Jean-Christophe Comor has set up by himself in 2003/2004 a small winery named Domaine Les Terres Promises in the back country of Provence at an altitude of 400 meters. The facility was at the origin a small cabin at the foot of the Massif de la Sainte Baume in the Provencal wilderness, a place deprived of any chai or amenities, a couple of kilometers from the charming village of La Roquebrussanne (pictures on left and right). His professional career didn't point to becoming a vigneron : in his former life he was working in political circles in Paris, organizing groups or think tanks to create a new dynamic in the relation between citizens and the political elite. The man doesn't like to be always reminded about this experience and in a politically-clanic society like France's it might be better so. Let's just say that he wrote a book about the disconnect between political parties and real people. Anyway that was really his previous life and his wine venture turned into one very good surprise for wine lovers, his wines selling now in many top wine bars and wine shops of the country, and after you drink a few of them you understand that this success has nothing to do with well-connected relations. His rebirth in the winemaking world proves also that with the right farming choices and vinification techniques (or the lackthereof), you can make wonders in Provence without having any family history in the wine trade. His wines really stand out compared with much of what has been made around here for years.
The winery sits at some distance of the charming village of La Roquebrussanne, a typical inner Provence village with its own old-style coop and quiet streets and square shadowed by plane trees. i tried to visit him last year but he was not around the winery when I tried to reach him through a friend who had met him a couple of times.
Same for the reds, the Cabernet Sauvignon which is the emblematic Bordeaux variety landed here some 20 years ago or so, for dubious reasons like having a prestigious (Bordeaux) variety to offer to the consumers. Many people in France think that the appellation rules in terms of varieties/region couple are rooted deep in the trade history when in fact it's very often 20 years old and if you dig a little bit you learn that the varieties used in the early 20th century had nothing in common with the ones considered sanctum sanctorum of the wine tradition even by knowledgeable amateurs [I discovered that again recently about Sancerre while listening to Sébastien Riffault who told me that in the early 20th century and before, Sancerre was growing mostly reds, and this was not Pinot Noir but Gamay...]. Here in Provence and regarding the Coteaux Varois, the appellation is not even 20 years old, it dates from 1993, and what the appellation people did was freeze the variety selection used by the growers back then in the early 1990s' and call it the ultimate Provence-Var tradition [the Appellation bodies being managed by mainstream wine-industry people, they tend to officialize practices that go with the tide instead of looking close for what is really the tradition of a particular region; business comes first, and historic roots aren't too much a concern].
About Carignan, Jean-Christophe Comor says that already in 1870 some people wrote that "it was a mistake to uproot Carignan", proving that the question is not new. Since then they've been replanted and now they're uprooted again.
Jean Christophe Comor discovered wine by tasting the wines like among others the ones made by Pierre Breton and Marcel Richaud, and he makes wines along that philosophy, using no additives whatsoever, be it lab yeast or any other correctig products. About enologists, he says that they're trained to see the wine as the result of a mere chemical process, the grapes being in that view more a problem than a gift, they ignore the life parameter in the wine and make sure that it doesn't have a chance to raise. They influence the winemakers (many of them being farmers who never chose this career but inherited it from their forefathers) into thinking that there's a danger to let the juice become wine by itself, pushing them to block the life on the incoming grapes with SO2 and to use many other additives to keep the juice/wine tightly under control. The chemical-products dealers keep visiting the wineries, including his own although they know he's working organicly, to propose the "security" of their products. Samely, any consultant enologist he could contact would tell him to use this or that additives to make the wine fit what is considered the norm, capitalizing on the fear of the vigneron. Rosé is a particularly-difficult wine to make, Jean-Christophe Comor says, and this is also why it's the most corrected wine. He says an interesting thing, it's that the Provence rosé, like Champagne, is viewed by most consumers as a generic product, a drink, and not as an individual wine : people say routinely "let's drink rosé" or let's open a bottle of Champagne", like if they weren't aware of differences in their qualities. Rosé from Provence, like Champagne sells well and the two wine regions are thriving.
