With a slightly faded watermelon-colored polo shirt and a gentle sway of salt-and-pepper hair, Eloi Dürrbach has a laid-back look about him. Now 65, Dürrbach has seen his share of long, warm summers and, on the surface, it would be easy to say he's given in completely to the languid Provencal lifestyle. But Dürrbach still has a little bit of growl set amidst all that charm.
"It's a catastrophe what Provence wine has become," he says proudly, in regard to there being no rosé production at Domaine de Trévallon. "Ninety percent of Coteaux d'Aix AOC is rosé. Bandol is rosé now too. But these are red wine appellations."
A former architect, Dürrbach abandoned that métier in 1973 to manage the vacation property his artist parents had bought. It came with a few vines, and he's added to it over the years. Today the 250-acre estate has nearly 50 acres of vineyards—44 of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah for red, and 5 acres planted to a mélange of Marsanne, Roussanne, Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Chardonnay for whites.
All plantings here have been done by selection massale—cuttings of Syrah taken from the Fonsalette vineyard of Château Rayas, Marsanne cuttings from the Perrin family of Beaucastel, and so on. There are no clonal selections used, a topic that sends Dürrbach off on a lengthy riff over vine nurseries and their volume-oriented approach.
Dürrbach's smoldering fire is partly a remnant of having gone through not one but two appellation changes during his tenure. His first wines were labeled as Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence Les Baux, but a change to that AOC's laws in 1994 left Trévallon on the outside looking in, as his red wine was 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon; no other estate in the area had more than 20 percent. The needs of the many won out over the area's trailblazer, who was left with a generic Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône designation for his wines.
"It was frustrating at the time," says Dürrbach. "When I started, almost no one in Provence was making serious red wines and yet we were the ones exporting our Cabernet to the U.S., Brazil etc. Then all of a sudden, I couldn't put 'Provence' on my label."
In 2009, it changed again, to the new IGP designation Alpilles. So is he still frustrated? "Today?" he asks with a laugh, before offering a gentle "Pfft."
For the Trévallon red, the Syrah delivers layers of black fruit—plum and blackberry—with hints of bay and charcoal, while the Cabernet portion delivers the spine—all chalky tannins and racy acidity. The combination results in leathery-edged fruit notes and a backdrop of smoldering cast iron. It ages remarkably well.
The white shows marvelous range, with a creamy mouthfeel, floral and orchard fruit notes and a long, stony finish that ripples with an echo of quinine.
Set in the midst of an ocean of rosé-producing estates, Domaine de Trévallon's red and white are distinctive and idiosyncratic. The red has a little growl, the white is all charm—and it's easy to see where they come from.