Serendipity often plays a large role in wine production — stumbling upon the right bit of soil, having just the right weather during the growing season or the harvest can make all the difference between producing a merely good and a great wine. The serendipity, too, of meeting just the right people at just the right time can tip the balance in shaping a wine, or a winery.
It was true serendipity that propelled Christophe Bardeau, a young, fifth-generation Bordelais winemaker who founded Domaine Roses Camille, one of the world’s most highly prized kosher wineries — and the only kosher winery to have its wine in the cellars of France’s oldest restaurant, the Michelin-starred La Tour d’Argent (founded 1582).
Bardeau started working in his family’s vineyards, and learning about growing grapes, when he was 14. After high school he studied oenology at the Lycée Viticole de Libourne-Montagne in St-Émilion, and at the Bordeaux University’s Institute of Wine and Wine Sciences, then spent two years working as an associate winemaker to Denis Durantou of the highly regarded Château L’Eglise-Clinet, before he decided to strike out on his own.
Bardeau’s family winery, Château du Castel, with its 18 acres of vineyards, is located on the edge of the terrain with the Pomerol appellation and had a reputation for producing moderately priced wines of reasonable quality. The characteristics of the vineyards on the property vary greatly. So when Bardeau decided to start making his own wine there, he wanted to use only the best grapes. He discovered a streak of iron-rich, blue-gray clay running through a two-acre parcel planted with 60-year-old vines of mostly Merlot with a bit of Cabernet Franc, and he decided to focus on using those grapes.
It was about that time that, serendipitously, the then-25-year-old Bardeau met Nicolas Daniel Ranson, a French Jew who was working as a mashgiach at a winery in nearby St-Émilion. (Ranson has since immigrated to Israel after being a witness to the Toulouse school shooting.) Ranson was unimpressed with the quality of kosher wine he was handling, and asked Bardeau if he could make a “very good” kosher wine in his winery. “It was a new challenge for me,” recalled Bardeau. As he learned more about the intricacies of making kosher wine, Bardeau realized that the kosher market might make a good niche within the extremely crowded and competitive world of Bordeaux wine. With Ranson providing some of the money to cover start-up costs (including the cost of kosher supervision), “a few months later in 2005 we started with just three barrels [900 bottles] as a test,” Bardeau said.
The wine, made with Merlot grapes from that two-acre plot, was named Domaine Roses Camille, after his baby niece Camille, and it was superb. The next year Ranson and Bardeau doubled-down, increasing production to include all of the Merlot grapes on the plot, and producing some 3,000 bottles of wine.
While Bardeau had produced two excellent wines, almost no one knew about them; and making the wine kosher was not helping him much — in France, the market for high-end kosher wines is small, and Bardeau did not have strong contacts with American or Israeli importers. However a handful of French wine writers — including Emmanuel Delmas, who wrote a profile of him in 2007 — were starting to take note of Bardeau and his Domaine Roses Camille. By this time, “kosher [supervision] costs, which I was financing on my own, were too high,” recalled Ranson. “I had to make a very painful decision to unseal the 2007 barrels in the middle of the process,” which rendered the wine non-kosher. It seemed that Bardeau’s kosher wine making days were behind him.
That all changed in the summer of 2010, when the late Daniel Rogov, then the Israeli paper Haaretz’s influential wine critic, received a group of shipments containing “130 kosher wines from nearly every region in France, many of very small cuvees and the vast majority of these being offered for sale only in France and Switzerland.” As he explained to his Internet wine forum, “Today’s tasting contained one of those ‘oh-wow’ wines, a wine that from first sip made my eyes open more widely and my nostrils flare just a bit.” He called it “one of the best kosher wines ever!” He was describing Domaine Roses Camille 2005.
Soon, bottles of Domaine Roses Camille were being snapped up by kosher wine aficionados. It took some months for Bardeau and Ranson to realize that they had been “discovered” by the kosher wine world, and in 2011 they decided to start kosher production again; they had also acquired a new U.S. importer, Andrew Breskin of LiquidKosher.com.
Bardeau’s winemaking philosophy is based on making wines that reflect the local climate and soil conditions. “For me, winemaking is more question of spirit. You need to understand ‘le terroir.’ ‘Listening local’ is your guide,” said Bardeau. “It’s not me who determines when to harvest, but the grapes. I have to respect the grapes.” At Domaine Roses Camille, Bardeau has a biodynamic approach to viticulture, which includes using a horse-drawn plow, which preserves the microbial life in the soil by avoiding unnecessary compacting.
