Chene Bleu aims to broaden appeal with new release

07 January, 2015

Boutique French producer Chene Bleu has released a cuvee called Astralabe to give more people the chance to enjoy its award-winning wines.

Chene Bleu’s small-batch wines have scooped a host of prizes across the globe but typically command high price points.

For example, its white blend Aliot 2010, that won a gold medal at the IWC and scored 93 points with Wine Spectator, retails for around £50.

But Astralabe 2009, a full-bodied red blend of Grenache and Syrah, sells for a more modest £15.99 and has picked up a listing at Waitrose Cellar.

Chene Bleu produces two flagship reds called Abelard and Heloise, named after 12th century Parisian lovers that have been dubbed the French Romeo and Juliet.

The couple, a philosopher and his student, had a child called Astralabe, and the new £15.99 cuvee is seen as a child to the two more expensive flagship wines, according to the winery’s owner Nicole Rolet, a keen lover of the arts.

She said: “Wine can be at the low end of the spectrum an agricultural product competing for shelf space like ketchup and mayonnaise. But at the high end it connects with all the arts, poetry and fine art, all the great areas of human thought, achievement, aspiration – it takes on a really abstract and poetic quality.”

The Astralabe 2009 blend has also gained listings at Hedonism and Huntsworth Wine.

“It helps us make the wines more accessible,” said Rolet, who believes the unique location of Chene Bleu’s vineyards is key to the various awards it has won.

It has 30ha in the foothills of Mount Ventoux and sits on top of four appellations – Cotes du Rhone, Cotes du Ventoux, Seguret and Gigondas – but it has decided to step away from them and build the identity of its wines on its unique geography and geology instead.

Rolet said: “We don’t have to worry about what our neighbours are doing. It gives us an incentive to develop the originality of the wine.

“Officially the property is located in Provence, in the northern Ventoux part. But in wine terms it’s in the Rhone. It’s in the southern Rhone but stylistically it has a lot a lot in common with northern Rhone because of the altitude.”

Husband Xavier made his money in banking, but the Rolets devote themselves to the Chene Bleu project.

“We could have bought a couple of hectares in Chateauneuf-du-Pape for the price, but we were very attracted to this off the beaten track location,” said Nicole Rolet.

“I want it to be known that this isn’t just a couple of bankers, it’s not just for fun.

“This is a whole life plan to do something exceptional with a terroir that we believe has this exceptional potential. We feel a responsibility to bring out the best in it and show the world what a special place it is.”

Xavier’s sister runs the vineyard and her husband, a winemaker who previously worked in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, runs the winery.

They built the winery in 2006 in time for their first vintage and have been making small batches ever since.

“It’s exciting to make wine in terroir terms, but commercially it’s very challenging because the yields are very low,” said Rolet. “But we want to dedicate out lives to making this place and this wine really be the best it can be and hopefully warrant international attention.”

She added: “We have never looked at working with supermarkets. We don’t have the volumes and the typical prices. But [Waitrose buyer] Xenia [Irwin MW] but was keen to create a portfolio of small-batch icon wines online and we like the thoughtfulness with which she has been creating that portfolio. It helps us make the wines more accessible.”

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