Vintages and VWs in the Rhône Valley
TEXT: HANNAH JANE THOMPSON | PHOTOS © DOMAINE DE LA TOURADE
Nestled in the Vallée de la Rhône countryside, vineyard Domaine de la Tourade in Gigondas (Vaucluse, France) appears, at first glance, to offer a perfectly normal taste of the region’s long-standing wine tradition.Reds, whites, and a sweet option, plus regular wine tastings for visitors that are especially popular during the summer months. So far, so typical. And yet, this vineyard – located around 35 minutes’ drive from Avignon and surrounded by competitor vineyards – is not your average wine shop.
Indeed, as much as one might expect Rhône wine to be of a certain quality, one might not quite expect it to be served up in the back of an authentic 1965 VW campervan, driven lovingly around the grounds by one of the winemakers themselves. Because those three gleaming vehicles, parked pride of place outside this otherwise totally traditional-looking wine shop, do not belong to passing visitors: they are part of the experience itself.
It’s all down to husband-and-wife owners Virginie and Frédéric Haut, who – as well as sharing a talent for making award-winning wine – also share a passion for the 1970s. So when, four years ago, they had a chance to acquire two beautiful VW campervans and one Beetle car from a local garage, the couple knew they had to find a way to incorporate them into the business. And that is how the word ‘vintage’ came to take on an altogether alternative meaning round these parts.
This sense of flair and fun is one of the major factors that sets this Domaine apart from its countless competitors in the Rhône wine country.
You don’t have to be a ‘70s or a VW fan to come here, but it helps. Guests can also stay in an on-site gîte, with access to a kitchen, a bathroom, a terrace with a barbecue, and a pool; while sleeping overnight in the original camper beds. Friends and family are encouraged: the site sleeps four, with visitors taking part in a wine tasting experience before bedding down to enjoy a distinctly vintage evening.
The vineyard also hosts 1970s-themed ‘wine trip’ evenings, which include not only tastings, but also a ride in the campers, vintage stalls, food trucks, and a ‘70s-style rock gig. Wine tastings – for day visitors and overnight campers alike – are arranged inside one of the campervans, too. Frédéric drives guests around the various vineyard plains, offering tastes and picking out the flavours, while also explaining the long history of the site.
Classic cars are not the only link to the past here; the Domaine has been in the same family for six generations, lending the place a real sense of purpose and regional knowledge.
“We have inherited a certain know-how from our ancestors,” explains Frédéric. “Because of our family history, we have kept the spirit of our previous generations – the respect for quality, and our local terroir.”
And even today, the vineyard is run in much the same way as in centuries past. The Hauts deliberately use similar techniques to their predecessors, such as, Frédéric explains, not separating the grapes from the vine stalks when harvesting.
The overall process leads to powerful, full-bodied, yet clean-tasting wines – qualities that have not gone unrecognised: Frédéric collected the Mundus Vini Best of Show award for his Gigondas AOP in 2018, just one of several recent industry accolades.
For all the extra style and flair, it is the flavour of the wines that ultimately take centre stage. And for this, it comes back to that classic French word: ‘terroir’ – that untranslatable ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality that denotes geography, soil, and climate.
Blessed with clay-limestone soil, the Domaine produces the Vacqueyras appellation, the Gigondas from higher plains, and the sweet Muscat de Beaumes de Venise from just further south.
Food-wise, the flavours especially suit classic French favourites. With the reds, Frédéric recommends strong cheese; the white meanwhile is particularly suited to fish such as salmon and trout; and the sweet is a great choice for aperitifs, desserts, foie gras and blue cheese.
“There is a freshness in the wine,” he says. “But they can also be spicy, almost – with flavour notes in the red such as black fruit and liquorice. They are quite powerful.” He adds: “Our wines are totally typical for the region. We are of the terroir, and use the techniques of our ancestors. You can really taste that in the wine.”
Respect for the past is the single, colourful thread weaving together each aspect of the Domaine de la Tourade, which is as steadfast in its traditions as in its quirky, modern innovations. So if you’re in the area, watch out for a VW campervan making its way through the vines – and raise a full-bodied glass of Vacqueyras to the family bringing a whole new definition to the word ‘vintage’.