Another winery that I visited based upon Andrew Jefford’s book, The New France, was Domaine Rimbert which is located in Berlou, within the St Chinian AOC. Jean-Marie Rimbert was drawn to the St Chinian region by the old Carignan vines. He belongs to a group called Carignan Renaissance who specialise in producing wines from Carignan, making the most of what it can be; with the right yields and soils it can be a lovely elegant wine. Carignan can only be grown in a Mediterranean climate; it ripens late and benefits from late-season rain that generally will fall here. The members of the Carignan Renaissance are searching out the ancient vines in the region to learn from their behaviours.I arrived at the Domaine on a beautiful sunny day and met Jean-Marie Rimbert. Luckily I had arrived the week before harvest would begin so he was able to take some time to show me around the property, as well as a tour of the village of Berlou. Jean-Marie had bought the 10 ha property which included the cellar from the village café in 1996. He now owns a total of almost 30 ha of which 50% is planted to Carignan vines, half of which are considered to be “vieille vignes”, or old vines. From these 23 ha, he produces between 80,000 and 90,000 bottles per year (6,700-7,500 cases). Approximately three quarters of the production falls under the AOC St Chinian regulations but Jean-Marie has chosen to produce the remainder under the category of Vin de France because, as he says, “There is life outside the AOC.” This allows him to create wines that perhaps include varietals that aren’t within the AOC regulations, or made to a style of his choosing.On the tour of the property we hiked up a road to the vineyard situated above the cellar, with beautiful views of the village and the surrounding hills. From here, J-M introduced me to the schist soils of the region. It is a very strong terroir here that creates wines with personality. From our elevated vantage point, J-M points out his vineyards that are scattered out in a 10 km radius around the village. He owns 40 plots of land, each with different soil, slope, aspect, varietals (Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault) and age, all of which provides the base for more interesting blending opportunities; they are the same terroir but different. The vines’ roots penetrate 10m or more into the schist soils, seeking moisture and nutrients. The tour continued down the hill and through a part of the village. This village used to have many more residents, and thriving gardens along the river bank, but there was a major disagreement between many of the growers and the cooperative so in revolt the growers ripped out half of the vines around Berlou and left. Today the population of the village is only 180 people and many of the houses are 2nd homes or holiday rental properties known as gîtes.
We made our way back to the Domaine and walked through the cellar, where most of the process is gravity-fed. J-M also showed me the gîte that is available to guests or for holiday rental on the premises. It is a very comfortable space, complete with half-barrel as a kitchen sink and a hot tub on the terrace, overlooking the valley. We then made our way down to the wine storage area to taste through many of the wines produced at Domaine Rimbert. We began with the 2012 L’Agathe, a blend of 35% Clairette, 25% Vermentino, 25% Grenache Blanc and 15% Roussanne. It has a fresh clean nose of pear and apple with nice aromatics. It is dry with medium acidity and medium body. It is crisp and pleasant on the palate with flavours of apple and hints of floral and tropical fruits with a medium finish. The 2012 Cousin Oscar is a vin de table that is a huge seller in New York. It is a fruity, low-alcohol “daily-drinker” made up of Cinsault. It is a medium ruby-purple in colour with some dark fruit flavours, medium tannins and acidity and is very easy drinking. The 2012 Les Travers de Marceau is a blend of 40% Carignan, 30% Syrah, 25% Cinsault and 5% Mourvèdre. This wine makes up approximately 40% of the Domaine’s production and sells for €7/bottle. It has a jammy nose of dark fruit. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins. It has flavours of dark fruit and spice and is a pleasant and elegant wine. The next wine’s name is a bit of a play on words. Le Mas au Schiste translates to “the house in the schist”, referring to the local soils; however, when pronounced in French it sounds the same as masochiste (masochist in English), which I’m sure many steeply-terrained vineyard operators would agree you need to be in order to take on such a job! The 2010 vintage of Le Mas au Schiste is a blend of 40% Carignan, 30% Syrah and 30% Grenache. It is a deep ruby-purple in colour, with a complex nose of dark fruit and liquorice with a bit of floral. It is dry, with medium acidity and tannins, medium-plus body and rich flavours of dark fruit and a long finish. Next we moved on to a couple of the single-varietal Carignans. The 2011 Chant de Marjolaine is medium ruby in colour with a clean nose. It has aromas and pleasant flavours of plum and sweet spice with a soft mouthfeel, medium-minus tannins and nice fruit concentration. The Carignator is a wine that uses the same parcel of vines year after year. The 2010 vintage has aromas and flavours of dark fruit and sweet spice. It is dry with medium acidity and medium-plus intensity of flavour. It is not overly complex but very tasty!I went away with a couple of wines that I had not tasted that day but I have since consumed. I shared the 2011 Grenachator with my hosts in the Gascony region of France one evening at dinner. The Grenachator uses the oldest Grenache vines in the village – 80 years old! This is considered a natural wine, without any addition of sulphur. This was a delicious wine with great fruit concentration (without being jammy) and elegance; it was a pleasure to drink and to share with new acquaintances. The other wine was the 2011 Berlou Villages, which is a blend of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache. It is medium-deep ruby in colour, with aromas of chocolate, plum, cherry and blackberry. It is a little bit tight but still lovely. It is dry, with medium-plus acidity and tannins, nice complexity and length with flavours of plum, cherry and a hint of funk (but the good kind!)
I had a lovely time at Domaine Rimbert and very much enjoyed the wines; thank you to Jean-Marie for the time he took to introduce me to his region and wines. I hope to be able to track down some of the wines here in BC, but at the moment they are only distributed in Ontario and Quebec.