Autumn Tastings, The Northern Rhone

Autumn Tastings, The Northern Rhone

The perfect time to visit our vignerons is when the crisp air of the fall is settled, the works at the cellars after the harvest are finished and in the field the vines are waiting for the winter pruning. It is probably the only moment when those who work vineyards and cellar can make a pause, taste the wines from the previous year and reflect on the conditions of the vintage.

The purpose of visiting the growers goes beyond the technical evaluation of the vintage in barrel, is a trip of discovery and understanding of the many circumstances that surround the winemaking process, from climate to cultural landscape, and most important the time of developing personal relations.

This year Eli wanted to add two additional stops to the yearly pilgrimage to Burgundy and Piedmont: the Northern Rhone, to visit the vineyards of Cote-Rotie and Condrieu and the diminutive region of Cote Roannaise, an enclave of the Gamay- St. Romain grape, officially in the Loire Valley, but very close to the Rhone and Beaujolais.

For a Burgundy wine lover, the interest in the wines of the Northern Rhone is natural. Both use mostly one grape varietal, both have multitude of soils and terroirs that change dramatically the expressions of the wines and in both regions the hand of the grower/winemaker imparts a very special signature to the wines.

We started our trip setting base camp in the city of Vienne. Located in the right bank of the Rhone River, this ancient city was an important Roman settlement, a center of commerce and beloved vineyards and at some point the spearhead for the Roman conquest of the Gaul.

Now Vienne is an industrial city and an agricultural center for the region, coming back after many years of hardship. The once famous vineyard, fell into oblivion after the philoxera plague in the XIX century and was completely abandoned until the mid 1990s when a group of vignerons decided to create the Vines de Vienne and started re-planting and recovering. Their effort and the fact that Seyssuel, where those vineyards are located, has similar soils and exposition as Cote-Rotie, has attracted a larger group of growers, working together to get recognized by the government and eventually obtain their own appellation. We were fortunate to taste a couple of really interesting wines from the area, from Stephan Ogier and Pierre-Jean Villa. There is certainly great potential and beauty there!

The Cote-Rotie appellation is located just south of Vienne, on the opposite side of the Rhone River, in the towns of St. Cyr-Sur-Le- Rhone, Ampuis and Sermons-Taupin. The vineyard is conformed by terraces planted in the famous “roasted slopes” hit by the sun with a full South or South-East exposition. The appellation was legally recognized in 1940, but after the war the economy of the region was in really poor shape. Many acres of vines were replanted with apricots, a better paid crop and the wine commerce was limited almost to local consumption.

It was only in the 1980s when the world noticed again the wines from the Cote Rotie. The critical acclaim of the famous single vineyard wines from Marcel Guigal, La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque, not only increased the demand for the wines of the region but help increase the planted surface under vine from 102 hectares in 1982 to 250 hectares in 2005.Now the region is booming with activity. Many growers are going back to tradition, abandoning the use of new oak, and going for the timeless style of Cote-Rotie, as a wine of elegance and longevity not of power and extraction.

South of the Cote Rotie is the appellation of Condrieu. Here, only one grape, Viogner, is king. Planted in the hot terraces of the slopes, Viogner can produce intense, and beautiful wines. The common knowledge is that Condrieu is the only one of the great wines meant to be consumed in it’s youth. Even though it can be delicious young, we were completely blown away by the elegant power of aged Condrieu. In this land, the story of decay to prosperity we experienced in Cote-Roti, is repeated. In the 1960s only 12 hectares under vine made the appellation. Thanks to Georges Vernay, the most important vigneron of the region, the whole area got back the recognition it deserved.

Here is a brief summary of the producers we visited:

Domaine Duclaux, where brothers David and Benjamin Duclaux shared their elegant and traditional wines, from the Gneiss soils of Taupin.

Domaine Jamet, one of the jewels of the appellation, there Corrine Jamet gave us a lesson in power and restraint.

Stephan Ogier, who was reaching 40 the day of our visit and preparing a great party, the maverick vigneron that show us all his site specific wines before blending.

Domaine Goerges Vernay, where we learned about Condrieu form the masters.

Domaine Stephan Montez. Montez is an energetic vigneron bringing his fresh approach to an ancient domaine

Domaine Pierre-Jean Villa, Spanish in origins, Burgundian by experience, the wines of Pierre Jean were both classic and happy.

Domaine Chambeyron, Mathiew Chambeyron, 25, is making critically acclaimed wines and recovering the historic vineyards of his family.

Vignobles Levet, We tasted the wines, walked her vineyard and received a master class in elegance and purity.

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