#327 – March 9, 2017
This week I wanted to discuss a winery whose wines have graced my annual “Best of” lists for quite some time but never received its own real estate on these pages. However I recently finally had the opportunity to visit the winery in question, spend some time with its über-talented winemaker and see for myself the tiny hectare of land from which the wines are produced and am happy to provide you with the story behind Domaine Roses Camille, one of the only entirely kosher French domains which produces some of the world’s best kosher wines. Fitting for Bordeaux’s only entirely kosher winery (and slightly similar to the story of Capcanes including the initial complete lack of Jewish involvement), Domaine Roses Camille only came into existence as a result of a kosher wine lover intervening in order to bring some quality kosher vino to the thirsty world at large.
According to the winery’s website, the small estate was originally owned by the Rivière family who, after having had their relative imprisoned during World War II, offered the man’s wife and 15-year old son the opportunity to help with maintaining the estate in exchange for room and board. Following their passing, the childless Rivières actually bequeathed the entire estate to the young man who had spent years tending to and improving the property. This young man was named Robert Cazemajou, grandfather of the winery’s current winemaker who, together with his father, continues to increase the prestige of the minuscule property.
While not located in a garage, Domaine Roses Camille is a “true” garagiste winery owned and operated by one family, utilizing the family’s grapes sourced from vineyards that have been tended to by generations of family members for over 60 years. Stepping out of the small building that currently houses the winery and glancing in almost any direction will yield a few of the old vines that produces the Domaine’s wines. Comprising approximately 7.5 hectares (~18.5 acres) of land spread across a slightly broader area, the quality of the family’s vineyards ranges from plot to plot despite their close proximity to one another, showcasing the importance of terroir by yielding wines very different from one another (primarily focused on Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc make appearances as well).
Located between the appellations of Pomerol and Lalande-de-Pomerol, for decades the estate supported itself in the same manner as the multitude of other growers in the area – by selling their carefully curated grapes to high-end neighboring Châteaux for use in their eponymous wines. Christophe starting working in the family vineyards at the tender age of 14, where his grandfather imparted decades of knowledge relating to grape growing and the various terroirs of Pomerol and the neighboring appellations. With wine so deeply embedded in his blood, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Christophe went into the family business, studying winemaking at Saint Émilion’s Lycee de Libourne-Moutagne and Bordeaux Wine University. After finishing his studies, Christophe gained practical experience as associate winemaker at acclaimed Château L’Eglise-Clinet (one of Roses Camille’s neighbors, along with Château Rouget, La Violette, and La Croix de Gay) where he was lucky enough to work with well-regarded winemaker (and Château owner) Denis Durantou.
Luckily for us kosher wine lovers the stars aligned just in time for the incredible 2005 Bordeaux vintage, when Christophe decided to try his hand at turning the family’s high-quality grapes into wine all on his own determined to turn out a wine that would stand out among the dozens of high-quality wines being produced literally to his left and right. After naming the winery Domaine Roses Camille (please resist the temptation to call this wine DRC, it is disrespectful to the “real” DRC – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – a Domaine producing the world’s greatest wines) after his grandmother’s favorite flower and his newly born niece and selecting the now famous one hectare plot of old-vine Merlot (along with 5% Cabernet Franc) as the anchor for his soon-to-be winery, Christophe got to work cultivating the vineyard for the specific requirements of his soon to be inaugural wine. During the growing season Christophe met Nicolas Ranson who was working as a mashgiach at a neighboring Château that was producing a one-time “kosher run”. Christophe quickly realized that the niche kosher market may be just the thing for his beloved vineyard and partnered with Nicolas to produce a kosher wine from a portion of the 2005 harvest (only 900 bottles), with Nicolas funding the operation and Christophe providing the grapes and winemaking expertise. After hedging their bets with such a small production that turned out to be a truly magnificent wine, Christophe and Nicolas went all in for 2006, utilizing the entire crop for the kosher Domaine Roses Camille and yielding approximately 3000 bottles (the maximum that can be “squeezed” from the plot. However the wines weren’t cheap (initially priced at around $380 a bottle for the 2005 and $250 for the 2006) and had the unfortunate luck of hitting the market just as the financial crash of 2008 was hitting its stride, severely limiting the appetite for such expensive wines. While the greatness of wines is recognized and they are served in some of France’s top restaurants including La Tour d’Argent and the George V, the consumer sales needed simply did not materialize. With little to no cash flow being generated by the 2006 harvest, the duo’s cash flow ran dry and the initially kosher 2007 barrels were unsealed so that Christophe could do all the winemaking work himself, thus saving the extra labor costs for the needed mashgiach and allowing the winery to continue to produce wine for the 2007 – 2010 vintages, none of which were kosher.
