Vintage year for a little marvel, Domaine St-Marc des Omèdes
April 2014 saw a special anniversary for one of the smallest vineyards in the region. It’s 20 years since Englishman Lindsay Phillips retired from IBM and set up Domaine St-Marc des Omèdes near Lorgues in the Var.
“I had owned a 40-acre property in Hampshire, and I’d enjoyed keeping sheep,” says Lindsay, now 79. “When my wife and I moved to the Var after I retired, I wanted to keep working with the land in some way. Sheep were not an option – I didn’t fancy spending four months of the year away from home when the sheep move on to the upland pastures!
“I thought that retirement was an opportunity to do something I had not previously had time to do, so I tried growing vines and having my wine made. The vineyard is tiny, just two hectares in an area where 12 is considered on the small side.”
Lindsay Phillips was bitten by the “French bug” when he worked for IBM in La Gaude
But even with a pint-sized vineyard, Lindsay soon realised that he needed all the time he could spare, and then some, to succeed as a vigneron.
“Every day you have to watch the vines. Pruning, spraying … it all takes much longer than you would think. There was plenty of bureaucracy to deal with, and at the time I didn’t speak French as well as I do now.
“I well remember that first spring we were just about to bottle the first wine and someone asked ‘where are the labels?’ A helpful printer in Toulon helped us out on that occasion.”
With a combination of hard work and good advice, it wasn’t long before Domaine St-Marc des Omèdes was producing AOC Côtes de Provence wines that Lindsay could be proud of. The combination of quality and keen pricing came to the attention of the wine-lover’s bible, the Guide Hachette des Vins. They taste-tested Lindsay’s Cuvée Amiral red at €7.50 a bottle against a more well-known vineyard’s equivalent at €19.50; the Cuvée Amiral scored 17 out of 20 and its pricey rival 16.
That particular red was made using 90% cabernet sauvignon grapes, and the fact that the strict Appellation d’Origine Controlée rules prevented him from putting that on the label is a sore point with Lindsay.
“The rules state that to qualify for AOC Côtes de Provence status, a wine must be an ‘assemblage’ of different grape varieties, the choice of grapes and proportions up to the vigneron. The ‘varietal’ content of the wine cannot be shown on the label.
“The rules were designed to protect and improve the stock of a whole range of grape varieties, but those rules have outlived their usefulness. It means that you cannot make an AOC Côtes de Provence wine from a single grape variety. In recent years winegrowers in our region have been making excellent wines this way – we had a Chardonnay, for instance – but these have to be sold as simple vin de pays, supposedly much inferior to AOC, but in fact excellent wines in their own right.”
Lindsay’s dedication to his wine bore fruit when the posh St James’s firm Berry Bros & Rudd (Simon Berry is the Queen’s winemaster) imported his wines.
As Lindsay himself reached a certain vintage, he decided that the time had come for a change. Now his neighbour at Domaine des Aumèdes harvests the grapes and makes the wine under a rental system known as en fermage.
“I have only stopped now because with my prices set in 2001, it has become an expense I can no longer afford, and I prefer to spend more time with my other great love; my old classic 36-ft motorboat Kyanos in Ste Maxime.”
Lindsay, who rents out a self-contained apartment in the lovely and large 200-year-old building that was home to Domaine St-Marc des Omèdes, has plenty of stock of recent vintages to sell, and he welcomes visitors who want to drop by for a tasting – although it is wise to phone ahead on 04 94 67 69 17.
Lindsay Phillips first appeared in Reporter 55 in 1996. Domaine St-Marc des Omèdes is 3km southeast of Lorgues. Visit the website www.stmarcdesomedes.com