMAINE NATACHA CHAVE “ALEOFANE”
In 2004, at the age of 28, Natacha Chave started her own domain. This fledging vigneronne bought 1.3 hectares of vines among the hilly fertile soils of Saint-Joseph in Northern Rhône. Just three years later, in 2007, she grew her domain, purchasing another 6.5 hectares of old vines in the Crozes-Hermitage appellation, where she added some new plantings as well.
Winemaking is in her blood. Her parents realised their dream of making wine in the 1970s, when they established a small winery in Crozes-Hermitage. Her older brother, the eminent Yann Chave, later took over their parents’ estate. Rather than join the family business, Natacha desired independence and to make wine free of limitations. She had her eye set on the region in which she grew up, the Northern Rhône, where she believes the perfect expression of her favourite grape Syrah can be found.
Because of the steep hills of her vineyard, none of the farming can be mechanised, and so Natacha farms meticulously by hand, while following biodynamic practices. The soil is a mix of clay and alluvial stones, and her wines are fermented on wild yeasts, with low oak handling and using all old wood. She uses sulphur as minimally as possible, and the wines are bottled without fining or filtration.
Natacha uses only natural additives in the vineyard. In 2006, she began using a treatment made from fenugreek seeds, which helps the vines develop a resistance to phylloxera, and she has also experimented with a treatment made from yucca, chitin, and tea tree oil.
In speaking about where the name of her domain, Aléofane, stems from, Natacha says: “It's an island imagined by John MacMillan Brown in his book, Riallaro: the Archipelago of Exiles. I took this literary reference to name the wine I wanted to make. The description corresponded to the controversy about wine in our society. It's a product shared with conviviality, but obeys strict rules. In the city of Aléofane, fermented drinks are considered as diabolic and rare goods but possessing healing properties.”
Johann Michel is a self-taught winemaker, with a long family lineage of vignerons in Northern Rhône. His great-grandfather François Michel was one of the founders of the Cornas appellation in 1938. Johann first discovered his passion for wine while tasting old bottles with his grandfather and his uncle, notable winemaker Robert Michel, who was the fourth generation of the Michel family to work as a vigneron in the village of Cornas.
Johann took over a portion of his family’s estate, making his first vintage in 1997. He now farms 4.17 hectares under the ‘Lutte Raisonnée’ method in the lieux-dits ‘Les Cotes’, ‘Bayonnet’, ‘Chaillot’, and ‘Saveaux’ under the Cornas AOC.
Cornas is one of the smallest appellations in all of France, and is known for its earthy Syrah—the only grape that can be grown on the steep sand, granite, and limestone slopes of the west side of the Rhône River. Because of this verticality, machinery can not be used, so the 40-year-old vines are tended to by hand. The ‘Lutte Raisonnée’ method is mostly organic, but un-certified, and sometimes engages the use of synthetic chemicals. He does incorporate some biodynamic practices, such as using a cooper treatment on the vines.
Johann works to keep his yields low (of which the region is already notoriously low at 33 hl/ha), resulting in intensely concentrated grapes to wines that are a true expression of this powerful terroir. His 100% whole bunch wines are aged in demi-muid barrels for around 15 months, and bottled unfined but lightly filtered.
Domaine Les Deux Terres is the collaborative vineyard of two winegrowers, Vincent Fargier and Manu Cuni, who decided to stop selling their grapes to the local co-op and start making their own wine together.
Les Deux Terres means ‘the two lands’, a reference to the unification of their two adjoining vineyards. Their winery is situated in Villeneuve-de-Berg, a tiny commune in the heart of Ardèche department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Inspired by their natural winemaker neighbours like Le Mazel, Andrea Calek, and Gilles Azzoni, Les Deux Terres makes wine with very low interventions and an utmost respect for the fruit.
