In the Shadow of the Giant

Villes-sur-Auzon, France --- If you must have a garage to be categorized as a Garage Wine, then Domaine de Cascavel Cotes-du-Ventoux doesn’t make the cut. But if you look twice, this new, engaging wine produced in one of France’s wine boom regions is an ideal example of what a garage wine can be: small production, small yields, with wines made by intensely passionate winemakers not afraid to break the mold.

The only piece of property owned by the Domaine de Cascavel is a tiny store front space in this active little town in the shadow of the south central side of le Géant de Provence – the 1912 meter-high Mont Ventoux. The little showroom serves as an office as well as tasting room for winemaker partners Olivier Baguet and Raphael Trouiller, who produced their first vintage in 2000. Their handcrafted wine is actually made in a colleague’s cellar a few kilometers away, thanks to the friendship and kindness of Jean Marot, winemaker of the equally appealing Domaine Le Murmurium.

The Cascavel story is not typically French. Baguet grew up in the Champagne area the son of a dairy farmer. He studied to be an engineer but found that weekends spent working on his uncle’s vineyard in Burgundy were more appealing. One thing led to another, and soon Baguet was teaching winemaking at various agriculture schools in southern France. Finally, the bug hit, and rather than talk about wine, his dream was to make wine and see his name on a wine label. But there was a catch: Not a centime to his name. His equally poor current partner, marketing specialist Trouiller was looking for a project and after some quick calculating, they put together a marketing plan, invited some 100 individuals to buy stock in their idea, and with the blessing of the bank, were off. Now both 35 years old, they invite their various investors to work and play weekends several times a year, as the group trims vines, cleans cellars and of course take time to sample the fruits of their labors.

Baguet was determined to make his first vintage in the year 2000, and by December of 1999 he finally got his hands in the vines. Impressed by the wines made in the Cotes du Ventoux --- especially Château Valcombe, Château Pesquié, Domaine de Fondreche, and Murmurium – he began searching for land. What he found was 9.5 hectares of land divided into some 14 tiny parcels of land spread over three villages – all with vines of varying ages and varieties, all with very different soils. No one wanted to bother with so many little parcels, but that’s just what the Cascavel winemakers were looking for .

Compared to its better known brother – Cotes du Rhone --- Cotes du Ventoux suffers from a reputation as a rather dull cooperative wine without much character. But vineyards such as Cascavel and Murmurium are changing that, handcrafting wines with care and attention. Many winemakers here believe that because of the variety of soils, the wines produced here have the chance of greater sophistication, more complexity, more notes if you will. Because the vines stretch across the southern and western flanks of the mountain, they are protected from the strong Mistral wind, thus creating a biosphere that is lists as a UNESCO conservation area. Winemaker Marot also believes that the vast difference in temperatures between morning and night as well as the cool night breezes refresh the vines as well as the soil, also fixing the color of the grapes, thus making a wine with greater color, finer tannins, and better equilibrium between alcohol and acidity.

“I don’t have the impression that I am working,” says Marot, who left a career as a pharmacist to pursue a dream of life as a winemaker. For a long time, he firmly believed that in order to be a winemaker your father had to have been a winemaker, preferably fourth or fifth generation. Then one day he met a winemaker in Beaumes de Venise that convinced him he didn’t have to live out his days as a pharmacist. So he took in a partner at the pharmacy and began spending every free moment working in vineyards, attending wine school, and working to achieve his dream.

Now 49 years old, Marot made his first wine in 1995, beginning with 8 hectares of mostly Syrah, Grenache, Clairette and Bourboulenc vines. Like the Cascavel winemakers, he got friends and family to invest in the business.

Tastings of both wines reveal young, sturdy wines that have no sharp edges, no false notes. Your first impression of Cascavel’s Les Amidyves 2000 (60% Grenache and 40% Syrah and priced at 26 € the magnum) is of a wine that is in perfect equilibrium, with fine notes of spice and prunes, with a truly long finish. Because many of the Ventoux vines grow at rather high altitude (some as high as 400 to 500 meters) the grapes mature later in the season and can be harvested as late as November (most Rhone wines are harvested in September) Cascavel’s white wine – cuvee Jade – profits from this phenomenon, and the Clairette and Ugni Blanc grapes are harvested from October to the end of November, making for a late-harvest white that is rich, intense, and beautifully balanced.

Murmurium makes seven different cuvees, my favorite being his red Cuvée Opera (2001 at 16 €) a beautiful blend of 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah, a powerful, elegant wine that in our blind tastings was mistaken for a Chateauneuf du Pape.

Domaine de Cascavel
Olivier Baguet
Raphael Trouiller
SCEA Baguet Trouiller
Quartier Bel Air
84570 Methamis
Tel : 04 90 61 72 18
Fax : 04 90 61 94 09

Tastings at cave in center of Villes-sur-Auzon: mid-April to mid-October, 10:30 am to 12:30 pm and 3 pm to 8 pm. Mid-October to mid-April, Monday to Saturday 10:30 am to 12:30 pm and 3 pm to 6:30 pm.

Domaine le Murmurium
Jean Marot
Route de Flassan
84570 Mormorion
Tel : 04 90 61 73 74
Fax : 04 90 61 74 51

Tastings by appointment only.