The Perfect Rosé in Provence
Published: June 2009
By Jennifer Rubell
At a family-run vineyard in the tiny town of Puyloubier, in Provence, hotelier and cookbook author <em>Jennifer Rubell</em> finds some wine worth bottling
Here was my fantasy: to create the perfect summer wine, something decent, light, and drinkable with anything, everything,
or nothing. I wanted it to be inexpensive enough to keep around by the case, refreshing enough to hit the spot on a hot
summer day, and attractive enough to put on the table at lunches that go on until sundown. I wanted it for myself and for my
friends. I wanted to serve it at parties for my first book, Real Life Entertaining, which is all about doing things
with plenty of style but no pretense or fuss. And in the end, I wanted it to be available to everyone else too. Since I’m
already making it, I reasoned naïvely, I might as well sell it.
Over the past several months, my fantasy wine has come into being. Through a friend, I found a producer whose wine making
I trusted (his Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine du Vieux Lazaret is reliably excellent) and who was also willing to do a
200-case batch for me (in the wine business, thats minuscule). I procured an importer and a distributor. I soughtand
gainedapproval for the wine from the United States government, the French government, the state of New York (where I grew
up), and the state of Florida (where my familys hotel, the Albion, and art museum are located). I hired a company in New
York to design the label (brilliant designers; no wine label experience), and slowlyit took many dozens of phone calls to
various expediters, importers, and the winemaker himselffigured out all the necessary government-mandated wording. I
discovered that printing wine labels to be used on a traditional bottling line is an art in itself, with plenty of its own
rules (the grain must be horizontal; varnish is mandatory, for protection in shipping; self-adhesive
and pressure-sensitive labels are newfangled no-nos). All the while, the winemaker was creating the actual wine in
Now here I am at Domaine Houchart, a 220-acre vineyard with a tasting room and winery in the beautiful, tiny
Provençal town of Puyloubier (population 1,319), walking through rows of vines with Jérôme Quiot, the man who
has been making my wine.
At first, Quiot appears to be a Provençal cliché: dark hair, slightly crooked teeth, handsome, and friendly,
with the sort-of-but-not-quite-American energy of a French pop song. Look a little closer, though, and theres more to him
than that. A fine red thread on the lapel of his cashmere jacketthe oh-so-subtle French symbol of knighthood in the Legion
of Honoris a clue that Quiots world is larger than this vineyard. As a matter of fact, his family is the largest landowner
in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 60 miles to the northwest. (As Quiot tells it, his ancestors helped start the French Revolution
because with the aristocracy in place, theyd never have gotten the choicest parcels of land.) But it was lovewell, at least
marriagethat brought Quiot to Puyloubier. His wife, Geneviève, née Houchart, was born and raised in these parts. Her
family members are laced through this community on either side of the Route de Cézanne. Her father made a pact with God
to build a church in nearby Palette if the town was spared during World War II, and there stands the church, on Place
Houchard (the mayors office made a typo on the last letter). Mme. Quiots grandmother used to have Cézanne over for
tea, but refused to buy his paintings, judging them to be of poor quality. Quiots son was married in town to a woman whose
childhood home is just down the road. To this man, in this place, all geography is either biography or terroir. His
land tells stories, and his land makes wine. And, though his land makes many different kinds of wine, Im here for the
Yes, my search for the perfect summer wine has led me to Provençal rosé, one with that typical floral- and
berry-infused bouquet and a dry, high-acid finish. After years of being pooh-poohed as the wine cooler of wines, and unaided
by the ubiquity of sweet, flat, cloying white Zinfandel, dry rosé is starting to have its day. Serious restaurants, and
seriously hip ones, across the country are putting it on their lists. Books are being written about it. And unlike the
popularity of certain reds or whites, the newfound chic of rosé (proof: Sofia Coppola produces one) isnt really about
taste. Its about a warm-weather way of life thats easy, unpretentious, open, and ever-so-slightly tipsy. You dont
delicately sip a rosé and discuss the notes of fruit and leather. You pour it, drink it, eat something, drink some more,
and then you take an afternoon nap. You can even drink it with a couple of ice cubesheresy with other wines, fine with
In the vineyard, Quiot picks up a handful of earth and slowly lets it dropis there some secret instructional video for
winemakers that teaches them all to do this?revealing the rich, dark, fertile soil where the grapes for my newly bottled
rosé were grown. We walk for about a half-hour, with Quiot talking passionately about everything he does to ensure that
these vines are happy. We start heading toward the winery, but Quiot suddenly stops. "Here," he says, waving dramatically at
a smallish plot of land picturesquely dotted with trees, a small hut, and heavily scented ground cover, "is my petit
I ask Quiot why he would sacrifice usable land for a little area of found nature, expecting an explanation about
sustainable agriculture and the need to maintain unplanted areas for the good of the vines. Instead, he draws me this
picture: "In the summer, I come here with my son, a pizza, and a couple of bottles of rosé. That is why we keep it.
