Within the département of the Drôme, lies an anomaly known as L’Enclave des Papes, an island of land that technically belongs within Vaucluse and incorporates the four communes of Grillon, Valréas, Visan and Richerenches. Whilst Grillon might be known to tourists for its impressive château, and both Valréas and Visan will be familiar names to the amateurs du vin of the Southern Rhône, so unless you’re an avid lover of truffles, it’s unlikely you’ll have ever heard of the village of Richerenches.
Once the most important stronghold of the Knights Templars in Provence, the village is, however, most famous today for its truffle market which happens once a week during the season, culminating in the messe aux truffes, which is held on the third Sunday in January, when donations to the church are given not in money, but with the local black diamonds. The truffles are taken from the church by the local brotherhood and auctioned in the small square in front of the Hôtel de Ville.
The least known, some might say its greatest secret, however, lies within the ugly 1960s edifice of a co-operative, located at the eastern edge of the village. Its claim to fame is being the youngest co-operative in the Rhône, probably even in France. Created in 1966, with the first harvest crushed in 1967, the Cellier des Templiers takes its name from the 12th Century crusaders who once ruled the region. Today, it has around 30 members, producing in the region of 45,000 hectolitres from 1,000 hectares of vineyard. Only a tiny fraction of what the cellar crushes is sold under its own labels, with almost all of that passing through the door of the tiny cellar door shop, to a loyal and very local clientele.
Needless to say, what they do keep back is of a very high standard and, whilst not the least expensive of what can be sourced by trawling around the co-operatives of the region, they are as good as many domaine bottled offerings. Rebekah and I stumbled on the address through drinking a bottle of the local house wine in the Bistro Leonardo in Vaison-la-Romaine, with the owners who were kind enough to put me in touch with Directeur and winemaker Franck Lacombe. Together, we’re working on a new label project to bring the wines of the co-operative to a wider and more international audience.
The range centres round Terra Quercus, a reference to the local terrain, perfectly suited for the truffles that grow in the forests located around the commune (Quercus being the Latin name for oak). In terms of viticulture, the catchment area for the co-operative, is in the coolest part of the Southern Rhône, benefiting from the protection of the mountains to the north and generally remains sheltered from the mind-altering battering of the mistral. The influence in climate is noticeable in the resulting wines, with reds invariably delicate and fresh, even in the generally riper vintage of 2011.
Côtes du Rhône ‘Terra Quercus’ Blanc
A multi-varietal wine, composed of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne harvested simultaneously with the blend being made in the cellar at the point of harvest. The wine is aged in tank and usually committed to bottle by February following the vintage. It was our first introduction to the wines of the cellar and we were struck by its presence.
Côtes du Rhône ‘Terra Quercus’ Rosé
As good as any Rosé you’ll find in the region. Based on 90% Grenache with 10% Syrah. Dry, clean, with a lovely freshness to the acidity. Whilst 2013 was a tricky year, to say the least, this is a commendable effort. Stock, however, remains very short.
Côtes du Rhône ‘Terra Quercus’ Rouge
Based on 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. The wine is fermented and aged in an immense gallery of underground caverns in tanks sunk even further into the earth. Soft, perfumed and approachable.