By Robert Haas
Where? Well, Vinsobres is in the Drôme, the next département north of the Vaucluse: kind of the northern limit of the southern Vallée du Rhône. We were in the outskirts of Les Cornuds, a village -- patelin, if you will -- of about four houses just east of Vinsobres. Vinsobres is the newest Crû in the southern Rhone, recently elevated from a Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation. Besides wine, the Drôme is also known for its olives, where Nyons is France’s only olive AOC, and black truffles, which are harvested in the fall. Look for Vinsobres on a map between the towns of Nyons (Drôme) and Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse), just north of D94.
We were staying on a vineyard property that the Perrins, our friends and Tablas Creek partners, bought about ten years ago. The house was a ruin at the time of purchase, and the Perrins have lovingly restored it over the last 8 years. What a treat! The kids, 21 months, 3, and 6, learned to play boules and enjoyed (along with the adults) the swimming pool. We visited nearby village farmers’ markets, ate in a few restaurants, enjoyed the visit of our Paso Robles friends, the Careys, and generally relaxed. Well, relaxed as much as being around three young and active kids will allow. Another view:
Vinsobres is so named for the dark color of its wines, due in large part to a higher percentage of syrah than surrounding appellations (The most northerly of the southern Rhone’s top appellations, Vinsobres is friendlier to syrah than further south). The better vineyards are planted almost 50/50 syrah and grenache noir, and the wines show the darker spicy character of syrah along with the chocolate cherry of grenache. The Perrins are big believers in the potential of Vinsobres, and have purchased several parcels totaling nearly 150 acres over the last decade.
The house site was terrific. It was on the top of a hill, had a wrap around patio with great vineyard views and good breezes. We often breakfasted, lunched, and dined al fresco. It struck me how similar the spacing and pruning of the vineyards around the house in Vinsobres are to ours at Tablas Creek. The elevations of 300 to 500 meters and the many different exposures of the hillsides reminded us of Las Tablas/Adelaida in Paso Robles. Even the soils and their geologic origins are similar to ours, with limestone boulders lining many of the roads.
During our stay Marc Perrin invited Jason and me to lunch at another recent Perrin acquisition, the restaurant l’Oustalet in Gigondas, where we lunched outdoors right in Gigondas center: an active place. After lunch we explored the Perrins’ many Gigondas parcels, in locations from the top of the town, just under the rocky outcrops of the Dentelles de Montmirail (pictured above), to the town’s only Clos (the Clos des Tourelles just below the old town), to lower down vineyards in sandy soils, where they farm what they believe is the region’s only pre-phylloxera vineyard. These grenache vines, planted on their own roots, are more than 130 years old. Gigondas has a noble history and is the southern Rhone’s best known Crû after Châteauneuf du Pape. The Perrins believe that its ability to show the feminine, floral side of grenache is unmatched. The soils of Gigondas range across four different geological eras, and plantings are dominated by grenache noir. A view down across the appellation, from the vineyard pictured above:
Since Jason had not yet seen them, we also went to visit the new cellar installations at Beaucastel and the greatly enlarged cave producing the Perrin and Nicolas Perrin wines. Impressive!
The Perrin holdings and family are beehives of activity. Besides Jean-Pierre and François, Jacques’ sons, there are seven grandchildren: Marc, Pierre, Thomas, Cécile, Charles, Matthieu, and César (who is working this summer and fall at Tablas Creek) involved in the family wine business. The creative energy of the Perrin family is remarkable, and the efforts they are putting into elaborating the distinct characters of the diverse appellations of the southern Rhone perhaps their most ambitious and important work yet.
We’re proud to be their partners at Tablas Creek.