Of clay and Star dust…

I have another passion… The ancient times of Cleopatra in love with Julius Caesar, of Hadrian memories, fo Socrates verbal jousting, of Zeus metamorphosed to seduce beautiful women, of gladiators fighting in the arena, of bread and games, of Ulysses who has made a long journey and returns full use and reason, of Gallic irreducible barbarian invasions, of Pompeii and its remains, of the Minotaur… I love mythology, antiquity, gowns and sculptural naked giants ! What a time… And it was in those ancient times that wine is born ! The apotheosis …

In ancient times, it’s of course amphoras that were used to carry wine. Today and for a long time (since the third century of our Era to be precise), they were replaced by barrels and vats (concrete, steel…). Yet some want a return to the sources and use for several years amphoras !

Focus on one of these properties made in France, the head in the stars, feet rooted in its soil and hands in clay : the Domaine Viret near Orange.

‘When the amphora is dry, friends disperse’Horace

The amphora, in Latin ‘Dolia’ is the ancient packaging by excellence! It dates from the eighth century before Jesus Christ and is used as a container for wine, olive oil, fish… Sure, the amphora is fragile and cumbersome but it also has advantages : a larger micro-oxygenation than in barrels, so a rapid, easily acquired smoothness, supple tannins and no wood which is sometimes too strong (you know what we mean when you are from Bordeaux). In addition, the amphora is made of clay, element used in winemaking to clarify and known as bentonite : wines are perfectly clear and pure. 

Located near Orange in the Côtes du Rhône Meridional, Domaine Viret is under a bright sun… You should take a little winding path to access the property but there is no Sphinx asking you questions on arrival… A superb stone building, intense and imposing, overlooking the valley. I entered another dimension when my feet have trod this earth of cosmoculture ! The team of the property is very nice! Little wink to Sandrine who welcomed me with her singing south (western) accent… Thank you ! But it’s the owner, Philippe Viret, who did me the honor of the visit. Casual and invested, Philippe is a man of the field, one that has a moral.

Morality in our business, sometimes it’s something that gets lost… Morality towards our customers, towards our competitors and especially towards our land. Domaine Viret tried to do differently. I will not talk business here, but as you know, what’s promising is often copied and sometimes not very well : made in China, hello ! Wel, Domaine Viret uses amphoras since 2005. Why amphoras ? Curiosity ? By oenological interest ? For a return to the past ? It is true that the Domaine Viret is located on Paradise Hill, a former oppidum (a Roman fortification) : a place filled with history. But after a tasting of Sicilian wine aged in amphora, Philippe Viret had a heart for the fineness and purity of this wine. He has reintroduced amphorae starting the first vinification in dolias Spain. This is the time of discovery.

In 2007, Philippe will come across Alain Berthéas, a potter artist specializing in monumental works. They will work together on a number dolia gold, perfect for winemaking, a work of art, a clay feat. As a reminder, the number of gold is 1.6180339887 and represents a proportion of the mathematical aesthetics invented by Pythagoras or Euclid. It is found in nature (stamens of the sunflower…) but it was also used in many paint (Boticelli…), architecture (Le Corbusier…), sculpture and even music. The cathedral cellar of Domaine also respects the proportions of the great builders. The dolias are 420 L, are engraved with astrological symbols and are 20 in number yet. This is the time of persistence and time of consecration as the future project is to achieve the first cellar amphorae France…

Let’s also talk about another originality of the Domaine : the Cosmoculture. Cosmo What ? This is a trademarked term (things are doing well at Domaine Viret) because I have to precise that it’s a method of winemaking specific to Alain Philippe and his father. It appeared in the 90s following an observation : people, plants and animals are related and have telluric and cosmic fields where water plays a major role. It is necessary to rebalance, re-energize and safeguard ecosystems and living beings. Today, many products are used in the vineyard and in the winery, we must replace them by natural elements. Cosmoculture is a physical and mental exercise but also a choice.

In order to better understand, you can consider that the vineyards of the New World (United States, South America, South Africa and Oceania, among others) have no legislation on the use of insecticides, herbicides and pesticides in the vineyard and no follow- on about the products used in the winery : it is at your own risk and peril ! Countries of the Old World as France have a more or less stringent legislation, the products are boxed and specifications is required (if different properties are AOC or IGP…) in case of the INAO audit. The organic farmers, more and more numerous, must comply with the legislation and specifications with even more stringent specifications.

Finally, followers of cosmoculture have an additional charter to respect. They consider that their agricultural acts must exceed those normally required, either in the vineyard and in the winery. The goal is to be a ‘guarantee of a more alive, more respected and more balanced world’. You can’t easily autoproclaim yourself as a cosmoculteur (I do not know if that term exists !) : there is an ethics committee that oversees all. For more informations, you can visit the Domaine Viret that exposes the Charter on its website.

Here is a basic example with the use of SO2 in wine. In France, for AOC red wine, there is a limit of 150mg / L of total SO2 (EU legislation). For a red wine, wine country style, there is a limit of 120mg / L of total SO2. For organic wines, the legislation allows a maximum of 100mg / L of total SO2. Finally, for  the cosmoculture, the authorized dose is 5 to 25 mg / L of total SO2 (Domaine Viret wines are made with less than 10mg / L since 2002). As you can see, there is a ‘ slight ‘ difference ! 

