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Chêne Bleu Finds Its Footing

Up in the breezy hills, Nicole Sierra-Rolet's project blossoms
Photo by: James Molesworth
New Clairette plantings are gaining hold of the hilltop setting at Chêne Bleu.

Posted: Jul 9, 2014 11:30am ET

The all-star vinification team behind the still relatively nascent Chêne Bleu hasn't changedZelma Long has been consulting here since 2008 and Philippe Cambie since its inception. Thomas Oui is the day-to-day enologist while the husband-and-wife team of Jean-Louis and Benedicte Gallucci handles the vineyards, cellar and just about everything else on this sprawling 321-acre estate, which now has 57 acres of vines in production. For background on this project, reference my previous blog entries.

Set atop the hills behind Gigondas, at about 550 meters of elevation, Chêne Bleu is basically a vineyard within a nature preserve. The benefit is the distinct and very protected microclimate. The downside is a family of wild boar that adores ripe grapes. The spot enjoys steady cooling breezes which give it a late start and finish to the growing season. The impact on the wines is a resulting intense ripeness, but without headiness. The wines are fresh, delineated and racy in feel, wonderfully offsetting their intense tropical and orchard fruit notes in the whites and dark bramble and berry flavors in the reds. These are distinctly unique wines and the project is only getting better as owner Nicole Sierra-Rolet and her team get a handle on the intricacies of the estate.

To that end, another all-star was brought in, soil expert Claude Bourgignon. Bourgignon broke the vineyards down into smaller parcels to accommodate for shifting soil types.

"Originally the vineyards were planted for simple logistical reasons: proximity to the winery and so on," said Sierra-Rolet. "We spent the first 10 years fixing them up and getting to know them, and now we get to do it all over again," she added with a laugh as breezy as the setting. Now the 57 acres have been broken down from three parcels into 22 parcels, and some of those will be subdivided even further.

In addition to the old Grenache and Syrah vines that were in existence when Sierra-Rolet and her husband, Xavier, bought the estate, Mourvèdre has been added as well. For whites, Clairette and Rolle (Vermentino) have been recently planted to augment the Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne.

The 2011 Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Abélard is set to be bottled any day now, as the élevage is extended here, with 12 month in barrel first, then blended, then back to cement tanks for eight to 10 more months before bottling. The 85/15 Grenache and Syrah blend is sourced from the estate's oldest vines. It delivers intense charcoal, pastis and blackberry notes with a racy, licorice root-augmented finish.

The 2011 Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Héloïse blends 65 percent Syrah with 30 percent Grenache and the rest Viognier. It's brighter and juicier in feel, with more plum and raspberry notes lined with a juniper edge on the finish. The 2011 Viognier Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, fermented in demi-muid and then aged for six to eight months before bottling, is intense in its green almond, fennel and green melon flavors, with a rich, rounded feel but crystalline purity through the finish, where verbena and heather notes blossom.

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