Sometime back in the mid 1990’s the English chef and bon viveur Keith Floyd filmed a series about the wine regions of France and on the Provencal leg of the trip he filmed at Chateau Val Joanis.
Floyd was not a chef that ever inspired me to cook anything specific from his programmes or writings but what he did do because of his enthusiasm was to make me want to look at French wines more seriously and also his love of France as a country was infectious. To many he was perhaps more an entertainer than a chef but his extraordinary personality and love of food and wine did more to move British cooking and inspire the chefs that followed into a higher level and quality than had been the case with British food before him. His appearance at Chateau Val Joanis was a case in point of entertainment taking over from a serious consideration of the wine but in the end the same result was achieved – I just had to go there.
Along with his Master of Wine sidekick Jonathan Pedley who certainly was ‘kicked’ by Floyd along the way on this wine crawl (sorry tour) around France they tasted the superb range of wines on offer at Val Joanis. Unfortunately and I suspect deliberately simply for dramatic effect they tasted these wines outside the chateau in the blazing sun with not a hint of shade. The red wines must have been tasted at least about 10 degrees above the recommended temperature and it was obviously so hot that they were clearly on the verge of collapse. Combining the heat with the wine they seemed to be suffering from dehydration. All this made good TV but certainly not ideal for sampling the wines but I never forgot it so Val Joanis got some future sales from me and I have no doubt from many others who saw this classic piece of filming.
We visited Val Joanis quite a few times when in this region and one wine – Red Cuvee Les Griottes – has become our house wine if you like, the one bottle we always serve to special friends. It is gorgeous, a blend of Syrah and Grenache and barrel aged for 10 months. It is a fairly strong wine, rich in red fruits and slightly smoky from the oak aging. Our friends along with us view this as our very favourite wine brought back from France over the years. Don’t stop there though if you visit this vineyard as they have splendid white and rosé wines alongside other red wines that compliment Les Griottes in the range.
One visit to Val Joanis stands out in the memory and I encourage you to make the same journey - you will not regret it:
Today our destination was to be Chateau Val Joanis vineyard near Pertuis in the Southern Luberon. We have been here several times before and their wines are a firm favourite not just of ours but our friends at home who always await our return expectantly with wine glass in hand, finding our car boot fully loaded.
On arriving at Val Joanis we first of all strolled around the magnificent gardens and on this visit they are even better now than when we last came two years previously. The talented gardeners have produced a really beautiful mix of planting interspersing fruits and vegetables within the main areas of flowers, trees and shrubs. The extensive lavender planting is wonderful and fragrant as is the shrub lined arbour as you head through to more vineyard views in the countryside beyond. They leave fruit and vegetables out in crates for you to take and enjoy.
The long driveway winding into the domain gives a panoramic view of the vineyards and olive groves – it is very beautiful. You get an idea of the type of ‘terroir’ found at Val Joanis and in this region as we drive over the pebbly rocky drive and it is this terroir that gives the wines of Val Joanis their distinctive aroma and flavour. By the way the drive today is not as rocky and there is no need to bring a 4 by 4 vehicle to reach the domain.
In the tasting room some others had arrived before us so for a tasting we joined on with a couple of English men who were just starting out on their tasting and we were pleasantly and knowledgeably guided through an extensive selection by a charming German girl who spoke excellent French and English (and German).
When we had got around halfway through the wines on offer she was asked just how she came to be here in Provence and she was heartfelt as she replied that:
'She came here for love but love went away and then she found the love of the vines'.
That to us sounded definitely like the sentiments of a French girl really and there was not a dry eye between us hardened Brits – but we rallied with true British upper lip spirit as we focused once again on the task in hand seeing that there were more wines to taste!
And what a tasting she gave us – she did not stint on that, she was so generous. Between us we tasted at least eight or nine wines including an extremely rare 2003 Cuvee Les Griottes Red that was now only available to purchase in small 50cl bottles. This was very generous indeed and for us to take back to England and the long cold winter nights we settled on a case of 2006 Les Griottes and also a case of its companion white. Both of these came in wooden boxes and one of these still gives faithful service as a container for bread in our kitchen, the contents long ago very happily consumed. Why buy wine any other way? What a joy to find such fabulous wines in a beautiful setting and such friendly and generous hospitality.
Yes, Floyd may not have got the best possible expression of the wines in his meltdown tasting here at the Chateau but he did point me in the direction of a wine that has given a lot of pleasure to myself and many friends – a fine legacy.
Château Val Joanis
2404 Route de Villelaure, 84120 Pertuis, France