A Day in Luberon


What are your favorite books?  Movies?  One of my favorite books is A Year in Provence.  One of my favorite movies is A Good Year.  Have you had the opportunity to experience the storyline that you love?

Outside the Chateau de Clapier

Yesterday we stepped into one of my favorite storylines, in Luberon, France.  The characters of this story were Thomas and Beatrice Montagne, third generation owners and proprietors of Chateau de Clapier; Melba Allen, of TheWineProfilers; Paul and me.  The setting was the Le Relais du Grand Logis in Mirabeau, Luberon, France, a beautiful inn created from a restored 17th century post office and travelers’ rest stop.  Original stables are now beautiful brick arched common areas for guests, the post office became guest services, and the carriage reception became a conference center for 40-50 attendees.  Tucked away upstairs are 15 generous lodging rooms/salons.

We arrived at Relais in the afternoon on a very warm day in June 2014.  The weather was extreme all over France.  In Luberon there was a sudden heat wave and north of Bordeaux on the same day there was a major hailstorm that wiped out many of the vineyards in Cognac.  The vineyards were flowering and wildflowers were everywhere, along with lavender and roses of every type.  It was a national holiday, Pentecost, and everything was closed.  There was a sign on the door to call the receptionist who was on holiday when we arrived.  Within a few minutes, Amee arrived to let us in.  She graciously toured us through the lodge and to our rooms.  Amee means “loved” and we did love her for taking such good care of us.

Since everything was closed for holiday we spent the afternoon at the pool which provided relief from the heat.  In late afternoon, Thomas and Beatrice invited us to join them for a wine tasting at Chateau de Clapier and for dinner in the garden by their home.  Thomas met us at the Chateau, showed us the original Hungarian oak tanks in the original cellar from the 1880’s.  They stand as stoic reminders of how the wine culture of this family and this region began.  Mirabeau was the founder of this Chateau before the reign of Napoleon and it was later sold to a Swiss man who built the Chateau in 1844.  Thomas’ great grandfather purchased the estate in 1880. Thomas worked with his father from 1992 until 1995.  1996 was his first official vintage.

With Thomas Montagne of Chateau de Clapier

Then, he showed us the new cellar representative of his vision of winemaking – stainless steel tanks, concrete eggs, French and American oak barrels, and modern filters.  From the cellar we proceeded to an even more contemporary retail tasting room.  Every wine was available for tasting on a nitrogen dispenser and available for purchase by the bottle.  Displays of locally made pottery, condiments, jellies, and wine accessories add to the experience.  Local art is displayed and for sale everywhere.  The day we arrived was after they had hosted an artist exhibit and picnic.  Their garden had been filled with sculpture and art and 500+ guests.

The vineyards include Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Muscatine in red varieties; Roussanne, White Grenache, and Vermentino in the whites.  This Chateau is the only estate in the Luberon that is allowed to use Pinot Noir.  When Luberon became an AOC (now called an AOP) Chateau de Clapier was grandfathered for the use of Pinot Noir until 2038.

Most of Thomas’ wines are available only in France and in New York, USA.  If you get the chance to taste, look for one of these:

1. Chateau de Clapier Blanc 2013, AOC Luberon:

a. 40% Roussanne, 35% Grenache Blanc, 15% Vermentino, 10% Ugni Blanc

b. This wine was light, crisp, and delicately clean

c. Made in stainless steel sur lies

d. Perfect for seafood and summer refreshment

2. Cuvee’ Soprano Blanc 2011  AOC Luberon

a. Roussanne plus some Grenache Blanc

b. ½ barrel aged and ½ concrete egg sur lies

c. Round, floral, hints of lychee fruit, white peach, exotic nose

d. We saw these wines in fine restaurants and wine shops in the region

3. Rose’ Chateau de Clapier

a. Salmon color

b. Dry with rose petals and fragrant peach

c. 40% Grenache Noir, 10% Pinot Noir, 50%Cinsault

4. Domaine de Clapier Rouge 2011

a. Cabernet/Merlot blend

b. Aged in American Oak

c. Licorice, rich fruit with backbone

5. Chateau de Clapier cuvee Soprano 2006

a. Brick edge

b. Soft, supple, musty

c. Was a very good year

d. Very Syrah

6. Chateau de Clapier cuvee Reserve 2001

a. Plum, dark cherry

b. Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Grenache

c. Very nice

Beatrice Montagne preparing meal

After the tasting, Beatrice prepared for us a beautiful meal of salmon ceviche, dolmas Armenian style, local olives, pork and Roquefort cheese sausage, pork and fig sausage, salad, crusty breads and local cheeses including a “blue” lavender and pistou cheese, a “red” red bell pepper and cumin cheese, an extra creamy white camembert, and the creamiest Roquefort camembert that I have ever tasted.  It must have been a triple cream.  As in the movie A Good Year we sat under a giant shade tree overlooking the garden, tennis court and vineyards breaking bread, tasting wines, and sharing stories only vignerons can fully appreciate.

The different local cheeses tasted

Paul V. Bonarrigo sitting under shade tree at Chateau de Clapier

During dinner he shared his 1997 vintage.  It was a particular honor to taste this wine.  Each wine of each vintage is like a winemaker’s baby.  This was like a first born.  Great anticipation filled the air.  He pulled the cork and poured each of us a glass.  The flavors were of mocha, coffee, with a hint of spice on the end plus notes of lavender and Irish cream drenched raspberries in the nose.  His initial apprehension turned to a smile of appreciation in the maturity of his wine.  We concurred and so appreciated sharing the moment.

1997 vintage of Chateau de Clapier