Monday, July 22, 2019

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. Châteauneuf-du-Pape

One of the highlights of our trip to Provence and Chateauneuf-du-Pape was a visit to Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most renowned wine producing area in the Southern Rhône River Valley.   

We blogged a few weeks ago in our preparation for the trip and and our visit, tasting Vieux Télégraphe La Crau Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Télégramme 2015.

This was a return visit for me as I visited Vieux Télégraphe during my tour to Châteauneuf-du-Pape back in 1998

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe is a leading producer in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and their flagship and signature label La Crau is one of the most celebrated grand cru of the southern Rhône. 

All wines produced by Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe are estate wines, sourced from grapes grown on Domaine land and vineyards.  The main estate vineyards are on the plateau above the Rhone River valley known as La Crau, the highest vineyard site in the appellation. The vines dates back over a hundred years with an average age of 60 years old.

The broad portfolio of wines of Vieux Télégraphe each reflect the terroir of the diversity of the Domaine sites from across the region from where the grapes are sourced. The premier site of the cru La Crau label boasts the unique signature rough rocky terrain with pebble predominant soil left behind from the Alpine glaciers that formed the Rhône Valley. 

The galets roulés, or rounded stones, (shown on display in the tasting room) allow for extraordinary drainage for the roots and also retain heat from the day’s sun so as to continue ripening the fruit during the night. This results in classic wines from grapes grown on the site that manifest vibrant fruit with depth, concentration, and filtered-through-stones minerality that provides excellent freshness.

The proximity of the high altitude also subjects the site to the elements — rain, hail, brilliant sunshine, and the legendary and notorious Mistral winds that rush up the Rhone valley from the south. The result is that the Mistral also work to prevent rot in the grapes. The Mistral winds also cause the viticulture practice in the Southern Rhone of cropping the vines closer to the ground.

Arguably one of the best wines sourced from one of the best vineyards in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Télégraphe has earned a reputation for consistency, producing smooth, complex and sophisticated yet approachable, enjoyable wines in the region known for strength, rusticity, earthiness, and tremendous longevity. 

We hold numerous vintages of Télégraphe wine in our cellar and have enjoyed vintages dating back to the late seventies the 1978, and the early eighties including 1981, ‘82, ‘83, ‘85 and ‘86 releases. 

The recent 2015 vintage of the flagship cru La Crau was awarded 96 points by James Suckling, 95 points by Wine Spectator, 94 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Vinous, and 93 points by Jeb Dunnuck. The most recent 2016 vintage was awarded 98 points by James Suckling, 96 points by Wine Spectator, and 93-95 points Vinous.

We were honored to be hosted by Daniel Brunier, owner, proprietor and winemaker. He and his brother Frédéric are fourth generation caretakers of the property that has been in the family since 1891. 

The vineyard was first planted upon the La Crau plateau and the Domaine was established in 1898 by their great-grandfather, Hippolyte Brunier. 

Hippolyte Brunier was a modest farmer who lived off the land and maintained a couple acres of vines to make his own wines. The small vineyard was at one of the highest points in between Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the nearby village of Bédarrides, so the site was thereby selected for the construction of a communication tower in the late 18th century to transmit telegraph messages between Marseille and Paris, hence the name Vieux Telegraph.  

Hippolyte produced wines from the site that were highly regarded and he continued to increase his vineyard plantings to forty acres. He was joined by his sons working the vineyards and farm, and was eventually joined by his grandson, Henri. In time, Henri eventually replanted the vineyards, constructed a new winery and brought technical innovations such as temperature controls to the winery to protect the wines during fermentation. Henri released the Domaine’s first branded label bottlings under the Vieux Télégraphe label. 

The renowned wine merchant distributor Kermit Lynch met Henri and his wife, Maguey, in the mid-seventies and they formed a collaborative venture Domaine Les Pallières. Henri began to filter the wine around 1980 but Kermit suggested that the blend remain unfiltered. After tasting the results of several vintages, the Bruniers returned to an unfiltered bottling for their entire production, a practice that remains to this day. 

Henri retired in 1988 when management and oversight of the Domaine was taken over by his two sons, Daniel and Frédéric. They worked to significantly expand the family’s holdings on La Crau to one hundred-seventy acres and expanded and upgraded the winemaking operations and facilities significantly. The nearly 170 vineyard acres are planted with Chateauneuf-du-Pape sanctioned varietals of Grenache (65%), Syrah (15%), Mourvédre (15%), and Cinsault (5%).

It was a pleasure meeting and being hosted by Daniel Brunier, fourth generation caretaker of the property. He is an astute and consummate professional in the business that is also his passion for the family brand and fine wine. He was generous of his time but diligent and judicious to understand our objectives for the visit and our time together. 