In addition to making Domaine Roses Camille, Bardeau also makes a second wine from the estate, and, starting in 2011, an increasing number of kosher wines from other Bordeaux estates. Growing up in a Bordeaux winemaking family means that Bardeau has friends working at estates across the region. “I work with my childhood friends from all [the] properties,” at which he has sourced grapes for his kosher portfolio, said Bardeau. Currently that portfolio includes “two wines from Pomerol, one St-Émilion Grand-Cru, one Montagne St-Émilion, one Lalande de Pomerol, and maybe [a] Left Bank next year.”
In a 2011 profile in the independent French wine magazine, Anthocyanes, Bardeau is described as revolutionizing his family name, and while that may be true, he has also become the man revolutionizing Kosher Bordeaux. All we can say is, “Vive la revolution!”
In preparation for writing this article, I tasted all of Bardeau’s current releases. In over a decade of writing about wine, this was the first tasting I’ve ever had in which every wine scored an A or A-.
Domaine Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2006: Bright garnet in color and full bodied, this impressive 100 percent Merlot wine has a complex nose, redolent of blackberries, boysenberries, plums, cassis, cherries, mocha and oak, with a whiff of cigar box aromas and a rich background earthiness. The flavor is equally complex with elements of cherries, blackberries, cassis, crème de cassis, dark chocolate, endives, pipe tobacco, white truffles, coffee, cedar and oak, all played out on a lovely mineral background. Well structured, with a nice level of tannin, this wine is enjoyable now, but will only be at its best starting in late 2017, and then should cellar well until 2028 or perhaps longer. One of the best wines I have ever tasted.
Score: A. ($229.99. Available online, directly from the importer, LiquidKosher.com)
Domaine Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2011: Still very youthful and tight, this 100 percent Merlot, full-bodied wine, which was aged in new French oak barrels for 30 months, has a dark garnet color. Look for flavors and aromas of blackberry, cherry, raspberry, boysenberry, brier, espresso, chicory, oak, cedar, pipe tobacco and mineral-earthiness. While this wine shows great promise of things to come, with its searing tannins and acidity, opening it now is tantamount to infanticide (although if you must open it now, decant at least eight hours before serving). Best 2021-2032 or perhaps longer.
Score: A (To be released soon.)
Echo de Roses Camille, Pomerol, 2011: This is the estate’s second wine, and it does what a great second wine should: it gives a more approachable, ready-to-drink-sooner, glance of the estate’s first wine. Dark garnet colored and full bodied, this wine has an impressive nose of cassis, cherries, crème de mûre, chicory, brier, wild flowers, tobacco and toasty oak. Look for flavors of cherries, cassis, blackberries, boysenberries, mocha, licorice root, tobacco, and oak, with Domaine Roses Camille’s typical earthiness in the background. While approachable now, this wine will start to show its best in 2018, and should then drink well until 2025.
Score: A ($99.99. Available at Suhag Wines & Liquor, 69-30 Main St., Flushing, Queens,  793-6629)
Moulin du Château la Clide, St-Émilion Grand-Cru, 2011: Dark and inky garnet, this full-bodied blend of 50 percent Merlot and 50 percent Cabernet Franc has a dense nose of blackberry, plum, raspberry and oak with whiffs of bitter-sweet chocolate and red cherries. The flavor has elements of cherries, blackberries, both red and black currants, and a nice chocolaty earthiness. Still a bit too tight for optimal drinking, this wine will show its best from 2019-2030.
Score: A. ($119.99. Available online, directly from the importer, LiquidKosher.com)
Chateau Marquisat de Binet, Cuvée Abel, Montagne St-Émilion, 2012: Dark Garnet and full bodied, this wine has a powerful bouquet of cherries, cassis and wet gravel. The flavor has notes of cherries, cassis, figs, pipe tobacco espresso, and lots of wet gravel. Enjoyable now, this wine will start to show its best late next year, and should then cellar comfortably until 2023 or perhaps longer. This is the best under-$40 Bordeaux I’ve tasted in over a decade.
Score: A-. ($35.99. Available online, directly from the importer, LiquidKosher.com)
Wines are scored on an “A”–”F” scale where “A” is excellent, “B” is good, “C” is flawed, “D” is very flawed, and “F” is undrinkable. Prices listed reflect the price at the retailer mentioned.
Gamliel Kronemer writes the Fruit of the Vine column for the paper.