A bottle of Domaine des Terres Blanches wine was among the well-chosen bevy of refreshments my husband and I found in our lovely room at the gorgeous five-star hotel, Château des Alpilles, located on the outskirts of St. Rémy-de-Provence. This early 19th-century property, set on a tranquil estate at the foot of Les Alpilles, is so tastefully appointed and the ambiance so comfortably luxurious that one would have on-the-spot confidence in the caliber of any of the goods chosen by proprietor Catherine Bon.
So, when we saw the sign for Domaine des Terres Blanches, off D99 between St. Rémy and Cavaillon, we immediately took the right turn into the quintessentially Provence estate.
The winery lies in the small appellation, Les Baux-de-Provence (where the winemakers have petitioned that organic viticulture be part of the appellation requirements). This appellation is part of the Provence wine region, but the wines are as characteristic of the Rhône Valley as they are of Provence.
Domaine des Terres Blanches was founded about 20 years ago by Noël Michelin who, along with Eloi Dürrbach, founder and winemaker of Domaine de Trévallon, launched the movement to elevate Les Baux de Provence to appellation status in 1995. The domaine subscribes to a “Bio-Active” philosophy, which basically means that the grapes are organically cultivated in close harmony with the cycles of nature as well as the estate’s production needs. Red wine may dominate production, as is the case in all wineries in this appellation, but one white and one rosé are also produced at Domaine des Terres Blanches. About 32 hectares (80 acres) are in production on this property.
My husband and I had the pleasure of tasting the delicious wines of Domaine des Terres Blanches with Philippe Gérardin, technical director of the winery and our host in the tasting room. My favorites were a delightful, very fresh (2013) rosé (40% Grenache, 20% Cinsault, 20% Counoise, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah) and a 2009 red, L’Exception, (95% Syrah, 5% Grenache) that has a rich nose of wild herbs and berries, a sturdy structure that was reminiscent of olives to both my husband and me.
I was so taken with the wines that I wanted to know more about Domaine des Terres Blanches. I conducted an interview, via email, with François Laborie, the highlights of which can be read below. (The translation from French to English is my own.)
Barth: The founder of Domaine des Terres Blanches created the appellation of Les Baux-de-Provence. In the 20 years that have passed, the label has been able to maintain the original commitment to nature. How does the environment partner with the winemaker to make such special wine?
François: The Appellation was indeed launched by Noël Michelin, founder of Domaine des Terres Blanches, along with Eloi Dürrbach of Domaine de Trévallon whose economic expansion is well-known today. The commitment to work in organic farming has made many disciples, as most wineries of Baux-de-Provence work today in compliance with nature.
At Domaine des Terres Blanches, we work with the evidence we discover in nature. First, we are grounded with an exceptionally deep and rich soil that allows the roots of the vines to draw the necessary nutrients for proper development of the grapes. We occupy space on the north side of the Alpilles: cooler in summer including temperature differences between day and night that favor the slow maturation of our grapes. Then there is the sun, from which our grapes gorge themselves to restore the concentration necessary for our wines. Finally, the wind, the famous mistral, whipping our faces in winter, but drying the first settling of moisture in the foliage of the vines in spring and summer, thus reducing the risk of developing diseases.
Barth: Tell our readers a bit about your team and how they support the domaine’s winemaking philosophy?
Laborie: The team consists of four people permanently on the site that handle technical and administrative areas. We follow main routes that maintain the philosophy.
In particular in making wine, we try to put the least amount of inputs in order to maintain the integrity of the grape and its true expression in the wine. This involves reducing the doses of sulfites on the harvest; the grapes are sorted severely to offer only the best part in the tanks. Also, the musts are not yeasted to change the flavor profile of our wines.
The domaine owner places particular emphasis on the purity of the wines, as well as the dates of wine production and bottling, in correspondence with specific dates on the lunar calendar and biodynamic principles. We do not claim, at least not yet, a biodynamic label.
Barth: What is the best part of making wine in Provence? It is obviously a rewarding job.
Laborie: Everything is rewarding in the manufacture of wine.
The vines in winter, when we hear nature breathing in peace, without the roar of tractors… sharing wine with our clients, the final completion of the chain, where we take the time to explain to our customers the quality of our wines.
What is extremely exciting at Domaine des Terres Blanches is that we are not partitioned in a defined role. Our team is cohesive and versatile. Everyone knows the work of the vine and wine and everyone is able to define the philosophy of the field. We’re kind of part of our land.
Barth: Are you trying something new or different from what has been developed in the past?
Laborie: The owner of the domaine, for two years now, has made our wine based on the concept of organic farming, applying some of the practices of a biodynamic approach. Practical size and treatment periods are strictly selected according to the biodynamic calendar dates; nevertheless, as we say above, we are not involved with a biodynamic label at this time.
For two years, we’ve experimented on a third of the vineyards, phytosanitary products and treatments which have less impact on the environment, including essential oils, for removing copper doses. It is a controversial subject in organic farming.
Finally in our cellar, we try to rediscover some ancient traditions of the region, reincorporating whole cluster processing of our reds, and pressing more slowly and respectfully our white grapes. The style of Domaine des Terres Blanches wine evolves into more finesse and minerality.
Barth: Everyone around the world dreams of holidays in Provence, to enjoy the beauty, drink wine and meet wonderful people. Are there special events in your vineyard, something visitors could experience only at Domaine des Terres Blanches during a visit to Provence?
Laborie: Domaine des Terres Blanches is two kilometers from the main road; our area covers about 60 hectares of vineyards, pine forests, oak trees and scrubland. We have a remarkable view of Les Alpilles. Visitors can experience all of this with a field tour around the vineyards. We offer customers a booklet on our working methods.
The tasting room is open seven days a week, which involves a commitment of the whole team to ensure a presence for our clients when they are in the area. We keep in mind that the business purpose of our domaine is to sell almost half of our wines directly to consumers, without a need for intermediaries.
Here the visitor can really soak up the general atmosphere of the site; many of our loyal customers tell us they release some of our sun and our garrigue when they open our bottles. Then it is for us a successful endeavor!
Barth: Is there something in particular that you would like to share with readers about Domaine des Terres Blanches or appellation Les Baux-de-Provence in general?
Laborie: At Domaine des Terres Blanches, we love the contact with our customers. We are proud to have loyal customers for over 10 years and more. These customers love the area and share their love for the beauty and ambient heat of our region that they rediscover when they open the bottles back home.
Les Terres Blanches is not a brand; it is an environment conducive to the cultivation of the vine. We are proud to participate in its development.
Open everyday from 7am to 6:30pm in season and from 9am to 5:30pm during the winter. No reservation required.