Domaine du Grand Montmirail Gigondas and Vacqueyras
The vineyards of Gigondas are some of the most ancient in the Southern Rhône. Since Roman times, olive trees and fruit trees were always planted beside the vines. In 1956, a particularly severe spring freeze destroyed nearly all the fruit trees, leaving just the vines and forcing the producers to concentrate only on their wines. After much hard work, Gigondas gained appellation status in 1966.
The Domaine du Grand Montmirail is owned by the Cheron family. Originally from Burgundy, Denis Cheron bought the Cave du Grand Comtadiné in Vacqueyas in the 1960s. There he vinified grapes for scores of local producers and succesfully ran a négociant firm.
Denis Cheron's son Yves, who has managed Domaine du Grand Montmirail since the early 1980s.
The Cheron Family Acquires Grand Montmirail
One of Denis' suppliers was the owner of the Domaine du Grand Montmirail, a wonderfully situated property in the southern part of Gigondas. When this supplier retired, offers came in from all directions for this optimal piece of land. But retaining an allegiance to his friend Denis, the deed for the property was signed over to the Cheron family.
Vineyards at the southern slope of Dentelles de Montmirail
Shortly afterwards, important investments were made to improve the grape varieties and to construct a winemaking cellar in the heart of the property. In the early 1980s, Denis' son Yves, a graduate in enological studies in Beaune, took over the labors at the domaine. He refurbished an old convent on the property and made it his family house, an amazing home overlooking the vineyards and Mount Ventoux in the distance.
Montmirail's Terraced Vineyards
The domaine covers more than 35 hectares planted exclusively on the hillsides and terraces, known locally as banquettes. The vineyards are situated directly on the Southern slope of the famous Dentelles de Montmirail, at the foot of the very rock face. It is a superb site, dominated by granite cliffs nearly a hundred meters in height.
The vines benefit from a remarkably sunny exposure while being sheltered from the dominant wind, the Mistral. The altitude of the vineyards varies between 300 and 350 meters — among the highest in Gigondas.
Impact on Soils from Alpine Rifts
Grand Montmirail is in the extreme southeastern part of the appellation where the soil is very complex. In this map, the two white areas on the right represent the two ridges of the dentelles. The town of Gigondas is about three kilometers northwest.
The base of this deep earth is composed of sedimentary clay from when the sea covered this site. The rise of the Alps created many rifts, including the emergence of the impressive rocky barriers that are the Dentelles de Montmirail — the Lace of Monmirail, so named because of their lace-like patterns.
Yves Chéron in his vineyards below Les Dentelles de Montmirail
The erosion continues in these Dentelles in the form of different-sized limestone rocks. Although the soil is well-drained, water is always present under the surface due to the existence of three springs on the property. These elements help give the wines an extraordinary elegance that much of the appellation finds difficult to obtain. The northern side of the land is more clay-based and the wines are more structured while always retaining an lovely balance and finesse.
Due to the site's different grape varieties and the differences in altitude, the grapes are never fully ripe at the same moment. Sometimes it can take as long as a month to harvest.
Young vines at Grand Montmirail. Mont Ventoux in the distance is about 12 1/2 miles east.
Harvest & Vinification
The vendange begins with Syrah, the quickest to ripen, and then the Grenache in the highest spots. The Mourvèdre is the slowest ripening and usually the last to be harvested. The entire harvest is picked by hand which allows for better quality.
Yields are never more than 35 hectolitres per hectare. Among the old vines on the terraces, however, it generally falls to 30 hl/ha at most.
The freshly-picked grapes are transported frequently to the vats situated in the heart of the vines to avoid any form of oxidation. After being completely destemmed, they go into the tanks and are lightly crushed. The tanks themselves are made of cement and are temperature-controlled.
The pre-fermentation period lasts several days in order to extract grape pigment and the primary aromas of the grape. Then the fermentation begins. Only indigenous yeasts are used. Fermentation generally lasts between 10 and 12 days. The pressing takes place in a bladder press.
Aging occurs in enamel-lined tanks in the temperature-controlled winery. The vats themselves are completely underground. This is of extreme importance in this region where the climate is capable of extreme variables. No oak is used.
The élevage continues, and the malolactic fermentation normally takes place by the end of the year. The wine is normally racked four or five times before bottling. The addition of sulphur is kept to a minimum. Filtration is extremely light.