The inaugural 2005 vintage certainly honored the magnificence of the acclaimed vintage and accumulated multiple accolades including one of Wine Spectator’s 50 2005 Bordeaux wines to buy and Decanter’s top 2005 Bordeaux wines, but it was really the wine’s “discovery” by the late Daniel Rogov in September 2010 his bestowing of a near-unheard of 95 score (followed up with a 93 for the 2006 vintage) that finally provided Christophe and Nicolas with the needed publicity (i.e. sales) to recognize that the market was back for their type of wines and they reverted back to the original plan of making Domaine Roses Camille a completely kosher winery, which has been the case since the 2011 vintage. Quiet and unassuming with a fierce sense of local pride and belief in the vineyards under his care, unlike many other Bordeaux winemakers, Christophe believes in minimal intervention in both the vineyard (which is cultivated based on the biodynamic approach and harvested by hand) and the winery (where the grapes are hand sorted and fermented in concrete with limited intervention before spending serious aging time in new and one-year French oak barrels).
After a delightful tour of the winery and a drive through the neighboring, as of now, more famous vineyards and Châteaux, we drove through the narrow and historical significant roads en-route to Christophe’s home for a comprehensive tasting of the winery’s offerings. Beginning with the 2011 vintage, Christophe started producing additional wines, utilizing his other vineyards to (e.g. the Echo de Roses Camille, the Marquisat de Binet, Cuvee Abel and the new, not-yet-released, “entry-level” Clos Lavaud, Lalande de Pomerol) and also selling his grower friends on the value of making kosher wine which he makes in partnership with them (e.g. the Château Moulin du la Clide), most of which are reviewed below. While not on the same level as the Domaine Roses Camille, they are all lovely wines that serve to showcase Christophe’s winemaking skills along with the vast difference a few feet of Bordeaux terroir can have on a wine.
Domaine Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2005: Easily one of the best kosher wines ever produced, the wine is a blend of 98% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc, all sourced from the tiny hectare of land deemed best by Christophe (being conveniently located a stone’s throw from Pétrus’ acclaimed vineyards probably doesn’t hurt) and clocks in at 13.5% AbV. With a seductive nose of red and black crushed forest berries along with red currants, spicy wood, tobacco leaf, slightly bitter herbaceousness, dark chocolate, black truffles, earthy minerals and a dollop barnyard funk, the wine tantalizes as it slowly unfolds layer by layer. The full bodied and muscular palate showcases an elegant structure with still integrating tannins and rich acid providing the backbone for more black fruit, tart raspberries, earthy minerals, fresh-turned earth, pungent mushrooms, and plenty of warm Oriental spices alongside lovely notes of green olives, roasted coffee and sweet cedar wood. A lingering finish with black fruit and ever-so-lightly minty chocolate lingers long. Power and finesse combine in one of the more expressively seductive wines I have ever enjoyed. The wine is enjoyable now (with a few hours of air time), but I’d recommend waiting another 12 months before opening, after which the wine will continue to improve in the bottle and should cellar comfortably through 2028 [Only in the US].