Speaking of one of the corrective issues regarding rosé, read for example this page (Pdf in French) about the additives techniques used to correct and adjust the color of rosé wines (the color adjustment being just a part of the manipulation these wines usually go through).
The vineyard surface of Les Terres Promises makes 12,8 hectares including a small surface in the Bandol Appellation from which he also makes a cuvée. We walked around the small building to have a look at a few parcels planted right near the winery. The vines looked good with their foliage growing unhindered. Some of these vineyards are recently planted but he had to fight hard to recover these terraced vineyard plots which had been reconquered by woods and trees. Like elsewhere the mainstream growers prefer the flat fields in the valley instead of the slopes or small-sized terraces, although these plots have everything to make a good wine, including the beneficial proximity of the wooded hill which brings freshness in the night and i,nsect diversity. He uses the service of independant workers to do some of the work in the vineyard, his farming is organic and he learnt everything on the job and by asking to fellow growers elsewhere in France, the natural-wine milieu being very open in terms of exchanges and mutual training.
When he arrived here there was Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault, and he planted Mourvèdre, Clairette, Rolle, Roussanne and a bit of Syrah. On the picture above you can see the Grenache that he grafted 4 years ago. Most vines made it through well since then (some have to be re-grafted). He also grafted Syrah in other rows, and Mourvèdre a bit further up the slope. They use the R110 rootstock over here which is good for the limestone soil and it's a rather qualitative type of rootstock.
At one point we're speaking of yields, as he has some very low yields in some of his parcels, like 20 hectoliters/hectare (the rule in wineries around here is 55 ho/ha). Jean-Christophe Comor says that yields doesn't explain everything, adding that you can make terrible wines with low yields too. The most important thing, he says, is to preserve the life coming from the grapes/soil in the cellar. As soon as you use a harvesting machine you already kill this life and you need to compensate with lots of interventions beginning with sulfur sprinkling in the gondola. He says that here the weather allows to easily farm organic, and he adds that comparatively, the weather conditions make a very difficult time for the Loire growers in 2012 : the fros and then the mildew have taken a heavy toll on the future harvest of the growers he knows over there.
__ Les Terres Promises white 2010 (I think it was "A Bouche Que Veux Tu"). Made with a direct press with a débourbage, fermented in resin vat, no wood here.
__ Les Terres Promises "A Bouche Que Veux Tu" 2011, a white. Vin de Pays de la Sainte Baume (the Sainte Baume being the vat expanse of mountainous wilderness above the winery). More expressive wine. The wine has a bit of color, which comes from the maturity of the grapes. He says that if you don't want color you have to fine the wine or to filter it, or to add lots of SO2, which also takes off the color. In the past winemakers would use egg white or dried cow's blood to fine the wine, now they use an additive named PVPP. This particular wine went through a light filtration, even if doesn't look like filtered. About the SO2, Jean-Christophe Comor says that he often doesn't add any but may do before bottling, he decides this after checking and tasting.
This white is very aromatic, it's a delightful wine with citrus notes and a nice freshness. There a good substance in there with a light bitterness too. the maturity was better here compared with the 2010, but the yields were lower too. This is made from a 60-year old vineyard of Ugni Rose (pink Ugni instead of white Ugni) instead of Ugni Blanc, he adds that he didn't even know this sub-variety existed before falling upon this parcel. Yields are commonly 20 hectoliters/hectare here (the average around here in the region is 55 ho/ha). The wine doersn't taste like high in alcohol but he says that even though the label reads 13 °, it's more than that. This cuvée makes a volume of about 40 hectoliters. This cuvée costs 9 € tax included at the winery (but I'm not sure many people drive to this place to buy wine). A magnum costs 18 €.
