Welcome to Sablet, a village perched on a hill in the heart of northern Provence, not far from Avignon and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Although it is becoming known by tourists, it is still a working village, and is lively all year round. Click below to learn more about the people who make its wine, or use the menus above.
Sablet's own Christian Bonfils looking rather dapper in his fireman's uniform.
The pic comes from a calendar in which all of Sablet's pompiers strut their stuff. However, unlike those "Gods of the Stadium" calendars in which football stars bare all (or almost), these discreet officers keep their kit on.
Yes, imagine that you're a Sablet damsel in distress with, for example, your cat caught in a tree. You'd be itching to call these boys in, wouldn't you?
Here, below, is a pic of the whole crew, with several of the vignerons featured in sablet-wine.com.
Christian, back row, second from the left
Jean-Marc Autran, back row, fifth from the left
Eric Chauvin, middle row, fourth from left; then next to him, Michel Isnard and Bernard Chamfort
Anne-Marie Gaudin might have been an architect and left the domaine to her brother. But he became an engineer and was “not close enough to the earth” to become a peasant vigneron. As a fourth generation winemaker, Anne-Marie feels that “you need to be flexible, pragmatic and intuitive” if you want to make good wine.
Her great grandfather Albin grew olive and cherry trees and started making wine. Anne-Marie’s father Rolland, who has been the mayor of Gigondas for over a decade, bought the Sablet vines forty years ago. She’s just bought some Vacqueyras. “It’s good to buy some more vines each generation,” she says.
She now has twelve hectares of vines in Sablet, eleven in Gigondas, and three in Vacqueyras. Only two hectares of the Sablet vines are used for Sablet AOC wines; the rest of the grapes go into a Cotes du Rhone. With a large plot of old grenache in les Briguieres and two other plots of the same variety in slightly sandier soils nearer to the village and a large plot of mixed varieties against the Trignon river which forms the boundary with Gigondas, Anne-Marie has several different terroirs from which to make her wines.
She also believes firmly in the traditions handed down through the generations. She came to the estate “with her diploma” from Macon and had to learn the importance of tradition in the face of all the theory. Her grandparents “knew what they were doing.” She is responsible for the winemaking. Her father still “consults” in the vines – “that is, he gives orders”. They pick their grapes by hand, choosing the plots according to the maturity and weather. Again, it comes down to that peasant flexibility.
Although she is not a fan of organics for the sake of it, she doesn’t use chemicals as a matter of course.
Anne-Marie did her first vintage in 1987, a disastrously wet year. That same year they bought premises in the main square in Gigondas, as the estate is too remote for passing trade. She had travelled widely in France and had seen the need for an outlet. She also attends over ten wine fairs a year, including the huge Salons des Independents in Paris and Lille, where she is the only vigneron representing Sablet! A whopping 80% of her sales are direct. The other 20% is exported. She supplies a “bit” to several retailers.
She makes about 7000 bottles of her Sablet red from grenache and syrah. It is aged in enamel-lined vats for two years. She does the relatively standard daily remontage and a bit of pigeage “in years that are not too tough”. Her 2000 bottles of Sablet white, made with viognier, “sell out in a few months.”
Anne-Marie and Rolland Gaudin
+33 (0)4 90658675
The winery of this ancient estate of 38 hectares is just south of Sablet in the commune of Gigondas. From eight hectares of red vines in Sablet, it makes a Cotes du Rhone village and from 2 ha of white varieties it makes 10,000 bottles of Sablet blanc. Jean-Pierre Meffre agrees that Sablet is particularly favoured for white wine production, recalling the comment of Robert Parker, the global wine guru, that Sablet is the “Chablis of the South”.
The estate was bought eighty years before the French Revolution by a Lieutenant called Pierre Goubert. At that time it contained nothing in Sablet. Several generations later, the estate owned a quarter of the vines in Gigondas. However, at one stage there were so many children that the estate became dispersed. One of the heirs, Maria Madeleine Goubert, decided to regroup as much of the land as she could: she did this first by marrying her first cousin and then by moving to Algeria with the specific idea of making money quickly so she could buy her brother’s holdings, which she did when she returned a decade later. However, she only had a daughter, who married a member of the Meffre family. The estate has remained in that family since. Indeed, the names Goubert, Meffre and Roux turn up all the time in this valley. The Sablet vines came to the family three generations ago with a marriage to the Autran family, another local institution. Just below a large lump of safre, it is essentially sandy, but has plenty of clay as well with few stones.
Jean-Pierre has been in charge since 1980. He has bought another eight hectares over that time. He sells his Sablet red without the village appellation since he has always had a good market for it as a Cotes du Rhone. As well as 70% grenache and 20% syrah, it contains 10% carignan, an often-derided “secondary” variety, which is marvellous when the vines are old. It sees no oak and gets lots of stirring up with delestage and even “cliquage” in which oxygen is blown through the juices. He picks the grenache a bit later than average, but likes the syrah fresh.
