Provence Wine to Kick Off 2022 with The Winophiles, Elizabeth Gabay MW, and Susan Manfull

Welcome to the first Winophiles session of 2022. I’m excited and proud to host this month’s event about one of my most treasured wine regions in the world: Provence. Many who visit the South of France come home raving about the appeal. It’s beautiful, cultured, historic, rich with biodiversity, and hospitable. 

In France and abroad, Provence is a standard-bearer and historical champion of rosé wines, which are by far the largest category in both production and export. According to an update from Provence WineZine, Provence was the top French wine region in export market growth in 2020.

As the 2021 vintage is assessed—rosé from this vintage will start to be released soon—there is indication that excellent wines are to come. Elizabeth Gabay MW, rosé expert, educator, and author of Rosé: Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution, and her Buyer’s Guide to the Rosés of Southern France says, “The 2021 Provence vintage is looking exceptionally good.” While most of France suffered from weather-related damages, Provence—thought it was impacted by frost and fire—was saved from the brunt of the impact and Gabay expects that rosé enthusiasts will enjoy some lovely wines from the vintage. 

“Provence is continuing to focus on quality, regional variations reflecting the varied terroir, and rosés with some age,” she say. This is expected to encourage a more diversified selection of distinct rosés. “My 2022 rosé guide, which will be out 1 June, will be reflecting these trends with some interesting rosé verticals,” she adds.

Reaction to climate change is also increasingly evident with producers looking at old historic varieties, newly permitted varieties, and greater ecology in the field and cellar, according to Gabay. The industry is looking forward to a biodiversity conference in Avignon in May which will discuss what winemakers can do to promote biodiversity. I’ll be following this event and hope to offer insight to Winophiles and readers.

And for those that seek wine selection diversity, Gabay points towards the quality white wines from the region as a bright point in 2022. “Southern white wines are receiving considerable attention across the south from the western Pyrenees to Provence,” she says. In summer 2021, Gabay and Susan Manfull PhD and founder of Provence WineZine met for a tasting focused on white wines from southern Rhône varieties from France and Lodi, California. This has prompted an exciting united venture that will be of interest to the French Winophiles. “We are hoping our project will bring writers to the ‘table’ to taste and talk together,” says Gabay.

Ben Bernheim, Elizabeth Gabay, and Julien Besson tasting a selection from Acquiesce Winery. Photo Credit: William Manfull

Manfull sat down with me (virtually, over email!) and shared some exciting details about this project, a sneak peek revealed exclusively to the French Winophiles. To keep in the loop as soon as more information is available, get on the list here. To subscribe to Provence WineZine, for free, register here.

Here’s what Susan had to say:

Jill Barth: Tell us a bit about your new project.

Susan Manfull: The seeds for this project were planted back in July around our table in the lovely garden of a maison village we rented in Lourmarin. Elizabeth and her family came to stay with my husband and me. We had planned a tasting of Rhône-style wines from Acquiesce Winery in Lodi, California, alongside wines from the Rhône Valley.  (Don’t forget Lourmarin is in the Rhône Valley, bordering the Provence wine region.) My husband William and I brought the Acquiesce wines over from the States, and Elizabeth and family brought wines made from the same grape varieties to compare and contrast. I invited a local winemaker, Julien Besson of Domaine de la Cavalière, who also brought wine made from the same grapes that comprise Susan Tipton’s Acquiesce wines. Because, as you know, white wines are Sue’s specialty, we included almost entirely single varietals and blends of white wines (e.g., Grenache blanc, Clairette blanche, Rousanne, Marsanne, and Picpoul). 

At the tasting table were Elizabeth, Julien, William, and me as well as Ben Bernheim, Elizabeth’s son and co-author of Elizabeth Gabay’s Buyer’s Guide to the Rosé’s of Southern France, and a couple of friends.  All eyes and ears were focused on Elizabeth, Ben, and Julien as I asked questions and poured wine. We all learned a lot as the discussion and tasting continued and rolled into dinner so we could taste the wines with food. I have recalled that memorable Provence evening many times and described it as fantastically fun and informative!

Elizabeth and I thought, “Why not have other winemakers come to the table, taste some wine, talk about it, and share it with a wider audience?” So, that’s what we are working on: come to the table, open four wines that have something in common (e.g., a common grape variety) or something to contrast (e.g.,  AOP vs IGP wines) and that American wine drinkers will be able to buy in the States, invite a few winemakers, taste, talk, and have fun. Typically, the wines will be from Provence but they may also hail from nearby appellations or other regions that offer wines with interesting comparison points. Being Provence-centered, we will taste a lot of rosés but also whites and reds from Provence and elsewhere.  We are very excited and are still working on how best to take this experience online, keeping its fantastic fun and informative nature.

We are curious what wine enthusiasts as well as casual drinkers want to see and we hope they will let us know.

JB: What can French wine enthusiasts (such as the Winophiles and our readers) learn from this venture? 

SM: Elizabeth Gabay MW is renowned for her expertise in rosé wine but the breadth and depth of her wine knowledge is truly amazing. Further, I am always bowled over by her ability to express what is tickling her palate. Ben, either through nature or nurture, is an impressive taster as well. The two of them together make for a great tasting. Having visited many wineries in Provence, I bring an extensive knowledge of those wineries and their winemakers in Provence. I’d like to think I bring some interviewing skills to the table so that we all can learn from Elizabeth and others. We all bring a love of Provence to the table.

JB: What are you most excited about regarding the wines of Provence as we enter a new year?

SM: I have not had the pleasure of tasting a single wine from the latest vintage or even any recently released wine from earlier vintages. The rosés need a little more time in the bottle so I can wait. But Elizabeth may be able to give us a sense of what to expect this year. The 2021 vintage went through a pandemic, devastating frosts, and fires in parts of Provence. I pray the wine will rise to its full potential.

Susan Manfull in Provence. Photo Credit: William Manfull

The French Winophiles

So back to the French Winophiles and our focus on Provence wines in January 2022. Aside from this special reveal from Gabay and Manfull, our authors have prepared an incredible range of articles all about Provençal wines. 

We will gather on Twitter at 10:00 am central time (Chicago) on 15 January 2022. Anyone is welcome to join us—and we hope that Gabay and Manfull will pop in to say hello—simply by finding the hashtag #winophiles on Twitter. Please jump in and tell us what excites you about wines from Provence. Will you visit this year? What releases are you looking forward to? What are you making in your kitchen to pair with wines from Provence?

Please visit each of these incredible publications to enjoy the stories, photos, recipes, and enthusiasm for wines from Provence.

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