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May 2009

Recent additions to the Northern Rhône feature a wide range of small domaines - the heart of the region. From Condrieu - the improving Domaine Niero, also Facchin and Pichon, both accomplished. From Côte-Rôtie - the Domaine Barge, with son Julien very active now, Bernard Burgaud, the wonderful Domaine Jamet, Domaine Patrick Jasmin, Domaine Michel & Stéphane Ogier (powering ahead), Domaine Daniel, Roland & Gisèle Vernay, Domaine de Rosiers of Louis Drevon and the traditional Bernard Levet. From Crozes-Hermitage - Laurent Habrard, Fayolle Fils & Fille (accomplished), Gripa (excellent), Gilles Robin, Yann Chave. From Saint-Joseph, Domaine Vallet (improving), Domaine Jérome & Pierre Coursodon, Domaine de la Côte Saint-Epine (improving at last), Etienne Becheras, Emmanuel Barou (organic), Domaine du Chêne, Domaine Grangier (a new domaine), Jean-Claude Marsanne (traditional), Domaine du Monteillet (modern, zappy wines). From Cornas, the great Domaine Clape of Auguste and Pierre, Franck Balthazar, the talented Jérome Despesse, Dumien-Serrette, Alain Voge`s now bottled 2006s, Matthieu Barret of Domaine du Coulet and the young Mickael Bourg. From Hermitage(and Saint-Joseph) the classic STGT exponent Bernard Faurie.


At 09.12 on the morning of Thursday 19 March, 2009, I received a tap on the shoulder in the historical surroundings of the Salle de la Grande Audience in the Palais des Papes, Avignon. It was Richard Jaume, from the Domaine Jaume in Vinsobres. I was about to embark on a tasting of many of the domaines of Vinsobres in the imposing underground surroundings of the Papal Palace - fitting, since this March marked the 700th anniversary of the Popes` arrival in Avignon, when the seat of the Papacy shifted to Avignon.

"Could we have a drink together at about 5.30 pm?" he asked me. It would be towards the end of a hard day`s tasting: I said, "yes, indeed, fine," without hesitation - "where?". "Here", he replied. Hmm, I thought - there might be more to this than meets the eye. The day flew by, and I ended up in the far tasting salon beyond the big Place of the Palais des Papes, tasting Mathieu Dumarcher and Elodie Baume`s good wines - two young producteurs of note. Pretty convivial, the whole thing. I looked at my watch - it was 5.45 pm. Oh my goodness.

I hastened back to the Palais, worked my way past the week`s star security guard - a man of few words but many a grunt and doubt about human provenance - and rushed down into the Salle. The Jaumes were showing their wines to visitors - life was continuing on its steady way. So I sloped off to see Jean-Pierre Meffre of Domaine St Gayan at Gigondas, only to be smartly hauled back by Richard to a gathering, indeed a circle of rather a lot of people, old, medium and very young.

Suddenly Richard gives a little speech about me - what ees ziss? I shake hands with a French lady and with a little girl, and receive what I then discover to be the Prix Albert Golay 2009 from Vinsobres. There are photographs, applause, and then drinks. I hold a piece of olive wood, old olive wood, that has been sculpted for the Prize. There are grapes lightly cast into the wood, and it weighs quite a lot. The lady is the widow of Albert Golay, the girl his granddaughter, and I learn that I am the first non-French citizen to win this award, now in its ninth year, for writing about and helping the wines of Vinsobres become better known. What an honour.

The Jaumes have a happy tale to tail, by the way. I visited their domaine in 1974, when the father Claude and his wife Nicole were getting it started. My first book recounted: "The private domaines at Vinsobres number about half a dozen, and one of the best belongs to M. Claude Jaume, an ambitious young man who is working hard to increase the size of the vineyard: this now covers 50 acres. In former times the Jaume family also owned several olive groves, but the severe weather of 1956 unfortunately killed off many of the olive trees. M. Jaume`s wine is rich and strongly-coloured; a wine of good balance and long finish, it can live for up to eight years, but should be carefully drunk: its alcohol degree can rise as high as 14, this resulting from the abnormally temperate climate of the whole Eygues Valley."

In those days, there was no Syndicat of Information, no signposts to the domaines, no list of producers - nothing. One of my favourite tactics was to be in the Post Office of a wine village a bit before midday when people would drift in on the lookout for an aperitif companion. I would ask in a loud voice if anyone knew a vigneron who actually sold some of his wine in bottle, and occasionally someone would sidle forward. Usually this was a passport to a ferocious dog encounter, but there were moments of striking lucky. Thus my first book, The Wines of the Rhône, published by Faber & Faber, became a quasi-guide for European wine importers. Many a dog-eared copy of this 220-page book, only published in hardback, was taken round the vineyards. Here in Britain, the Wine Society wine finder, Sebastian Payne, made sure he visited Domaine Jaume next time he was in the Rhône, and as a result, their wines have been imported to Britain for the last 30 years. Tout le monde est content.

The sequel is that I packed the award with great dexterity in my suitcase, avoided excess weight charging from Easyjet, and brought it home in one piece. The olive wood of Nyons sits resplendently there now. It can be viewed under the JL-L profile left hand tag here on the site.