Gilles Ferran and his daughter Madeline run the magnificent Domaine des Escaravailles in Rasteau, rightly considered one of the best producers in the Southern Rhône. Their shared love of wine is the key to their success.
This is how I welcome Madeline and her father Gilles on a drizzly Thursday afternoon, behind the computer. For it is also raining in Rasteau. “It’s a good thing for the vineyard that it’s raining a lot at the moment, but there hasn’t been any cold yet and the vineyard needs it too,” explains Gilles. “Otherwise, the vines wake up too early.
Influence of the new generation
On each side of the screen we sit ready with bottles that we will enjoy together later. It’s just like in real life. But first I am curious to know how the story of Domaine Escaravailles began. I would also like to know how the future looks, now that Madeline has been active on the estate for a few years. How is the new generation affecting the Ferran family? Gilles explains that his grandfather was the director of one of the biggest producers in the Vaucluse. They owned 1,500 hectares of vines and the owner was also interested in land around Rasteau.
Jean-Louis Ferran heard about a piece of land for sale in the region. But the road leading to it was barely passable, there was no water, no electricity and not even a vineyard. The deal fell through, but Grandpa Ferran asked if he could buy it for himself, and so he did. The house is little more than a dilapidated farmhouse with a sheep shed. But the setting is breathtakingly beautiful, with views of the valley, Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail.
To buy it, he sold his car and borrowed money. Little by little, he renovated the place and made it habitable. In 1963, his two sons, including Gilles’ father, started to plant vines. In 1964, they bought their first tractor. To repay the initial loan, the brothers sell ten hectares of vines and have to start from scratch. Times were hard. In 1973, a severe frost destroyed the vineyard and no wine could be produced that year. Fortunately, Gilles’ mother, a teacher, and his aunt, a hairdresser, ensured that there was at least bread on the table. Little by little, new vines were planted and land was bought. With the grapes, the brothers produce their own wine, which they sell to local wine merchants. They then bottle and market the wine.
In 1988, Gilles, who had become an oenologist, came to work on the estate. At that time, the estate had 45 hectares of vines. Over the years, Gilles bought an additional 20 hectares through his mother’s family, including some beautiful old plots planted in 1947. With the arrival of his university friend Philippe Cambie, who would later become one of France’s best known wine consultants, things changed at the estate. Gilles: “Thanks to Philippe’s intervention, my father gave us more and more space in the cellar. Literally too: the extension of the cellar allowed us to work better and more qualitatively. At Philippe’s suggestion, we started harvesting riper fruit. Until then, we still sold most of our wines to merchants, who asked us mainly for strong wines. With Philippe, the wines gained in finesse and complexity, and we started bottling them ourselves in 2003. Much to Gilles and Madeline’s dismay, the collaboration with Philippe came to an end when he passed away at the end of 2021.
The two brothers shape the estate and make it grow, but it is mainly Gilles’ father and later Gilles himself who work on it. When I ask Madeline how she sees the future, she says that she would like to reduce the size of the estate and ensure that her uncle’s legacy goes to his children. Madeline: “With our methods, the estate is actually too big for us now. I also want to go completely organic; our method is already largely organic, but I want to be certified. I like wines with pure fruit expression, finesse and elegance.
But there are many other things that concern me: for example, we want to make even more progress in the vineyard. With drones and plot analysis, we can now monitor the health of the vineyard much better. Last year, for example, it was very dry and certain parts of the vineyard or vines suffered a lot. We want to adapt the work in the vineyard for each parcel accordingly. Also, with the death of Philippe Cambie, we had to look for another consultant. Dad left it to me; he felt it was important that it was someone I felt comfortable with. We found someone very good, Guillaume Vally, from the ICV group, a former colleague of Philippe’s. Someone who, like me, is a very good consultant. Someone who, like me, is looking for elegance. Philippe was a bit more focused on power and concentration in that respect. So this will also bring a bit of a change.”
Gilles: “The most important thing is that Madeline has a real love of the job. Without that, it doesn’t work, the days are too long and the work too hard. We only do this job out of passion, not out of obligation. I never asked her to join the company, it really came from her. That’s why I have great confidence in her.”