If you’ve followed us for a while now, you probably know that one of our favourite breakfast spots, whilst out on a bike ride, is the lovely little boulangerie at Simiane La Rotonde. By the time we get there, we always feel as if we’ve earned our croissants, as it is pretty much uphill, all the way from home, as a result we always have plenty of time to look at the view, as we turn the pedals to get us up the hill.
The views are delightful and over the last couple of years, we have watched, with some fascination, the construction of a new building at Les Davids, an organic vineyard and fruit & veg producer, set just below the main road, by the turning to Oppedette.
For months there was large scale construction of what was to become the new home for their wine production and a few days ago, I was invited to join a group of the local holiday accommodation providers, to visit and take a tour of the building to find out more about Les Davids and its wines and it was a fascinating and rather lovely evening, especially so, as the tour was followed by a wine-tasting and an apero on the shaded terrace at the front of the Chai, with its magnificent views through to The Luberon.
Until 1970, this historic farm, dating back to the 1400s, was predominantly used to raise sheep, with the animals happily grazing the valley, then in 2000 it was bought by the new owner, who wanted to create a very special place, to grow fruit, vegertables and perhaps also vines.
It has obviously been a passion and one that continues over 20 years later, with the valley now a natural and productive space, the organic approach leading to it becoming a haven for biodiversity, with a natural system for water collection and irrigation too. They really have made the most of the basin-shape of the valley, with its south-facing slopes now filled with produce, fruit trees (with older varieties being reintroduced) and more recently vines.
In total there are about 40 hectares set aside for the farm and it’s clear that there are great plans for the future, with more development going forward, including the opening of an artisan bakery ‘Le Fournil’, with the aim that in the longer term, all the bread will be baked using flour made from grain, grown on the farm.
But back to the wine, which was what we were there to see and the incredible building that houses the state of the art winery. If I’m honest, we saw it being built and it brought to mind some of the big WW2 museums near the D-Day Landing beaches, but as it was finished, it seemed to disappear a bit into the landscape and seeing the building up-close I can see why.
The building was designed by Marc Barani, who clearly had to work very closely with the planners in the Luberon National Park, to ensure that he met their requirements to preserve the integrity of this beautiful part of the world. Although it is made of concrete, apparently the best product for insulation and to maintain a stable environment for the wine production, each concrete block has been made in a wood casing, creating blocks that are the size and shape of planks of wood, with the grain and even knots visible on the surface. Each block has also been tinted with the local ochres, mimicking the colours of the Colorado at Rustrel and surrounding soils, to ensure it sits more comfortably in the landscape.
The entire length of the building, on the ground floor is a sheet of glass, which never sees the sun, thanks to the incredible cantilever portico that creates not only much needed shade for the wine vats and barrels, but also a roof over the terrace at the front, where we were later to sit and enjoy some of the wines, with a delicious supper.
Our guide took time to chat to us about the history of the Domaine and the organic ethos behind it, talking about how originally just Syrah grapes had been grown, before other types were introduced. She explained that they don’t train the vines, simply staking them and allowing them free-rein to grow at will, which is good for the plants, but less helpful when it comes to cultivation and harvest.
They have reverted to the old ways of production, using horses to plough between the vines, piling earth around the roots to protect them against the dramatic temperature changes that we experience here. The vines are grazed by hens too, to help keep the weeds down and when harvest time nears, then it is people who arrive to pick the grapes by hand, rather than a machine to pluck the bunches of ripe fruit from the vines. It has a very gentle feel and if I’m honest it sits very comfortably in this beautiful place, surrounded by the hum of bees, the chatter of cicadas and the lilting call of the orioles.
Inside the building though, machinery is very much required and we were introduced to the machines and the way the building has been designed to make the most of gravity, minimising the need for pumping systems to be needed to move grapes, must and liquid from one part of the building to another. Rather ingenious really.
For some of the wines, the grapes are left with the stalks and leaves attached at the start of the process, whilst others are separated carefully and only the best of the fruits being used to create the wines. There is no pressing, no big vats, or juicers, used to extract the juice from the fruit, here the grapes are left whole and natural pressure through the weight of fruit and the fermentation process does the rest.
She explained how for the red wines, the skins of the red grapes are left in the process for 2 weeks, whereas for the lightly blushed rose wines it is 2 hours. From this sorting room the grapes are placed into big hoppers, which are then wheeled into the main space, where the lids of the vats are opened and the grapes allowed to drop in. This is not a place for people with vertigo, as the suspended mezzanine level is made of an open grille, with a view down to the main floor a few metres below.
The vats are set to both sides of this galleried space, with beautiful, traditional wooden vats on one side …..
….and concrete ones on the other, which have the appearance of the little carpenter wasp mud nest that we sometimes find in the house. That may not sound like the best of analogies, but the vats are beautifully formed and have a simple elegance and evidently serve their purpose well.
Once the wine has been allowed to ferment and the natural yeasts have done their work to the satisfaction of the oeneologue, in charge of the quality, then the young wines are decanted into traditional oak barrels and left to mature in a large, purpose-built cave at the rear of the building.
This is a cool space in more ways than one, thanks to the carefully maintained temperature and the mist of water, to ensure the wooden barrels don’t dry out, which would not only ruin the contents, but would probably lead to them leaking onto the floor too….
But also thanks to the artwork on one wall, a selection of leather ‘bowls’ which have been designed to look like shells, urchins and even spores. The sight of it emerging behind the veil of mist from the humidifiers is quite dramatic and the organic forms look rather beautiful against the square corners of the building…
And from here it’s into the shop, where you can taste the wines too….
I have to make it clear. I’m not really a wine-connoisseur at all, I enjoy a glass of wine, but the finer detail is probably lost on me, but I did find this fascinating and it’s really the first time that I’ve understood what goes into the making process and so was keen to taste the wines they have produced.
For that we went back onto the terrace, where chairs and low tables had been set up overlooking the view and the wine list was explained to us, with a total of 11 wines available, of which 6 are red, 3 white and 2 rose
Bistronimie are the lighter wines, best suited to an apero.
100% is what it suggests, each wine is made from 100% of a single type of grape, Syrah, Viognier and Marselan
Terroir relates to the blended wines, different grapes working together to create the flavours
Chateau D’Autet is a rather pretty looking sparkling rose
and the Reserve is the original wine, the first created at the Domaine
We tasted a few, before deciding on buying bottles of the white and rose to have with our apero, which arrived on wooden platters. It was simply divine, with deep pieces of pissaladiere, filled with sweet, soft onions and topped with anchovies or olives. There was fluffy foccacia, platters of local cheeses, with the Banon oozing gently as we removed its coat of chestnut leaves…
Also charcuterie, pieces of saucisson, hams and salamis, tomatoes, pickled cauliflower and caviar d’aubergine, together with chutneys made from their produce.
It goes without saying that the time passed quickly and we sat chatting, enjoying the food and wine and simply enjoying the view down the valley, watching as the shadows started to deepen and lengthen across the flank of the Luberon, beyond Viens.
Eventually we did manage to tear ourselves away from the terrace and head home, taking a route past the lavender fields which look at their best with the evening light on The Grand Luberon behind them.
A perfect end to a perfectly lovely evening
If you fancy exploring the delights of Les Davids, then the shop is open all year round … 1000 – 1900 from May to September and 1000 to 1800 October to May.
The terrace is open from Tuesday to Saturday during the afternoons and in high summer they also offer a Sunday Brunch.
There’s lots more too, with evening events planned for this summer and beyond.
If you want to fancy arranging a visit and want to find out more then take a look at their website www.lesdavids.fr