Our bus pulled through a long driveway flanked by Cypress trees and we arrived at a stone and shuttered house which looked to be several hundred years old and was surrounded by acres (hectares, if you want to be true to the French) of vines. We were surprised and thrilled to see Monsieur Jerome Quiot waiting to greet our bus. It had been an honor for him to host us at lunch yesterday....we did not expect to see him again or have him as our personal guide. Monsieur Quiot is not only president of his families' wine business, he's also a past president of the AOC and a very well-regarded man in the wine world of Southern France . (see--this is why I call it the trip of a lifetime!!).
Monsieur Quiot greeted us warmly and asked if we wanted to spend "a few minutes walking the vines before tasting." Of course we agreed -- and those few minutes turned into almost two hours filled with personal stories, lessons and a view into the history of Domaine du Houchart, the Quiot family and winemaking in the Cotes de Provence.
We walked through all the different fields while Mr Quiot explained the work that was done in the vineyard and how his family (wife, son and daughter are all part of the family business) managed their multiple estates. The Houchart vineyards had been in his wife's family for generations, and so their holdings were joined when they got married. He told us his wife ran the day-to-day operations of their family business...I would have given anything to meet her!
Like all of the winemakers we have met on this trip, Monsieur Quiot had a deep knowledge, respect and love for the land...this was evident as he explained how they patiently and diligently worked in the vines, some of them 50-60 years old, according to the weather, the seasons and tradition. Domaine du Houchart sits between two mountains, Mt Ventoux and Mt Saint-Victoire, made famous by the paintings of Cezanne. Mr Quiot told us stories and gave us many tips about growing wines in Provence...some of them dating back to his great-great-grandfather. As we walked he also taught us how to identify the different grape varietals by their leaf and growing patterns...Syrah had a dark leaf with a very veined back, Grenache had a lighter color leaf while the Carignan was a much larger and ruffled leaf...we all collected samples of leaves as we walked along, since, of course, he quizzed us.
After strolling through the vineyards he took us for a walk through the "Petite Bois", or "Little Forest", the shady, wooded area along the side of the grape plantings. This is an area where it is always cool and shady, he explained, even in the hot Provençal summers....so it is the site of picnics for his family and the favorite playground of his granddaughters when they visit the estate (he smiled broadly as he described how much his 8-yr-old granddaughter loved the vineyards and begged to come with him when he visited Domaine Houchart). He also pointed out all sorts of local plants and trees, including rosemary, fennel, and thyme that was growing wild...we each picked our own fresh bouquet of Herbes de Provence.
The vineyards of Domaine du Houchart
Monsieur Quiot spent hours walking the vineyards with us
As always, our French hosts love Jennifer!
After our tour of the grounds we walked through the caves and various out buildings before heading into a large hall for tasting. The room was filled with pictures, memorabilia and history of his wife's family...Monsieur Quiot of course gave us all the back stories, including some very interesting ones about the writer Emil Zola and the painter Paul Cezanne, both of whom had been friends of his wife's family and spent time at the estate around the turn of the century. We had a great time listening to the stories and tasting some lovely wines...what a truly amazing afternoon and visit at Domaine du Houchart.
Tasting rose from Provence
For dinner we went to a restaurant right at the base of Mount Saint Victoire...we were able to do a little hiking and got a great view of the mountain...a great end to a great day!
Some amazing views of Mount Saint Victoire