City Palate
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EAT WELL, SPEND LESS - January Feburary 2018

Experience Extreme Wine, a Provencal Escape

WELCOME TO WINE BOOT CAMP

by Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

Long before the existence of social media, the seven popes who directed the Catholic Church's activities from Avignon (1309-77) appreciated that the terroir of the southern Rhône was ripe for grapevines. During the Middle Ages, local monks survived off the scrubland and cultivated grapes under Provence's sunny skies.

However, it was Twitter that led me to the site of an ancient priory, a place with row upon row of budding grenache and syrah vines. Surfing the Internet, I stumbled across @ExtremeWineCB, a "handle" that I felt compelled to follow. Not satisfied with Twitter's 140-character limitations, I made contact with Karen Glennon, the Executive Director of Chêne Bleu's Extreme Wine, to understand more about its program in Provence.

La Verrière is located three kilometres from the hilltop hamlet of Crestet, on the northern edge of Provence, at the crossroads of several Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC or AC) wine regions. The Rolet family purchased the property in 1993 and, after an extensive renovation and construction project, unveiled their first Chêne Bleu wines (vintage 2006) to the market in 2009.

The team is focused on "Super Rhône wines made to organic and biodynamic principles." When you meet Nicole Rolet, you quickly recognize her deep understanding of the industry, a knowledge base that she has gained over the last 15 years. Rolet moved from investment finance and political science in New York City to London with her hus-band, and began a crash course to improve her understanding of the wine business. She rapidly determined that the classroom-based certification courses offered in London and San Francisco left gaps in her wine-industry comprehension. Not satisfied with the status quo, she worked with Clive Barlow, a Master of Wine in London, to develop a curriculum that complements the Wine Spirits and Edu-cation Trust (WSET) syllabus. The Chêne Bleu Extreme Wine experience, now in its ninth year, gives students a hands-on understand-ing of the wine business.

WHAT IS EXTREME WINE?

The course at La Verrière is an intensive five-day immersion into wines of the world, a thoughtful approach to tasting wine and the art of pairing with food. Students also gain a hands-on appreciation for essential vineyard activities. What sets the Extreme Wine experience apart from the WSET certification, that you can take at most community colleges, is the holistic approach to the subject. In the high-tech conference room, Barlow and his fellow instructor, Nick Dumergue, walk students through the growing regions, grape types, various wine-making processes and spirits production. After a morning session of PowerPoint slides and wine tasting, the group assembles for an al fresco working lunch in the shade of a Linden tree to test their food and wine pairing skills.

The onsite chef team – a talented duo – prepares all meals for the week, rising to the daily challenge of pairing four-course dinners with that day's wine focus. Speaking on behalf of my fellow students and myself, I think we might have been prepared for the intense theory and wine tasting, but we weren't pre-pared to be served meals worthy of Michelin stars alongside some of the top global wines. We were fast learners, however. After the welcome dinner that included heirloom tomatoes stuffed with vegetable tartare, a six-hour lamb shoulder made with meat from the local shepherd, a cheese course and then a strawberry-filled almond crust with crème anglaise, we all knew that we would leave La Verrière feeling slightly snugger in our jeans.

La Verrière is the name of the property that includes the 35-hectare Chêne Bleu vineyard and contemporary wine-making facility. Extreme Wine attendees stay at the vineyard – practically a hamlet – where the main building can sleep 18 in five-star accommodations. The restoration and construction work of La Verrière took almost a full decade. The Rolet family is highly respectful of the site and its history as a medieval 9th-century priory, and as a glass production facility (1427) – hence, the name La Verrière. Today, more than 20 years after purchasing a ruin at the top of a 550 m hill, the Chêne Bleu team welcomes students, corporate teams, private families and exclusive tour groups to enjoy a glass of wine with an uninterrupted view of Mont Ventoux.

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