It’s exactly 300 years since these 40 acres on the baking hot floor of the Rhône Valley were first settled for the purpose of producing wine. In 1715 the Granier family decided this was a good spot, and planted vines. I’m in the Château Les Quatre Filles vineyard in the south of the valley. From a rack of dusty bottles, Rhône Valley chef d’entreprise Vincent Flesia picks a red wine produced in 1880. I’ve never seen a bottle of wine that old. Wow, what a vintage. It must taste amazing. “Actually, it’s not that interesting,” he says with a chuckle. “But they’re our interesting history. Our ancestors.”
First Rhône vineyard
to go organic
Several centuries later, it was renamed Château Les Quatre Filles after four sisters who inherited the property. Mum Nicole Flesia (one of the four), dad Roger, and sons Vincent and Romain live on the vineyard. The sons took over the family business in 2003 and developed the first organic wine in the region. The vines aren’t treated with any chemicals and nothing is added to the wine when it is made.
The red wines of the southern Rhône are mostly medium-bodied and spicy. This region also produces high quality sweet wines. The northern Rhône is hilly and terraced, while the southern Rhône is a baking valley floor in summer. At 40 acres Château Les Quatre Filles is medium-sized for the district. The vineyard is divided into appellations including Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC and AOC Cairanne Rochgude Villages. Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne is an appellation for quality red, white and rosé wines from the parish of Cairanne in the southern Rhône.
Cairanne lies to the east of the historical town of Orange, just a short distance from banks of the Rhône river. The climate is typically Mediterranean. The hotter it is, the better it is for the vintage. Soil is limestone and alluvial. The Aigues river passes right through Cairanne on its course to meet the Rhône river just west of Orange.
Harvest lasts a month – from mid-September to mid-October. The wine goes through two stages of fermentation. The first takes place 15-20 days after the end of harvest and second stage will be over by November 15. Bottling starts in January and won’t finish until October.
“We prefer cork”
Les Quatre Filles may have been the organic pioneer, but the vineyard sticks firmly to tradition on one issue: Wines are still corked. Screw caps are fast becoming the norm elsewhere. Chef d’entreprise Vincent says nothing is better than cork. All wine is processed and bottled on site. Cellaring is best for between five and seven years.
Vincent says the heat of the afternoon compromises the quality of white grapes so they are picked early in the day – 7am-1pm and later the red grapes are picked from 8pm-midnight. Twelve workers work eight-hour shifts for six days a week. Red grapes grown here are grenache, syrah and mourvedre. The vines are on average about 80 years old.Les Quatre Filles sells 100,000 bottles of Cotes du Rhône red, white and rose annually. About 60 per cent is exported to China, Japan and Europe and the rest is sold in France.
The cellar door attracts French, English, Belgian and German visitors. The Cotes du Rhône red is the most popular wine for customers. Prices start at a modest 7 euros. Naturally, we taste. It’s Wine O’Clock.
I’m here with a small group of Back-Roads Touring travellers and this is a big highlight. No tourist-plagued villages or overcrowded monuments today. It’s just us, Vincent and the Flesia family. We all sit down to lunch at a long table shaded by trees in front of the modest chateau which has housed the family for centuries.
Lunch with the family
Catering is provided by Judy Harrison, a British ex-pat living near by, whose forte is terrines to die for. Lunch also includes platters of cheeses, including goats cheese, which are all made locally. And lots of wine, of course, redolent with the aromas of big plump raisins, cinnamon and berries.
After lunch I’m shown some artefacts, including a rifle from the Napoleonic era. Roger Flesia says he doesn’t think it’s been fired since then, but it’s kept cleaned and oiled anyway. Like the dusty old bottles, it’s family history. And what a history.
Travel Tips for Château Les Quatre Filles
- Romain and Vincent Flesia
Route de Lagarde Paréol, 84290 Ste Cecile les Vignes
Tel: +33 490 308 412
Cellar door: Open every day 8am-8pm
- Back-Roads tour which takes in a visit to Les Quatre Filles: Provence and the French Riviera
- Friendly winery to visit. No wine snobbery here!
- Prices are very reasonable
- I brought their wine back to Australia and it travelled well.
* I travelled as a guest of Back-Roads Touring.