Saint Maximin, Provence . Connecting a wine you tasted to its landscape, climate and physical reality can take time , 2 years sometimes . First step is to take notes about the wine , the estate's name and address . Next step is not the least : Not loosing these notes, and having the address at hand when travelling in the given wine region . 2 years is what it took us until we visited the Domaine du Deffends . We had first tasted their wine in a wine tasting house , maybe the one in La Celle . I remember tasting again at the autumn wine fair in Paris (porte de Versailles) .
We announced ourselves when in the region for a visit . The estate is located in Provence ( inner Var ), near Saint Maximin , a big village with a 13th century Basilica . This is about 55 km from the mediterranean coast and 35 km east of Aix en Provence . The region is a mix of flat valleys and forested hills . Everything Provence can offer : Heat , vineyards, and forests with smells of thymus, lavender, fennel, rosemary... In spite of the forest fires, the Var departement is the second most forested departement in France .
With the deafening chorus of the cicadas that we could hear even with the car windows up, we took the very small and windy road uphill from Saint Maximin to the estate's grounds . This was 11 am .
Manu ( I recognize the guy , he was the one at the wine fair ) opens the door after we park on the gravel lot . Great view from here, on the vineyards, the valley , the olive trees and the forested hills .
So quiet too . Saint Maximin , just a few minutes ago, is so busy in contrast, with the Nationale 7 highway funnelling crowds of motorized vacationers .
The estate was started in 1965-66, when Jacques de Lanversin purchased the property, including a single 1 hectare Carignan plot .Saint Maximin was then a sleepy little town with only 6000 souls ( 13 000 now ) . The property has a 200 hectare total surface, of wich 14 hectares of vineyards , at an altitude of 400 to 450 meter . olive trees ( 250 of them ) are also scattered all over the property, and the rest is guarrigue and woods . Wheat used to be cultivated in these high valleys too , long time ago . Vineyard exposure is south-south east . Grape varieties are mostly Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, plus 1 hectare of rolle and 1 hectare of Viognier . The owner decided 15 years ago to plant some Viognier, wich was quite original at the time , Viognier being associated with the Cotes du Rhone region . Manu says it was a good move, as their Viognier today is a great, floral wine . This year, he says, they have excess grape production on Cinsault , and particularly Viognier plots . So they had to make a green harvest to correct the problem . Vines are in Cordon de Royat . Average yields are 40 hectoliter/hectare . Suzel de Lanversin heads the Domaine today , after her husband's death last year .
First vinification in the domaine was in 1981 . Before, the grapes were brought to the local Cooperative .
The chai : A first room with foudres , 500 liter "demi-muids", wich are not used anymore ., and casks and resin vats . The foudres were used until recently to make the "La Truffière" cuvée , with several super millesimes, and some other dryier millesimes . This cuvée did not go into the foudres in 2003, and the wine was still great . The adjacent room has stainless steel vats and a few cement vats . Natural fermentation, in the domaine, no external yeasts . They don't have temp control, except an ordinary tap water cooling system . They tend to harvest in the early hours .
The small white and rosé surfaces are machine-harvested at 6 or 7 am, and the job is done in about one hour . The cold ( but not refrigerated ) water of the cooling system prevents the juice from warming up too fast . Possible punching of the cap, and pumping over, depending of the millesime . Whites-rosés : temp at 15-17° C . Reds are let loose to 32° C for extraction and deep colour . We pass a mobile vat originally designed for milk, wich they use to have the temperature increase stretched over one month instead of 4 days [ picture below with Manu leaning over it ]. No external yeasts, that's why the work at the vineyard and on the ground is important . No weed control, just some plowing between april and july . Usually , in this hot region, weeds stop growing back from mid-july . But this year (2005) was so unsusually dry that no plowing was done in july , to be sure not to aerate the uper soil and thus risk to evaporate the remaining humidity ( if any ) under the crust . As you have guessed, the estate has an organic viticulture work philosophy, even though they are not affiliated with a certification chart .
Tasting now :
__1 Rosé . "Rosé des Filles" 2004 . Only Grenache . Part of the Grenache of the "rosé d'une nuit" blending . With a hailstorm on the Cinsault and the Grenache wich had trouble finishing its fermentation, they could not have the right Cinsault-Grenache balance . So they made this 100% Grenache cuvée ( labelled "vin de pays" ) . Aromatic nose . Fruit . Honey . Nice acidity . 6,8 Euro . Manu and Pascale ( who serves us the glasses ) say the wild boars this year came down from the forests and took their share of Syrah . Speaking about the other rosé of the domaine, the "Rosé d'une Nuit" Coteaux Varois AOC, they say it is a small production : 3000 bottles .
__2 White : "Champ du Sesterce" 2004 , Vin de Pays du Var . Rolle and Viognier . Available recently ( bottled in spring ) . No wood here . Delicate nose . Citrus . Apricot . Very low yields for Viognier in 2004 . Rolle likes dry weather . 2002, at the opposite, was a bad (rainy) year for Rolle . Its grapes must be picked when they have a nearly rose colour . 7 Euro .
__3 Red . "Clos du Bécassier" Coteaux Varois AOC 2003 . 70% Grenache, 12% Syrah, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, a little of Cinsault . Classical provencal wine . 13° . Spicy nose . Mouth : Tannic . Substance . Supple . 6,5 Euro .
__4 Red . Grenache 2004 . From a resin vat . Nose : Torrefaction . Coffee, I would say . Fruits . Rounded , rich . Like it .
__5 Red . "Clos de la Truffière", Coteaux Varois AOC 2003 . 40% Syrah, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon . Nice nose . No wood this year exceptionally . Grapes and stems were fine and healthy, but there was a huge volatile rise ( like elsewhere in the region this year ) that could have brought some concern . Here they reached 0,5 or 0,6 at the end of the fermentation stage, wich is still correct . But using the old big-capacity casks (foudres) would have been risky, with the oxygenation . In 2003, malic acid was at 0,2 instead of the usual 1,5 at the end of the fermentation . So, no malo this year . 8,8 Euro .
__6 Red . "Clos de la Truffière", Coteaux Varois AOC 2001 . This one was raised in foudres and demi-muids ( 4 months ) . After 2 years, he says the wine has evolved toward vegetal notes . Truffles . A little more Syrah here : 60% Syrah and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon . 8,8 Euro .
The wines of the Domaine du Deffends are sold locally , throughout France, and exported . The U.S. bought 10-12 000 bottles before the Iraq war . Goes up again after a sharp slide down , but still low, at 7000 bottles . Robert Chadderdon Selections (N.Y.) .
Netherland : Wijnkoperij Okhuysen ( Haarlem )
Japan , too : Kimijimaya ( Yokohama ), and Iida Co, Ltd ( Osaka ) . Belgium and a few other european countries .
Domaine du Deffends . J.S. de Lanversin , 83470 Saint-Maximin de Provence . Phone 33 (0)4 94 78 03 91 . firstname.lastname@example.org