- Provence, France
Thanks to Louis/Dressner for this profile of brand-new import Domaine La Providence:
(Click here for more on La Providence on the LDM website)
For over 20 years, Jean Benoit and Bénédicte Comor have dreamed of starting their own estate. They’d even gotten close a few times: first in the Beaujolais, Saint-Véran and Pouilly-Fuissé then in Limoux. From false starts and dashed hopes, opportunity struck in 2016: located in the village of Lambesc, about 30 minutes North-West from Aix-en-Provence, a property called La Pomme had become available. The couple, originally from the area, instantly fell in love with the old farm house and 18 hectares of vines.
Lambesc and its surrounding environs have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Well into the 1990’s, this was a poor agricultural region where most farmers lived off traditional models of polyculture. Then came the rosé craze of the early 2000’s, with Provence front and center. A shift in focus was inevitable: almost overnight vines became a monoculture, with people planting anywhere they could: terroir be damned, if it grows it goes. The prior owner of La Pomme worked in an ultra-conventional fashion, focusing exclusively on yields. 95% of his grapes were destined for the local cave cooperative’s rosé.
From the beginning, JB and Bénédicte wanted more than an organic conversion, hiring famed biodynamic consultants Lydia and Claude Bourguignon. In addition to the conversion (the estate is now certified organic), JB quickly starting ripping out vines to replant three hectares of indigenous Provençal grapes and is planning to rip out an additional five hectares including all of the estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon. Much of what has been ripped out was planted on richer soils on the edge each parcel, now left bare or replanted with olive and fruit trees. Convinced that white wine has a huge potential on his white clay and limestone soils, Jean Benoit has currently planted three plots with a dizzying array of white grapes: Terret, Ugni Blanc, Vermentino, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Marsanne, Carignan Blanc, Macabeu, Bourboulenc, Grenache Gris, Clairette Rose…
They are also replanting thousands of replacement vines in select parcels suffering from esca and/or overproduction and adding palissage for the Syrah vines that desperately need them. All new plantings are selected between three pépiniéristes to ensure as much diversity as possible. For vines destined for estate production, JB works every other row superficially while planting the other with cover-crop and letting it rest a year. For those still destined for the cave cooperative, only the edges of the rows are worked with a mechanical disk. Finally, the biggest project is to create terraces in one of their main plots where years of chemical abuse, erosion and tractors have warped the rows, making it impossible to work the soils without switching devices or vehicles mid-row. What a tremendous undertaking: five years of hard work and this is just the beginning!
After five years honoring their inherited contract with the cave cooperative, in 2020 Jean Benoit was able to vinify a small amount of rosé and a scant 2000 bottles of a delicious red wine called “La Providence”. From a small makeshift cellar in their barn, roughly 20 times more wine was vinified in 2021, an atypical and rainy vintage that led to blocked maturations and low concentration. Grapes were hand-harvested and fermented with native yeasts in various vessels (fiberglass, stainless, concrete) but mostly in old Burgundian barrels. The barrels saw two bâtonnages a day and were racked after malo; depending on volatility levels, sulfites were added to some but not all vessels. It’s unclear what blends will come out this complicated first vintage, but from what we’ve tasted the goal is to make elegant, structured but not over-extracted reds that break the regions’ conventions while (perhaps by) respecting the terroir. Everything will be bottled in Vin de France, perhaps not so crazy in our world but pretty damn ballsy in the ultra-chic, celebrity winery milieu of 2020’s Provence.