In the world of fine wines many tend to look back at time-tested, established legends – be it individual or family – that goes back at least 50 years or couple generations back. In the past 30 years, we have seen a rise of winemakers that do not come from a winemaking family or heritage. Their winemaking stints get sparked off often over travels, or a discovery of their own philosophical pursuit. Xavier Vignon is one such example and as a man of many talents and interests, his strongest suit is creating and executing his own beliefs. Get to know Xavier through our blog on him today.
Xavier Vignon is the son of a stonecutter who was born and bred in the Hauts de France region, Xavier Vignon has been driven since childhood by the constant quest of harmony, the product of nature’s generosity and man’s genius in magnifying it. Harmony which is also the result of a long creative process that begins with meticulous respect for rules that are all the more transcendent when they have been mastered. “We must firstly live with and by the rules in order to learn how to move beyond them in a methodical way” he explains.
Of a scientific mindset yet also with a deep appreciation for beauty, it was an encounter with a winemaker that would prove a turning point for Xavier in his life and career. “My calling” as he describes it. In addition to his theoretical work, Xavier embarked upon a number of experiences during his studies which took him to the two hemispheres and enabled him to participate in no less than 13 harvests in seven years.
He spent a great deal of time in Champagne where he learnt the art of blending thanks to mentors including Dominique Foulon and Richard Geoffroy at Moët & Chandon. He also worked in a number of other wine regions in France as well as in Australia. Drawing on his wealth of experience and knowledge, Xavier Vignon is constantly exploring new ways of revealing the many facets of the grape varieties and terroirs he holds so dear: audacious and innovative blends, single and multi-vintage cuvées, original and creative ageing techniques with his own inventions such as The Vinarium® and Wine Globes.
The Southern Rhône Valley
A region with a 1,000 facets
Xavier Vignon discovered the Dentelles de Montmirail almost twenty-five years ago. It was love at first sight for the winemaker who instantly saw the potential for something very special in this geographical patchwork of terroirs. “More than just an encounter, it was a sine qua non, my calling if you like. A rich and diverse terroir which was at the time a little known gem, bursting with endless possibilities which I was ready to seize” he said.
The Dentelles de Montmirail were formed several million years ago when two tectonic plates shifted, creating a geological rarity: a cold volcano. Like a tarte Tatin, the soils from the depths came to the surface, giving rise to an incredibly rich terroir with sands and sandstones from the Tertiary era, limestones and marls from the Jurassic and Cretaceous. This incredible diversity of terroirs has enabled us to create a wide range of highly complex wine and above all, mineral cuvées.
Oenologist, Winemaker & Consultant
One passion, three skills
In three years, starting from scratch, Xavier Vignon became a consultant for around a hundred estates in the Southern Rhône.
In 2003, the ICV (Champagne Institute of Oenology) asked him to head up the oenology laboratory for their clients in the historical wine region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. His team soon earned a solid reputation for their savoir-faire and advised almost 450 of the region’s wine estates and winemakers. Driven by his passion for the region’s microscopic geological diversity, Xavier has been implementing parcel approaches for wine estate since as far back as the early 1990’s.
Meanwhile, his passion for creation continued to grow and became a need, a craving, rather than a desire. As a result of his encounters with winemakers and their soils, Xavier Vignon decided to take a number of these collaborations even further by creating his own range of wines.
From the vine right through to the glass, every aspect has been carefully thought out, developed and brought to life. From winter up until the following harvests, he scoured the vineyards and lovingly tended to his favourite parcels which would be used to create the future cuvées. The results spoke for themselves.
Today, in addition to his work as consultant oenologist for more than 200 estates, Xavier Vignon also devotes himself to cultivating 35 hectares of vines acquired on the finest terroirs of the Dentelles de Montmirail (Lafare, La Roque Alric and Le Barroux).
Nature As The Only Philosophy
Scientific knowledge of Terroirs and the importance of minerality in wine
More than just a parcel approach, Xavier Vignon has taken his thinking to new levels in order to grow closer than ever before to his terroirs.
The future? He has sought to return to a less interventionist approach, one of supporting the vine rather than dominating nature. While all the wines produced today are the result of reasoned practices, the aim in 5 years’ time is to produce exclusively organic wines.
Minerality in the world of wine is a term that has no definition. An infinite galaxy of factors lies behind this notion, nourished by geology, salinity, interactions between them and the vine, the berry but also the juice…
Drawing on his experience of the world’s vineyards, Xavier Vignon has always been fascinated by the notion of minerality and its effects on wine. In Bordeaux, as a young oenologist, he discovered the astonishing power of salt in infinitesimal proportions and its influence on the tannic structure of wines. Intrigued and curious, he continued his research on the terroirs he visited in France, Australia and South Africa.
