Marcel Buhler was educated in finance and working in a Zurich bank when he decided the suit just didn’t fit and he had to get out of the office. He took off the tie, went back to school in winemaking and headed south, eventually finding the right terroir in Maury, a small village in the Agly Valley of the Roussillon region of France. This is tough country: wind swept vineyards on precarious slopes of black schist, weather that tends to extreme heat and bitter cold with hail at the worst times in the vineyard cycle, an habitual lack of rain and low yielding old vines of mostly Grenache Noir, with some Carignane, Syrah and several white varieties scattered throughout. It is a region that will test your strength and resolve, but when managed well, will produce wines of depth, complexity and sometimes, great finesse.
Marcel gained a partner and much more when he married Carrie Sumner in 2011. Carrie is an American from the Pinot Noir country of Oregon, a chef, sommelier and now winemaker. You have to see the two of them pruning vines on a cold winter day or plowing the vineyards with horses to understand how hard this work is.
I asked Marcel why they do it: “Living off what nature gives to you was for me always a huge attraction. It also has to do with being independent, only dependent on nature, not on any companies, being able to make your own living through nature. And when it came together with wine that was what I wanted to do. It’s an incredibly interesting world all made up just of grape juice. It gives you a space to create something with your hands, with your imagination, with your creativity.”
The winery is a no-frills workspace on the edge of town, there’s no tasting room, no sign, but when you climb the dirt and rock road to the Domaine, its purpose is clear. There is a tin utility building on a concrete pad and numerous farm machines and old basket presses scattered about. Housing and hay for Nina, the horse and Bambou, the mule are on the left, the chicken coop sits behind, between the building and a small vineyard. There will be several cars and trucks parked to the right and a small trailer and picnic area facing the building. Inside are concrete fermentation tanks and aging barrels; during the harvest a sorting line is set up in here and broken down and washed outside.
It’s spare and small but appropriate to Marcel’s philosophy, which is all about minimal intervention in the natural process of growing and making wine.
The philosophy of organic farming and minimal winemaking, combined with fair labor practices creates a harmonious and productive atmosphere at Domaine des Enfants. I was privileged to be a guest at several end-of-harvest parties that featured spit-roasted wild boar – we can hope it was the same one that chewed a good hunk Grenache – salads and sides from Carrie, and the previous year’s wine. They were joyous and generous events, with all the vineyard and winery workers and their families celebrating the end of a year of very hard work and the creation of an extraordinary wine.
by Ron Scherl
Ron Scherl has been a professional photographer and wine enthusiast since 1973, working for a wide range of clients and publishing in many major international publications. He is the author of Between the Vines, A Year in a French Wine Village and is currently living in San Francisco and working on a novel set in the South of France.
His photographs and blog can be found at: