Friday, April 6, 2012

Domaine de Mourchon, Séguret

Sablet is located at the base of the Dentelles de Montmirail surrounded by small wine-making villages, the closest of which is Séguret, about 2 kms northeast of Sablet. As you can see in the picture below, Séguret is elevated above the vineyards that separate the two villages and spreads out across the bottom of a hill topped by ruins of its feudal castle.

Shirley's favorite morning walk is to head out from Sablet on the path through the vineyards up to Séguret then wander through the pretty village before heading back to Sablet on the connecting road. Séguret was one of the first villages classified as a Plus Beaux Villages de France and is definitely worth a visit.

If you decide to drive to Séguret rather then walk, you will have to park in one of the parking areas just below the village as Séguret is accessible only on foot. From the parking area, walk up the hill through the archway of the old wall around Séguret to the main street.

Wander the narrow cobblestone streets and you will discover the 14th century belfry with its single needle clock, the beautiful 10th century Saint-Denis church, the Rue des Poternes lined with ancient houses, and the Huguenots' gate.

There are a few tourist shops, art galleries, santon workshops, wine shops, and restaurants. Le Mesclun is a very good restaurant and is open throughout the year. There is an adjoining terrace where we have dined several times on warm sunny days.

Walk out the arched portal door at the end of the village through the old wall and circle back to the parking area by way of the road that runs along the base of the village. Make sure you take time to admire the fantastic views out over the vineyards and the village of Sablet.

Shirley would want me to tell you that if you go to Séguret, carry toilet paper in your pocket or purse just in case you need to use the public restrooms located near the parking area; they are very rustic and there is no toilet paper. These toilets would not qualify for classification as one of the Plus Beaux Toilettes de France.

Séguret is not just a beautiful village, it also has vineyards and some very talented winemakers who make very good wine. Among those excellent domaines is Domaine de Mourchon. Every time we go to Séguret, we see the sign by the parking area pointing the way to Domaine de Mourchon but we have never gone.

So this time with friends John and Lorelei in tow, we decided to follow the signs to Domaine de Mourchon. We found the entrance to the Domaine after driving several kms up a very narrow road that at times seemed more like a path, winding around vineyards and through forest land above Séguret.

In comparison to many domaines in the Côtes du Rhône where families have been making wine for multiple generations, the history of Domaine de Mourchon is a recent one. The Domaine was established in 1998 by the McKinlay family with the purchase of 17 hectares (42 acres) of established vineyards with an average age of 55 years.

Up to that time, the grapes from these vineyards had been vinified at the local co-operative. Since there was no winery, a state-of-the art gravity-flow winery was commissioned and completed just in time for the 1999 harvest. In 2003, they bought 7 more hectares (17.3 acres) to meet the growing demand for the Domaine's wine.

The story of Domaine de Mourchon and the McKinlay family's interest in southern Côtes du Rhône wines began in Scotland in the 1970s, when Walter McKinlay and his wife Ronnie chose a Vacqueyras wine as the house wine for her restaurant at The Udny Arms Hotel in Aberdeenshire.

Some years later after selling his information technology business, Walter started looking for a small established vineyard where he and his wife could retire. Despite the fact that the land at Mourchon had no winery and no house, Walter purchased the vineyard and set about the tasks of building a winery and establishing a brand.

Not long after, Walter and Ronnie were joined by their daughter Kate and son-in-law Hugo Levingston and their three children, who all work together to run Domaine de Mourchon as a family-run, independent winery.

Our little group walked into the winery and said "bonjour" and then I launched into a short explanation of who we were, the fact we have a home in Sablet and own a French bistro in Northern California, something I always do.

Of course, this was all in my best French, so we were surprised when the gentleman in the tasting room, who we found out was Walter, responded in English with what was clearly not a French accent. He informed us he was from Scotland.

The wine at Domaine de Mourchon is vinified by Sebastien Magnouac who comes from a family of winemakers in the Armagnac area in Western France, Sebastien started his career in Bordeaux where, after extensive studies and work experience, he qualified as a Cellar Master.

Walter explained that upon arrival from the vineyards, the grapes are sorted on a conveyor, picking out leaves, sub-standard bunches and any other stuff that has made it to that point. The grapes are then de-stemmed and lightly crushed before entry into the winery

The grapes are put into large stainless steel tanks, separated by grape variety and individual parcels of land. In this way, when the wines are made and matured, the winemaker can blend the different varieties and parcels to produce exactly the blend that he wants.

Yeast is added to the tanks and the natural sugars within the grapes begin to ferment until all the sugar turns to alcohol. This initial fermentation process takes place over the course of about one week.

