An American classic English Rose and her French Rosé

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Chêne Bleu’s home: the La Verrière estate, high in a mountain saddle in the Dentelles de Montmirail range of the Mont Ventoux in Crestet, Provence.

Sunset on the Hudson. As the Arabella yacht passed the statue of Liberty, and “New York, New York” flowed through the speakers, Chêne Bleu Rosé flowed like water. Were we swaying to the music, the waves — or the wine?

Bu, this was no booze cruise. Chêne Bleu winemaker Nicole Rolet was throwing an elegant wine tasting of her biodynamic, award-winning wine. One of many she throws all over the world, to share her spirits and message of sustainable, regenerative growing practices. “Even people who are health conscious about their food never think about all those chemicals in their wine,” Nicole told us. “Have you ever heard of Mega Purple?” “They don’t tell you the calories either,” someone added. Not a problem. Every girl in Manhattan knows how many calories are in a glass of Chardonnay or a shot of tequila — and that Mr. Big’s first name is John.

Making our way in a dingy through New York Harbor before boarding the Arabella yacht.

A stocked ship.
Downtown Manhattan in our rear view.

Nicole knows how to maintain a big schedule. “I’ve thrown nine events in four countries in four weeks,” she told me. They included a Whiffenpoof concert (her son is a member) for Prince Albert and his new Cala del Forte marina in Ventimiglia (built because the Monaco Yacht Club is full), and a pop up at LINLEY, the furniture store created by Princess Margaret’s son, the 2nd Earl of Snowdon. An end of summer Hamptons cruise out of Sag Harbor is in the works.

Rolet’s husband Xavier was knighted by the Queen, credited with saving the London stock exchange as CEO. In the eight and a half years he was in charge, it went from 800 million to 14 billion market cap, up 17 times the stock price, unheard of in a publicly traded company. It was sweet in other ways: Xavier put honey bee hives on the London Stock Exchange roof.

The hives on the rooftop of the London Stock Exchange.

I have never heard either one of them use their titles. “I’m American,” Nicole told me. “It’s not our custom.” Still, with her blonde hair, fair complexion and pink cheeks, she presents as a classic English Rose.

Xavier and Nicole Rolet. Nicole embraced his dream of regenerative wine making. They gave birth, naturally, to award-winning vino.

Nicole circled back to America a few weeks later, this time to the Hamptons, where Kara Ross opened her home for a private Chêne Bleu rosè soirée. Regina Scully, whose Artemis Rising Foundation produces social justice themed films, co-hosted. Sharon Loeb, who had introduced them all in Palm Beach, drove in for the evening.

Sharon and Nicole are lifetime friends. “I had just returned from Vassar when I met her,” Nicole remembered. “I knew no one. She knew everyone. She’s always been kind and generous to me. And I’ve looked up to her.”

“She became my second sister,” Sharon told this group. “She was an extraordinary woman back then and I knew that she was going to go onto an incredible life. With her extraordinary husband, they built a magical winery in the South of France. I watched it grow from idea to project to seedlings to grapes to world famous wine.”

Adrien Lesser and Virginia Maloney on the Arabella.
L. to r.: Victor and Cheryl Houser; Patricia Belda, Isabella Rupa De Conti-Mikkilineni, and JungEun Ha.
L. to r.: Armin and Judy Bellova with Susan Meisel, who was just honored at the Parrish Gala; Taylor and Brandon Ray.
Roger Rosen and Nancy Allison.

As the Arabella passed the statue of Liberty, and “New York, New York” flowed through the speakers, Chêne Bleu Rosé flowed like water.

Chêne Bleu has been awarded 150 top recognitions around the world. An example of its allure: One trip, Sharon and Ambassador Loeb brought neighboring friends. “He was one of those wine aficionados who felt if you’re not in Bourgogne, you’re not the real deal,” Loeb said. “But, being polite, of course, he stayed to try the wines.” Then, quietly excused himself … to buy every bottle on the property. There were no cases left when the second guest asked to buy.

Wine, after all, is all about the terroir. Modern farming, with its chemical fertilizers and pesticides, strips the land and its bounty of nutrients — and taste. Regenerative farming is gaining traction as the way to save our earth, our food, our health and our planet. It’s all about managing an entire ecosystem of living things that work together to keep microorganisms in the earth. It can reduce, even reverse, the carbon in the air that causes global warming.

Nicole Rolet explains the Birds and the Bees of Regenerative Winemaking.
Award winning Chêne Bleu wine: good tasting, good for the planet — and for your mood. Chêne Bleu’s flagship reds Abélard and Héloïse also come in special-edition boxes, with moving parts and hidden compartments. Photos: Marc Tousignant

“Organic means that you’re not using any chemically-based fertilizers and pesticides,” Nicole explained. “The biodynamic process is very different. It’s more like homeopathy and preventative medicine.” Chêne Bleu is a kingdom of orchards, vegetable gardens, wild animals, cover crops, bees, butterflies, birds, worms and more.

