In memoriam | Eloi Dürrbach, a giant of Provence

Provençal viticulture has lost one of its emblematic figures: Eloi Dürrbach, founder of the Trévallon estate, has passed away at the age of 71. Cyrille Jomand and Angélique de Lencquesaing reflect on their encounters with an original wine grower.

Jewel of the Hexagon, Provence is a place of refuge for artists in search of inspiration, with its rolling landscape of pines, olive groves, almond trees, and aromatic garrigue. On the northern slope of the Alpilles, Trévallon has thrived for over fifty years, a wine estate unafraid of expressing a distinctive identity. Eloi’s parents, René and Jacqueline, moved onto the domain in the 1950s. A sculptor and painter, René got to being friends with Albert Gleizes, a pioneer of cubism, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, and Robert Delaunay. A couple moving with talent through the art world, Jacqueline mastered tapestry and recreated Picasso’s Guernica for Nelson Rockefeller. This was the big project, the one that gave the Dürrbachs the means to move to such an enchanting spot.

Whilst René had a hunch about the exceptional terroir he’d found, it was Eloi who took the leap of faith at the age of just 23. Leaving behind his architect student desk, he moved to the domain and got straight to work, learning as he went; Eloi cut back and thinned the brush, shifted larger rocks, and took dynamite to the limestone. By reducing the stone to rubble, it could be worked into the soil to enrich its character. From 1973, this plucky wine grower began cultivating his vines, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds, and Marsanne, Roussanne, Clairette, Chardonnay, and Grenache blanc for the whites. At the time, the Roussanne grape was at risk of extinction in the Baux-de-Provence appellation, so replanting it was an important act for its heritage.

Nothing could stop the young vintner who seized the excellence of his terroir, confident that his wines were of the very finest quality among the region’s produce. But his status among the elite came as a surprise, when Aubert de Vilaine, owner of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, paid an unexpected visit to Trévallon. Before too long, top critics caught on, noticing that something special was happening. Robert Parker even said that Trévallon’s 1982 vintage was ‘one of the best discoveries of [his] career’.

Over time, Eloi was helped more and more by his children, Ostiane and Antoine, who were led from day one by their father’s philosophy that wine making is ‘primitively simple’. In this vein, the vineyards are tended to in a traditional way, so the land is ploughed, compost is spread, and plant extracts are used in conjunction with essential oils on the soil. Work in the winery is meticulous, with whole-bunch vinification, native yeasts for fermentation, and no stirring or filtration to avoid disturbing the wine.

But the story of Trévallon and its vigneron is also a story of controversy and stepping off the beaten track. Eloi’s innovative spirit led him to blend his Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with Syrah, a blend that doesn’t fit into the Baux-de-Provence appellation criteria. Despite this wine being thus removed from the classification, it certainly didn’t lose its reputation in the process. Countless wine lovers have been seduced by its excellent ageing potential and its rich spicy notes.

We asked Cyrille Jomand, iDealwine’s CEO, to share his recollections of Eloi Dürrbach. He recounted ‘meeting Mr Dürrbach for the first time at the Vinisud wine fair in Montpellier over ten years ago. He struck me as very affable and charismatic. We had the chance to start selling Trévallon wines not long afterwards. I have a fond memory of tasting the 2001 Trévallon, a long and powerful wine with notes of spice and truffle. A glass of southern charm’.

Angélique de Lencquesaing, Deputy Managing Director, also told us: ‘I had the pleasure of meeting Eloi Dürrbach several times. The first time, during a masterclass in Paris organised by his press agent Sophie Morgaut, was a chance to try a beautiful series of reds and Trévallon’s exceptional white, a wine with remarkable freshness. Meeting Eloi himself, it was clear that this was a man unchanged by success and renown: he was natural, true to his roots, and open to all our questions. Our paths also crossed at a restaurant in Saint-Emilion, where he was having dinner with his daughter Ostiane. He was approachable and we exchanged friendly words; I thanked him for giving us the possibility of selling his now very coveted cuvées. These are warm memories, each time over a good glass of wine.

Last year, Trévallon was the Provence region’s most sought-after estate, and it cannot be denied that Eloi Dürrbach has left a legacy that will last. From the artistic collaboration between him and his father in designing the labels, to the work of his children who have already stepped up to the plate, this is a strong heritage in good hands.

We’d like to address our sincere condolences to Eloi Dürrbach’s family and loved ones.

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