Our tasting impressions
I have tasted some of the most coveted special cuvées from the Southern Rhône and have disliked almost all of them. Impressive for their showmanship and heavy-handed winemaker intervention but I am turned off by their lack of transparency and restraint. But Jean-Baptiste is not striving for pyrotechnics with his Ventabren, rather a showcase for the fruit from his oldest, grandest vines. The best way to describe this is COMPLETE. It is indescribably deep and the fruit is gloriously lush and sweet. From magnum, it is advisable to bury these deep in your cellar. Sure, you could decant one for days and I bet you'll love it. But, even if you are a novice wine drinker, you will sense what amazement the future will hold.
About this wine
Gigondas vineyards rest on the slopes leading up to the Dentelles de Montmirail and the erosion from these mountains composes the limestone & clay soil. The elevation (up to 330m above sea level) and the dry soil force the roots deep to find moisture, absorbing all the minerals in their path.
Jean-Baptiste selects grapes from his his oldest vines at the highest elevations for Ventabren. Most are between 80-100 years old, with some planted in 1901. The soil is sandstone and marl.
The cépage is 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah & 10% Cinsault all picked manually. Mostly whole bunches are used though some may be partially de-stemmed. Fermentation is over 3 weeks with natural, wild yeasts. He punches down the cap and pumps over.
The wine is aged for 18 months in 50hl foudres. About 7,700 bottles are produced after a light filtration.
About the vintage
2017 presented everything but the kitchen sink conditions - frost, heavy rain and searing heat. The harvest was early and it produced very modest yields. The fruit was similarly small in size but packed with high quality, concentrated juice.
About the grape blend
Grenache the preeminent red wine grape of the Southern Rhône, makes full-bodied, red-fruited wine. It enjoys very dry, hot and windy conditions but the vines produce scant fruit which means great concentration. The Syrah provides structure, savoriness and black fruit and the Cinsault softens the tannins and boosts the fruity aromas.
Suggested Glassware: Grassl Cru
Jean-Baptiste Meunier (JB) is a fifth generation vineyard owner in picturesque Gigondas. But the name Moulin de La Gardette (La Gardette was the estate’s original vineyard) did not appear on a wine bottle until the 1940’s. Prior, many other crops were farmed and grapes were sold for use in Châteauneuf du Pape.
JB assumed management in 1988 after studying winemaking in Carcassonne and working in Napa Valley as well as close to home. The estate is 25 acres across numerous vineyards where he organically farms Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. He makes just 3 wines, Tradition (his flagship), Ventabren (a special, very old vine cuvée) and La Petite Gardette (younger vines).
He has a scientific air as he describes his processes and experiments. Yet you can feel that he makes wine as much with his heart as his mind. He is deeply connected to his vines and his cellar. This is evident in the profound and moving wines he produces.