Daniel is the public face of the brand as well as the business manager so he is accustomed to courting the press, analysts and critics who can have such a substantial impact on a label, brand and vintage release of a wine. He also can speak to the most precise details of the viticulture, winemaking and all aspects of the business.

He shared the history of the Domaine, their philosophy and strategy for producing optimal wines that reflect the terroir of their individual sites across the region. He showed us the new production facility that was expanded in 2006. This accommodates the increased production from the additional Domaine vineyards added in Chateuneuf-du-Pape and vineyards in Gigondas. He emphasized that all the fruit is estate grown, that they purchase “not one kilo, not one liter” for their production. He stressed the importance of the technology and facilities that provide for gravity fed production processes avoiding pumps which might otherwise agitate the grapes.

Alain spoke with pride, passion, authority and confidence on the accomplishments of the domaine, and the care and attention to detail in every respect, and how that manifests in consistency of the brand, even in challenging vintages. He described how in 2002, Vieux Télégraphe released their second label known as Télégramme, produced from grapes from the younger but still over twenty year old vines. 

The challenged 2002 vintage experienced torrential rains and flooding around harvest time prompting the Bruniers to downgrade “La Crau” to the subsequent label to be christened “Télégramme,” The popularity and success of the label prompted Daniel and Frédéric to produce the cuvée yearly from fruit they deem suitable, but not worthy of the “La Crau” flagship label.

Télégramme provides an approachable wine that is ready to drink when young, at a more moderate price-point, ideal for restaurants, younger wine drinkers developing their knowledge and pallet for fine wines, for those exploring the offerings of Châteauneuf-du-Pape without investing in the premier cru’s, and for wine lovers who do not have a cellar for aging. 

Télégramme is elegant, complex and sophisticated yet smooth and enjoyable with bright vibrant fruit, freshness, and approachable nicely integrated tannins. 

Les Vieux Télégraphe has grown from 90 acres in the mid-1970s to 170 acres with the acquisition of another Châteauneuf estate, Domaine la Roquète, which is run by Daniel’s brother Frédéric, and an estate in Gigondas. 

When acquired in 1986, Domaine la Roquète was planted with relatively young vines, but as they matured, the wines have gained in quality with more depth, richness, concentration and complexity.

In 2004, the L’Accent de la Roquète label was added with 90% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre fruit sourced from the two Lieu Dits of Pialons and Pignan. This produced purity, elegance and a wonderful fruit profile that was a distinctive counterpoint to the earthy and masculine Vieux Télégraphe. Since 2011, there has been one white and one red wine from Domaine La Roquete, called l’Accent de la Roquete. only about 2,500 cases from the estate’s oldest vines. The balance of the fruit is co-mingled in the blend of Telegramme.

They also acquired and developed Domaine Les Pallières, in a collaborative partnership with the noted merchant exporter (importer to America) Kermit Lynch, in the nearby commune and appellation of Gigondas. 

Domaine Les Pallières was a long standing highly rated and respected property of the Southern Rhone. It was ideally situated outside the village of Gigondas in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail. The domaine had been a continuously operated farm within the same family since the fifteenth century. Les Pallières was a famous domaine with wines of high quality and character but over time, the property fell into disrepair. Two great frosts of the twentieth century killed off many of the olive and fruit trees, and both the winery and the vineyards were badly in need of restoration and upgrading. The former owners, the Roux brothers lacked any successors to take their place so in 1998, they decided to sell. 
The vineyards of Domaine les Pallières in Gigondas range from 250-400 meters in altitude, with varying proportions of sand and clay intermixed with layers of limestone descending from the Dentelles. In 2007. the property was divided into two cuvées representing the personalities or terroir of the upper and lower reaches of the property: Cuvée “Les Racines” sourced from the vineyard parcels surrounding the winery — the origin of the domaine with the oldest vines that provides freshness and extravagant fruit, from near the cellars; and "Terrasse du Diable", from higher up where there is more limestone. 

Crafting two different cuvées proved to be brilliant as it reveals dramatic distinctive different characters and tasting profiles that tend to appeal to the different tastes of the younger more neophyte tasters vs more seasoned mature members, which was validated by our group. Alain described to the group the subtleties of the different profiles and how and why they appeal to the different groups. 

A new winery was built to receive the harvested parcels individually in gravity-fed tanks. The many lieux-dits, once blended into one cuvée of Gigondas, have been separated into two, starting with the 2007 vintage, the result being an expression of the two distinctive characters reflecting the diverse terroir of the two levels of the site.  

‘We wanted different characters,’ Daniel explained. ‘The velvet of Racines, as opposed to the freshness and vivacity of Terrasse – wines for different times or occasions.’ 

We tasted both during our visit and were split amongst the group on our preference, the younger set preferring the Racines whilst the older members preferring the Terrasse. 

