By Zoltán Palotai
Buy a several hundred year old chateau in Provence in a classic rosé producing area. Respect the old vines and the traditional varieties. Work with one of the world’s most famous oenologists (grape grower-winemaker). Be open to new technology, but buy wooden barrels. Try to make the best rosé in the world and don’t bother about people thinking you’re nuts.
In a nutshell, this is the story of Sacha Lichine and Chateau D’Esclans, written since 2006.
Alexis Lichine: The father. He moved from Russia to America, then to Bordeaux. He was a leading wine merchant in France, owner of two chateaus and author of a wine encyclopedia. He defined the most important aim that is pursuing perfection during every single second of making the wine, even at cooling.
Sacha Lichine: The Russian-American-French son, who’s got wine running through his veins. His father fled a revolution while Sacha made a revolution in the world of rosé. He’s organized luxury wine trips for Americans to France, been a sommelier, wine representative, and a negociant for the family business, which is still prosperous today (see the “chicken” wines in the newly arrived section).
As Wine Spectator simply puts it: he is “an heir of a respectable wine family who makes the most exclusive rosé in the world”. Being the proud owner of the winery is obvious, even at the start page of the winery’s web site: www.chateaudesclans.com
Patrick Leon – Oenologist: He is the one who connects the past with the present. He had already worked with Sacha Lichine’s father on the encyclopedia and in the wine business, then later managed the Baron Phillipe de Rothschild portfolio, both in the vineyard and the winery. Just a few names of the wines he nurtured: Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau D’armailhac, Opus One and Almaviva. Honourable company they may be, but now Patrick Leon has linked his life with the Lichine name again, in order – as they say and what other people say about them – to make the best rosé in the world in Provence.
Estate and varieties
A 270-hectare estate, one-third of which is producing at the moment, with the oldest grape-growing districts of the region, which are full of local varieties and 70-80 year old vines. In the lower territory there’s sand and stone, while the higher plots have lime and clay. The varieties are: Cinsault, Grenache, Merlot, Mouvédre, Rolle, Syrah and Tibouren.
Wines and winemaking
Basically everything is the same as in any other winery that cares about itself: precisely selected harvest dates, hand picking, careful transporting and several-rounds of selection.
Where the difference starts, based on the fatherly advice, is in the pressing: first comes the colored juice, then careful, short pressings cooled down to 7-8 degrees. Free run juices are selected before pressing. Then two ways are possible depending on the result that the chateau wants to obtain: the must goes for fermentation either to stainless steel vats at 7-8 degrees, or to specially-cooled new or second-filled demi-muids (600 L). Bâtonnage i.e. lees stirring, is carried out twice weekly for both methods.
The final result: rich, wide, elegant wines that are successful all around the world. They aren’t heavy, but are great to drink and are there to be enjoyed. They fall out of the usual rosé matrix: tasting them blind, I would guess that they are nice Burgundies.