The Domaine du Jas D'Esclan is located near Les Arcs, in the eastern part of the Var departement, 20km from Fréjus and the Mediterranean sea, and makes wine from about 53 hectares of vineyards, in the Cotes de Provence Cru Classé Appellation, which gathers since 1955 a happy few estates.
We know growers who farm organic after the usual years of farming conversion, but there are few estates which have always been organicly farmed, and Jas d'Esclan is one of them. When Matthieu De Wulf (who was previously a farmer in the south west of France) looked to purchase an estate, he visited 72 properties across France. He wasn't looking particularly for organic vineyards, but he wanted vineyards in good shape that didn't need to go through years of restructuring and replanting (10 to 15 years are often needed to restore a vineyard), and possibly on a good terroir with a good exposition. In his mind, the facility and the house were secondary, the vineyard condition was primordial. When he found this estate (about 6 years ago), he understood that this was the right one. The property for sale was not much publicized and he was the second potential buyer to visit. The owners were known to work without any pesticides or fertilizers, just copper and sulphur.
We happened to meet Matthieu De Wulf in a Provence tasting in Paris last march, and we liked the different wines we tasted there, the whites, rosés and reds. My notes then underlined his white 2005 "Cuvée du Loup", a very delicate, rich wine with a nice length (60% Clairette-40% Rolle, vinified and raised in casks), and also his Jas D'Esclans "Coup de Foudres" cuvée 2003 red, (2,5 years in foudres), a very classy and beautiful red at only 8 Euro. But since then, the rosé wines gained some fame : Jas D'Esclans had its rosés singled out in an International Rosé Competition that took place in Cannes last april 21-23rd, the "Mondial du Rosé" (it was the 4th edition). Jas D'Esclans was even the only estate of the region to win two gold medals, (see the results for the Cotes de Provence). The contest was organized by the "Union des Oenologues de France" [awful user-unfriendly-website, sorry]. Estates from 38 countries took part this year and only 36 gold medals were awarded. The share of rosé in the total production at Jas D'Esclans is high : 50% rosé, with 40% for reds and 10% for whites. But the average share for rosé in the estates of the region is more like 90%. In this regard, Matthieu De Wulf didn't sacrifice everything on the altar of rosé and kept a meaningful share for red wine.
The grape varieties here are Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, Tibourenc, Rolle, Clairette and Ugni Blanc.
He shows then a vat room with several stainless steel vats [pic on left]. The winery has 50 vats (all being temperature-controlled) with a capacity of 100 hectoliter on average, and a total capacity of 5700 hectoliters.
Several employees have been working here for many years, well before Matthieu De Wulf bought the estate (6 years ago) and they are the link with the tradition and the former owners. Robert is one of them. He overlooks the cellar and the chai, while his brother Yves is on the vineyard management side. They both know the place by heart and it helps.
Like for any organiclly-farmed vineyard, there is quite a lot of work and checks outside. The terroir is a permian soil with many different tilted strata, red clay and grit and "malaous" as it is called around here, a stone in the making, all of it a head-scratching puzzle for geologists, he says. The vineyard is in two parts, 35 hectares around the facility and 18 hectares further down the slope [second pic from top, where the gliders landed in 1944].
For the same variety, he has one week of maturity gap depending of the plot situation and has to harvest in several times accordingly. He replants plots progressively, after deep plowing (80cm), and with a tied-up cordon training. 10-12 hectares are machine harvested, the rest of the vineyard is hand harvested.
The wines :
__1 Jas D'Esclans Cru Classé Cotes de Provence white 2006. Gold medal in the Concours General Agricole in Paris. 90% Ugni Blanc, 10% Rolle.Very fresh on the nose. Richness in the mouth. Pear compote. Retail price 6,75 Euro.
__2 Jas D'Esclans Cru Classé Cotes de Provence white "Cuvée du Loup" 2006. Elevage in casks. 50% Rolle/Clairette. The malolactic fermentation is blocked with SO2 for whites, except for the millesime of this cuvée because it "escaped" and the malo went through. Very delicate wine. Buttery side too. 12,5 Euro.
__3 Jas D'Esclans Cru Classé Cotes de Provence Rosé 2006. 40% Grenache, 25% Cinsault, 20% Tibourenc, 15% Syrah. The balance of the blend can change depending of the millesime but the Grenache's share stays high because it brings nice things in the rosé. Fruity and freshness. 6,75 Euro
__4 Jas D'Esclans Cru Classé Cotes de Provence rosé "Cuvée du Loup" 2006. 85% Grenache, 15% Syrah and cold maceration. Nice mouth indeed, the wine lasts quite some time. 7 medals in different Wine Competitions. 7,5 Euro.
__5 Jas D'Esclans Cru Classé Cotes de Provence red (tradition) 2006. 80% Grenache-20% Syrah. All reds go through the malolactic fermentation. Nose : Eucalyptus, balsamic notes. Vinified in vats , with a 15-day maceration. Liquorice notes in the mouth. 6,75 Euro.
__6 Jas D'Esclans Cru Classé Cotes de Provence red "Coup de Foudres" 2003. This is their first millesime (they arrived here in 2002). 2/half years in foudres. Mostly Grenache with a tiny percentage of Syrah. Animal notes, beautiful wine. That's one of the wines that took our attention in the tasting a few months ago. Only 7,85 Euro, a steal.
__7 Jas D'Esclans Cru Classé Cotes de Provence red "Cuvée du Loup" 2005. 75% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre. One year in casks (1/3 new, 1/3 one-wine, 1/3 two-wines). Jamy-fruits. Length and complexity. Balanced and powerful at the same time. 12,5 Euro. One thing I liked in their tasting room is that the reds are stored in a separate wine refrigerator (Climadiff refrigerators), at 18° C, the whites and rosés being stored in a cooler temperature.
Jas D'Esclans wines are mostly sold (50%) to individual customers, 35% to what is called CHR by french professionals (cavistes-hotels-restaurants), and 15% for export. US : Metropolis ; Japan : Belluna Co Limited. All the wines here are "Crus Classés" and this is one of the few places were you can buy organicly-farmed Cru Classé wines in bag-in-box (at the estate) or even in bulk (white :3,05 Euro/liter, rosé: 2,9 Euro/liter, red: 2,70 Euro/liter).
The De Wulf have 4 children, aged 61/2 to 12.