The latest Chateauneuf-du-Pape frenzy at FINE+RARE is Xavier Vins – oenologist Xavier Vignon‘s project that has taken Rhone fans by storm. Vignon has worked for many of the top names in Chateauneuf and has become one of the most highly regarded consultant winemakers in the region.
He started his negociant business in 2002, when after many years of buying the wines Xavier made at various estates, wine-importer friends asked him to make his own wine. He agreed and decided to make his ideal style of Chateauneuf-du-Pape: modern, powerful, intuitive and great value.
Using his contacts across various appellations in the Rhone, Xavier has made his vision a reality and now produces over a dozen wines with exceptional results.
Recently, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to this favourite Chateauneuf producer…
JB: How did you end up in the wine industry? Was it something you always wanted to do?
XV: I was born in the North of France, in Picardie, very near Champagne, I was not especially planning to study winemaking but have a scientifically driven mind. I started studying geology and during a field trip in Champagne to find fossils I came across a vintner. We had a long talk and quite a few bottles, the morning after I was convinced my way was to make some wine.
JB: You were a consulting winemaker for many years, was the dream always to have your own project or was it something you hadn’t really considered until your friends encouraged you?
XV: It was not planned at all, some winemaker friends asked me to create some blends when I settled in the Rhone valley, for quite a few years the wine was only sold (and mostly given away) to some friends. Then some friends presented secretly my wine to the Hachette guide, I was awarded some “coups de coeurs” (the highest distinction) for two of my wines, the phone started ringing and never stopped since. I still have that in mind when making wines, would I be offering this bottle to a friend and be proud of it ? If not, it can’t be a “Xavier” bottle.
JB: Why did you choose to settle in the Rhone?
XV: When I arrived twenty years ago, the first place I went to was the Dentelles de Montmirail, I literally felt in love with the place. Southern Rhone is a winemaker’s paradise, almost 25 different grapes spread on incredibly various terroirs. Unlike certain regions in France, the harvest can spread on a very long period hence offering an incredible diversity of wines in the end. I have travelled to many of the wine producing regions across the world but have to confess the Rhone Valley is still my favourite playground.
JB: Xavier Vins operates as a negociant, what advantages do you feel you have with this business model?
XV: Freedom would be the major advantage, I chose to be a consulting winemaker to keep a certain kind of freedom, I also chose to be a negociant for the same reason. We do not have any contract with anyone, each vintage we start with a blank page and try to make the best out of it, from what we have experienced through the consulting. We have chosen to remain at a boutique size in order to be able to keep this freedom and be able to skip some vintages when needed.
JB: What do you look for when you are choosing your grapes? Do you work with the same growers every year or does it vary vintage to vintage?
XV: As said above, we start from scratch every year; however, some growers recurrently work with us as they do great every year.
The first step is to consider the vintage, for example in a hot vintage we go in altitude and fresher terroir; when we experience milder climates we go for high precocity parcels and southern terroirs.
Our selections are based on polyphenolic maturity to ensure a perfect level of ripeness but also we carry some mineral salts analysis on the water portion of the wine. Wine is composed of more than 85% water, but not any water, it’s a water of terroir. Like any commercial water has a unique taste profile, each terroir provides different water. This has a real impact on the wine taste and balance.
JB: Which areas of the Rhone do you think are under-valued?
XV: It all depends from the vintage, terroirs are, as said, very diverse and depending on the vintage characteristics they “perform” very differently. However, I would say that Plan de Dieu & Beaumes de Venises reds and whites offer today incredible values at very reasonable prices. In some areas of Ventoux, one can find some real gems as well.
JB: Are there any young producers in the region that you think show great promise?
XV: In Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Stephane Usseglio from Domaine Raymond Usseglio is certainly one of the rising stars of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Since he has taken over the winemaking from his father the estate has made tremendous advances in terms of quality.
JB: You have made wine in Alsace, Champagne, Australia and New Zealand…are there any plans to expand Xavier Vins into any other winegrowing regions?
XV: We actually have a venture in Turkey at “Barbare estate” in East Thrace. I have participated for years to the establishment of this unique estate. The estate is organically and biodynamically farmed and after years of efforts we start to see the payoff. We are currently considering several options for extension of our range, but for now it is still a secret …
JB: When you are not drinking your own wine, what is in your glass?
XV: Champagne ! I started my career in Champagne and still have a strong connection with the region. Whether at our cellars or at home, we always have a cold bottle of Champagne ready to pop… we always find something to celebrate !
JB: If you were going to recommend only one of your wines to someone, which would it be?
XV: I would say our 2012 Rasteau, the appellation has made tremendous efforts in terms of quality over the last decade and the terroirs offers stunning wines. I based the blend on very old Grenache from rather elevated plots, offering an outstanding concentration, a great balance and a almost salty finish.