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The Chloé Grandpierre Column no10

Domaine Viret and its amphorae

Some clay and a sprinkling of stardust

I have another passion, one for times gone by. Cleopatra and her passionate love for Julius Caesar, the memoirs of Hadrian, Socrates’ verbal dexterity, Zeus and his ability to metamorphose to seduce beautiful young women, gladiators battling to the death, bread and circuses, Odysseus and his epic journey, from which he returned with a wealth of experience and lessons learned, the indomitable Gauls, barbarian invasions, Pompeii and its remains, the Minotaur.

I love mythology, antiquity, togas and giant naked sculptures! What an era! And it was in these ancient times that wine was born… the height of glory.

During antiquity, it was of course amphorae that were used to hold wine. Today, and for many years now (since the 3rd century of our own era to be precise), they have been replaced by barrels and vats (made of concrete, stainless steel etc.). However, some people would like to go back to basics and have been using amphorae for some years now!

Let’s take a look at one of our very own French estates, with heads in the clouds but feet firmly on the ground and hands in the clay: the Domaine Viret near Orange.

“When the amphora is dry, friends disperse” Horace

The amphora, or “dolium” in Roman times, is the ultimate ancient packaging solution! It dates back to the 7th century BC, and was used to store wine, olive oil and fish. The amphora may be fragile and bulky, but it also has some fantastic benefits: greater micro-oxygenation than barrels so the wine develops more quickly, the roundness is more easily achieved; the tannins are softer while avoiding the sometimes overpowering woodiness (people from Bordeaux know what they’re talking about). Furthermore, amphorae are made of clay which is also used in the winemaking process to clarify, where it is known as bentonite: this means that the wines are perfectly clear and pure.

Domaine Viret is located in the Côtes du Rhône Méridionales where a bright sunshine greets visitors. There may be a winding path you need to follow to get to the property, but there’s no Sphinx asking you riddles when you arrive, just an impressive and imposing stone building that overlooks the valley.

I stepped into another dimension when I made my way into this land of cosmoculture! The team working on the estate is really lovely. Particular mention should be made of Sandrine, who gave me a very warm welcome with her singsong southern (or south-western) accent.

But it is the owner, Philippe Viret, who did the honours of showing me round. Relaxed and committed, Philippe is a man of the land, someone with real moral fibre.

The morals of what we do sometimes get lost. A moral approach to our customers, to our competitors, and above all, to our land is key.

So Domaine Viret tries to do things differently. I’m not going to talk business here, but as you know, things that look like they work well are often copied and sometimes not very well!

The Domaine Viret has been using amphorae since 2005. Why amphorae? Out of curiosity? Out of the benefits to the wine? Out of an interest in the past?

It is true that Domaine Viret is located on the Colline du Paradis (Paradise Hill), an ancient oppidum (a Roman fortification): a site that is imbued with history.

Following a tasting session involving a Sicilian wine matured in an amphora, Philippe Viret fell in love with the finesse and purity of the result.

So it was that he decided to bring back amphorae, starting with the dolias from Spain, the beginning of an exciting period of discovery.

In 2007, by chance, Philippe met Alain Berthéas, a potter and artist specialising in large-scale pieces. They went on to work together to create a golden ratio dolia, perfect for the winemaking process, a work of art, a clay masterpiece. The golden ratio is 1.6180339887, and it represents an aesthetically pleasing proportion for mathematicians invented by Pythagoras or Euclid. It is found in nature (in a sunflower’s seed heads for example), but is has also been widely used by painters (Boticelli), architects (Le Corbusier), sculptors and even musicians.

The estate’s “cathedral” wine cellar also respects these proportions, used by great builders over the years. The dolias hold 420 litres, are engraved with astrological symbols, and there are 20 of them at the moment. This is the period of consolidation and consecration, as the plan for the future is to create the first wine cellar filled with amphorae in France.

It is also worth pointing out another unusual feature of this particular estate: Cosmoculture®. Cosmo what? It is a registered trademark (they do things properly at Domaine Viret) as it is a method of making wine that is unique to Philippe and his father, Alain.

The idea was born in the 90s when the two men noticed something: humans, plants and animals are connected, and they benefit from telluric and cosmic energies, where water has a major role to play. Ecosystems and living beings need to be rebalanced, reenergised and protected.

Today, many products are used on the vines and in cellars, and they need to be replaced with natural elements. Cosmoculture® is a physical and intellectual process, it is first and foremost a choice.

Organic producers, of which there are growing numbers, need to respect the legislation in force and even more rigorous specifications. Followers of Cosmoculture® have an additional charter that they need to respect.

They feel that their farming standards need to exceed those that are usually required, both in terms of the vineyards and the storehouses. The ultimate aim is to “guarantee a more vibrant, more highly respected and more balanced world”.

It is not a question of deciding to be a “cosmoculteur” (does the word even exist!?!): there is an ethics committee that oversees the whole process. For more information, you can visit the Domaine Viret website [ ] to read the Charter.

To conclude, we should take the opportunity to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s: the method of storing wine in amphorae in France was introduced by Domaine Viret! Other estates are trying this process with a greater or lesser degree of success.

Some of the most talented, who were also some of the first, along with Domaine Viret, to have tried out this ancient experiment are Stéphane Tissot in Jura, Dominique Belluard in Haute-Savoie and Yves Canarelli in Corsica.
Domaine Viret boasts two original features: amphorae and Cosmoculture®. But this word, “original” really mustn’t be interpreted as the whim of a winemaker and businessman! This is a whole story, the story of a man, of a father, of a husband, of a landowner who wants to combine his passion with respect for his vines, and use all his expertise to help his terroir find its voice.

So whether you believe in it or not, there’s just one thing you need to do: taste the fruits of his work! I explored his land, shook his hand, saw his estate and shared his wine. I love and support his desire to give people pleasure while also respecting his vineyard. Because that is what wine is all about.

Chloé Grandpierre, Professionnel du Vin                               Photos (c) Domaine de Viret  /  Chloé Grandpierre
Domaine Viret, EARL Clos du Paradis, 26110 Saint-Maurice-sur-Eygues, France.   Website: