Henri Bungener of Le Clos de Caveau winery
Leaving behind his cosmopolitan life as a psychologist in London, winegrower Henri Bungener now spends his days attentive to the needs of the vines at his Le Clos de Caveau winery in the Vacqueyras AOC appellation in France's Rhône Valley. It may seem an odd career transition, but in their fragility and strength, perhaps wine grapes and people have more in common than we care to admit. And patience and attentiveness are certainly essential qualities in both psychologists and winegrowers.
image courtesy of Le Clos de Caveau
Also, like people, behind every wine bottle is a story. The story of Le Clos de Caveau began in 1976 when Henri's parents Nicole and Gérard Bungener purchased the property from famed English wine merchant Stephan Spurrier. (Spurrier famously organized the legendary Judgement of Paris blind tasting competition in 1976.) Certified organic since 1989, Le Clos de Caveau was quite ahead of their time when they began farming without chemicals in 1980. Henri took over the winery in 1994 and has lived there full-time for a decade.
I had the pleasure of meeting Henri while he was in New York City to host a dinner at the popular Harlem wine-centric restaurant Vinatería. Known for their eclectic and excellent list of wines from around the globe, Vinateria generally showcases smaller producers like Le Clos de Caveau. Wine director Heidi Johnson is a true fan of Le Clos de Caveau and spoke beautifully of her emotional response to Henri's wines.
Le Clos de Caveau grows Grenache and Syrah on a hillside for their Vacqueyras AOC wines. (They are also experimenting with plantings of Mourvèdre two kilometers away.) Henri is very attentive to each variety's unique response to the terroir. As one goes up the hill, the soil becomes more arid and imbues the grapes with more concentration. That individuality and sense of place is elegantly apparent in his wines.
60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, Fruit Sauvage 2014 ($23) is produced from vines aged 10-45 years from the fields at the bottom of the slope. Naturally fermented with wild yeast, the wine is juicy and fruit-forward with flavors of blackcurrant, cassis, and subtle spice.
More intense and robust, Carmin Brillant 2012 ($27) is also Grenache (60%) and Syrah (40%) but produced from vines aged 25-70 years from fields on the side of the hill. A deep shade of purple with rich flavors of cassis and blackberries with a hint of mountain herbs, the wine's long maceration period and 20 months of aging lend it a posh lushness.
Lao Muse 2012 ($58) is the pièce de rèsistance. The name Lao Muse means La Muse in the old Provençal language and this wine certainly inspires me to dream of sharing a bottle with someone special, preferably in the south of France! Lao Muse is produced from the final rows at the top of the hill where the grapes develop intense and concentrated flavors. Powerful but elegant and down-to-earth, Lao Muse's sultry flavors of black cherry and blackcurrant are balanced by a hint of vanilla and spice.
If you're looking for beautifully crafted organic wines that truly express a sense of place, I highly recommend Le Clos de Caveau. And if you're planning a trip to the Rhône Valley, Le Clos de Caveau welcomes visitors for tours and tastings - overnight accommodations are also available. Cheers!