Christian and Marina Garin didn’t just take over the Commanderie de la Bargemone, they turned it into a benchmark for Rosé in the Coteaux d'aix-en-provence region. By June Lee
Christian and Marina Garin from Commanderie de la Bargemone
While having rooftop sunset drinks in the Marina Bay area, I find out that Christian and Marina Garin could – potentially! – have been neighbours with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The former celebrity couple was shopping around for a wine estate in Provence in the late 2000s, and had allegedly been interested in the property next door to the Commanderie de la Bargemone. Their final purchase, however, turned out to be Chateau Miraval, a one-hour drive away in Correns-var. It’s a fun bit of gossip in any case, and Rosé tends to put one in a carefree mood with her friendly chatter.
The rise of Rosé
Marina Cahen is from Lyon, while Christian is from Marseilles. They married in 1985, and after a carefree “DINK lifestyle in Paris,” Christian deadpans, they had four children and moved to Aix where Christian’s family had always had a home. In 2006, just when they were considering getting involved in the winery business, they were offered the historic Commanderie de la Bargemone estate. The previous proprietors were industrialist Jean-pierre Rozan, a family friend. The latter had passed away at age 85, leaving the estate to his sons who were not able then to take on the challenge of an ageing vineyard and winery facilities.
By 2007 Marina was firmly and solely in charge as winemaker and estate manager. The estate was planted for volume, not quantity, and juice was made in bulk for good value wines. That wasn’t what Marina wanted. The psychology major began the daunting task of turning around the estate while also learning oenology from the Suze la Rousse.
“It took three to four years to really restructure everything,” Marina explains in her heavily accented English. “We had to trellis six hectares of vineyards, study the grapes and replace those that were not suitable, add other grapes such as Vermentino so that we could do a white wine, and practically buy or create everything – bottling machines, crushers, technologically
improved fermentation tanks, vats, labels. On top of that we had to restructure the sales and sell our wines!” The turning point was in 2010, when everything started to pull together and they were able to release the newly created premium ranges of Marina and Elisabeth in 2011 – which immediately started to win awards. Interjects Christian, “We ultimately spent almost as much on restructuring in the first four years as we did on purchasing the property.”
Bargemone came with its illustrious history. The main building, which was not sold to the Garins, was built in the 13th century by the Knights Templars as a place of retreat. Later the lands belonged to the first Consul of the town of Aix, Pierre d’arbaud taking the name of Arbaud of Bargemont. Its vineyards succumbed, after 800 years, to phylloxera in the late 19th century, and was resuscitated by Rozan. The estate grew to over 60 hectares, with vines typical of Aix including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache and Ugni Blanc. While they’re sustainably grown, they are now in the process of getting organically certified as well.
It’s in the blend
Rosé is all about achieving the right blend, and this technical task falls on Marina to define the house style and find the right expression. “This region is famous for Rosé as it really knows how to do it well,” she says. “It’s about knowing what to do with the grape to get the right sensation – of fruit, colour, flavour, minerals. It is such a complex wine that gives so much pleasure when it’s done right.”
Marina is aided by a laboratory that runs analytics on the grapes, helping her monitor the microflora with each wine, adhere to regulations, and also meeting export regulations especially to the U.S., which is an important market where it’s usually favourable rated in the 88-90 band by critics. “In the beginning, the stress of developing the right taste was awful,” confides Marina. “You always ask yourself, is it good or not? Am I making the right decisions?”
That’s why it was important to invest in the individual vats for vinifying the parcels, and they now have over 50 tanks that hold grapes from over 50 plots of terroir. “Now I’m confident and I actually do like making it, and people want more and more of it. Aix-enprovence has excellent terroir, with calcene that gives its wines a particular minerality. It’s also sunny, which also gives the grape excellent flower and almond notes. I love Syrah most, with its red fruit and, wild strawberry character,” professes Marina. She’s also energised by being surrounded by young people, including her youngest son, 23-year-old Augustine who has started working at the winery, and 29-year-old winemaker Nicolas Mertz, who came from Bordeaux. “I’m strict when working but never boring,” she twinkles at me when I ask about her working style. “At the end of the day, what motivates me to make wine is to give something to people that makes them happy. Wine should be a pleasure.”