The pair met in 1997 at the Agriculture School of Aubenas. Vincent, who grew up around family vineyards, was managing the school’s cellar, while Manu was at the school to learn. Quickly forming a friendship, they found jobs working together at Domaine Vallon des Glauges in the Alpilles in Provence. Here, Vincent was hired as chef de culture (vineyard manager) and Manu worked in the cellar. After four years, they both left to work for other domains, Vincent at Domaine de Triennes and Manu at Domaine du Deffends. At these two domains, they were still neighbours, as the vineyards shared a winery, as well as vineyard tools and tractors.
In 2009, their dreams to start a domain together were realised, when Vincent’s father (who had been selling grapes to the local co-op) wished to retire. Vincent took over his father’s vineyard and decided to make wine. At this same time, Manu was renting parcels, and the grower (who also sold to the co-op) also wanted to retire. Now, together, they farm 13-hectares of grapes (partly owned, party rented) across Vincent’s clay-limestone soil and Manu’s basalt soil.
The rough limestone terrain of the steep slopes yields tiny harvests with the grapes struggling to survive in the harsh terroir and without irrigation. All of Manu and Vincent’s grapes are farmed organically, harvest by hand, and fermented with indigenous yeasts. They add a little sulphur to the rosé, but otherwise their effortlessly drinkable wines are labelled ‘vins sans soufre’.
Cairanne produces many of the best wines made in the Côtes-du-Rhône Villages AOC, and Marcel Richaud has been a pioneer of natural winemaking on Cairanne terroir.
From a very young age, Marcel was passionate about viticulture and winemaking, and dropped out of high school at the age of 17 to study viticulture. He always felt a special energy in the vineyard, and believed that his life was in Cairanne, that wine from the region could be something special, and that he was destined to be the one to make it.
Today, Marcel farms 55 hectares of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Shiraz vines atop a range of low hills, with perfect sun exposure and slightly cooler temperatures than the lower plain (Plan de Dieu), which experiences extreme heat. This domain is partly his vineyard (which he inherited from his parents), and partly his neighbour’s land, which he rents.
Marcel has been following organic process for almost 40 years, and his production methods are certified Biologique by Ecocert. Through his winemaking, Marcel pays reverence to his grapes and the beautiful terroir from which they stem. In the winery, he has experimented with pigéage, remontage, carbonic maceration, oak, cement, stainless steel, and more, but believes that what really makes great wine is the soil structure, the yields, the age of the vines, and that if left unrestrained by sophisticated vinification techniques, these elements will allow the terroir of a region to be beautifully expressed.
As an advocate and member of the Association des Vins Naturels, Marcel believes that real wine should see no chemical treatment, filtering, commercial yeasts, or other techniques that would specifically alter a wine.
Along with Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Shiraz—which he blends to allow for a greater level of balance and finesse—he grows 10% Cinsault and 15% of various local varietals. In the winery, each grape is vinified individually, before being blended about eight months later.
Located in the town of Sorgues, Château Gigognan sits among the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC—the best known appellation in Rhône Valley. The foundation for the entire appellation d'origine contrôlée system is based on rules outlined in 1923 by Baron Le Roy of nearby Château Fortia.
The château once belonged to the Jesuit community and was built atop the foundation of a centuries-old monastery. Its history dates back to the time of Roman colonisation.
Some of the vineyards on the estate were planted more than one hundred years ago, and are these days farmed using organic and biodynamic practices, with the the Ecocert certification awarded for whole estate in 2010.
The 30 hectares of vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape grow in rocky soil studded with galets roules, or pebbles, covering clay. The estate’s other 42 hectares sit within a small valley in the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation, with sand and limestone soils.
The estate grows a mesh of red and white varietals, including Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, Roussane, Marsanne, Clairette, Viognier, and Bourboulenc. Grapes are hand-harvested to very low yields (20 hl/ha), and are de-stemmed before fermenting in temperature-controlled tanks and wooden vats with a 10-day maceration period.
Quality and environmental responsibility are the driving forces behind the estate, which sees each vine managed with respect and in line with the natural rhythms of the terroir.