Let’s be clear. I am not a Wine Writer. I am not a Wine Blogger. I am a Wine Drinker. I claim no sophisticated palette, nor ‘nose.’ But, I love wine. I love food. I love clever & curious people. I love beautiful scenery. And, I love to travel. If you too, love these things, this is a perfect way to spend a day or two in Provence.La Madelene Rhone Wine Holidays offer a perfect wine tour. I enjoyed their “Selected Domaines” Tour. This includes an overnight stay at La Madelene, or The Big House. In their words: “La Madelène is a beautiful renovated 12th c. priory located in the foothills of Mt.Ventoux in Provence. Founded by Benedictine monks, the house sits on a sandstone outcrop surrounded by mature trees with views over vines, fruit orchards and mountains. We have 5 bedrooms sleeping up to 11 people.”
We started with drinks on the patio overlooking the pool, followed by a lovely meal of several courses — each paired with the perfect wine. Our hostess, Jude, prepared a wonderful dinner while her husband,Philip, taught us about the Rhone region.Philip gave us a detailed lesson on the region: its history, soil and vineyards.
Fun Fact 1: Below, Philip shows us a round stone known as galets roulés. They are mostly quartzite, remnants from the glaciers and smoothed over by the Rhone River. These stones retain heat and release it at night, hastening ripening. They also help hold moisture in the soil.
We started the morning with a perfect Provencal breakfast of warm croissants, homemade local jams, fruit, cured meats/cheeses and fresh brewed coffee. Then we loaded up in a comfy Mercedes van and headed out. Our first stop was in the hills above Roaix at Domaine Escaravailles, founded by Jean-Louis Ferran in 1953. The wine maker’s daughter, Madeline Ferran, was our lovely and knowledgable host.
Fun Fact 2: “Escaravay” is the local word for beetle. The inhabitants of this village used this nickname to describe the black-robed monks who were the owners of the farm in the 17th century. Next, we drove west to the well-known appellation Chateauneuf du Pape, where we visited one of the largest and oldest wineries in the area — Chateau La Nerthe. This stunning large estate is home to the appellation’s finest Chateau. We enjoyed a private tour of their remarkable cellars which date back to the 16th century. Most Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are blends dominated by Grenache. Only one of every 16 bottles produced in the region is white wine.
Fun Fact 3: They made Thomas Jefferson’s favorite wine and he had it sent to the US in large wooden crates!The following photos illustrate their historic cellars. Apparently, this is the perfect mold. It demonstrates the correct temperature and humidity levels of the cellar. Below you can see the private cellars of many famous chefs, sommeliers and wine collectors. I photographed two but there are hundreds.
Fun Fact 4: Sherry-Lehman is known as the leading wine retailer in NYC with a swanky Park Avenue address. Mr. Aaron’s family opened the store in 1934.
Fun Fact 5: Alain Ducasse is a renowned chef. He is the first chef to ever own restaurants with 3 Michelin Stars (the highest) in three different cities. He is also 1 of 2 chefs to hold a total of 21 Michelin Stars!
Next, time for lunch at Verger des Papes in the village of Chateauneuf du Pape. When the Pope had his residence in Avignon in the 14th century, his ‘summer home’ was in this village (see photo below); apparently the putrid stink in the streets of Avignon was too much for him in the hot months!
After lunch, we visited an artisanal producer: Chateau Mont Thabor. The charming owner Daniel Stehelin works his tiny plot (about 9 acres) on his own. His chateau is a 17th c. building with a rather long and sordid past.
Fun fact 6: Don Pernety, founder of the Illuminés de Avignon, stayed there on his journey to find the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary substance, capable of turning inexpensive metals into gold! ~ I don’t think he found it… The Chateau then became a post house for carriages on the road between Paris and Marseille. In 1881, the Swiss family Stehelin bought the small estate to develop into a vineyard … as it remains so today.A bit tipsy by this point, we ended our glorious day at Domaine Saint Amant, the highest vineyard site (500 meters in elevation) in the whole of the Rhone Valley. It also produces the most highly regarded Viognier (photo below) in the region and their cru wines regularly win top awards. The Jacques Wallut Family still runs it using traditional small scale cultivation by hand. Owner and wine maker Camille Nosworthy was our host. As we drove away this stunning view greeted us — a perfect end to an incredible day.