In the foothills of the Alpilles mountain range, Dominique Hauvette inhabits a hidden treasure of Provence, at least in terms of wine: the area’s Roman ruins and stunning scenery have already made it a top destination for tourists, artists, and countless others. This impressive rocky formation—a sort of miniature Alps—is also home to the Baux de Provence appellation, a small but fascinating zone characterized by high-altitude limestone vineyards, pervasive mistral, and abundant garrigue. A pioneer of biodynamic viticulture and natural winemaking, Dominique crafts white, rosé, and red wines that express the wild, stony nature of the Alpilles with fine touch and layers of complex flavor. Cornaline represents her most structured, age-worthy red. This Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon blend provides just the right balance of sturdy southern grip and country refinement. Strawberries, cassis, leather, and herbs come together in a glass of wine that is ready to drink today and should be even more refined in five years. Pour it slightly chilled alongside some grilled lamb chops or steak for an epic meal.
Not far from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a tourist town known for Roman ruins and as the place where Van Gogh painted “The Starry Night,” you’ll find Domaine Hauvette. Nestled among the foothills of Les Alpilles, the vines are surrounded by a rocky and wild landscape—the clay and limestone soil retains moisture for the arid summer months, the Mistral blows half the year, and <em>garrigue</em> is seemingly everywhere. It is here that in the early 1980s Dominique Hauvette, seeking more sunshine, left her job as a lawyer in the Savoie, re-discovered her passion for raising horses, and began studying oenology. Thirty-some years later and Dominique now has 17 hectares of vines and an international reputation for making benchmark natural wines.
Perhaps there is no region more closely aligned with the history to Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant than Provence. Provence is where Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters, lived, and introduced Kermit to the great producers of Provence, most importantly Domaine Tempier of Bandol. Kermit also spends upwards of half his year at his home in a small town just outside of Bandol.
Vitis vinifera first arrived in France via Provence, landing in the modern day port city of Marseille in the 6th century BC. The influence of terroir on Provençal wines goes well beyond soil types. The herbs from the pervasive scrubland, often referred to as garrigue, as well as the mistral—a cold, drying wind from the northwest that helps keep the vines free of disease—play a significant role in the final quality of the grapes. Two more elements—the seemingly ever-present sun and cooling saline breezes from the Mediterranean—lend their hand in creating a long growing season that result in grapes that are ripe but with good acidity.
Rosé is arguably the most well known type of wine from Provence, but the red wines, particularly from Bandol, possess a great depth of character and ability to age. The white wines of Cassis and Bandol offer complexity and ideal pairings for the sea-influenced cuisine. Mourvèdre reigns king for red grapes, and similar to the Languedoc and Rhône, Grenache, Cinsault, Marsanne, Clairette, Rolle, Ugni Blanc among many other grape varieties are planted.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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