Thankfully, Domaine des Escaravailles’ many fans have not been put off by its slightly gruesome name: escaravailles is the Occitan name for scarab beetles, a fact that has been immortalised on the wines’ labels. The term was also a nickname for the black-robed monks that occupied the area’s Catholic monasteries centuries ago; however the domaine’s history is somewhat more recent.
In 1953, Jean-Louis Férran purchased several ideally placed hillside parcels of vines in the Rasteau, Cairanne and Roaix regions of Côtes-du-Rhône. Over the years, he was joined by his sons, Daniel and Jean-Pierre, and they in turn gave the reigns to Daniel’s son, Gilles, in 1999.
Gilles took control after graduating first in his year from the faculty of oenology at Montpellier University. He is assisted at the domaine by Philippe Cambie, his dear friend, and fellow-student who came second in the same year!
This talented pair expertly manage the 65 hectares of vineyards, 40 of which are in the rocky, clay-limestone hillsides of Rasteau. The steep, south-facing slopes provide excellent exposure and drainage for the vines, and the high altitude (around 250m above sea level) causes cooler nights, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly, imbuing the resultant wines with superb balance.
Another plus for the estate is the age of its vines: the grenache has an average age of 40-50 years, whereas the syrah is between 30 and 35 years old. One of the domaine’s top wines, Rasteau Heritage 1924, has an even more impressive pedigree: coming from vines over 85 years old, it rivals the quality of many a good Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The company practises sustainable viticulture, and the harvest is all done by hand, with a strict selection process both in the vineyard and once the grapes reach the cellar. The grapes do not have far to travel: the winery is set into the hillsides in the heart of the vineyards at Rasteau, and boasts an impressive range of state-of-the-art technology that assists the Férrans in the production of their modern, ripe and silky-textured wines.
Each of the different vine parcels is fermented separately in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks. The grenache is aged in these, too, whereas the syrah goes on to spend time in oak barrels.
The domaine is also a popular destination for visiting wine fans, who love the pretty views and warm welcome as much as the wine itself.