Cheers to Extreme Wine Improving your Expertise in Provence
Does navigating a wine list or timing when to open the bottles in your cellar feel like rolling dice? If so, then it’s time to close that “wine gap” in Provence.
Chêne Bleu, a stunning boutique winery in the Rhône Valley, is the backdrop for Extreme Wine, rated by Food & Wine (March 5, 2021) as one of “The Most Extreme Wine Tastings Around the World.” Improve your wine knowledge during a five-day program designed to fast-track wine expertise. An intimate group of participants will gather to taste, learn, and evaluate exclusive global wines in an instructor-led curriculum between September 11-17, 2021.
Diamond in the Rough
Located at the end of an unpaved road with a panorama of the Mont Ventoux UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Chêne Bleu is remote. It’s easy to see how Xavier and Nicole Rolet fell in love with this private estate in the Vaucluse. Surrounded by forest, the 135-hectare property included the remains of a 9th-century priory and a glass factory from 1427. In 1993, the Rolets rescued “Sleeping Beauty” from its state of limbo and a 40-year inheritance dispute. The Chêne Bleu transformation from dilapidated to modern luxury was a massive project that took 12 years.
Creating luxury accommodation, administrative offices, and a state-of-the-art seminar facility while maintaining the site’s historical character required a thoughtful restoration. Original vaulted stone ceilings, clay tile floors and exposed wooden beams remain alongside modern luxuries like the turquoise infinity pool that faces Mont Ventoux. The Chêne Bleu hamlet sits on the saddle of a hill, surrounded by nothing but nature. You’ve arrived at a refuge from the outside world where fabulous wines await.
Located at the intersection of four wine-growing areas, Chêne Bleu is one of the highest altitude vineyards in the Vaucluse. Mapping out a comprehensive vineyard plan, replanting vine stock, nurturing old vines and developing a biodynamic approach fell to Xavier Rolet’s sister Bénédicte, a talented viticulturist and her winemaker husband, Jean-Louis Gallucci.
During our Extreme Wine experience, we toured the spotless winemaking facility. It is impossible to comprehend the enormity of construction for this underground, gravity-flow winery built on four levels. At Chêne Bleu, the 30-hectares (75 acres) of grapevines are harvested by hand, one micro plot at a time. The fruit is then double selected for quality before vinification by parcel. With this unique terroir and attentive approach to farming, it’s little surprise that the first commercial vintage (2009) of Chêne Bleu ‘Grand Cru calibre’ wines won silver medals at the International Wine Challenge.
Nicole Rolet’s passion is wine, even during her fast-paced career in international finance and with David Rockefeller’s geopolitical think tanks. Identifying gaps in her wine knowledge, she enrolled in Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) classes in London and UC Davis in California. After completing the classroom curriculum, Nicole Rolet envisioned another way of learning the theory – an executive-style format accompanied by in-situ experiences. Collaborating with Clive Barlow (Master of Wine), they developed the Extreme Wine program.
Clive Barlow MW and Nick Dumergue deliver the Extreme Wine syllabus in Provence with their decades of combined experience. The five-day program is wine speed-dating combining textbook theory, observing vineyard operations, dining with winemakers, and sampling 100+ incredible wines.
Based in Britain, Clive Barlow MW has a long list of credentials; not the least is his status as a Master of Wine since 1999 (there are only 417 in the world). He is involved in education and training for the WSET institute and London Wine Academy. Clive’s company – Press Wine Services – offers consulting services and training for corporate names not limited to Whitbread, Waitrose, Adnams Southwold, and Sotheby’s. He manages other commitments, including acting as a senior judge for Decanter Magazine competitions. Clive has recently completed four years as the Chair of Education for the Institute of Masters of Wine and regularly presents at seminars worldwide.
Fellow instructor Nick Dumergue originally from New Zealand became a Sommelier in 1990. Talented and personable his wine experience includes several managerial, judging and teaching roles in Europe, Asia, and Australia. Nick has been a senior judge at the Decanter World Wine Awards and International Wine Challenge in London for 15 years. Currently based in California, Nick is now one of a handful of judges at America’s oldest and largest competition, the annual San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Wine and Food
Your stay at Chêne Bleu during Extreme Wine requires marathon pacing. Clive and Nick maintain the tempo moving through the theory in a measured, determined fashion. Wedged between classroom time and gourmet meals are forays into the vineyard to meet the winemaker and understand the Chêne Bleu vinification process.