We were able to find and acquire both labels upon our return in the Chicago marketplace at Binny’s, albeit in limited quantities. Prior to our visit, we would not have realized they were affiliated with or owned by Vieux Telegraph.

Domaine les Pallières also produces a Rose', so popular in the wines of Southern France. Au Petit Bonheur Les Pallières is the only Vin de France produced by the Brunier family in the Rhône Valley. It is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Clairette grapes. It is pressed straight after hand picking and then the blend is fermented and matured in oak, in 650-litre demi-muids. It is bottled at the end of the winter after harvesting with slight filtration resulting in a crisp, brilliant appearance, freshness, elegance and fullness of the lieu-dit Les Pallières,

The Brunier brothers have worked hard to maintain the legacy left by their father, Henri, and their great-grandfather, Hippolyte. They have masterfully applied their expertise and tradecraft to produce the best possible wines that represent the diversity of the various terroirs of the southern Rhône through the expansion of their portfolio of properties, and their wines and labels that best represent the vast variation of terroir - soil types, climatic conditions, and grape varieties.

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant site writes of the Vieux Telegraphe portfolio: “The Bruniers’ vineyards in the La Crau cru of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are the most pedigreed of the appellation, producing wines of exceptional quality and longevity. Since purchasing Domaine La Roquète in 1986, the family has complemented their portfolio with additional wines, offering more affordable cuvées that showcase the diversity of terroirs within their holdings. The “Pigeoulet” and “Mégaphone” are fresh, rich in fruit, pleasantly representative of their terroir, and easy to appreciate young. The red Châteauneuf “Piedlong”, sourced from the famed Piélong lieu-dit with some fruit from the Pignan vineyard as well, is a profoundly mineral wine that balances elegance and purity with the muscle that is commonly found in wines from this great appellation.” 

The Bruniers have also expanded in a joint-venture in Lebanon called Massaya.

Daniel is also a patron of fine art and has introduced art into the winery experience with exhibitions throughout the facility of original contemporary works. Our tour was a veritable art exhibit from the chai to the barrel room to the bottling rooms, the tasting room and the main hall. 

They write in their announcement of the exhibits, “The craft of making wine is in itself an artistic endeavor. To take something raw and coerce it into something beautiful, letting the natural elements speak for themselves, not interfering through manipulation, but through guidance — this is what we strive to do at Vieux Télégraphe. We have a respect for beauty, and for those who want to make the world a more beautiful place. For this reason, we are pleased to announce that we have opened our winery this summer to five local artists that have filled the rooms and halls of our caveau with their creations."

One notable work by local artist Florent Touchot is in the tasting room that features a bottle of the grand cru La Crau CDP. 

The exhibition of art and wine runs from July 1st to September 30th.

We were captivated by the work of Florent Touchot who works in plastic and photography, using raw, urban materials, as well as plexiglass. His works are a technique combining collage, mirouflage, and acrylic with pieces of posters recovered either directly on the walls of Paris and Marseille, or in the subway or flea markets. The three dimensional effects serve to reveal intriguing different images depending on the angle and lighting. His works in the barrel room showcased his contemporary art in three dimensions and multi-media featuring a bottle of Domaine Vieux Telegraphe, a apartment building and the Port of Marseille, the Louve in Paris and our favorite, the famous legendary Flatiron Building in New York. 

We were quite taken by the Flatiron piece since it is in the neighborhood where Alec and Vivianna live and where Alec works. We discussed it at length over lunch prompting us to go back and view it again intent on acquiring it, until we realized on second visit, that we missed a decimal point and it was €28000, not €2800!  

The bright colorful dramatic striking works of Stephane Leberloa showcase the main hall, tasting room and the bottling and production rooms: Having never taken a single art class, Leberloa's paintings are figurative on an abstract basis. 

Bruniers write of his works, “His paintings are spontaneous, not of any particular thought. He does not sketch and generally, his paintings are made of lightening. He does not want to seduce or carry a message. He is just trying to scratch, to write, to mark what he has in him and that we all have in our humanity.”

The barrel room also serves as a sculpture gallery featuring the work of Sourski and Julien Allègre. Sourski works with sandstone or bronze sculptures, false fragility of porcelain arises on steel, the heat of the wood touches a part in bronze. 

Julien Allègre's sculptures bear witness for his admiration of nature. Here metal finds its expressiveness through roughness and oxidation, it is reincarnated and invested with extraordinary vitality. Starting from already formed objects, he frees the material from any functional need. 

Artwork in the Vieux Telegraphe caves.

What a special treat to combine in one visit the artwork of the handicraft of Familie Brunier as well as a group of talented contemporary artists.   

The Vieux Telegraphe exhibition poster.

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