Rouge-Bleu: A Newbie Vine Farmer in Provence

I fell in love with wine when my uncle decided to buy three vine parcels in Chåteauneuf-du-Pape to re-create the family vineyard, Domaine du Banneret, which originally dates back from many centuries.

grapillonsThis begins the story of Domaine Rouge-Bleu. Jean-Marc Espinasse, the charming man behind this Provençal vineyard, went on from that first wine making adventure to begin his very own vineyard just over a year ago. He was offered 25 acres of old vines, and with his lovely American wife Kristin and their children, began the amazing task of creating Rouge-Bleu, along with renovating a nearly 400 year old Provençal farmhouse. I was immediately drawn into this story because of that endearing quality of a man living out his dream.

I stumbled upon Jean-Marc’s blog recently, and was excited when I saw that he and his wife were doing a west coast tour! But, I read his blog a few days too late, as he had already passed through Portland, just hours from me. I left a comment on his blog anyway, mentioning our dream of a vineyard on our property someday. I was so surprised to see an email several days ago titled Vineyard in the desert, from Jean-Marc! He asked the telling question:

Do you have underground water at around 5-10 yards deep in the soil?

I knew immediately I was in trouble. I responded that it was quite doubtful, since we had to drill through over 60 feet of solid rock, plus another 200 feet, to hit water when we installed our well. Monsieur Espinasse is a gracious but straightforward Frenchman, and gave me no-nonense advice:

I am afraid but I don’t think that vine is the kind of plant that would behave well where you live. I am also “deeply” convinced that irrigation is the worst thing you can give to a vine since they have natural genes to get rooted deep to find the water. I am sure you can find another farm crop to do there. Making wine is great but farming in general is always rewarding. Cheers.

Ah, well, let’s talk about Rouge-Bleu! Their “Dentelle” Cuvée is scheduled to be bottled in just over a week, and I imagine everyone is very excited. Organic and ancestral practices at Rouge-Bleu call for some interesting viticultural procedures. Jean-Marc’s latest post involves egg whites — don’t worry, they won’t end up in your bottle. Evidently, the albumin contained in egg whites aids in the clarifying process, and using them allows Jean-Marc to avoid too much filtration, which kills the natural sediments so vital to their natural wines.

What are the benefits of organic grape farming? Jean-Marc says that the combination of natural cultivation and harvesting at low yields allows the vines to produce their very best. The result will be good levels of alcohol, high levels of acidity, the right balance of sugar, and a promising aging.

Another term you’ll hear around Rouge-Bleu is biodynamic viticulture. It’s hard to define, as each grower will modify his practices to suit his needs, but it seems to go beyond organic farming. Biodynamic farming will also take into account timing, and, for example, apply certain soil applications according to traditional seasonal markers. A biodynamic approach to a vine disease, for instance, would be not to focus on how to kill the disease, but to ask why the plant is sick in the first place. There is something depleted in the soil, let’s fix the soil, instead of, there’s just something wrong with the vine. This makes sense, but biodynamic philosophy can also lead into mysticism, at which point I would depart.

Here’s a nice sampling of how Jean-Marc practically applies his farming philosophy:

Our Carignan grapes are very weak towards Oidium [fungus]. Using our tractor that pulls the sulfateuse would damage some vine shoots and would not permit to spray straight on the grapes. Since the surface we have is small, I decided to use the traditional manual sulfateuse last week which allowed me to be much more precise while spraying the grapes.

Due to all the rain we had, our baby vines have been completely surrounded with “weeds.” Leaving them would damage our vines because those herbs would drink all the water in the soil. But since we don’t use chemical weed killers and since our décavailloneuse can’t recognize a baby vine and would kill them, we have to remove those herbs by hand.

Provence sunsetProvence is an ideal location for wine making, as Jean-Marc is discovering. The Mistral, which is the strong, cold northwesterly wind that blows through southern France and into the Mediterranean, can be deadly; however, the dry Mistral winds minimize vine disease and can return health to the vineyard. The stony ground and soil rich in calcium carbonate is quite amenable to vines and little else. The Mediterranean climate is famously favorable to the vines.

If you have any questions about Rouge-Bleu, be sure to check in at Jean-Marc’s website. I think I’ll be asking how to get my hands on some bottles of the upcoming Dentelle Cuvée and also the Mistral, which is scheduled to be released later this year. If you live in Houston, Texas, you’re in luck — French Country Wines imports the Domaine Rouge-Bleu wines.

photo credits: Rouge-Bleu

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8 Responses to Rouge-Bleu: A Newbie Vine Farmer in Provence

  1. e-Mom says:

    How fun to have an e-mail exchange with a real, live viticulturist! It sounds like you’ve amassed quite a lot of knowledge already. (Maybe you could suprise Monsieur Espinasse and invent something new… a new variety of “desert” grapes, a new technology, etc.)

    I know a little about Washington wines (Chateau St. Michelle, of course) and California wines (Napa Valley) but next to nothing about Oregon wines… all except the LOL, the “oregon grape.”

    You have some fun ahead of you. Bon apetite, and salut!


    P.S. My German forbears were Rhine river vinedressers. Persecuted for their protestant faith following the Reformation, they fled to Ireland at the invitation of Queen Anne. Ultimately they came to the US. Still loyal to the British crown, they migrated north to Canada during the the “Rebellion.” (American Revolution)

  2. halfmoon girl says:

    I have to be honest and say that I REALLY dislike the taste of wine, but found your post educating anyways!

  3. Jen says:

    e-Mom, you never know, we may come up with a solution! Just this morning, my ever-thinking entrepreneurial husband said: maybe we could put some pipes underground that would drip irrigate the soil from below… :-)

    Wow, you have a fascinating family history!

  4. Jen says:

    halfmoongirl, well, maybe if you tasted Monsieur Espinasse’s wines you may change your mind! :-) I’m glad you still enjoyed the post. I hope that even non-wine drinkers appreciate the amazing art & science of cultivating a vineyard.

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  8. Peggy says:

    Will be in south of France in early September – can anyone please tell me the precise location of Rouge -Bleu vinyard or is that a closely guarded secret?

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