Chêne Bleu

Rhône, France


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Situated near the crossroads of four southern Rhône appellations — Gigondas, Côtes du Ventoux, Côtes du Rhône and Séguret — the vineyards at Chêne Bleu are planted on the slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail with varied exposures. A total of 35 hectares (87 acres) have been planted and reclaimed. The original vineyards had been neglected for many years, with gnarly, tough old vines 30 to 45 years old that were both a blessing and a burden, requiring retraining and individual evaluation vine by vine. Their toughness makes them able to withstand extreme conditions, with deep roots (extending as much as 300 feet into the rocky slopes) that sustain the vines in years of drought and during heat spikes.

The vineyards were redrawn and replanted with more Rhône varietals — Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc for whites, and Mourvèdre, as well as the original Syrah and Grenache. To regenerate the vineyard they used the traditional massal selection from the best of their old vines, selecting low-yielding vines for more concentrated fruit. Pruning was changed to the double cordon method to allow better canopy management and control of sunlight to the vines.

The terrain is uneven, rough and rugged, so all vineyard work is done by hand. The vineyards have been separated into mini-parcels to capture the identity of each different sector of soil.

Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, the world-renowned soil experts, have provided invaluable advice about the best and best-suited natural practices. With their help, as well as the advice of their international advisors, such as Philippe Cambie and Zelma Long, the family has embarked on a pioneering study, researching other interesting varieties well-suited to their terroir but also relevant to the style and complexity of their wines.

Biodynamic viticulture was introduced to preserve the health and individuality of the soil and the vines. The family is working towards managing the entire estate in accordance with biodynamic principles. Small doses of natural treatments are applied, and vineyard work is timed in accordance with the influence of phases of the moon. No synthetic fertilizers or chemicals are used. Flocks of organically raised sheep are allowed to winter in the vineyard, providing weed control as well as natural fertilizer. Organic humus comes from the estate’s own composting bins.

The estate’s apiary is the source of propolis from the bees, which they are testing as a natural treatment in select parcels. (Propolis is a resinous mixture that bees collect from conifers and other vegetation and use to seal and protect their hives. The resin also seems to inhibit the growth of bacteria, viruses and fungi.)

The vineyards and entire estate depend on natural springs and subterranean water tables. The family has planted a species of waste-cleansing bamboo to purify and recycle the water used in the winery.



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Harvest is by hand, and yields are deliberately tiny (usually 14 to 25 hectoliters per hectare), compared to the average of 30 to 45 hl/ha for most super-premium wines in nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, and 60 hl/ha in the neighboring valley. All vineyards are no further than 12 minutes from the winery sorting tables. The whole bunches are transported immediately to the winery in shallow crates so that the berries remain whole and retain their ripe juice. Double-sorting takes place on two separate sorting tables: a slow-moving belt that sorts bunches and removes leaves, then a vibrating table that removes imperfect grapes as well as any leftover stems. All whites and 90 percent of the reds are destemmed (very ripe stems can sometimes benefit a red wine fermentation).

The grapes and wine move through the facility via gravity flow, without pumping. A Vaslin press, which is a closed cylinder with a pneumatic bag, ensures gentle pressing with less risk of excess tannin extraction and oxidation. Three conical oak tanks are reserved for natural micro-oxygenation for some reds, while 22 temperature-controlled, stainless-steel tanks are used for some reds and all whites and rosés. The winery is specifically designed for small batches, with small tanks to vinify each mini-block separately, using a combination of oak, concrete and stainless steel. All wastewater is recycled through a bamboo forest planted especially for this purpose, in keeping with the estate’s philosophy of long-term sustainability.

Aging in the cellars requires an exacting barrel selection for the top quality wines, using mainly 50 percent new and 50 percent 1-year-old Burgundian oak barrels. The cooperages of Seguin-Moreau, Taransaud, Damy, François Frères, and De Vienne provide barrels with varying light or medium toasts from the forests of Tronçais, Nieve and Vosges.