The white, called L’Oratory, is made without any wood. The richness comes from the viognier and Grenache blanc in the mix, which also contains clairette for complexity, bourboulenc for freshness and roussanne for its aromas.
33 (0)4 90658633
Eric Ughetto’s father worked for a large estate in Gigondas. Eric's parents also owned three hectares at the Roubine in Gigondas and a half ha in Séguret. His father worked in his own vines in the evenings and on weekends.
Eric took over the 3.5 ha in 1990, and almost immediately bought 2 more ha of Gigondas. In 1993, he took 5 ha in fermage – renting the land under a long-term agreement – in Vacqueyras, just south of Gigondas.
In 2004 he was approached to do the same in Sablet. “I like Sablet’s terroir a lot,” he says. “You can make lovely wines here, and even grands vins.” So, now he rents 5 ha, mostly up in sandy soils up in the Briguières and near the Gravillas on sandy, rocky soil. His red vines contain mainly Grenache, with some Syrah and Cinsault. They are a good age, on average over 30 years. He has recently planted a few plots of white grapes.
Firmly traditionalist, Eric and his wife Sophie Boulet trust their instincts more than anything else. As everyone did generations ago, they leave the stems on their grapes for fermentation. “If God put them there," Eric says, "why not use them? It’s more work, because we have to get the picking date totally correct, which means we need to have a full team of pickers. Anyway, since our vines are in four places, the grapes mature at different times, so the pickers can be where they’re needed on the day.”
They are in their second year of conversion to organic farming, because “we all have to respect the land we walk on.”
They make only one cuvée of red Sablet at the moment; with 70% grenache, 25% syrah and 5% cinsault. After about ten days of fermentation in cement vats, they do daily pigeage, leaving it all to brew away in there for another good twenty days. When asked if this is not a bit too vigorous, Eric says: “Well, you’ve tasted the wine. What do you think?” He’s right. 80% of the wine is aged in cement vats; the rest is aged for over a year in oak demi-muids that have been well used before. He wants the openness that comes from oak aging without the simple sweet sensations of new oak.
Their white vines have been too young to produce as Sablet, so they released it for several years as a Vin de Table. They did their first Sablet blanc in 2011.
Eric Ughetto & Sophie Boulet
+33 (0)4 90 65 81 55
You’re entitled to a bit of confusion here. The Domaine Pasquier has most of its vines in a place in Sablet called les Pasquiers which is marked as Les Pesquiers on the map. The Domaine Pesquier has most of its vines in a place called le Pesquier in Gigondas which is marked, naturally enough, as Le Pasquier on the map.
In any event, in 1972 Guy Boutiere took over the Domaine Pesquier from his father, who had converted the land completely to vines after the tragic 1956 frosts killed most of the fruit and olive trees. Guy’s son Mathieu joined him in 2005. They own 24 hectares in total, 17 of which are in Gigondas, six in Sablet and one in Vacqueyras.
In Sablet, they own three plots on the eroded limestone and sand of the lower slopes to the east of the village, one plot on deeper soil to the west, and a series of small plots near the river. The grapes from the river side go into some 35,000 bottles of fruity Vin de Pays de Vaucluse made from syrah and merlot that are exported mainly to Holland. They could produce a Sablet village wine from the other plots, but prefer to sell it as a Cotes du Rhone, as they have done historically. It is 70% grenache, 20% mourvèdre and the rest old carignan and cinsault. About 7000 bottles are sold, mostly overseas. Neither of these wines is aged in oak, although they do get quite a bit of extraction during fermentation with delestage twice a day during fermentation, so have plenty of character. The grapes are de-stemmed.
They also produce about 40,000 bottles of Gigondas and 4000 bottles of Vacqueyras each year.
Their cellar is on the wide plain below Gigondas. Coming south on the main road from Sablet, their road is several hundred metres beyond the Cave de Gigondas, on the right.
Guy & Mathieu Boutière
+33 (0)4 90658616
Claude Roux’s fingers betray where he spends most of his time: in the vines. His cousin Jean-Pierre is more likely to be found in the winery 300 metres below the scant remains of a medieval church next to a miraculous spring where pilgrims came in droves to seek protection during the medieval plague. The highly-venerated wooden statue of Notre Dame des Pallières was moved down to the church in Gigondas, from which it was stolen.
The cousins inherited the estate from their grandfather. They now own 65 hectares of vines, 16 of which are widely dispersed in Sablet, from the gravelly slopes of the Cheval Long through the sandier core of the commune and down to the Plan de Dieu on the other side of the river. The vast majority of their vines are grenache, with some syrah. Grapes from the oldest plants are used in a Sablet cuvee, of which 10,000 bottles are made; the rest find their way into a CdR together with fruit from Roquemaure in the Gard department from the western side of the Rhone.
