La Mole, Var.
The Domaine des Campaux, like several wineries nestled along the quiet valley of La Mole (a small river flowing between Bormes Les Mimosas and the gulf of Saint Tropez) sells its wine mostly locally. The valley lies in the middle of the "Massif des Maures" mountain range, a sparsely-inhabited large natural area between Toulon and Saint Raphael.
In spite of the commercial success and steady sales of its rosés on the private beaches' restaurants of Saint Tropez and Pampelonne and other jet-set locations, the Domaine des Campaux remains an authentic family winery with a very enviable Art de Vivre.
I discovered the place by chance, as I was enjoying a motorbike ride in the valley, breathing the wonderful smells of the provencal garrigue magnified by the heat. The valley seems to have a slightly different climate with lots of Eucalyptus, cork oak trees and vineyards. When I saw this "bastide" from the road, I stopped and rode carefully on the gravel road. A sign along the driveway which read "no more rosé wine" [pic on the left] was a good omen for the succes of the wines.
The first person I spoke to once at the foot of the old provencal house, was André Naveau, who started the winery in 1959. The farm (which was in the family since 1934) had at the time 5 hectares of vineyards, plus orchards and wheat fields. André Naveau told me by the way that the climate at the time was way less dry than it is today. He remembers as the many horses of the farm could bath in summer in the La Mole river, when the stream is largely dry nowadays at this time of the year. There was also more rain, particularly from the early autumn throughout spring.
The second person I met was Jacques Naveau [pictured on right] , his son, who now manages the estate. He says that the Domaine has now 32 hectares of vineyards, and that the production is mostly rosé wines (75 %), with 20 % for reds and 5 % of whites. He tells me about the high percentage sold to restaurants, especially in and near St Tropez, but also in Nice, Antibes, Paris, Lyon and Megève. Very little is exported (Luxemburg). As we speak, he answers on the cell phone to restaurateurs who ask for another few cases of rosés. The individual customer's allotment is sold out but he has to satisfy the restaurants who are very rosé-thirsty in summer. The rosé season on the coast (and St Tropez) even begins near Easter, when both wealthy and middle-class city dwellers come here to enjoy the fair weather. Easter is then the thermometer of the year, for the wine sales. The best clientele comes in june-july, not only for the vacations, but for weekends, driving or flying from Lyons for example, or Belgium (belgians know how to "faire la fête", he adds).
As I was looking around with chai master Alain Alberny, we saw Tania emerging with her radiant smile from the press as she was cleaning it for the harvest. Tania Botchev is originally from Bulgaria. I had noticed her light accent that I had thought to be russian. She graduated from the oenology school of Montpellier and works here now.
They make 4 types of rosé wines here :
_a rosé "Vin de Pays" (4 Euro)
_a Domaine des Campaux AOC (base rosé, priced at 6 Euro)
_a rosé reserve "Les cannissons" (7 Euro)
_the OséRose, a special high-end cuvée (14 Euro) which is also bottled in magnum and jeroboam.
Alas, I will not taste the rosés, or maybe next year earlier in the season. The wines are not presented to competitions but they regularly come out first in unofficial contests, like recently at a blind tasting in Saint Tropez by "Les Toques Blanches", a group of chefs.
The blend for the base rosé is 80% Cinsault and 20% Grenache. For the Cannissons, the blend is 80% Grenache and 20% Cinsault (the opposite). And the oséRose cuvée has a big percentage of Syrah.
These are bled rosés. The cold-temperature fermentation (15°C) is stretched not on 5 days, but 10 days. This is risky (the fermentation could stop) but it brings lots of aromas in the wine. Indigenous yeasts. They let the temperature raise when the wine reaches 1030-1040. 3/4 of the harvest is done by machines. Jacques Naveau says it allows more quality in the harvest by allowing to pick the grapes very early, starting like at 3:30 am. Even on a non-heat-wave year, working early in the morning protects the grapes, because the light itself is a powerful oxydant. For the reds, it is less important and they can harvest on daytime. He says that the harvest is the most tense and captivating season for him. They also have to play with the climate and the possible september rains. Harvest here begins usually somewhere near september 7-8 and last 15 days. By the way, André Naveau told me that he remembers that in the late 50s the harvest here was beginning on october 10th, meaning that it is more than a month earlier now...
The yields in the Domaine are about 45 hectoliter/hectare (the Cotes de Provence Appellation allows up to 55 ho/ha). The vineyard management is traditional (not organic) but they use as little chemichals as possible.
Walking back to the front side of the house to taste a few wines, we walk past several waddling gooses [picture upper left]. Lots of animals around here : the horses, and many swallows, including several which have their nest in the tasting room [pic on left]
They make 3 reds here but will concentrate in the future on the 2 better cuvées, Les Cannissons and L'Ecuyer. The long aging potential wines are made with Syrah while the lighter red is made with a Cabernet Sauvignon-Carignan base. Elevage for the reds is made in big-size wooden casks : 600-liter 1/2 muids, both new and old.
__1 Domaine de Campaux (red) 2004. Basic cuvée (6 Euro). Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan. While I am tasting the wine, 2 city employees from the nearby village of La Mole stop with their car for an inspection to check the compulsory clearing of the undergrowth. Owners in France in southern regions must by law have the undergrowth and small bushes cleared along their property to prevent forest fires.
__2 Domaine des Campaux, Reserve des Cannissons 2004 (7 Euro). Syrah base. Very different nose. Red fruits. In the mouth also very fruity.
__3 Domaine des Campaux, L'Ecuyer 2004 (10 Euro). Syrah base too, but stayed some time in oak casks. Nice creamy nose. I don't know if it has to do with all these eucalyptus trees which grow in this valley, but I feel eucalyptus notes too. Nice pleasant mouth.
The estate also has several rooms to accommodate visitors ("la grande maison des Campaux"), with rooms named from the different cuvées, with breakfast and the possibility to have meals. Visitors can also ride horses near the property.