In the big business that Provence rosé has become over the past fifteen years or so, it is easy to imagine that all stones have been turned over, that all worthwhile producers are represented in the market, and that every “new” Côtes de Provence pink out there is in fact just a label created in a boardroom and made with purchased juice…
How fortunate we were, then, through our friend Étienne Portalis of Château Pradeaux, to make the acquaintance of Roselyn Gavoty, the eighth generation of Gavoty to helm her family’s domaine since her ancestor Philémon acquired it in 1806. Domaine Gavoty encompasses 50 hectares of vines on a Roman-era farm in the commune of Cabasse called Campdumy (“harvest fields” in old Provençal), situated along the snaking Issole River in the northwestern sector of the Côtes de Provence appellation. Surrounded by oak and pine forests and bordered by the Issole, Gavoty is a polycultural farm encompassing 110 hectares in total, and the family has worked the land without synthetic chemicals for decades, obtaining organic certification in recent years.
Our first meeting with Roselyn, who has been involved at the estate since 1985, was a moving experience. A serpentine driveway flanked by beautifully tended vineyards led us to the main grounds, and Roselyn, tan and wiry, emerged from the simple, classic house to greet us. Bouncing around in her old 4×4, we explored the property and its varied terrain, as Roselyn opined ruefully about Provence rosé’s descent into rank commercialism in recent years, decrying its relegation to the status of a “boisson” (“drink”) gulped down mindlessly by hordes of “consommateurs mouton” (“sheep consumers”). She was already winning us over, and we yet to taste a single thing!
After a quick tour of the winery itself—a no-nonsense structure filled with old cement and steel tanks, and with nary a barrel or otherwise trendy vessel in sight—we settled into the charming, modest tasting room, full of anticipation for the wines ahead. Though rosé occupied our thoughts after that stimulating chat in the car, we were first bowled over by Roselyn’s white wines, made exclusively from Rolle (Vermentino) and displaying incredible mineral density and swelling persistence. Tasting the complex, multilayered 2015 and 2013 vintages of her old-vines cuvée “Clarendon,” we quickly realized this was no ordinary Côtes de Provence address, and the rosés drove that point home in bold fashion.
Whereas much currently trendy Provence rosé gets by on being light enough in color and innocuous enough in flavor, Gavoty’s are first and foremost wines—refreshing in spirit as befits the appellation, to be sure, but resonant and thought-provoking as well, with notably gorgeous textures. In fact, Roselyn considers texture to be the most important element in great Côtes de Provence rosé, and her wines uniformly hit bullseyes in that department. A lot of rosés dash quickly down the throat, sprinkling a few candied red fruits along the way; Gavoty’s caress the palate, with rich but nimble fruit fused to an underlying salinity, and finishes that blossom and linger. This is the kind of rosé that ignited interest in the appellation in the first place, and it is the kind that we at Rosenthal Wine Merchant fell in love with 40 years ago during our earliest importing adventures. How satisfying it is to see that such wine still exists, and in such dazzling fashion as at Domaine Gavoty.
The Gavoty family has historically sold nearly all its output to high-end French restaurants, and their lofty reputation in their home country was underlined by the reactions of our other growers, who responded to the news of our impending partnership with uniform surprise and praise. We are brimming with excitement to share these soulful wines with our clients, and to make a name for this outstanding domaine in the United States.
2020 “La Cigale” Vin de Pays du Var Rosé
Twenty of Gavoty’s 50 hectares of vines are classified as Vin de Pays du Var, as they are situated on flatter land than the slopes used for their Côtes de Provence cuvées. Built around roughly equal proportions of Grenache and Cinsault, with a small amount of Carignan and a splash of Syrah, “La Cigale” (named for the ubiquitous cicadas that populate the region) is charmingly juicy yet salty and dry, with nice length for a wine of its modest appellation. Furthermore, its adamantly non-confected flavor profile sets it apart from the vast majority of similarly priced Provence rosés.
2020 “Récital” Côtes de Provence Rosé
Roselyn’s grandfather Bernard Gavoty (1906-1980) was a renowned classical music critic for France’s newspaper Le Figaro, and the name of this cuvée pays homage to the importance of music in the family’s history. Comprising equal parts Grenache and Syrah, plus around 10% Carignan, and produced via direct pressing, “Récital” delivers the ethereal color, lip-smacking salinity, and bright fruits one expects from the appellation, but with a sumptuousness of texture and a swelling, clinging finish that is all Gavoty. It offers spectacular value, as well as notable personality for its category.
2020 “Grand Classique” Côtes de Provence Rosé
Gavoty’s “Grand Classique” combines Grenache and Cinsault in roughly equal proportions, with Carignan playing a minor role which varies based on the vintage’s character. Rather than being pressed immediately after harvest by rote as many Provence rosés are, “Grand Classique”—as well as “Clarendon” below—macerates for several hours before pressing, and the saignée and first-press juice are vinified separately. This allows Roselyn the flexibility to blend the more succulent and tender saignée with the more angular and architectural press juice in a manner to achieve the precise textural qualities she seeks in her wines. “Grand Classique” displays an uncanny equilibrium, with racy acidity wed to gleaming fruits that are just the right amount of vinous, all buttressed by an elegant, mouthwatering texture that speaks both to domaine’s healthy fruit and to Roselyn’s consummate blending skills.
2019 “Clarendon” Côtes de Provence Rosé
Bernard Gavoty, in his articles for Le Figaro, often wrote under the curious Anglophone pseudonym Clarendon, and this cuvée—produced from the domaine’s oldest Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan vines (dating back to the early 1960s)—honors his memory. Like the “Grand Classique” above, “Clarendon” combines a touch of saignée with the juice from the first pressing, striking a wonderful balance between vinosity and brisk drinkability. Both nose and palate are multilayered and beguiling, and although the fruit is brightly kinetic, there is a sense of regal richness to this cuvée that has nothing to do with weight. So remarkable is this wine’s overall balance and complexity that we have elected to work with the 2019 to start, rather than rushing into the 2020. “Clarendon” sits easily alongside the Bandol from Château Pradeaux or the Palette from Château Simone as a rosé that is more than flattered by a bit of bottle age.
2019 “Grand Classique” Côtes de Provence Blanc
Rolle (Vermentino) thrives in the Triassic limestone soils of Domaine Gavoty, and Roselyn produces versions that underline the variety’s inherent salinity and textural richness. Vinified and aged in a combination of cement and steel, the “Grand Classique” Blanc possesses a mouthwatering sense of pulpiness, evocative of Rolle’s thick skins, but it also comes across as nimble and bright (malolactic fermentation is blocked via temperature), and its long, commanding finish reveals the wine’s firm sense of architecture.
2019 “Clarendon” Côtes de Provence Blanc
Like its rosé counterpart, the “Clarendon” Blanc is produced from Gavoty’s oldest vines—in this case, Rolle planted in 1981. While no heavier than the “Grand Classique” above, this is both more blatant in its minerality and more multilayered, with fruits verging on the exotic corseted by a palpable sense of appetizing bitterness. Vinified and raised in cement and steel, “Clarendon” Blanc relies on the quality of its fruit rather than any trompe l’oeil of elevage to express its underlying complexity. As the 2015 and 2013 vintages (tasted in 2021) attested with force, this is a wine that will blossom in the cellar, and it stands as one of the greatest white wines from Provence we have encountered.