Hubert Burda Media

PRETTY IN PINK

Valerie Rousselle of Château Roubine discloses the joys of rosé from her native Provence.

PRETTY IN PINK

LORGUES, THE BUCOLIC commune on the long and winding road from Aix-en-Provence to Cannes, is where Valerie Rousselle holds court; her Château Roubine, an estate she bought in 1994 with her then-partner Philippe Riboud, is a 700-year-old terroir with some of the best fruit parcels in the South of France.
Rousselle’s 24-person team, led by chief winemaker Pierre Gerin, oenologist Olivier Nasles and viticulturalist Jean-Louis Francone, issues a nine-wine portfolio: three whites (Semillon-based), three reds (blends of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Grenache and Carignan) and, of particular note, three rosés – a Cuvée Classique (Cinsault, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and small amounts of Carignan Tibouren, Syrah and Mourvèdre), a Cuvée Prestige (blending Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon and sometimes Syrah) and a Tête de Cuvée (mostly Tibouren), while for visitors there are bedand- breakfast and even wedding facilities.
As a fan of her wines, I was very pleased to meet her in person during this year’s Vinexpo trade show in Hong Kong, a city she has often visited, partly due to her friendships with some notable chefs (Richard Ekkebus, Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Ducasse all feature her wines in their restaurants). She assured me her rosé wines pair beautifully with Chinese food, Sichuan cuisine in particular.
What would you say has been the most important discovery for you as a wine estate owner?
I’ve learned that I like it when things are done meaningfully, when you can give sense to your decisions about your life. I feel that more so this year, because we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary. I fell in love with this place in 1994. The vineyard is unique because it’s all one block – 130 hectares under vine in the middle of Provence where the Romans first planted the vines, and so we go back to before the 14th century. We have natural conditions that are exceptional and the altitude is 300 metres, so we have the influence of the Alps. There’s richness and diversity in the grapes, for we have 13 different types growing on 33 different parcels, so we have 33 different identities of wine, before blending. We do the harvests separately, in late August and early September, and we blend in November.
I’m intrigued by your white wine, the Terre de Croix, which is a Semillon. I blind-tasted it some months ago and mistook it for Viognier.
It’s actually 60 percent Semillon and 40 percent Rolle – which most people know under another name, Vermentino – and I think you mistook it because of our climate. Semillon has a totally different expression because we’re hotter than Bordeaux, so it’s deep and rich and intense, and in the mouth it’s so full and so rich, which is why this is a wine so appreciated by sommeliers.
What I sense from your wines is a painstaking attention to detail, especially in the case of your rosé.
Yes, I think there’s not such a big gap between famous producers like Sacha Lichine (of Château d’Esclans) and my rosé. This rosé you’re drinking is around €30 a bottle at retail, which is very competitive with Sacha. And it’s good to know there are very few cru classés in Provence – there are only 18 left, and we are one of those. I think that’s because I pay a lot of attention to and respect the environment. My philosophy is to listen to nature, and to not drive it – to be soft, the softer the better. The less we do, the better and the more we keep with the expressions of nature. We have also been doing biodynamic winemaking for six years now, and the wines are becoming lighter or perhaps purer.
What should people know about your rosé?
With this 2013 vintage, there’s no wood, no oak at all, and it’s a very typical Provence-style rosé. We use seven grapes, which sounds like a lot but the complexity is what we want. The grapes are mainly Grenache and Cinsault, and then I use a little of Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon, and a bit of Rolle and then a little bit of Syrah, which gives a little bit of purple inside, and my favourite one which is Tibouren, a rare grape only found in Provence.
The technique of making rosé is very important. We harvest black grapes, because of the pigment and because of the skin, and we harvest at night. We start at two o’clock in the morning, when the temperature is cooler – below 17 degrees – and this is after we have selected which parcel to harvest first. We do this from 2am to 6am, and this is the secret – when you talk about rosé, the colour has to be pale. Rosés from Provence can’t be dark and we want the complexity and the elegance.
What do you think of today’s social trends with regard to the popularity of rosé?
Society has evolved to drink lighter and fresher, with climate change and global warming. Maybe it has to start with women, and with the young. Most women love rosé and so drinking wine that’s refreshing is important. In the summertime in St Tropez now, my eldest son, who’s 24, tells me that when he and his friends want to enjoy themselves, they order a magnum of rosé. It’s fairly reasonable in terms of price so that’s also a key point – it’s not so expensive. But we still have to educate people a bit more, especially Chinese people who don’t think of rosé as a “real” wine. It’s like wearing pink shirts for a man, which was once a bit too ambiguous, whereas today pink has become popular even for men.
Some say the popularity of rosé today has something to do with the fame of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Château Miraval.
Rosé from Provence is now “high life” and trendy, partly a consequence of Brad and Angelina, but I think it’s because rosé from Provence became trendy that they became interested in it. When I bought this place 20 years ago, I already had the feeling that something was going to happen. My home village is St Tropez – I was born there, and because of Brigitte Bardot people arrived on the Côte d’Azur in the ’60s, and this eventually brought a new generation of winemakers and new investors who invested in new wineries with the cooling systems. We need a long skin contact in order to get the colour, so you need the cooling system. The cooler you harvest the black grapes, the longer you can get the skin contact without losing the colour and the longer the skin contact, the more complexity you can have.
The Miraval estate is in Correns, in the Var region – like you. Have you tried their rosé?
Of course. I think it’s well done but if I can be honest, there’s actually not enough personality to it. The style is not a Provence style, since it was made for them by the Perrin family. This is just my opinion.
The winemaker Marc Perrin is from the Rhône valley, so you’re saying it tastes more like a Rhône rosé?
Yes. They need to give the wine some of the Provence personality. I like the idea of respecting the terroir and giving the same expression of the terroir, to get it right. It took me a long time to understand why this parcel is so good for this wine, for example, and you need to be involved. It’s different because the land, the climate, the grapes are different, and each vineyard has its own personality. It was not an accident when the Romans chose the place. Sometimes you know when there’s an exceptional place, even though there’s always also something of a mystery.
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