Working from the solitude of our homes these days, we can’t help but daydream of being back in France, soaking up the spring sunshine and strolling through rows of budding vineyards. Thankfully, just before leaving Europe, we were able to visit our wonderful producer in the Southern Rhône Valley: Domaine de la Charbonnière. Véronique Maret is at the helm, steering the domain in exciting new directions. With her sister, Caroline, and her parents by her side, it is a dynamic family operation.
The winery was purchased in 1912 by Véronique’s great grandfather. He was a native of neighboring Courthézon and her great grandmother a native of Châteauneuf-du-Pape so, logically, the couple found a property exactly on the boundary line between the two communes. Over the years, they transformed the property from a simple farm into a winery. However, it wasn’t until the mid 1990’s that the Maret family started selling their wine in bottles and as specific cuvées.
Fast forward to 2020 and Véronique continues to transform this familial winery. They use modern structure and opportunities while keeping with traditional winemaking practices. After all, the old way works! She is continuing this “old way” with strategic modern adjustments. One seemingly small adaptation that has helped Véronique in a big way is her use of smaller-diameter pump hoses. They are slimmer, lighter, and easier for her and her family to work with. Instead of revolutionizing the winery, she adapts things to work more efficiently.
“I don’t have the same approach as everyone. For me, it is much more the quality than the quantity. And I know that for some people it is much more about the quantity of things that they are going to do in the day that are going to matter. Not for me. I prefer the quality over the quantity. Because if you do quantity, sometimes you are going to [make] a lot of mistakes. You are going to rush things, [try] to do too many things, and you forget something. Then at some moment there will be a huge mistake,” said Véronique Maret.
“There is always a meaning behind everything that we do.”
As we talked about the Southern Rhône region and Châteauneuf-du-Pape specifically, we discussed extensively the vessels used to age the wine. Véronique told me that barrels, in their traditional 225 or 228-liter formats, are becoming less trendy in Châteauneuf. However, “Demi-muids (400-600L wooden vessels) brings a bit more finesse and elegance to the wine.” She felt that the barrels were imparting too strong of woody notes on the wines. Using demi-muids allows Véronique to capture the benefits of aging in wood (setting of color, adding finesse and elegance, increased stability of the wine, etc.) while also economizing–these oak vessels can last up to 10 years if cleaned and cared for properly. New materials are pricey and a new demi-muid starts at $1,500.
Véronique’s passion and drive continued to shine through as we talked about life at the domaine. She was quick to point out that not she, nor her sister or parents, do just one single job at the property. They all share in the responsibilities for the vineyard, winery, and yes, the office, too. She explained that she was grateful for this variety throughout the seasons as the process of winemaking contains the same general duties year after year.
“We are [always] trying new things.” It is not a problem to try new things and see their evolution in this winery. There aren’t authoritarian or family restrictions that inhibit creativity or adaptation here. They experiment with different wood, aging, vineyard management, and more. Two experiments that have stuck are their organic farming practices and use of natural yeast in the winery.
“The thing that is great is that you are making a product and you have the opportunity to defend what you have done. If you want to talk about the wine, you have to be proud of what you have done.”
“It keeps you motivated to always stay on the top, to always do the best, and to be aware of all the conditions,” Véronique Maret said. “You have to accept that sometimes someone can do better than you and maybe the next year you are going to do a little bit more. Every time it keeps you on your toes. You have to do your best every year.”
In talking about the current global health situation, Véronique was practical and calm, saying, “there is always something that reminds us that there is always something that can happen and we have to be aware [and able to adapt]. For us [as producers] we already have stress with the weather that we cannot control! So if we have something else to be stressed about [it’s tough].”
Through all the ups and downs, Véronique and her family continue to produce outstanding wines. We are excited to witness their continued success over many years to come.
Red – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise
White – Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette
Stay tuned for an announcement coming soon about keeping our European travel plans alive during these difficult times.