After a delicious welcome dinner and a chance to meet the other students, the comfortable furnishings in Abeilles (the Bee Room) gave me that “I’m on holiday” feeling. However, there is no time for lounging in bed as class begins at 9 am sharp. Explicitly designed for Chêne Bleu, the Extreme Wine syllabus covers WSET theory, practical elements of the viticulture industry, and the pleasure of drinking fabulous wines. The highly accredited instructors tag team on leading participants through the course modules, providing interesting antidotes while coaching you for the WSET level 2 exam.
Weather permitting, Chef Victor Guerin serves his gourmet menus al fresco either in the shade of a linden tree or on the terrace with a view of the turquoise pool. A native of Provence, Chef Victor trained at the Hotel School of Avignon before working with top chefs in France, the USA, Canada and most recently in Japan. From the starter course through dessert (hint: make sure to leave enough room), the meals at Chêne Bleu are exquisite. The chef focuses on seasonal ingredients for his modern-Provencal dishes and menu items that showcase top-quality wines. Although a quick nap poolside is tempting, it’s time to return for the afternoon program that might include an assemblage workshop where you create your blend of Southern Rhône grapes – including Grenache, Syrah, and Viognier.
Out of the Bottle
Regardless of how much wine you are tasting, we all agree that absorbing theory is not that stimulating, but Extreme Wine is not your typical wine course. The curriculum is punctuated with surprises and includes guests from award-winning vineyards and video presentations by international winemakers. During the passage of the five days, our small group tasted 100+ wines, blending into a well-balanced mixture of theory and practical knowledge.
One evening, we had the privilege of meeting Eric de Saint Victor, the second generation of his family, to manage Château de Pibarnon in the seaside enclave of Bandol AOC. He brought his expansive knowledge to an exclusive dinner. The opportunity to meet these industry professionals in a relaxed and informal atmosphere makes Extreme Wine feel like a top-secret assignment with fellow wine lovers.
Beyond the Vineyard
My alarm wrestled me out of a wine-tasting dream. We are heading out for a road trip to the famous vineyards of the popes – Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Five generations and three families have overseen the vines and winemaking at Château La Nerthe, our first stop. We toured the pre-16th century wine cellar. Carved into the bedrock, the space stores wine collections destined for Michelin star restaurants around the globe. Following the private tour, our group enjoyed a gourmet lunch with wine pairings from the vineyard.
After the delicious meal, we drove to Gigondas, a village and Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) in the Southern Rhône Valley. Here, the Extreme Wine team leverages their industry connections for an exclusive presentation and wine bottling factory tour. Outfitted with stylish disposable shoe covers and hairnets, we watched the Gabriel Meffre bottling line for successful wine brands, including Fat Bastard and Wild Pig.
The Extreme Wine and Chêne Bleu Extreme Wine Certificate program has a 100% pass rate. But what if I am the first to fail? With a cycle of lectures, meals, excursions, wine-tasting, and a bit of sleep, I’m finding it hard to study. While Nick is quizzing some of my classmates studying by the pool, I am beginning to panic.
Clive calmly walks me through the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting® (SAT) to wine tasting. The stepped methodology begins with identifying colour and clarity, followed by describing the nose, then taste, and finally how the wine compares to others in its category and region. Stuck on trying to distinguish berries from peaches, Clive provided me with some advice. Few of us are born with highly sensitive noses. The process begins by taking the time to smell our food.
As for the exam? We all passed!
Our group included a vineyard owner from western Canada, the editor of Sommelier India and a few self-professed wine lovers. Despite differences in our experience levels, we bonded over wine games and gourmet meals. Like an ocean-going cruise, the Extreme Wine recommended packing list covered the range from casual clothing and bathing suits to a black-tie outfit for the final evening.
The fireplace mantle became the collection point for all the wines we had finished, the trophies of our knowledge. We tasted, discussed, and rated over 100 bottles, from exclusive European wines to innovative New World blends. During Extreme Wine, we cultivated new friendships while improving our knowledge and honing tasting skills. Now it was time to head home and show off our newfound expertise.
Booking and Program Details
For additional information, Q&A and testimonials, please consult the Chêne Bleu Extreme Wine website.
If you need a little visual temptation follow @chenebleu_extremewine on Instagram.
Dates: September 11-17, 2021
Pricing: Early bird pricing of 5,950€ is available until June 30, 2021.
Six (6) nights in deluxe accommodation
Highly experienced instructors
Complete official WSET Level 2 course package and certification
Proprietary Chêne Bleu practical diploma
All field trips
Pre-arranged airport or TGV transfers
Bring along a companion. They can enjoy the pool and explore the area while you are studying. Inquire about the companion rate and possible activities.
To book or request additional information, please contact Karen Glennon, the Executive Director of Extreme Wine, via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.