The jagged, toothy peaks of the Alpilles form a natural barrier between southern France’s Camargue to the south and the bustling city of Avignon to the north. Tucked at the foot of its rock walls, Domaine de Trévallon is at once the darling of Les Baux de Provence and also its black sheep. There is no person that has done more to elevate the quality and prestige of the wines around Les Baux than Eloi Dürrbach, who began planting vines in the three valleys (where the estate gets its name) in 1973. Eloi and his father, René, had studied the old texts of the famous 19th-century viticulturalist, Doctor Guyot, who claimed that much of their area of the Bouches-du-Rhône had been planted to Cabernet Sauvignon before the arrival of phylloxera. Intent on respecting the terroir, they divided their red grape holdings equally among Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Both varietals thrive in the deep chalky soils, and the 50/50 blend turned out to be the perfect balance between the wild qualities of the Mediterranean basin and the structure of a more northerly climate. Eloi blasted the first vineyards out of the mountain himself. Over time and after subsequent planting, the estate is now divided between 15 hectares of reds and 2 hectares of whites.
Twenty years later, in 1993, when neighboring growers made a case to the INAO to have a new AOC, the legislation only authorized 20% Cabernet in the vineyards. The wine governing body threatened to strip Eloi and his wife, Floriane, of their AOC if they did not reduce the Cabernet percentages in their blend. To compromise would have entailed an expensive, time-consuming, and wide-scale replanting. After bringing the world’s attention to this humble growing region, the Dürrbach’s refused to make the change and were forced into accepting the lesser Vin de Pays du Bouche du Rhône status. As it turned out, their rebellion reflected just as much avant-gardist thinking as it did a purist’s respect of tradition. Now joined at the domaine by their son, Antoine, and daughter Ostiane, these vin de pays producers are free of many of the appellation’s constraints and still remain a well-loved, cult classic with a strict allegiance to tradition.
Long before it was the trend it is today, the Dürrbachs embraced organic farming. They plow to encourage the roots of the vines to plunge deeper into the soil for water and nutrients, and they believe in pruning short, which not only reduces the yields but extends the life of the plant by 20 to 50 years. They take a minimalist approach in the cellars, where they only work with native yeasts. They wines undergo regular punch-downs and pump-overs of the cap before extended aging in barrels and oak casks. The reds age for two years and the whites for one, with as few rackings as possible to preserve all the powerful, antioxidant-rich particles that settle at the bottom of the casks. The finished red wines display aromas of pine trees and garrigue which surround the vineyard, opening to a velvety texture and ripe tannins at the finish. While they begin to show their charm after five years in bottle, they can often age gracefully for 15 to 25 years, rivaling the finest wines of the northern Rhône or Bordeaux.