Lockdown has taught many of us to appreciate the smaller things in life, something the French have always been great at with their concept of ‘art de vivre’. Helena Nicklin discovers what that means with the help of some magnificent wines…
What is l’art de vivre?
l’Art de vivre, translated literally, means ‘the art of living’; something the French have a phrase for that funnily enough, doesn’t really mean much in English. In France, however, this short phrase encapsulates life’s little pleasures; those small details that make life a bit sweeter. These could be the finer, more luxurious things in life but also, the littlest things from the scent of a lavender garden in the sun, white roses climbing heavy stone walls, bread still warm from the oven, a brand new notebook, proper linen tablecloths… I’m always on the hunt for a place to go where all these elements combine and am never surprised when it’s wine that leads me to find them.
The ultimate wine escape à la française: La Verrière
On the borders of the Rhône Valley and Provence in the South of France, high up in the Dentelles de Montmirail, lies an old priory from the middle ages where grapes have always been grown. It took a labour of love to restore the property and the owners, Nicole and Xavier Rolet, found the terroir there to have enormous potential for fine wine. They named the domaine ‘La Verrière’ after discovering that a previous owner, Aliot de Montvin was licensed to blow glass there in 1497 and over time, built it into the ultimate getaway-from-it-all location to experience the true ‘art de vivre’.
La Verrière is an isolated haven high in the hills, ringed by pine and oak forests with panoramas over the Drôme. An infinity pool cascades into vineyards below while inside, you can indulge in jacuzzi and spa treatments, cooking classes, wine tastings and take your pick from numerous pretty locations to eat from a medieval patio with fragrant herb garden, a roof terrace with panoramic views or picnics in a forest clearing.
With its all-weather tennis court and traditional, pétanque area, it’s the kind of Provençal idyll you only dream about seeing in movies. There is one element that is the icing on the cake for any hedonist, however: the domaine’s own range of utterly delicious, very special wines.
Chêne Bleu wines from the La Verrière estate
Named after their eye-catching, blue oak tree that stands proud on the estate, (chêne bleu means ‘blue oak’), this range of ‘couture’ wines as the Rolets describe them, reflect their philosophy of hand-craftsmanship and sustainable practices. Handpicked grapes from old vines at low yields grown on atypical soils, ensure an exceptional quality that shines through in every wine in the range. The natural setting at a high altitude, surrounded by nature, makes biodynamic practices easy to maintain too – something the world is in desperate need of right now.
The Rolets say: “We welcome a flock of sheep over winter in the vineyards to provide weed-control as well as a natural fertilizer. It is remarkable to see the variety of insects, birds and animals that have returned since we eliminated chemicals. We continue to work to reduce and offset our carbon footprint, to grow our commitment to recycling and to improve our understanding of the functioning of the spectacular natural environment that surrounds us.”
Freedom to make great wines
Given the unique location of the domaine at the crossroads of four different wine ‘appellations’ (Gigondas, Côtes du Ventoux, Côtes du Rhône and Séguret), Chêne Bleu is able to produce wines with some very different properties to those allowed in the traditional appellation system. Instead of following rules that don’t suit them; however, they choose to make the best wines possible. What this means is that even their top wines are labelled simply ‘IGP’ (‘Indication Géographique Protégée’: similar to the older ‘Vin de Pays’). They are just exceptionally good ones!
Two flagship red wines sit at the top of the tree at Chêne Bleu, each extolling the virtues of the key red grapes of the area: Grenache and Syrah. Abélard and Héloïse, as they are poetically called, both showcase glorious, concentrated aromas and flavours and sumptuous, velvety textures, yet maintain a freshness and cool minerality thanks to the high altitude growing and the geology of the area.
Abélard is the more powerful, aromatic red, a rich blend of Grenache with a splash of Syrah. Blueberry-scented, spicy and soft.
Héloïse is Syrah-based with a splash of Grenache and Viognier giving a more restrained, elegant wine; silky and perfumed with white blossom, violets and spice.
Le Rosé is a blend of Syrah and Grenache. Pale and dry, it has a substantial texture and subtle flavours of crisp, red fruit and citrus.
Aliot is a rich, creamy, round and perfumed white with some oak ageing. It’s a blend of the traditional Rhône varieties: Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and a splash of Viognier.
Viognier, as stated, is made with 100% Viognier and is a perfect example of this grape with its weighty texture, apricot notes and floral nose.
La Verrière is open for drop-in wine tastings or booked tasting classes and cooking courses. You can eat there and stay here for a couple for nights or even hire the whole house with a private chef for a special celebration. There are four luxury suites, three luxury rooms, and the house can accommodate up to seventeen guests.
As soon as this lockdown is over, I’m packing my notebook with my favourite fountain pen and heading straight there.
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