The style here is fruity and approachable. The Roux do not like tough tannins. They try to get a lot of sun onto the leaves by using a “rollover” system in which wires are placed high to support the stems, but then remove the outside leaves with an effeuilleuse, a large vacuum which sucks the leaves off the plant (Care! The word also means strip-teaser). They plant grass between every second row to reduce yields, use organic fertiliser and avoid chemical treatments. They see organic farming as “inevitable” for themselves and their clients, although they still use systemic treatments in difficult years.
The Roux pick late and de-stem the grapes, but then do quite a bit of extraction with daily remontage, 5 or 6 delestages and a bit of gentle pigeage. The “cuvaison” (time spent in the fermentation vat between delivery from the vines until the wine is poured off for ageing) is shorter than it used to be when they used full bunches. The Sablet wines are not barrel aged.
They also have 15 hectares of Gigondas, from which they make two cuvées, one of which is barrel-aged. From 13 ha in a single plot high in the hills behind Rasteau they make a single cuvée. It contains mourvèdre, which they find more challenging now that the traditional chemical treatment for the rot which afflicts the variety is outlawed. They have just under two ha in Séguret but over thirteen in Lirac, a Cru on the western side of the Rhone.
Their winery and bottle shop are just south of Sablet. Take the road left after the picnic tables on the main road down to Gigondas. Once you are on that little road, it’s the first building on the right.
Emma Roux, the grand aunt of the Domaine de la Mavette’s current owner, Jean-Francois Lambert, lost both her husband and son to war: her husband to the First World War and her son, when he was only 19, to a Nazi patrol in Sablet. She had inherited 15 hectares of vines, but as she had no direct descendent, gave them to her nephew, Jean-Francois’s father, who rented them out while he ran a bar in Carpentras. He took back the vines in 1971, but as he lacked the necessary equipment, he set up a partnership with a neighbour, an arrangement that was designed to last until the parties’ children were ready to take over.
Jean-Francois studied in Burgundy in 1986, before taking on the domaine the following year. He made his first wine in 1988 at the age of 22. Since then, he has doubled the surface of vines to 32 hectares. Of these,6.5 are in Sablet, to the west of the village. He makes 7000 bottles of Sablet red and 2000 bottles of white Vin de Pays purely from Viognier grown in the rich soils down by the river Ouveze. A couple of his other Vins de Pays contain grapes from Sablet and neighbouring communes.
Jean-Francois is taking the domaine organic. For his red Sablet, he does not de-stem the grapes before fermentation, uses oak barrels sparingly or not at all (depending on the year), has no set approach to pumping over and pigeage and relies on indigenous yeasts. This wine contains grenache, syrah and, since 2010, some carignan.
The viognier vines for the white Vin de Pays get rigorous green harvesting to reduced yields. After experiments with barrel aging produced wines with too much vanilla, he has decided not to use oak at all in that wine. Yeasts from Champagne are used to get the aroma profile he likes.
His cellar is in a lovely building which was rebuilt in 1900 from an earlier one further up the valley. Just over a kilometre south from Sablet on the road to Gigondas, turn left at the large sign to Les Pallieres. It is a short distance beyond the Pallieres.
Sandrine and Jean-François Lambert
Route de Lencieu 84190 Gigondas
+33 (0)4 90 65 85 29
Although Frédéric Meffre’s family has been involved in wine for three generation, they have only just started making it. Fred’s father and grandfather, who had vines in Séguret and Sablet, delivered their grapes to the Co-ops of those villages. Fred started working for his Dad in 2003, then took off for six months in 2005 to work in the vineyards of Chile before returning to continue working at the estate. Fred started making his own wine in 2010, in a corner of his Dad’s barn, with some equipment he bought and “stuff friends lent me”. He plans to make a winery of his own at his home in Séguret. At the moment, he only makes 1300 bottles of Sablet a year. It’s a classic mix of 70% grenache and 30% syrah which are fermented together then aged in old barrels which he has bought from St Cosme in Gigondas, where his good friend Pablo Hocht works. It’s what they call a “vin de garage”. Thankfully, it doesn’t have the price tag of a Saint Emilion vin de garage.
Their Sablet holdings of organically farmed vines are in anisolated spot in the hills near the eastern boundary of the commune on the other side of the Cheval Long ridge. It's just beyond a tiny spring, the Fontaine des Fées, the fairy spring. As these vines slope gently towards the east, they pick up the softer sun of the morning, rather than the searing power of the Provencale sun in the afternoon. They are also higher than most of Sablet’s vines. If you put these two factors together – aspect and altitude – you have vines that ripen quite a bit later than the average.