After several years of thinking, comparison and analysis of soils and vintages, the role of mineral salts was finally brought to light. When it talks about minerality, the impact on the vine goes beyond geology to the power of mineral salts to interact with the plant itself. By encouraging deep root systems, we enable the vine to draw heavily on the mineral salts contained in the water that flows through its terroir and pass them on to the leaves and berries. Sunshine and wind then concentrate these minerals salts and maximise their influence on both tannins and aromatic structure.
It now appears that these salts have a cyclical impact on the taste of wine, with ascending and descending phases. While the power of mineral salts and their effects on water are already well known, the alcoholic content of the wine intensifies their effects in balancing the essential antagonistic flavours.
Each mineral salt, depending on its composition, will also have a different impact on the chemical balance of the wine and therefore on its taste. So the true marker of a terroir is not just its soil, but also the water that runs through it and, incidentally, the exposure of the plots, which influences the concentration of minerality at the heart of the grapes.
The inspiration for creation and innovation
Climate change over the last few years has had a major impact on the elaboration of wine, with warmer temperatures affecting the maturity of the tannins, and the winegrower’s job is no longer to age the wine but to slow down slowing of time.
In this never-ending quest, Xavier Vignon is working hard to find new ways of ageing: immersed barrels, glass and concrete. This research is carried out with the help of the best craftsmen, in order to preserve the aromatic diversity of the wines without betraying the purity of the juices.
Driven by the desire to go further in the creation of pure wines that magnify their origins and their fruit, Xavier Vignon and his team have developed a revolutionary new ageing method, which they named The Vinarium®.
This unique piece is the result of several years of experimentation. It is a tailor-made 7,000-liters container made of wood and stainless steel and created to house 5 barrels of 200 liters… and wine, in which the barrels are immersed. This system allows the wine in the barrels to benefit from a unique ageing environment: 100%humidity, with no trace of oxygen and no outside influence.
How does this idea came about? From the quality and freshness of bottles, found and tasted after decades spent under the sea, close to shipwrecks. There’s no doubt that ageing in a liquid environment has improved their quality. But Xavier Vignon’s project is not limited by creating the right conditions for ageing. The ambition is to take part in the life of wine before bottling, to allow it to develop like a child sheltered in its mother’s womb.
“At a time when global warming is increasingly calling into question the way we work with grapes, the Vinarium® is a serene response to the optimum ageing of our wines, giving time to time, without any obligation to fight against oxidation. The result is a preservation and finesse of aromas never achieved before” concludes Xavier Vignon.
Four collections, one philosophy
Each cuvée reveals the exact point at which time, the terroir and the passion of a winemaker come together to reflect a unique and original idea, the revelation of a perfect moment, suspended in time and brought to life through a blend of several vintages from the same terroir or several parcels of the same varietal.
A reflection of the bold and daring mindset of Xavier Vignon, each cuvée’s label is inspired by the major arcana of tarot cards in the “Sforza Visconti” edition from the early Italian renaissance period: L’Hermite (The Hermit), le Pape (The Pope), les Amoureux (The Lovers), La Lune (The Moon), Le Soleil (The Sun)…These cuvées are released only once before disappearing to be replaced with new Arcane.
For example, La Tempérance, a Cairanne wine, is a blend of vintages. Each year makes its own contribution to the creation of this unique cuvée, whose backbone is purity. The aim is to preserve the fruit throughout the life of the wine, without influencing it through ageing methods that would mask it. Part of the vinification and ageing was carried out in Wine Globe, 200-liter glass containers. This cuvée is part of Xavier Vignon’s wider project to preserve the purity of the wine through innovative vinification and ageing methods.
Another example, Le Diable 2015 is made from very old 100% Mourvèdre parcels (some of which are over 100 years old), selected for their remarkable concentration in mineral salts and grown in various parcels in the Vaucluse region. These 17 parcels are planted in a variety of terroirs composed of red clay, blue clay, rolled pebbles, Urgonian soils and sand.
The wines in this collection are the revelation of surprising and unusual encounters: several terroirs, several varietals or several vintages combined in one single cuvée. The SM cuvées, for example, are made from a blend of Southern and Northern Rhône wines, with an emphasis on the vintage, resulting in what is a truly unique expression. Contrary to the Arcane range, these original creations are intended to reveal the essence and effects of time across a number of different vintages.
Outstanding Terroirs Collection
The wines in this range offer an exceptionally precise expression of each of the southern Rhône’s outstanding terroirs. From Villages to Crus, each cuvée is the signature of the unique relationship between the soil and the climate. This range places the spotlight on the wines of Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Beaumes-de-Venise, Cairanne and Lirac.
These wines are the result of eye-opening discoveries, little known treasures and aged vintages which have been preserved and reworked before finally being released to the public. Such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1972 which has been carefully conserved in concrete vats for nearly 50 years, away from light and oxygen, before being bottled.