Château Vignelaure is certainly the most famous wine-producing estate of Provence. The château and its surrounding vineyards are located in the wild but beautiful countryside just to the north of the town of Aix-en-Provence, in the south-east of France.
Robert Parker, the renowned American wine-critic writes in his book Wines of the Rhone Valley and Provence: “Château Vignelaure specializes in red wine, capable of ageing 15-20 years, produced from a blend of two great wine grapes, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Vignelaure’s wines are elegant expressions of Provencal wine-making at its best”. He goes on to describe Vignelaure as “one of the showpiece properties not only of Provence, but of France”.
It is known that the vine has been cultivated here for more than two thousand years. Close to the eastern edge of the vineyard an archaeological team has recently unearthed a winery dating from the first century, thought to be one of the largest of the Roman world. It was in the late 1960s that Vignelaure took its present form. Under the stewardship of Georges Brunet (previously owner of the classed growth Château La Lagune in the Médoc) the estate quickly established a fine reputation throughout the world.
Château Vignelaure, ”the vineyard of the sacred spring” is the jewel in the crown of the appellation Côteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. Set high in the hills in spectacular countryside above the town of Aix, its vineyards cover more than 60 hectares planted on limestone and clay mixed with gravel. Four grape varieties are grown: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah Grenache and Merlot. The Cabernet Sauvignon is of particular interest since it was one of the first plantations in Provence of this variety. These old vines give very low yields but high-quality, concentrated wines.
The estate is high above sea level at 350-480 metres, yet surrounded by hills, leading to a unique micro-climate. Winters are hard and springs wet, but hot dry summers are followed by sun-filled autumn days that bring the grapes to healthy maturity.
Vignelaure has a modern wine-making cellar equipped with stainless-steel temperature-controlled tanks. Underneath is a spectacular network of cellars where the wine is allowed to mature, first in oak barrels and then in bottle.
All the “grands vins” red wines of Chateau Vignelaure spend a minimum of 18 months in bottle in the cellars of Vignelaure before being commercially released. This is in addition to the 12 to 24 months spent in barrel. The barrel cellar at Vignelaure houses over four hundred barrels which are sourced from 6 different top quality barrel makers. One third of the barrels are replaced every year and great care is taken to select the barrels to suit the different cuvees to them.
In essence, this means Vignelaure holds back these wines for an average of 4 years before release. This is part of the philosophy at Vignelaure where the focus is to use the grapes to make wines with the ability to develop to their full potential. Rather than making the wines softer and easier to drink early, often resulting in the loss of some character and potential to age.
The magnificent cellars are complemented by a fascinating collection of modern art initiated by Georges Brunet (works by César, Arman, Miro and Hartung as well as some superb original photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson).