An English-born producer in Vinsobres is leading efforts to raise the international profile of this “Côtes du Rhône on steroids” appellation.
Anna Thorburn, Vice President of the Comité des Vignerons de Vinsobres with her husband Wilson
Having given up her career as a London lawyer, Anna Thorburn bought 13 hectares of Vinsobres vineyard with her husband in 2006 and, as well as running Domaine l’Ancienne Ecole, is currently vice-president of the Comité des Vignerons de Vinsobres.
This move coincided with the award of cru status to Vinsobres, a development which Thorburn suggested created challenges as well as opportunity.
“On the one hand, it was fantastic that the wine had been awarded this prestigious title,” she told the drinks business; “however that then meant that we no longer carried the well known and recognised label of Côtes du Rhône and instead, essentially no one knew what Vinsobres wines were.”
While acknowledging that building this recognition is “not something which happens overnight,” Thorburn suggested that one important step that could boost the region’s profile is “greater clarity about assemblage.”
She explained: “In terms of planting, there are strict guidelines in place, however when it comes to the vinification side of things the rules aren’t quite as fixed.”
Setting Vinsobres’ style within the broader context of the Côtes du Rhône region, Thorburn noted its northerly position within the southern Rhône, “so the climate is very similar to that of some of the northern cru.”
As a result, she summed up, “I believe what really makes a Vinsobres a Vinsobres is that it has the fruitiness of Rhône wines but that bit fuller and more robust, with much more peppery flavours. They are more tannic than many of the other southern cru wines.
“Sometimes, if I’m trying to describe Vinsobres wines to someone who hasn’t tasted them before, I describe it as a ‘Côtes du Rhône on steroids’! Perhaps that’s a bit crude, but it gets across that it has all those fantastic qualities which Côtes du Rhône wines have, but with that extra bit of power and intensity which is what makes the wines unique.”
Although stressing the welcoming attitude from locals, Thorburn suggested that being an “outsider” has its benefits, noting: “The main thing is that I understand that wines are made in regions other than France! Sometimes we can be a bit guilty of only concentrating on and tasting wines from our own region, but it’s important to taste wines from all different regions.”
With latest regional figures from 2012 indicating that 42% of the appellation’s wine is currently exported, the UK represents one of the largest markets, accounting for 38% of total exports.
“This is already quite a high figure for an appellation the size of Vinsobres, so the main focus of Vinsobres as a whole isn’t just to increase exports,” remarked Thorburn. However, she added: “I think we should definitely look to increase exports to Germany and Belgium as apart from the UK, these are key markets for Côtes du Rhône wines as a whole, so there is potential for growth there.”