Domaine de la Verde - Vacqueyras
Sometime around 2000 I started importing the wines from Domaine du Grand Montmirail in Gigondas. A couple of years later, proprietor Yves Cheron told me that he had begun vinifying the wine of a producer in neighboring Vacqueyras called Domaine de la Verde. Next time I was in the area Yves took me to the domaine and showed me around. While vineyards had been planted on the property as far back as 1888 , the winery had been owned by the Camallong a family since 1963 since their arrival in the Southern Rhône after the Algerian revolution. The family, of French and Argentinian origin, brought wine tanks from Northern Africa and started producing wine, selling very little in bottle but instead selling grapes and wine to local negociants. I bought a couple of vintages from Verde, but then Yves decided to focus on his own Vacqueyras and I began selling that instead.
Fast forward to 2016: out of the blue I received an email from Nicolas Camallonga saying that he was now working for his mother Annie at the winery. He had studied winemaking and also marketing and was looking for new partners to sell his wine. By chance he had come across my name from years ago and decided to drop me an email.
As chance would have it, I was going to the Rhone less than a month later and told him I would love to stop by and see what the domaine was now doing.
Vacqueyras is a small 12th century village situated in the general Côtes du Rhône winemaking region, but like a few other small villages in the area, it also has its own appellation with the same name that was established in 1990. It is in the Ouvèze valley just to the west of the Dentelles de Montmirail, whose limestone peaks are the primary geologic feature of the region. It lies about halfway between Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Vacqueyras has been famous for its wine for a long time, perhaps even since the days when the town was ringed by a series of protective stone fortresses believed to have been built by the Knights Templar (who figure into many modern conspiracy theories as well as The Da Vinci Code). The name Vacqueyras itself comes from the term Val Queyras or Valley of the Stones, a reference to the glacial deposits that cover much of Chateauneuf du Pape and many other vineyards in the Côtes du Rhône.
Nicolas greeted us on Easter morning during a torrential downpour and gave us the lowdown on the domaine. Located in Sarrians along the plateau in the western part of Vacqueyras, the lieu-dit is La Verde, which can either be pronounced Verde (like layered) or Verdé like ver-day. Unlike many domaines in the area, it is a single plot of 26 hectares (64 acres). Their vines have an average age of 42 years and their roots descend into sand and clay based soils littered with limestone rocks that have descended from the nearby Dentelles de Montmirail. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Clairette and Bourboulenc are grown according to the lutte raisonée principles, that is with minimal intervention in the vineyards, and only when the plant necessitates help.
The grapes are harvested by hand and undergo several sortings with only the best grapes being used. The grapes are partially de-stemmed and fermentation takes place in concrete tanks, many of which have origins in North Africa. Their particularity is their conical rather than flat shape at the bottom of the tank, something that allows the lees to have more contact with the new wine and give it additional texture and flavor.
Some cuvées are aged only in tanks, while others see some aging in 225-liter oak barrels. Punch downs are frequent, élévage is long, and the wine is bottled without fining or filtration. We were blown away by the quality of Nicolas’ wines, all of which have polish and finesse, unlike so many other Vacqueyras wines that always come across as being rustic and somewhat burly.
Domaine de La Verde Prelvde: (55% Grenache, 23% Syrah, 12% Mourvedre and 10% Cinsault, 28 hl/ha, raised for 14 months in concrete tanks): Brilliant ruby. Mineral and smoke-accented red berries and candied flowers on the tightly focused nose. Spicy and energetic in style, offering fresh raspberry and bitter cherry flavors and a repeating suggestion of smokiness. Turns sweeter on the incisive finish, which features fine-grained tannins and an echo of cherry pit. 89-91 points, Josh Raynolds, Vinous
Domaine de La Verde Ora: (55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre, 25 hl/ha, raised for 14 months in concrete tanks while parts of the Syrah and Mourvedre are aged in oak barrels): Bright violet. Sexy, spice-tinged aromas of ripe dark berries, cherry compote, potpourri and smoky minerals. Juicy and perfumed in the mouth, offering sweet black raspberry and floral pastille flavors that tighten up slowly with air. Shows very good depth without undue weight, and finishes very long and spicy, displaying smooth tannins and a repeating floral note. 90-92 points, Josh Raynolds, Vinous