They have six hectares of vines up here, all lined up between a little track and the forest’s edge. He also has eight hectares in Séguret and six in Villedieu to the north. The Sablet soils come from the erosion of the limestone base of the Cheval Long. Some of his soils are deep and clayey; others are slightly more rocky. From time an outcrop comes to the surface. This is complex and diverse terroir, the character of which comes through in his wines.
Domaine Fontaine des Fées
Quartier Chante Grenouille 84110 Séguret
+33 (0)6 75 01 08 49
The name la Cabasse comes from casa bassa, or home below (i.e. the village of Séguret) which is what it would have been called back in the 14th century when the Popes ruled the area from Avignon.
The estate has a recent feel however, as Alfred and Antoinette Haeni moved here with their family from Switzerland in 1990. Decades before wine tourism became trendy, they renovated the buildings to bring together a winery, restaurant and three star hotel. The view across the vines to the Dentelles de Montmirail is superb.
In 2011 the Haenis sold the estate to Anne and Benoit Baudry, who have renovated the restaurant and re-opened it with Chef Johannes Sailer, who until recently ran les Abeilles restaurant in Sablet. Johannes is a very talented and choosy chef, so everyone is looking forward to seeing his new venture.
Most of the estate’s five hectares of Sablet vines are south of the winery, just across the little creek which marks the communal boundary. They also have a smaller plot in the middle of the Cheval Long. Mostly grenache and syrah, with a spot of carignan, these grapes end up in the estate’s simplest wine, the cuvée Les Deux Anges (the two angels). They also produce a red Gigondas and five cuvées of Seguret; three reds, a rosé and a white.
This Sablet terroir is perfect for making approachable and supple wines which can be enjoyed soon after bottling for the sheer pleasure of the fruit and spiciness. The contact between the juice and the solid matter (maceration) during fermentation is kept short, and the wine is then aged in tanks, not barrels, for only six to eight months. This wine is very popular in North America. Since the other cuvées are designed to have more structure, maceration and aging take longer, and some are aged in oak.
The hotel has fourteen rooms and the restaurant forty places. It is open from Easter to All Saints Day.
To get there, drive up the D23 from the Mairie at Sablet towards Séguret. After about 1.5 kilometers it’s on your right, well signposted.
Pablo Hocht knows this country well. He was born in a stone house, the Creve-Coeur, in a remote valley behind Séguret. His father, an artist, discovered the place over forty years ago. Four barrels of Pablo’s Sablet wine are ageing in a small barrel-vaulted cellar below his father’s airy and creatively disorganised workshop. The wine is vinified in shared facilities down on the plain, and brought up in a vat on a truck and piped down to the cellar. It’s the delightfully typical story of a young and passionate vigneron heading out on his own.
For a living, Pablo works with one of Gigondas’s better known characters, Louis Barruol of the Domaine St Cosme. When he was approached to buy two hectares of old vines on the western side of the Ouveze river, out there in the heat, sun and wind, he plunged in so that he could make wine for himself, too. The vines are grown in the traditional gobelet form without wires, just like gnarled hands emerging from the earth. This terroir is not the easiest to work, but it can produce wonderful wines. The vines are mainly grenache over 60 years old, and a few rows of mourvèdre. Pablo would love to be able to produce Sablet from all of the grapes but he is not allowed to. A Cotes du Rhone village has to have at least 20% of an “improving” variety. Since he doesn’t have enough mourvèdre for that, the rest has to be sold as a simple Cotes du Rhone. He is also taking on three hectares in Séguret under a fermage (wine tenancy) agreement.
As most of the motivated youngsters these days, he is farming organically and is taking the vines biodynamic. Why? “Well, it’s obvious,” he says. He picks early, for the sake of freshness and to avoid high alcohol that is so common on the hotter soils.
The Sablet, of 80% grenache and 20% mourvèdre, is not de-stemmed and gets a long vinification with gentle pigeage and a little remontage. These wines don’t need to be stirred up too much! The wine is aged in old barrels he buys from St Cosme. He produced about 1200 bottles of 2010.
The Cotes du Rhone has two components. The first gets semi-carbonic maceration: the bunches are put into the vat with the grapes intact. Some juice escapes from them anyway and starts to ferment, producing carbon dioxide, which stops classic fermentation of the others. Fermentation starts inside the grape, but it’s driven by enzymes not yeast. When the grapes burst, classic fermentation takes over. The result is a fruitier and more exuberant wine which is not designed to age. The other component is made like the Sablet. The bunches are not de-stemmed, but the grapes are crushed so the normal fermentation takes off. The Cotes du Rhone is not aged in barrels. In 2010 he made 2500 bottles. He also makes a fruity yet tight rosé, called the Rosé du Coucou. The cuckoo tends to squat in other bird’s nests, just like Pablo the winery squatter. He will no doubt construct his own facilities soon, precisely so that he can fly off on his own wings.