__ Les Terres Promises Analepse. A gastronomy white. Analepse means flashback in French, that's a rare word that few French know I'm sure, I was not familiar with it myself. This wine is made from Carignan Blanc (white Carignan). It's labelled as table wine because of that. Lots of acidity, a wine with a beautiful freshness and with droiture in the mouth. Nice unconventional color too with a lightly redish something. Very nice length, light bitterness also. Not very high in alcohol. He picks at normal maturity and when acidity is not high enough, the mineral side, the caillou (the stone in French) takes the relay in the tasting experience. For this, you need to let the roots dig deep into the soil and not add any fertlizers as well as not irrigate (it's often irrigated around here). This cuvée costs 15 € at the winery (magnum : 30 €)
__ Les Terres Promises "A Ma Guise" 2011. A red, a primeur wine. Very appetizing wine, love at first sight too. Tastes like a carbonic maceration but it isn't. The odd thing is that there are 11 varieties in this wine, including a few whites !! Very enjoyable wine. Very enjoyable, nice chew. Asked if there is a majority variety of some sort, he says after a short reflexion that Carignan has maybe the largest share here. Costs 8 €, a steal. Total volume of this cuvée : 40 hectoliters.
__ Les Terres Promises, L'Antidote 2011. Vin de Pays de la Sainte Baume. Nice nose with appetizing aromas. Pure Carignan, from 35-year old vines. Very nice wine, you feel literally the life here, it's a pleasure to swallow and you want some more. Costs 9,5 € (magnum : 19 €).
__ Les Terres Promises, L'Alibi 2011, AOC Coteaux Varois. Grenache & Syrah. Tasting temperature is a bit high here but the wine tastes nice nontheless.
__ Les Terres Promises, L'Amourvèdre 2011, Vin de Pays du Mont Caume. 100 % Mourvèdre. Nice nose of dry garrigue and dust. In the mouth, that's just superb. I learn while tasting the wine that it's made from a one-hectare plot in Bandol, and the next vintage should be under the Bandol appellation, he says. In order to get the Bandol labelling, the wine has to be made in a facility also located in the bandol area, and this cuvée was vinified here. Costs 12 € (magnum : 25 €). This wine has been bottled very recently, it's amazing how it tastes already. If you're looking for outstanding Bandol wines, try this !
__ Les Terres Promises, L'Abracadabrantesque, AOC Coteaux Varois (the full name of the AOC is now Coteaux-Varois-en-Provence, in an effort by the appellation system to have the foreign buyers locate this area). The wine is made from Mourvèdre and Carignan from 30-year-old vines and yields of 30ho/ha. The Mourvèdre doesn't come from Bandol but from arounfd here. Grapes picked manually in boxes like the rest. Vinified in vats in the open air behind the building and raised partly in 4-wine-old casks until the end of winter. Costs 14 € tax included (magnum : 30 €). Very aromatic wine with eucalyptus notes. Jean-Christophe Comor says that apart the exchanges and advice he got from same-minded vintners, he didn't follow any formal training and didn't use the services of an enologist, which spared him the fear factor which often triggers the use of corrective additives and sulfur. For the reds, the grapes arrive here in boxes, they're destemmed and lightly foot crushed, by a young woman in general, it's gently made and soft. They do that in resin, fiber vats, he likes these vats which he considers like the winery's pans. Afterthen there maybe a punching of the cap and a pumping over, this is decided case per case. When the fermentation is over, the malolactic fermentation gets finished in casks depending of the cuvée. In there the wine sediments and makes its malo. The élevage which lasted until now until the following harvest is going to last a bit more from now, more like 18 months.
Jean-Christophe Comor takes part to a few tasting fairs, like La Dive Bouteille near Angers or Saumur and Vignerons à L'Abordage in Marseilles (the last one was april 23rd 2012). This latter event has been set up by himself and it takes place on a boat anchored in the port of Marseilles. You can find on this Pdf page the names of the more than 30 vintners who take part, that is indeed a great tasting event, plus, on a boat, that must be something.
The wines of Les Terres Promises are exported to Holland (Vleck), the United States ( N.Y. - Camille Rivière), the U.K., Germany, Belgium and Japan (Hanami Saito).
The wines can also be found in many top wine adresses in Paris : Lavinia, Les Caves Augé, Cave des Papilles, le Jeu de Quilles, Le Père Tranquille, la Cave aux Millésimes, Au nez Rouge.
In Marseilles they are available at Plus Belle la Vigne and at Les Buvards (a wine bar where you can buy bottles to go).