To walk through the high-altitude vineyards at Domaine de Durban is to walk through an astounding span of history. On the site of a former Roman healing springs destination, a mere handful of soil reveals well-preserved, ancient Roman roof tiles and medieval pot shards. The domaine and its vineyards sit atop a picturesque plateau in the Vaucluse, sheltered by the Dentelles de Montmirail, just above of the village of Beaumes-de-Venise. The scenic views put one at pause considering the timelessness—wine has been a part of the culture here for millennia, and ancient philosopher Pliny the Elder was the first known to praise the Muscat from this place. During the Middle Ages, it was a fortified farm, where it has run regularly since 1159. Jacques Leydier bought the property in the 1960s when the farm had fallen into disrepair. Today, his grandsons, Henri and Philippe, are running the domaine. This magical spot has assumed a higher purpose today, producing some of the most memorable wines of the Southern Rhone. The Leydiers farm fifty-five hectares of vineyards to make a powerful and aromatic Gigondas, a velvety Beaumes-de-Venise Rouge, and undeniably the most celebrated Muscat in the entire appellation.
A constellation of fortune seems to converge at this particular spot. Pine trees protect the area from the intensity of the persistent mistral. The soils are rich and deep, with clay, limestone, and the soft, ochre Trias, lending finesse and freshness to the wines. The high altitude in the vineyards means a slightly cooler microclimate with strong sun exposure, a blessing that the Leydiers credit for the amazing consistency their wines enjoy year after year. (Even The Oxford Companion to Wine takes space to note the terrific concentration that Durban’s vineyards achieve.) The Leydiers are particularly proud of their Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, a vin doux naturel, as they are among the last to craft it in the traditional style. Leydier’s old-fashioned vinification keeps the spirits as low as possible, so that they may hold on to the bright freshness in the grapes. One can find more powerful Muscats, but none as tasty and fine.