Last week was a very busy one, but lots of fun. It was the 5 edition of Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône, an amazing event sponsored by InterRhône, which is sort of the governing body that oversees all of the Rhône Valley appellations, from north to south. This year it started off on Monday with Tavel and Lirac which holds their tasting on a hillside over-looking the vineyards of Tavel. It is an idyllic spot and the event was very well attended. Just up the road from Tavel at the Château de Clary, was Costières de Nimes and Clairette de Bellegarde tasting. It was a beautiful day and I stopped in just as it was winding down after having spent the afternoon pruning.
In conjunction with the official tastings there are also several "off" events scheduled around this time to take advantage of the numerous importers, distributors and retailers that are in the area for the event. The first of which was Monday night at the beautiful Château Beauregard in Jonquières, the tasting was organized by the Toqués des Dentelles a group comprised of some of the top winemakers in the southern Rhône. Marcel Richaud, Oratoire Saint Martin, Rouge Garance, Bosquet des Papes, La Réméjeanne, Jean David, Chaume-Arnaud, and so on... make up this group of bon-vivant winemakers that all enjoy a good fête. The evening was, as always a who's who of southern Rhône winemakers, not only pouring their wines but also those who come as guests. Serge Férigoule of Le Sang des Cailloux, Hélène Thibon and Alain Macagno of Mas de Libian, importers and distributors from all over Europe. Their special guests this year were several vignerons from the Loire Valley. Most of the appellations also organised parties during the week, another one I attended was the 20th anniversary of the Luberon appellation which was held at the magnificent La Mirande hotel in Avignon. Most of the winemakers from the appellation were there along with their best bottles, they even brought old vintages for us to taste, all of this accompanied by the wonderful food of the hotels Michelin starred restaurant.
Tuesday was the beginning of the festivities in Avignon with Châteauneuf-du-Pape as the headliner, but it also included many great Cotes du Rhône et Côtes du Rhône Villages producers including the Côtes du Vivarais, Cairanne, Rasteau, etc. What makes this event, which is only open to professionals, so wonderful is that virtually everyone participates, even the big guns, the stars. Of course there are a few prima donnas who don't deem the event necessary, but for the most part you can taste through the entire production of many of the great wineries of the region. The other big draw is the location, the tastings take place inside the Palais des Papes in Avignon, entering the great hall, you have to stop and take in the scene. The centuries old vaulted hall filled with the buzz and excitement of several hundred wine professionals all gathered to taste and celebrate the wines of the region is something to experience.
As the week progessed so did the appellations, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Beaumes de Venise, Ventoux, Luberon, all took place in Avignon, then at the end of the week, the event moved north to Tain l'Hermitage and then finishing up Saturday in Côte Rôtie. It's an event that doesn't seem to be on the radar of the American press, and it definitely should be, it's an occasion not to be missed if you are in the wine business and if you love the wines of the Rhône! Now, unfortunately, you'll have to wait until 2011, since the event takes place every other year.