So now lets see in practice : the tasting took place in the beautiful cathedral cellar !

– La Coudée d’Or, AOC CDR Village Saint Maurice White, 2012 (Viognier, Clairette, Roussanne and Marsanne)

Pretty cool color with a very aromatic nose. Everything is on freshness and at the same time it’s quite fat. The wine is very pleasant in the mouth. A seductive blend of varietals, among flowers and white fruits.

Count 15 euros to property

– Dolia Paradis Ambré, 2012

Color clashes and surprises (see photo above): this is a nice amber orange… Curious when we know that the wine is dry (with this color, I was expecting a sweet wine). Apricot nose is powerful and aromatic. Rather gourmand and sweet. The second nose is fresh and blurts notes of honey, almond and still apricot. The palate is fresh with pronounced biting acidity. This is unusual, it’s long and the final has even got mint ! Interesting discovery.

Count 30 euros to property

– Renaissance, Vin de France rouge, 2012 (Grenache, Syrah…)

On a beautiful ruby color, this wine has a pleasantly fruity and peppery nose. The palate is fresh. Include pepper, peony, blackberry… Syrah is in the air. Soft tannins gently lining the mouth and give way to a slight sweetness. The finish reveals flowers and even pepper that is synonymous of Rhône Syrah.

Count 11 euros to property 

– Mareotis, AOC CDR Village Saint Maurice rouge, 2009 (Grenache and Syrah on white clay)

A heart stroke ! With a beautiful deep ruby in the glass, the scent that emerges is gourmand on the coconut and wood… Blackberry and cherry appear and integrate perfectly. The second nose reminds me of a green wood that has just been cut (it’s nice, is not a typical unpleasant smell of green pepper). The palate is very nice on the coffee and the cocoa. It’s complex and aromas of red fruit come along with an attractive vanilla. The finish is on the same tempo. The passage in used barrels has been beneficial and i feel the roundness that clay gives to wine !

Count 15 euros to property

– Colonades, AOC CDR Village Saint Maurice rouge, 2010 (Grenache on limestone)

With a deep ruby color, the nose of this wine has rustic notes (herbs) and fruity flavors of fig, red fruits like raspberry or currant. It is very gourmand. The palate is fresh with a nice structure proof of local limestone. The tannins are soft and include red fruits on a long finish.

Count 15 euros to property

– Dolia Paradis Rouge, 2010

The color of this wine aged in amphoras is lighter than the previous one but is very intense. The nose is powerful over cooked fruits. The second nose confirms the power with a slight impression of iodized. The fruity raspberry and the light meaty confirm some complexity. The palate is fresh with a nice acidity, soft tannins, a slight sweetness and a confirmation of complexity. I feel the fruit (raspberry and fresh plum) and liquorice. One word comes to mind : purity. The wine is pure, straight, slender, with a long aftertaste of fresh fruit.

Count 30 euros to property

– Dolia Temps de Grenache, 2010 (100 % Grenache)

A beautiful ruby color and an aromatic nose characterize this lovely wine. A little bit rustic, a little bit animal, with fruity blackberry, fig, rose and pear… It’s nice ! The palate is fresh, sweet with notes of fig and flower. There is a slight bitterness but that does not alter the set. Tannins are flexible and on the final length.

– Dolia Temps de Syrah, 2012 (100 % Syrah with macerating year amphora)

The color is purple. Intense and clear. The nose of the Syrah is recognizable : fruity and floral on pepper, peony, rose and red fruit. There is a very fine and pure expression of the varietal. The palate is fresh and tangy with soft tannins. Liquorice, coffee, cocoa, red fruit, peony, minerality and slight bitterness. It’s a nice mix. The finish is as seductive as the mouth !

(Not yet on the market)

– Dolia Temps de Grenache, 2012 (100 % Grenache with macerating year amphora)

In the glass, this time Grenache has a ruby purple color. The nose is fruity with notes of fig, strawberry, baked cherry and blackberry. There is a nice acidity on the palate accompanied by a pleasant sweetness. Liquorice and flowers are a nice cocktail. The finish is very pretty, with delicate pink pepper and a wooded burned atypical side entwined with blackberry.

(Not yet on the market)

Finally, I wish to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar : amphora was established by Domaine Viret in France ! Other properties tried this type of vinification with more or less success. Among the most talented who are also the firsts with Domaine Viret trying ancient experience : lets introduce Stéphane Tissot in the Jura, Dominique Belluard in Haute-Savoie and Yves Canarelli in Corsica.

Domaine Viret has two peculiarities : the amphoras and cosmoculture. But the term originality should certainly not be taken as the whim of a businessman ! It’s another discourse : a man, a father, a husband, a landowner wanted to combine his passion to the respect for his vineyard and put his expertise at the service of the expression of his terroir. So you believe it or not, but there is only one thing to do : enjoy his work ! I have trodden the earth, shook his hand, saw his property and shared his wine… I liked and I support this approach which will give pleasure to people while respecting his vineyard. Because this is the essence of wine.

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