The Archimbaud family is the largest landholder in both Gigondas and neighboring Vacqueyras, with 24 hectares of vineyards in the former and 20 in the latter. Back in the 1960s it was Maurice Archimbaud who launched the domaine, with both inherited and purchased parcels, and he was considered a trailblazer by planting further “upslope” in search of both a cooler microclimate and more limestone in the soil. These higher-elevation vineyards enabled the Montmirail wines to retain brighter acidity and a more pronounced mineral imprint, which distinguishes them from the general run of “baby Châteauneufs” coming out of the appellation.
One of the many long-established wine myths that needs to be put to bed is the notion that Gigondas and Vacqueyras, perhaps the best-known of the southern Rhône ‘cru’ villages, are “little brothers,” or “cheaper cousins” of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. While it is true that wines from all three villages are Grenache-based blends, and are only mere kilometers apart, they are nevertheless completely different terroirs.
The vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are lower-lying hills and alluvial plateaus with high percentages of sand and river cobble, while the vineyards of Gigondas climb to higher elevations, into the foothills of the limestone-rich Dentelles de Montmirail—a shark-toothed mountain range that looms over the town and shapes the style of its wines.
Tucked in at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, on the left-bank of the Ouvèze (in between Gigondas and Beaumes-de-Venise) is Vacqueyras. Lower lying than Gigondas, and perhaps more homogenous in soil profile, too. Over half the appellation is planted on what is known locally as the ‘plateau des garrigues’ – a flat, elevated area of small rolled pebbles deposited by the wandering Ouvèze in former times. Subsoil clays and marls sustain the vines through the long, hot summer.
Today, the property is run by Maurice’s daughter, Monique, and her children, Philippe and Sylvie. They actually focus more on viticulture, selling off much of their produce in bulk, but they reserve a small amount of their best old-vine fruit (40 -80 years old) for their estate bottlings. The family continues to craft wines with the traditionalist approach, and the resulting wines are a testament to Maurice’s venturesome viticultural labors.