We were honored to be invited for a private wine tasting and harvest lunch in September at the renowned Château d’Esclans. The estate produces some of the most recognizable rosé wines in Provence including Garrus, widely considered to be one of the greatest rosés in the world, and the ever popular Whispering Angel.
Château d’Esclans is situated in the commune of La Motte-en-Provence in the department of the Var, where the majority of Provence AOC rosé is produced. The château is within a one hour drive from Cannes and Saint-Tropez. The grounds are exceptionally beautiful and rich in history. The original château – of which now only the cellar remains – dates back to before the 12th century, making it the oldest subterranean structures in the commune.
The land was occupied as long as 2500 years ago. Sitting atop a massif overlooking the Chateau, and the valley beneath it, are the ruins of an old watchtower that was probably used as a lookout point for intruders sailing into the gulf of Fréjus. In 1201, Gérard De Villeneuve, part of a wealthy family from Marseille, took ownership of the château and the majority of the land of the Vallée d’Esclans (which was eventually sold off in lots). The next owners of the château were two brothers, Sauver Louis Ranque and François Alexandre Ranque. In 1875, they sold the property to Joseph Toussaint Caussemille, who manufactured wooden matches near Marseilles. In 1955, the Perraud family owned the property until 1994. At that time, it was purchased by the Swedish pension fund that produced a small amount of wine and the remaining grapes were sold to neighboring winemakers. Sacha Lichine acquired Château d’Esclans in 2006. Today there are 180 acres (72,9 ha) of vineyards. The total property has 659 acres (267 ha).
The primary grape grown on the property is Grenache followed by Vermentino. Other grapes include Cinsault, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Tibouren. As the elevation to where the lots are situated increases, so do the age of the vines. At the highest elevated lot vines are as old as 100 years. These older vines are used to make Garrus while the younger vines are used for Whispering Angel and Rock Angel.
Our wine tasting experience began in their newly remodeled tasting room where the d’Esclans portfolio of wines is showcased and can be purchased. The walls are lined with articles and press clippings showcasing Sacha Lichine’s fascinating background, the incredible growth Château d’Esclans has experienced in recent years and its influence on rosé. From there we were given a private guided tour of the property and its cellars where we learned about their harvest season and wine-making process.
During harvest season grapes are cultivated, on the Domaine, from sunrise to noon. Once the grapes arrive to the cellars, they are sorted manually before going through optical sorting. All the grapes that go into vinification are perfectly de-stemmed and resemble each of the correct physical characteristics dictated by the wine maker including shape, size, color and general condition. The grapes are then sent through the heat exchange system which reduce their temperature from what can be as high as 29°C (84°F) down to 7-8°C (44-46°F) followed by a soft press which produces 3 grades of what is primarily free run juice. Depending on the grade of juice, the wine makers determine which will be used to make barrel fermented (aged) wine or stainless steel fermented wine.
As we finished the first part of the tour, we were lead inside the beautiful centuries-old cellar. The setting for our tasting was unique and memorable, as were the wines. Garrus, allegedly the most expensive rosé in the world and described by wine critics like James Suckling as “…arguably the best rosé on earth…,” took center stage and lived up to its billing. Les Clans was another favorite for our team with its complex taste and delicate, smooth finish.
After our tasting we stepped out onto a lovely gravel courtyard shaded by large sycamore trees with rows of family-style tables set for the harvest lunch, which takes place every day during the month of September. This communal feast is prepared by the winery’s chef, who previously worked at the prestigious Hotel Martinez in Cannes, and is for the estate’s staff, grape growers, and select guests.
The lunch was divine and consisted of four courses. The dishes were simple, rustic and highlighted the fresh, local produce. The main course was a fish accompanied with roasted potatoes, which paired beautifully with the rosé. There was also a fresh salad and terrine, an assortment of French cheeses, and a delicious chocolate cake with its crème anglaise.
This wine tasting experience was truly unique and one we highly recommend. We can arrange this tasting and harvest lunch for A.M.A Selections guests staying with us during the month of September. If you are on the French Riviera outside the month of September, we can still arrange a lovely wine tasting and tour at Château d’Esclans followed by lunch at the famous truffle restaurant, Chez Bruno.
Photos by Zoya Stafienko for A.M.A Selections. All images ©A.M.A Selections