Domaine les Hautes Cances, Cairanne

Domaine les Hautes Cances label

Country & RegionFrance, Rhône Valley
Appellation(s)Côtes du Rhône, Cairanne
ProducerJean-Marie and Anne-Marie Astart
FoundedA family domain since the 1890s. Jean-Marie and Anne-Marie prepared their first harvest in 1992.

T his is another domain possessed of the most admirable traditional virtues. Jean-Marie and Anne-Marie Astart have been making full-bodied, hearty wines full of character for many years now; Jean-Marie was a school teacher, and the approach is laissez-faire, no fandango. There is great respect for the various soils up and down their vineyards, which range from the height of the Col du Débat at 342 metres behind Cairanne on the picturesque road over the top to St Roman-de-Malegarde down to the village and the garrigue areas further along…
   —John Livingstone-Learmonth, 4 April 2014 in drinkrhone bulletin

The Domaine Hautes Cances vineyards are a legacy of Anne-Marie Astart’s family, from a domain her grandparents founded in the 1890s. She herself had gone into the medical profession and married Jean-Marie, a psychiatrist. When her family bequeathed them the domain in 1992, they had to decide whether to take that responsibility, or sell. Anne-Marie didn’t want to walk away from her family history, and Jean-Marie welcomed a chance to do some farming as a way of balancing out his psychiatry work (he’s pictured below in their Col du Débat vineyard). So they did the reasonable thing, and enrolled in the local winemaking school…

Jean-Marie Astart of Domaine Hautes Cances in his Col du Débat vineyard

They probably questioned the wisdom of that decision when they harvested these vineyards for the first time in 1992. The skies opened as they picked and a great deluge fell, with all manner of flooding and death and destruction (a cycle that repeated itself in the southern Rhône in 2002). They figured that they were lucky their harvest was contractually obligated to go to the cooperative.

In 1995, however, their confidence was such that they pulled out of the cooperative and began the conversion to organic farming. They were among the first, if not the first, to return to organic farming in Cairanne à l’ancienne. They also bought back part of the original family cellar, and doubled their vineyard size.

Jean-Marie Astart of Domaine Hautes Cances destemming

Jean-Marie’s dual careers proved impractical, and in 2000 he quit his practice to devote his energies to the domain. During the winter of 2003-04 they built a new, gravity-operated cellar into a hillside, and buried its two roofs under soil to make the building naturally temperature controlled (the production room sits under one meter while the ageing room has two meters of soil—and now an olive orchard—overhead).

Today the domain farms 17.5 hectares, or 43 acres, of vines. These are located around the village of Cairanne and on the Ventabrin Massif that rises up behind (that is, to the north of) Cairanne, Rasteau, and Roaix. Up there at 250 meters is their parcel of Col du Débat, on the northern side of the massif, a cool site that more than one local vigneron believes could be where the future lies for Cairanne’s viticulture with the advent of global warming.

Jean-Marie makes wines that he likes to drink—robust and loaded with character. Yields are low, the grapes are hand-harvested and de-stemmed, fermented with indigenous yeast in large concrete vats without pumping over or rack-and-return (rather, the cap is submerged by a grid) before racking into barrel. All red varieties are picked at the same time and co-fermented except the Syrah, which is picked earlier and fermented separately. The reds are never fined and rarely filtered. In all respects the vineyards are farmed organically except for a minimal amount of weed killer used in part of the Col de Débat vineyard. (If the Astarts were the first to work organically in Cairanne, they were also the first to stop when, in 2003, while plowing weeds between vines, their tractor twice slid down a hillside at the Col du Débat vineyard. The tractor didn’t tip over, but the possibility was close enough that they decided living with a little herbicide beat not living.)

Domaine Hautes Cances countryside

Cairanne (above, in winter) at long last was granted cru status in 2016, and now joins Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Rasteau as the elite group with more restrictive regulations that can market its wines without the Côte-du-Rhône Villages designation. In return, Cairanne’s total surface was reduced from 1,200 hectares to 1,000 hectares, with the excluded parcels growing on lesser sites now earmarked as straight Côtes-du-Rhône Villages. Fortunately, all of the parcels in the Hautes Cances stable made the cut for cru status.

The Wines

VdP de la Principauté d’Orange "Terre de Cheyenne"
Roughly 40% Syrah, 30% Grenache, and 30% CarignanName comes from the early days when Anne-Marie kept a spirited horse named Cheyenne near the vineyard. Yields average 40 hectoliters per hectare and the grapes are hand-harvested. This is the one red wine the domaine makes entirely in tank.
Côtes du RhôneRoughly 45% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Cinsault, 10% Carignan, and 5% MourvèdreVines average 50+ years of age. Wine aged in older Burgundy barrels. 1,000 cases annually.
Cairanne Tradition
Roughly 35% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 15% Carignan, 5% Cinsault, and 5% CounoiseVines have an older average age than the Côtes du Rhône vines. Wine aged in older Burgundy barrels. 850 cases annually.
Cairanne Vieilles Vignes

Based on Grenache, roughly 70% of the blend. Remainder is more or less equal parts Syrah (the old small-berried Serine variety) and Mourvèdre.Grenache vines are over 100 years old and the wine gives this cuvée an extraordinarily broad profile; Serine was planted in 1972-73, while the Mourvèdre was planted in 1962-63. Wine is aged in older Burgundy barrels and bottled without fining or filtration. Between 250-450 cases annually.
Cairanne Col du Débat
Based on 50-65% Grenache, then normally Carignan, followed by Syrah, followed by Counoise (usually under 5% of the blend).Vineyard is up on the north face of the Ventabren Massif, and as such it gets the full brunt of the mistral when it blows out of the Alps, sucked south by African deserts. Northern exposure protects vines from the sun’s hottest rays while elevation gives cooler nighttime temperatures; thus, fundamentally, this is the opposite situation from the parcels that make up the vieilles vignes cuvée. Vines average 50+ years of age, and yields of 18-20 hectoliters per hectare are the lowest of all the domaine’s vineyards. Elevage is no different from the other Cairanne cuvées, but this wine is darker, more linear, fresher, and plainly more elusive than its siblings. A fascinating wine. Production varies greatly depending on the year, between 250 to 650 cases.