Before we bought the house here, I used to get my ‘fix’ of Provence and The Luberon, reading Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’ and watching the film ‘A Good Year’, based on one of his books, and set all around the area that we love so much.
Directed by Ridley Scott, it’s a step away from his other work, as he directed Alien and Blade Runner, as well as Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, which I have to admit are not my normal viewing. But he has a house here in The Luberon, and his direction of ‘A Good Year’ is just a delight, making the most of the exquisite light and views that have drawn so many of us here. He captures the essence of the valley, in a way that makes it feel as if you can step out of reality for a short time, into the colour, scents and atmosphere of this little corner of Provence, that we love so much.
Even though we live here now, spending every moment that we can, getting under the skin of the Luberon, we still happily light the fire, close the shutters, pour a glass of wine and settle down to watch the arrogant, driven, and singularly unpleasant Max, fall under the spell of the area, and realise that his future is here, living a slower life as a vigneron, amongst the vines, and cicadas.
What I hadn’t appreciated is that Ridley Scott has a vineyard here too, and has recently built a wonderful new home for his Domaine, the Mas Des Infirmières, which itself is situated in the heart of 30 hectares of Grenache and Syrah vines, just below Oppède Le Vieux. They have been producing wine there for a number of years, using one of the local co-operatives to press and bottle their vintages, but now have taken the leap to open their own ‘Cave’, creating their own wines on site, and enabling them to be sold there too.
I only know this, as after visiting a Vide Masion with friends, we decided to drive back through the lanes, from Oppède to Menerbes, and stumbled across this incredible new building, which is still being finished and, as the gates were open, decided to pop in.
Looking as if it has been based on an old Monastery, the home of the Mas des Infirmières, sits to the side of the road, with stunning views back across the vineyards towards Gordes.
With two wings, and a central section, topped with a bell-tower, it has the sense of being an ancient building. The high-level, small windows, on the wings reminiscent of monastic ‘cell’ openings, and it has a beautiful, traditional wooden terrace, topped with old clay rooftiles, which opens onto a central courtyard, dominated by an amphora, which reminded me so much of the ones found at the ancient Roman farm at Tourville, near Apt.
It is an exquisite new-build, which over the coming years will settle comfortably into the landscape, and I am sure, will soon look as if it has always been there.
Inside is a different story, and the well-balanced, apparently old exterior, hides an incredible, modern space, for tasting and sales, with a stunning, central spiral staircase, and large windows, making the most of the views in both directions, across the vines into the valley one way….
And onto the folded flanks of The Luberon in the other….
Beautiful arched alcoves have been built along one wall to hold the bottles of wine that they have for sale, including 2 Rosés, and 3 Reds. some from the original co-operative pressing and others from the first home-based production.
On other walls there are posters and images for some of Ridley Scott’s films, including (of course) one for ‘A Good Year’, sitting above tables, reserved for tasting, next to a window that has beautiful views across vines into the valley.
It isn’t just posters though, and in one corner is a spacesuit, worn by Matt Damon in the 2015 film, ‘The Martian’, not perhaps something you expect to see in a winery, but as Clara, who had offered to show us around, explained; it is an ideal place to display pieces from the films, and they hope to add more to the collection as time goes by.
Clara was a delightful guide, and we happily grabbed the opportunity to be shown around the building, finding out more about the Domaine and the wine-making process as we went. She explained that this is a big change for the Mas Des Infirmieres, and that it’s the first year that grapes from the vineyards have been brought here to be pressed, fermented and aged as wine from the Domaine, in its own right.
We started in the ‘cellar’, which is very different to Uncle Henry’s in ‘A Good Year’, which has crumbling stone walls and huge wooden vats, filled with grapes, the fermentation brought about by the natural yeasts in the old stone cave. Here the wine is fermented in vast ‘cuves’, that have been installed in a light, airy wing of the building, with its roof being supported by magnificent, oak A frames.
One wall is filled with concrete vats, that have been designed so that they can be managed to ensure the optimum temperature is achieved and maintained, for the grapes to ferment….
Whilst opposite these, are huge stainless-steel containers, fitted with cooling rings, again to keep the contents at the perfect temperature. These are already filled with this season’s harvest, with the grapes, dates and checks listed on little chalkboards, attached to each of them, all being carefully monitored as they ferment into wine.
Below the ground floor is another area, which holds the lovely, oak barrels, which will be used to cure wine for specific vintages. There are only a few at the moment, but over time, the numbers will grow, until this huge space is filled with rows of elegant, golden barrels, all marked with the name of the Domaine, holding the valuable liquid, as it settles and ages.
Here was another sign of the very special link to Ridley Scott and his films, with the walls in the process of being studded with individual gold coins, which had been used as props in The Gladiator, and otherpfilms. This was very much, a work in progress, with a table filled with coins, still to be put in place around the room. A quirky, but very unique decoration, adding a glint of gold to the grey, rendered walls.
Opposite this is private, VIP’s tasting space, with a fireplace, elegant table and comfortable chairs too, which I can imagine would be the perfect space to spend a cold winter’s afternoon, comfortable in front of a fire, tasting the wine, and enjoying the best of the local produce too.
Upstairs again, we felt it would be rude not to try the wines, and Clara took us carefully through each one. All the labels have delightful little line-drawings, designed and drawn by Scott, reflecting the name of the wine, with a handwritten explanation of the vineyard on the rear.
He writes that he and his family came to the area to enjoy ‘the magical life that can be found here’ and found themselves in the ‘Sanctuary of Silence’ of the Mas Des Infirmières, at the heart of the vineyards, originally cultivated by General Robert of Napoleon’s Army, between 1810 and 1830, and Clara went on to tell us that it takes its name from being a place where injured soldiers were treated at the time.
It was a lovely way to pass an hour, Clara was a well-informed and friendly guide, happy to speak slowly in french so that we could follow, but said she would chat in english if we preferred. She spent time chatting about the wines, explaining what each would complement, a light Rosé, best for an Apéro, or a more full-bodied one that would go well with a light supper of butternut squash and feta …
It really is a beautiful space, and I am sure will only become more fascinating, as new props and pieces are added to the collection, making it part-winery, part expo, and it will be fascinating to see this continue to develop.
Of course, it goes without saying, that we didn’t leave empty-handed and bought a bottle of the Chevalier Rosé, a full-flavoured, wonderfully scented wine, which we enjoyed later that evening, as we chatted about our love for this little part of Provence.
A love that we clearly share with so many others ….