You may not be aware but almost all black grapes have white flesh and produce white juice. The color and character of red wine is developed by leaving the juice in contact with the skins and pips (seeds) for approximately 3 weeks.

To make sure that fermentation, color and structure develop evenly, the winemaker regularly pumps the wine from the bottom of the tank back up to the top where it is passed through the "cap" of skins and solid matter that naturally floats to the surface.

This is where rosé wine differs from red wine. Rosé wine is made from the juice of black grapes but only left in contact with the skins for a short period of time. In the case of Domaine de Mourchon, they leave juice in contact with the skin for only 6-8 hours.

After fermentation, most of the wine is put into concrete vats to start ageing. A small percentage of wine from the oldest parcels is put into French oak barrels. Unlike the stainless steel tanks in which the wine is fermented, concrete vats and oak barrels allow wines to "breath" as they age which help the tannins round out and soften.

Séguret covers approximately 850 hectares (2,100 acres) and can be divided into three different terroirs; down by the Ouvèze river, the soil is silty and has a loam base, the slopes which surround Séguret have a sandstone and pebbly composition and the hills behind the village are limestone giving way to marl (calcareous clay-based soil).

Domaine de Mourchon is located in the hills at approximately 300 meters (almost 1000 feet) altitude behind the steep rocky hill on which the village of Séguret is perched. As you climb the winding road up the hill to the Domaine, the predominance of limestone gives way to a grey marl giving the landscape a crumbly blue base.

Domaine de Mourchon follows a program of sustainable viticulture to maintain a healthy vineyard and low yields. Restricting the yield of the vines increases the concentration in each grape cluster and improves the quality of the wine.

Sustainable viticulture also means a commitment to the use of natural and organic methods wherever practical and the the use of chemicals as a last resort - "culture raisonée" as it is known in France.

As an example, weeds are managed through plowing rather than through the application of weed killers. Organic manures and fertilizers, including the composted lies from the previous years wine, are all used too.

Such prudent vineyard husbandry is a year-round labor - from pruning in the cold winter months when the vines are dormant, to careful canopy management during the vigorous growth period of June and July, through to September and manual harvesting.

This traditional method allows pickers to eliminate any unhealthy fruit and to select individual bunches according to their ripeness, ensuring that grapes arrive at the winery in the best possible condition.

The majority of the Domaine de Mourchon estate is planted in Grenache and then Syrah and lesser amounts of other Rhone varietals.

We tasted through all of the current releases with Walter. Since we were on a mission to replenish our stock of rosé wines, we left with a six-pack of the 2011 Domaine de Mourchon, Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret, Loubié, a rosé made from a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah.

If you are in Sablet or the surrounding area, it is well worthwhile to go and visit Séguret and then go to Domaine de Mourchon. They make some excellent wines. I hope they will be exported soon to California so we can add one of them to our list at Bistro Des Copains.

Have a great weekend! Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.


  1. Wow I just love Séguret, what a beautiful place with its little narrow streets. Thanks for showing us around. On my list to visit one day.
    We are off to a wine fair today so we may find some interesting wines there so long as they are not too expensive. Diane

  2. Diane - Séguret is definitely worth a visit anytime of the year but especially during the summer when more is going on and during the year end holidays when they have a very well known santon exhibition. I hope you found some great wines. Have a great weekend.

  3. Hi - You have captured Seguret with beauty and elegance. I particularly liked your description of Domaine de Mourchon. We visited Mourchon for the first time last year and have since never been without at least a few bottles of their magnificent wine in the house. I just checked their website and it appears that at some stage they had a distributor (wine Warehouse) in CA. maybe worth trying it.

  4. Olivia - Thanks for checking out my blog and for leaving a comment. We have had Domaine de Mourchon wine at several restaurants in the Sablet area but we had never been there. We were very happy we went to the Domaine and will return regularly. Thanks for the heads up about Wine Warehouse. I was quite sure that I asked Walter about California and he told me not at the present time but I could be confused since we tasted at quite a few domaines.

  5. We love the Mourchon wines and your report is great, too!

  6. barbara - Thanks for the positive feedback about this post. We had Mourchon wines several times at area restaurants so it was a good time to make a visit to the Domaine.

  7. What a beautiful town! It's so cute and I love the fact that it is only accessible by foot. Those are the best French towns to see as you don't have to dodge cars while gazing at the loveliness of the town!
    Thanks for the wine lesson. I always feel a bit strange being here and knowing nothing of wine! The French all look at me like I'm crazy!

  8. Ashley - Seguret is definitely a beautiful village. We go so often we probably don't appreciate it as much as we should. I'm very happy to contribute to your wine education :-)