Domaine Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2006: Matching the inaugural vintage’s success was never going to happen but the 2006 vintage certainly holds its own, cementing Christophe’s winemaking skills and cementing the winery’s place as a force to be contended with. Comprised of 100% Merlot and with 13.5% AbV, the wine is slightly more approachable than its younger sibling but still requires time before it reaches its full potential. With a nearly impenetrable nose that opens with time to reveal boysenberries, rich black fruit including plum, cherry and black currants, a whiff of late blooming flowers, herbal notes of sage and thyme which provide a pleasing bitterness to counter the fruit and earthy minerals, spicy oak, fresh-cured tobacco and chocolate notes that yield additional layers of complexity in which you could lose yourself before ever taking a sip of this delicious wine (which would obviously be a shame). The full bodied palate has velvety tannins wrapped around a core of black fruit with notes of rich red fruit as well, cassis, slate, lead pencil, fresh-brewed espresso, rich black earth, black truffles, warm spices and more minerals with more subtle herbal notes creeping in as the wine gets some air. Rich, plush and elegant, this is a special wine that should be enjoyed at leisure and given the time it deserved (both before you open it and once you finally do). With a finish that lingers long after you finish your glass, this is a magnificent and beautifully elegant wine. Still not ready, I’d wait another 18-24 months before opening and then enjoy through 2028 with a good few hours of decanting in order to allow the wine to properly showcase its prominence [Only in the US].
Domaine Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2011: Despite having produced two of the “best” kosher wines ever (and appearing on this list for years 2012, 2013 and 2014), after achieving the highest level of critical acclaim with the 2005 and 2006 vintages, winemaker Christophe Bardeau rested on his laurels, reverting back to non-kosher winemaking for vintage years 2007-2010 before coming back with [with a vengeance] and releasing not only the 2011 Domaine Roses Camille but also a second Rose Camille wine the Echo (which made last year’s list) and another wine sourced from a neighboring vineyard. As anyone lucky enough to have enjoyed the 2005 or 2006 vintages would expect, the 2011 is so closed and tight at this point as to render is nearly un-enjoyable. Nearly. Despite requiring nearly 24 hours (!) of decanting, the greatness that lies beneath is already perceptible and the 2011 vintage will be a worthy successor to the 2006 (if coming in slightly below both the 2006 and 2005 quality-wise). Once again, this 100% Merlot wine is sourced from the family’s highest quality plot on their three-hectare plot and aged for just north of two years in new French oak and clocks in at a higher that usual 14.5% AbV. After opening with a still über-closed nose of mostly black fruit, delightfully expressive and earthy minerals, cedar wood, fresh-cured tobacco leaf, wet forest floor, lead pencil and some bitter anise alongside a lovely hint of barnyard funk, the full-bodied palate more than delivers on the promise with more of the same and layers of complexity that [ever-so-]slowly open up to reveal the treasures that lie beneath. Searing but well-structured tannins and enamel-stripping acidity combine to provide the promised for [relatively] super-long aging, but at this point it would literally be criminal to pop the cork on the wine. Stock up and forget about the wine for at least four years, after which enjoy it through 2026, likely longer [Only in the US].
Domaine Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2012: While Bordeaux as a whole had a pretty tough 2012, certain appellations (including Pomerol) managed to produce high quality wines. While the weakest of the four vintages to date (and only 2,000 bottles produced), it is still a special wine that stands on its own merits, deemed lacking only on the basis of its superior predecessors.
The wine is significantly more approachable than all three of its older siblings especially with a couple hours of decanting but definitely requires some additional bottle aging before it reaches its full potential. A lovely nose of crushed red forest berries, plums, candied cranberries, anise, warm herbs, rich chocolate, smoky oak and fresh-cracked black pepper slowly opens up to reveal additional layers of earthy minerals, rich baker’s chocolate, graphite and cigar-box cedar wood. The full bodied palate has plenty of rich red fruit along with some black notes, more herbal notes, rich chocolate and spices with a core of velvety tannins providing ample support for the luxurious palate that evolves over time in your glass (assuming you are generous and patient enough to provide the wine the time and respect it deserves). A lovely finish leaves you with notes of chocolate, roasted herbs, more toasty oak and a hint of fruit that pleases. Drink 2018-2029 [Only in the US].
