Southern Rhône (Richerenches)
We visited the Southern Rhone this year in search of talented natural wine growers and there was one name that we kept on hearing when speaking to people, Justine. Described as a rising star and pioneer of the region, we were very keen to meet her.
Justine Vigne is located in the far north of the Southern Rhone winegrowing area. Her property is overlooked by the mountains of the Barronies to the east and from the vineyards you can also see the ‘Giant of Provence’, Mont Ventoux. Although it’s possible to make Côtes du Rhône wines in this area, Justine prefers the flexibility of making wine in the Vin de France category. Growers wishing to make wines from a single variety in the area often have to declassify them, but some of the most singular, terroir driven wines we’ve seen are often labelled IGP or Vin de France.
Justine did her master’s degree in Burgundy and then travelled to Australia to make wine. After getting to know the early pioneer of Biodynamics, Alex Podolinsky, her passion to make wines without chemicals began to grow. She kept in touch with Alex until his death in 2019 and cites him as a big inspiration. Back in France, she has worked with Philippe Viret maker of 'cosmic nectar' and also had a stint at the legendary Chateauneuf-du-Pape estate, Vieux Télégraphe. In 2017, she had the opportunity to take over the vineyards that her grandfather planted in the 1950’s, he used to sell the grapes from the estate to the local cooperative.
When Justine took over the 3.5 hectares of vines, she quickly introduced Organic and Biodynamic viticulture and made sustainability, soil health and biodiversity the top priority. Everything is done by hand, and she uses a horse to help her carry out many of the tasks in the vineyard, this helps to minimise soil compaction. She makes her own gin with the used grape skins and stems which can also be used for cleaning the various winemaking vessels.
Justine mainly grows Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Syrah and most of the vines are over 30 years old. The wines ferment with indigenous yeasts and she makes use of whole bunch fermentation, the grapes are gently infused to achieve fresh flavours and approachable tannins. Freestanding amphoras and Georgian qvevris (buried underground) provide micro-oxygenation of the wines which results in a great deal of finesse and a transparency. In the most recent vintage 2022, she is increasing both the percentage of whole bunches and the percentage of the wine in amphora, her flexibility and willingness to experiment has resulted in improvements in the wines year on year. The wines are bottle without fining or filtration and receive a small dose of SO2 at bottling if necessary (although the 2021 vintage didn’t require any SO2).
Justine lost 50% of her grapes to frost in 2021, something which is surprising when you think about how hot the region is in summer! This combined with Justine’s tiny production and very high demand means the wines have gone 'unicorn' before they've even landed in the UK. We anticipate having to limit the number of bottles we can sell to our UK customers, feel free to contact us if you are interested in these wines and we will see what we can do.
Into the Wine
95% Grenache, 5% Cinsault