Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Living a Dream in Provence

Doug Graves has had a long romance with wine. From his position as a manager at Boeing (where he worked 34 years) he became a member of the Boeing Winemakers’ Club. However purchasing good wine wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to make wine, and serious quantities of it, not simply a couple of jugs for home consumption.

So he started purchasing grapes locally in Washington State and he took oenology and vinification classes at UC Davis on the weekends and he jumped in. On a small scale to start with, in his garage, with some help from family, friends and colleagues at first, and then on his own and seriously (even before his retirement from Boeing) he made wine under the Graves Cellars label.

But, even that wasn’t enough. Yes, the wine was good, yes, he was getting skilled at the chemistry side of things but, well, something was missing.

And so he came to Provence and he looked around. He’d traveled here before with his wife, exploring the country, most particularly the wine regions. So, he had an inkling of what he’d like. He’d studied French in high school, and so could cope linguistically. And then he found the Mas de la Lionne. And what a find!

The property of the Mas de la Lionne is in a tiny corner of the Côte du Rhône that butts right against the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards. In fact all his closest neighbors are Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And he, with similar vineyards covered in those rolled stones, filled with 30 to 60 year old grenache vines, has a terroir to envy, if not the AOC (name brand if you will) to go with them.

He had never been a vintner in the vineyards before. But the man who sold him the winery with all the equipment, stayed in the neighborhood for the first full year to help Doug adapt to his new life as a farmer/vintner. He was there to show him how to prune in the winter, there to show him how to scratch the earth with the plough, there to show him when to spray the copper sulfate and how to mix it, manipulate the monster machine that sprays it, clean it, etc., When Doug needed assistance and teaching, he was there. Need I say that he was a quick learner? As you can see from the image above, he is adept at explaining the goblet pruning of the vines in this region to visitors.

This is Doug’s third year on the property and soon to be his third harvest. He has learned that his land tends toward very ripe grapes (read alcohol content) and is adjusting. He has learned that the locals are a bit shy of foreigners (read fewer local purchasers of his wine -- those faithful to the former owner haven’t necessarily stuck by him). He is adapting to the ways and means of this corner of Provence. It is a lonely life at times, but also gratifying. You can learn more from his own words on his blog :

And yes, he is making very good wine. This is what happens when you put together the brains of an engineer, the passion of an individual and a good terroir. There are three wines to choose from: his bright and fruity Côte du Rhône rosé, his classic, very jammy red Côte du Rhône and a special reserve red wine aged in small oak casks. Now, the only link of the chain that he needs to work on (in a difficult economy) is getting it to the consumer. It’s a truism that a vintner must be gifted in the vineyards, the cellar, and at the selling counter.

However, for those of you in the Northwest his wine is available in Seattle and around Washington State. So look for it! You will be most pleasantly surprised.

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