Domaine Richeaume

France, Provence

Domaine Richeaume has made a considerable name for itself over the years as one of the very best producers in Provence, despite swimming against the tide in many ways.

The Domaine owes its existence to Henning Hoesch, born in 1940 in Germany, who gave up his career as a historian at Yale to became one of the pioneers of organic viticulture in Provence, buying the vineyard in 1972. His vision was that organic and holistic farming would bring him wines of high quality with a sense of place. The domaine focuses on red, with a smaller quantity of white, and a ros茅 that is only produced in tiny volumes for cellar-door sales, at a time when everyone else in Provence was turning over to ros茅. The wines are sold as 鈥業GP鈥, to be outside the constraints of the C么tes de Provence appellation. Hoesch鈥檚 vision embraced all things ecological at a time when few were concerned with such things, and by 1978 he had built a gravity-fed winery which is cooled by a tank of fresh water from their spring as its roof and powered by photo-voltaic cells. Starting with just 3 hectares of vines, Henning constructed terraces and planted more on the most promising slopes, and today the vineyard is 26 hectares (22 in red and 4 in white).

The Hoesch鈥檚 son Sylvain originally had not the slightest intention of taking on his parents' property, but at the age of 26 he had finished his legal training and then decided he wanted to do something that was more outdoors. He did an introductory course in wine making, and then went and worked at Ridge Vineyards in California, where he fell properly in love with the idea of the vineyard as his career. He subsequently worked in Australia with Penfolds, and then again at Ridge, before returning to work with and take over from his father around 1997. The organic and ecological vision has been continued by Sylvain, helped by viticulturalist Fr茅d茅ric Duseigneur, and Sylvain is drifting towards a biodynamic approach in which the farm is a self-contained circular unit with all its nutrients coming from within 鈥 including from the flock of sheep 鈥 even if he seems to be resisting some of the more arcane parts of Steiner鈥檚 teachings. This circle has become the emblem of the domaine and dominates the labels.

The vineyards at Richeaume, on dark red calcareous clay soils that are below southern flank of the limestone mass of the Mont Saint Victoire, have evolved over time, and are now planted with Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carignan, and Tempranillo for the reds, and Clairette, Rolle (Vermentino), Sauvignon and Viognier afor the whites. Yields are tiny 鈥 usually averaging 20hl per hectare as a result of severe pruning and green-harvesting. The micro-climate is affected by the mountain, as it protects the vineyards from the worst force of northerly Mistral wine, which is nevertheless beneficial in that it rapidly dries the vines after rains and prevents mildew. It is only 30km from the cooling influence of the Mediterranean, and at 300m altitude the nights are also quite cool allowing a long slow ripening.

The winemaking has also evolved over time through experimentation, and still nothing is set in stone. The grapes for the reds from the 30 separate parcels are vinified separately. They arrive at roof level of the chai, to be transferred to stainless steel vats by gravity, leaving the berries intact, all in an atmosphere saturated with carbon dioxide from the vats that are already fermenting, protecting them from oxidation. Fermentation is entirely by natural yeasts and no oenological products are used. At the start of the fermentation, a minimum of two pigeages a day guarantee a good extraction of colour and tannin from the skins. The wines are aged in new barrels from four different coopers for up to 18 months.