Domaine Rose Camille, Echo de Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2011: A “second wine” only by virtue of the greatness of its older sibling – the Domaine Rose Camille, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest kosher French wines on the market and certainly the top Merlot. The wine typically spends a year in 2-year old oak than another year with 50% on oak staves and the other 50% in stainless steel to allow the wine to harmonize and come into itself. A subtle nose of red fruit including tart raspberries, cassis, and a hint of under ripe strawberries, with toasty oak, pungent earth and mineral are accompanied by lavender and floral notes that grow stronger as the wine opens in your glass. A medium to- full-bodied palate has great balance between the mostly red fruit, toasty oak and minerals along with a searing tannic structure that bodes well for the wines potential aging. A nice finish of more toasty oak, great acidity and intense tannin along with espresso and tobacco leaf rounds out this complex and incredible treat (which is relatively well-priced as well, and not only in relation to its insanely expensive older brother). Nearly impenetrably closed right now, if you insist on opening decanting for 5-6 hours prior would significantly enhance your enjoyment of the wine. Otherwise, give this one the respect it deserves and wait two years before opening and then enjoy through 2023, maybe longer [Only in the US].
Domaine Rose Camille, Echo de Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2012: Similar to the Roses Camille, this year’s production dipped from the 2011, with only 4,000 bottles produced (versus the 6,000 for the 2011 vintage). The wine typically spends a year in 2-year old oak than another year with 50% on oak staves and the other 50% in stainless steel to allow the wine to harmonize and come into itself. A rich and expressive nose has plenty of rich mostly red fruit (with a hint of blackberries, cassis and black cherries providing a whiff of complexity) along with violets, smoke, graphite, earthy minerals, pungent mushrooms, roasted sage and dark chocolate. The medium to full bodied palate provides plenty of enjoyment with nicely integrating tannins backing up delicious fruit and more oak along with freshly-rolled cigars, eucalyptus, slightly minty dark chocolate, wet forest floor and warm spices. Slightly less complex than the 2011 version, this is a delicious wine that will continue to improve with age. Drink 2018 – 2024 [Only in the US].
Château Moulin de la Clide, St. Émilion, 2011: Produced by Christophe together with Edouard Desplat the grower, the wine is a blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Franc which typically goes into Edouard’s label but Christophe convinced him to provide for the kosher cuvee. With a subtle nose that needs vigorous aerating at this point to open up before it reveals the pungent earth, truffles and graphite that envelope the crushed raspberries, dried cranberries and red currants with much of the same on the full bodied palate were blackberries and black cherry join the mix along with slate minerals, dark chocolate, saddle leather, a whiff of roasted herbs and cigar box cedar wood all backed up by good acidity and all in great balance. A nice finish is packed with more dark chocolate, mostly red fruit and it opens up nicely with air and time, so give it the patience it deserves and you will be rewarded. Drink 2018 through 2025 [Only in the US].
Château Marquisat de Binet, Cuvee Abel, Montagne St. Émilion, 2012: Utilizing Merlot from one of his family’s “other” plots (i.e. non-Roses Camille), Christophe showcases his love for Merlot alongside his belief that it is the true varietal of Pomerol and the grape most appropriate to showcase the appellations incredible terroir. Despite spending no time in oak, this 100% Merlot wine showcases 13% AbV and punches well above its class. The wine opens with an expressive nose of raspberries, red cherries, currants, a hint of blueberries, crushed rose petals, black pepper, warm spices and faintest whiff of barnyard that ensures you remember the wine’s birthplace. The medium to full-bodied palate has a core of robust yet silky tannins with great acidity that is enveloped in candied red fruit, truffles, loamy earth, fresh-paved asphalt, tobacco leaf, green olives and a healthy serving of slightly bitter herbal notes. Drink now through 2019 [Only in the US].
Clos Lavaud, Lalande de Pomerol, 2014 [Advance Tasting]: Comprised of 94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is meant to be a more affordable wine from the Domaine. Showcasing near-sweet black fruit, plenty of freshly turned forest floor, truffles, earthy minerals and a whiff of barnyard funk on both the nose and palate, the wine provides plenty of pleasure while being approachable on release. Utilizing staves to keep the price at a reasonable level-yielded notes of spicy oak, vanilla and subtle toasty notes with nicely integrating tannins on the medium to full-bodied palate. The wine is being bottled now and should make its way to the US over the next few weeks, where I recommend giving it a whirl. Drink now through 2019 [[Soon-to-be] only in the US].