We pulled in and were greeted by Amie, the wife and more animated half of the husband-wife pair who owned and ran the entire operation. The cave was attached to their home, a lovely building surrounded by a colorful and lovingly-tended garden and courtyard. When we asked Amie, who kept the gardens, she told us she did, and commented "it's a lot of work, true, but this is where we work and live, so we want it to be beautiful". We could tell as we went on with our visit that she and her husband Joel took this same approach with their wine...they took care with very step of the process and lovingly ensured that they produced only the best.
The courtyard of Saint Damien was beautiful and welcoming, just like our hosts.
Amie led us into the small and tidy cave, where she and Joel proudly described the history of their business. Joel's family has been in the wine business for four generations, committed to the land in the Gigondas. Joel and Amie had been a fairly small operation, producing wines in bulk for local consumption only for years. They started to put some in bottles and sold to local restaurants and the wine began to be noticed for its' quality and superior taste. At about this time they also started to put more effort into tracking the production from specific parcels of their land within the Gigondas region, and from that came the birth of their three different labels. Since then they have continued to receive ever-increasing reviews, get more and more noticed and their business has grown. Soon their son, who is finishing his oenology studies and currently doing an internship at a local vineyard, will join them and help them as they continue to grow.
Once we tasted their wine (9 in total that morning!! Whew!!) it was clear to us that their commitment to the land, their craftsmanship and attention to detail was indeed paying off..their wines were amazing. They were all red wines, since that is all that is allowed within the Gigondas appelation by AOC law, but there was a wide variety in taste based on which specific parcel the grapes had come from and the way the wines had been crafted.
While Amie had done most of the talking during the tour, Joel was clearly in his element talking about the wines, so he provided us with a detailed description of the different labels and vintages while pouring (with translations by Jennifer and his wife). Amie had prepared a small snack for us to enjoy with our tasting...so we drank amazing red wine and sampled local cheese all right in their cave, in the midst of vats, cases of wine, crates of bottles and a small labeling machine. It was a great morning...an up-close and personal introduction to a lovely French couple who were dedicated to producing the best wine they could.
We reluctantly bid farewell to our lovely hosts from Saint Damien and headed for lunch at a nearby restaurant they had recommended. It was another perfect meal...we sat outside on a terrace overlooking the vineyards and indulged in local cuisine and wine while soaking up the sun.
Our tasting for the afternoon was at Chateau de la Gardine, in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region. Our guide for the tour was Marie, one half of the brother-sister combo that ran this very-well regarded vineyard that has been in her family for generations. As she took us through the vineyards and the cave, Marie gave us some insight into the demands of running a winery. She also gave us a very detailed tour of the processing, giving us access to some parts of the process that we'd never seen before, even in our many tours (see pics below of group peering into stainless steel vat from top!).
Like our visit earlier with Saint Damien, it was clear that this family was committed to preserving the quality of their wines and the honor of their family label...regardless of how hard the work. We had a great tour, followed, of course, by a tasting of some of their best wines.
The vineyards and grounds of Chateau de la Gardine were lovely, and our tour with the owner was fascinating.
Before we took off for dinner, we took a minute to snap the annual picture of Don and Jennifer in front of our tour bus.
We ended the day with dinner at a restaurant right at the foot of the walls of the ruins of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We sat out on the terrace, enjoying the lovely food and some wine that our hostess from Chateau de la Gardine had arranged for us to have with our meal. Of course, the view of the Rhone River and the vineyards was spectacular as the sun set. This is the life!