As well as a wine-grower committed to sustainable viticulture, Brigitte Noël is an enthusiastic member of the Compagnons des Côtes du Rhône. As President of this colourful association, she tells us about the rituals and projects scheduled to take place throughout the year. The Compagnons are the keepers of France’s only urban AOC vineyard, a good excuse to get together and celebrate season by season.
Who are the 'Compagnons des Côtes du Rhône'?
"We are an association of 45 members, mainly men and a few women! But we represent all the occupations involved in the wine industry. Our aim is to promote Avignon as the capital of the Côtes du Rhône region. This city is one of the wonders of the world, thanks to its Palais des Papes, famous Bridge and equally famous song… and of course its wines. We have planted a vineyard in the Rocher des Dames garden, right beside the Palais des Papes. It is the only urban AOC vineyard in France, and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It offers an absolutely magnificent view of the Rhone and the famous Pont d’Avignon!"
Is it possible to taste the wine from this exceptional vineyard ?
“Of course! We have planted all the Rhone grape varieties: Syrah and Viognier to represent the northern growing area, Grenache rouge and Grenache blanc for the South. The local high schools offering a specialisation in viticulture are involved in the upkeep. Pruning and harvesting provide opportunities for educational gatherings and celebrations. We often receive journalists and professionals from all parts of France and abroad. We get an increasing number of requests from wine-growers from all over the world. We have members who speak all the world’s languages: Chinese, Italian, German…”
Presumably, the grape harvest is the high point of the year ?
« Certainly, the “Ban des Vendages” is our biggest event. We are perpetuating a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages: in those days, it was the Pope who gave the order for the grape-picking to begin. Things are a bit different nowadays: wine-growers begin harvesting when they judge that their grapes are ripe. But we continue to celebrate the “Ban” on the first Saturday in September. It is a major public festival that attracts more than 7,000 people »
You mentioned your international connections. Can you tell us about that?
« We are currently developing a promising relationship with our Canadian cousins. In 2011, the Delegation of the State of Quebec in France was celebrating its 50th anniversary. I therefore made contact with Mr Robitaille, the Delegate General, and in 2011 the Ban des Vendages was organised with a distinctly Quebequois flavour. It was a memorable event!We also twinned the Palais des Papes vineyard with the Clos Ozias vineyard located at Mont Saint-Hilaire in Quebec. Since then, we have been regularly in touch with wine-growers from Quebec. »
You yourself look after the wine-growing estate of Noël Saint-Laurent …
«I work with my husband: he cares for the vineyard, I look after the winery. We sell our wines in France, but even more so abroad. As he studied in the United States, we have a well-developed network there. We play host to a lot of Americans, as well as Europeans, and now Canadians! In fact, they have invited me to take part in their first grape harvest at Clos Ozias. It will be a great event, scheduled for mid-October. They have drawn inspiration from the way in which we celebrate our “Bans”.