Sometimes we bring saucisson. Doesnt matter." Quiot and his son, Jean-Baptiste, sit together having lunch on an old
bench surrounded by rosemary, thyme, and lavender, real-life herbes de Provence. I can imagine the wood-handled
pocket-knife Quiot the elder uses to cut the saucisson. I smell all the herbs in full bloom. Yes, Id keep a
petit bois too, if it meant having picnics on the grass with my daughter every summer. I like that this man is
making my wine.
We arrive at the winery, a concrete-floored room so simple, it makes you feel as if you could become a winemaker yourself.
There are two presses for harvested grapes ("They cost $200,000 and we use them a few days a year, but what can you do?"
Quiot asks, in that charmingly defeated French way); some stainless-steel tanks where the juice and skins are subsequently
held (this 10-hour maceration is what makes rosé pink) and some larger sealed cement tanks; a cooling system; and a
massive, cathedral-ceilinged storage room, where, incidentally, Quiots sons wedding reception was held.
Its time to taste my wine. We mount a narrow metal staircase to a small yellow-walled tasting room with 360-degree views.
After our 30-minute walk through the vineyard, the cool of the winery felt good, but up here the air is stifling. The room is
filled with sunlight. Out the north window, theres the petit bois, and beyond that, Mont Sainte-Victoire, best
known as Cézannes favorite subject. To the west is Aix-en-Provence. To the east, just outside the window, are the
vineyards of Domaine Houchart. In the room, theres just Quiot; my boyfriend, Daniel Phillip Kim, a member of the Oxford Wine
Circles winning 1999 Varsity Wine-Tasting team (an 83 Margaux decided their fate in the final match against Cambridge); me;
and a bottle of Real Life Rosémy wine, my actual wine, not ready until nowsitting on the table surrounded by three
glasses. The moment of truth.
Quiot pours a little wine into each of our glasses, and we hold them up to the Provençal light. Pink, but not too
pink: perfect. We swirl the wine and put our noses in the glasses: strawberries, wildflowers, light cherries. Nice. Now, a
sip each. Into the mouth, then a gurgle to aerate the wine. Quiot spits into the silver tasting spittoon; Daniel and I
swallow. My first instinct is to take another sip. Im overheated from our trek through the vineyard and the climb up to this
aerie. Im embarrassed to tell Quiot that this wine just simply hits the spotno wine-tasting lingo comes to mind.
Fortunately, Daniel pipes up: "Garden strawberries," he says, "And good acidity." Im off the hook. But then Quiot looks at
"It tastes like summer," I say, as I drink some more.
And there it is. This is, in fact, the wine Id wanted all along. Its fresh, bright, and easy to drinkespecially on a
hot day. It doesnt have the complexity of a great Bordeaux or Burgundy, but you dont want it to. It reveals itself
quicklyberries, flowers, acidity, one, two, threeand then goes down easily. It is indeed a great wine for a picnic (Bring
on the saucisson!) or a barbecue.
After the rosé tasting, we head to the nearby Relais de Saint Ser, a favorite lunch spot for local winemakers. At a
few of the tables on the stone-walled terraceincluding our ownpeople are passing around not-yet-labeled bottles of
rosé they brought with them. After Quiot shakes a few hands, we sit down. A pile of croutons and some green-olive
tapenade appear. The waitress brings us goat-cheese salads. I order the lamb chops. The food is simple, homemade. Mont
Sainte-Victoire is behind us, and the view ahead, with Domaine Houchart in the distance to the left, is extraordinary. We
drink my rosé. And its perfect.
WHEN TO GO
Provence is beautiful spring through fall. Harvest is mid-September—early October.
WHAT TO DO
The grounds at Puyloubier (12 Rte. Departementale; 33-4/42-66-34-44; href="http://www.jeromequiot.com" target="_blank">www.jeromequiot.com) are open to the public. Houchart's main tasting
room, an hour away in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (38 Ave. Baron Leroy; 33-4/90-83-73-55), is open by appointment April through
WHERE TO EAT
Auberge du Relais de Saint Ser 13114 Rte. de St.-Antonin, Puyloubier; 33-4/42-66-37-26; dinner for two