It had been a long morning already. Up at 3.30am, drive to Gatwick, flight to Marseille, drive to Avignon and finally across the plain of a drained lake on a beautiful bright early Spring morning to the gates of the winery. However, no one appeared to be in, the gate to the office closed, not one murmur of response from repeatedly pressing the entry buzzer. To the shop (Les Caves) then, to find the shutters firmly pulled down, not a soul in sight.
Ha! He of little faith, the opening hours sign revealed all and reaffirmed by love of all things French. DEJEUNER! Everyone was at lunch and not a snatched sandwich/crisps/drink combo at your desk. A proper lunch demanding at least an hour and a half of your time, plus reassuringly two and a half on a Sunday.
We had lunch of course, in the winery’s own happily buzzing restaurant. Delicious too, served with a minimum of fuss and no recourse to a menu. The starter is this (a very agreeable goat’s cheese and honey crepe) and the main is this or this (Andouillette s’il vous plait – tres tres bon!). No paralysis of choice here for sure.
The restaurant emptied, the shutters were up and the shop revealed the glory of, plus the French love affair with BIB (bag in box) wine. It was dominated by a range of BIB wine, 10 litre blends, 5 litre single varietals, 3 litre kit. All stacked high on pallets and being restocked as we wandered around, mouth slightly agape. The French are savvy wine consumers and a whopping 38% of their consumption is from bag in box wines. There is no stigma, no loss of social status to be had by engaging in the most environmentally sound and simple way of getting the latest vintage of wine from the tank into your glass. Vive le BIB!
To my shame, my French remains rudimentary, next year’s challenge perhaps. But I understand a fair amount and my eyes confirmed the first translated statement: ‘We are BIB wine specialists.’
The state of the art line only required one person to ensure its efficient running and only filled (bottled!) bag in box. (There did exist a second filling line dealing with bottled stock, but this was of course not of as much interest.) There was much discussion at this point as my view is that only a 2.25l BIB will work for retail in the UK market. A potential stumbling block as this was not a size currently filled.
Then on to the temperature-controlled warehouse where there seemed to be in my opinion way too much stock. Bag in Box wine has a more limited shelf life than that in bottle and I raised a concern that boxes were getting filled ahead of time. ‘NON!’ All stock I could see were destined for orders to be dispatched that week.
The logistics make the argument for box wine compelling. The 2017 wine is sitting in the tank in the winery a few metres away from the filling line a few metres away from the warehouse. It is perfectly reasonable to suppose that the wine in the tank could be in your glass within less than 2 weeks.
None of this of course would be of any interest if the wines were not so beguiling. The range I had sampled in the UK had intensity, depth yet an appealing drinkable freshness to them. The winery had already mocked up a sample of a 2.25l cardboard outer which could work on their filling line, smaller inners had been ordered. Without further ado, we were led to the winery by the winemaker to assess our options.
I have young kids, there is always a degree of chaos in our lives and most certainly in our home. The winery was the complete antithesis of this. It was spotless, I mean immaculately clean, eat your dinner off the floor clean, pristine. ‘Tres propre’ and for which they were rightly proud.
The 2017s white wine straight from tank were fresh, youthful and with just the right amount of restraint. Viognier where the grape exudes character without reeking of perfume; Chardonnay which could make you fall in love with this grape again – all peachy, youthfulness, not blousy and overworked. Pale, dry rose from Grenache blends with oodles of berry fruity and a slight cut of citrus. The 2017 CDR needed time but the depth of fruit was very apparent.