The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Chateau Rochecolombe

#2 Chateau Rochecolombe
Bourg St. Andeol, Rhone, France

Bourg St. Andeol marks the limit of Rhone Mediterranee. In winter it is a sleepy place where old men still play boules in the village square, and down by the river. Head north and vines dissappear until you arrive in the cooler, continental Northern Rhone, close to Lyon. Only three estates make wine around the village. Around 300 farmers bring fruit to the co-op.

At lunch, a restaurant/hotel on the main town square becomes the social center of the community. Its packed main room is filled with the clank and clatter of dining and exuberant, wine-fueled conversation. As stupor from 3-hour meals takes hold and decibel levels fall, Jocelyne Terrase of Chateau Rochecolombe supplies an overview of the town’s stifling politics.

The white wine served at lunch is a little dull, but it comes from the family estate of the town’s political patriarch. Everyone is connected to him, often for help in finding employment. Thee red presented is better but a little uneven, enjoyable enough with the roast prok and duck. The food is typical provincial French: well-made, traditional, not fussy but properly executed, and leisurely paced.

30 Hectares of vines and 200ha of woods surround Chateau Rochecolombe. From their highest-elevations vineyards a panorama of the whole region presents itself, from nearby Bourg St. Andeol to Tricasstin (with its prominent nuclear power plant) and beyond.

Roland’s family purchased the Chateau in 1920. They came from Belgium, where according to proprietress Jocelyne Terrase, they owned an even larger chateau. The first vines at the property were planted in 1945. The site had been an apricot orchard.

Today new trellised vineyards are appearing: Roland just completed a large new planting of Clairette and Viognier, and seven additional hectares have been purchased close to the road leading to the chateau. Those vines come from Domaine l’Olivets, the farm of a farming member now ready to retire.

Plantings and re-plantings utilize massale cuttings from the estate’s existing vines.

“The clone of Syrah originally planted here does not exist anymore. Jocelyne said. So they propigate it for themselves.

Rochecolombe’s absurdly low yields (in the neighborhood of 11 hl/ha, approximately ¼ of the region’s maximum permissible yield) makes adding property necessary to keep up with expanding demand for the wines. The farm is exceptionally dry and still cultivates many 65-year-old vines. Old vines produce small volumes of fruit, and dry-farming in an arid region naturally limits production.

Wild thyme is everywhere. The rows are littered with white stones and little chaotic furrows, evidence of wild pigs that root around the vines in search of food. In summer Roland stretches an electric fence around his fields to prevent porcine disaster.

They are busy people at Chateau Rochecolombe. A year-round team of four (the family plus two) maintain the substantial property. 60% of Rochecolombe’s current acreage is Syrah. 30% is Grenache, and 10% is white grapes (Viognier and Clairette.) They use vine cuttings to make compost for the fields.

A section of their cellar/tasting room was built by the Romans, but much of the structure is new. In 2008 70% of their production was sold at the cellar door: today it is only 20% of their sales.

“It’s not something I enjoy doing (selling direct to consumer.) Jocelyne said. It’s not something I enjoy doing/ I’d rather be making the wine.”

I agree with this perspective. Focus on the wine, the world has a million sales people.

Rochecolombe’s rose is saignee method. In 2011 they decided to reduce production of the Cotes du Rhone Villages wine from 10,000 to 2,000 bottles to augment quality of the basic Cotes du Rhone in a tough vintage.

Rochecolombe is where the economics of farming intersect with the organic farming movement, and its spectrum of philosophy. They are not dewey-eyed idealists. They are a moderately large (and growing) domaine determined to make a living growing and selling organic wine at reasonable price points. The estate has a windswept beauty, but it is not a museum. Roland was using a pruning machine when I arrived, which would be heretical to many of the high-minded (and higher-priced) domaines I visit. Rochecolombe have an ideology and a plan, and it seems like a pretty good one.


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