“We spent 12 years figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of each part of the vineyard. You watch everything: how to control pests, replenish the soil. You learn the plants’ cycles that are determined by the moon to learn when you are most likely to produce leaves, fruits, roots, flowers. It requires a lot of planning, doing a lot of things by hand to find alternative forms of parenting your vines, instead of imposing a lot of chemicals. But, ultimately, it pays off. Your vineyard is self regenerating and produces better wine.”

Chêne Bleu — a kingdom of orchards, vegetable gardens, wild animals, cover crops, bees, butterflies, birds, worms and more.

They developed a plan they call Sustaina-BEE-lity, because it relies on their beehives for cross pollination. “As the bees go from flower to flower, they don’t just leave their pollen, they help remove the little caps that are on top of the flowers that in turn helps fertility,” Nicole continued. “They help spread our cover crops: plants, grasses, flowers that prevent the erosion of the soil, that happens in monoculture vineyards.”

“Here in the hinterlands of Provence, you have a property with an 800-year-old history,” Laura Iverson, a wine expert who jumped ship to join the Rolets, explained to the boaters. “Xavier found a Ninth Century abandoned priory that had been a Templar monastery vineyard. Located in the foothills of the Alps, it was formed by teutonic plates that slid on top of each other to expose strata of ancient soils to the sky. That’s a very rare mineral signature in the wine world.”

The Sustaina-BEE-lity process. According to Xavier, they’re also developing a natural alternative to pesticides by using propolis from their bees. It’s only a start; sustainability is a long journey!

Among the vines.
Even a flock of sheep is welcomed in the vineyards over the winter months to provide weed-control.

“When my husband found the property, it was at the height of people using all sorts of chemicals to boost productivity and yields,” Nicole told me. “Xavier was always very passionate about viticulture and has a great sense of the land. He was attracted to the place because it had such a pristine environment, away from where they were putting toxins into the earth.”

It’s part of an UNESCO biosphere reserve. “Xavier has always been very very good at spotting these unicorn type properties,” Nicole continued. “That was one of his skills when he was a top trader at Goldman and other banks: how to go against groupthink, see anomalies and go for it. I’m an unlikely person to get so passionate about wine making. I’m a New York City girl. All I knew about biodiversity was squirrels, pigeons, and the occasional rat or cockroach. And here I have this off the charts natural kingdom, including 1,400 species just of butterflies in this biosphere. It’s so beautiful in the spring. There are clouds and clouds of different hatches each week. Along with our bees, they are great pollinators. When you work biodynamically, you have to be very consistent. So, we plant nettles to attract the caterpillars to keep them off other plants.”

Chêne Bleu makes up part of an UNESCO biosphere reserve.

It took some time before Nicole became this fluent in the ways of regenerative winemaking. She had worked in David Rockefeller’s geopolitical think tanks at the Council of the Americas and the America Society. “So, when I first arrived on the scene, if we had a problem in the vineyard, I just wanted to get the fix done,” she remembers. “In the vineyard, I’ve also had to cultivate patience, humility and observation. It’s like being a parent. You have to discard preconceived notions about how things should be and listen to your child’s needs.”

Today, she is CEO, running the whole operation and Xavier is more like her consulting chairman. That has freed him to give his tender loving care to another abandoned property: their ranch in Montana. “He’s always loved the wide open spaces of the American West,” Nicole said. “And after looking for a very long time, he found another little needle in the haystack, a property in complete disrepair in Centennial Valley. It is a conservation easement, so the only people who buy houses there are people who sign up to a sustainable way of managing the land. We restored a stream that is a primary source of the Missouri River. It has fantastic potential for Arctic Graylings, a rare trout that is almost extinct. He is working with the Fish and Wildlife Association to re-create their habitat.”

The vineyard’s medieval priori, La Verrière, operates as a hotel from April to November and a destination for top tier wine events.
The reading area of La Verrière, a wonderful example of the medieval interior decorative style.

Meantime, Nicole continues her deep dive. She was Knighted as Chevalier de Tastevin in Burgundy and inducted into The Echansonnerie des Papes. She co-founded the International Grenache Symposium and Association in 2010, and founded a think tank called Fine Minds 4 Fine Wines (FM4FW), which became part of the ARENI Global institute for the future of fine wine.

The Rolets also restored the vineyard’s medieval priori, La Verrière, to eco luxury. It’s a hotel from April to November, also a destination for top tier wine events and programs, including the five-day Extreme Wine Experience boot camp (that the Financial Times and Condé Nast Traveller called the ‘Best Wine Course in the World’) Nicole created. For the less committed, there are shorter wine workshops that can round out lunch on the estate.

Lifelong friends — Nicole Rolet, Sharon Handler Loeb, and Kara Ross.

And when fall comes (and the harvest), we turn to Chêne Bleu’s flagship reds Abélard and Héloïse, named after famed medieval Romeo and Juliet type lovers. They also come in special-edition boxes: award-winning, carefully crafted, densely illustrated, unique cardboard jewels, with moving parts and hidden compartments. Because, like Abélard and Héloïse, Xavier and Nicole don’t do anything half way.

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