It may not be the month of MAY, but the 80th anniversary of the appellation CORNAS that is being celebrated in late NOVEMBER/early DECEMBER 2018, prompts thoughts about just how long it takes for a wine village to ascend to the heights of having its own CRU, and to be recognised for its true worth, a pairing whose parts do not naturally run along the same timelines.
In the RHÔNE, the Daddy appellation is CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE. It was there in 1923 that the first French regulating laws were devised for table wines led by the BARON LE ROY of CHÂTEAU FORTIA – laws aimed at safeguarding CHÂTEAUNEUF from trafficking and general abuse, the first item of which stated: “only land capable of bearing lavender and thyme was to be cultivated, these two plants preferring an equally poor soil to the vine.” This charter led into the national laws of appellation, which were formally instituted across FRANCE in 1935, CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE joining in on that in 1936.
Politics and influence played a prominent role in the development and recognition of wine villages in the first half of the twentieth century, with BARON LE ROY the hero or villain according to your standpoint. He gave the green light to TAVEL, right across the RIVER RHÔNE from CHÂTEAUNEUF, to become its own appellation in 1935 – after all, it was ROSÉ, so presented no threat to CHÂTEAUNEUF! His hero status was confirmed with the TAVEL vignerons voting him PRESIDENT of their Union.
Meanwhile, at GIGONDAS, things were different. Growers would go cap in hand to the INSTITUT NATIONAL of APPELLATIONS d’ORIGINE – co-founder one BARON LE ROY – and ask for the right to ascend to their own appellation cru, away from the bottom of the pyramid, catch-all CÔTES DU RHÔNE designation. The answer, as CHARLES DE GAULLE said more than once in his life, was a resounding “NON”.
Unlike TAVEL, GIGONDAS and its red wines presented a threat to CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE. PRESIDENT of the INAO from 1947 until his death in 1967, LE ROY held the whip hand, prompting the then MAYOR of GIGONDAS, ROGER CHAPALAIN [DOMAINE DE LONGUE TOQUE] to record, with irony: “if we could prove that some POPE drank GIGONDAS, we would have our AOC appellation, and we would no longer be a CÔTES DU RHÔNE”.
LE ROY’s eventual passing was actually hailed by one of the GIGONDAS Committee when he wrote: “June 22, 1967, M FRANÇOIS AY announces to the Council that since the death of BARON LE ROY (this person having done a most beautiful thing for GIGONDAS, that is to kick the bucket, without any regret for us - on the contrary), the moment seems favourable for application of the noble appellation GIGONDAS.” GIGONDAS duly ascended in 1971, after 35 years of obstruction and delay, decades that were injurious to investment in the vineyard and cellars, injurious to the livelihoods of the growers, and damaging in placing GIGONDAS in the category of just another country wine.
In my lifetime, I have known CORNAS as a lowly drink at the bar country wine, while the merchants of HERMITAGE hoovered up hectolitres from domaines Cornasiens to place in their blended marvels such as the HERMITAGE LA CHAPELLE, or merchants from SAINT-PÉRAY such as EUGÈNE VÉRILHAC cherry picked excellent young wine for what was always a prized CORNAS under his colours. The presence of two barrelmakers at CORNAS attested to the shipping out of the wine in anything but bottle: such economics dictated a subsistence existence for most vignerons and vigneronnes of CORNAS, despite its status as an appellation since 1938.
I would say that it is only since 2010-12 that things have really taken off economically for CORNAS, although much of the heat around the price of its wines has centred on old ELVIS THE LEGEND bottles from deceased growers such as NOËL VERSET, or bottles from the 1980s and 1990s, whose current price is of no economic use to the growers today.
When considering the purchase of some vines at CORNAS in 2006, I researched the price vis-à-vis its most aligned appellation, namely HERMITAGE, since I felt CORNAS to be much underestimated. The price per hectare on LA GENALE, right in the best pound seats of the appellation, with a south facing granite slope planted in 1920s SÉRINE, a stream at the bottom, more rugged soils at the top, was the equivalent of a climat such as TORRAS ET LES GARENNES [alluvial, glacier soils] below the village of LARNAGE in the far east end of HERMITAGE, a spot closer in quality to CROZES-HERMITAGE than HERMITAGE in my view.
The decision to purchase at CORNAS, even setting aside the emotional ties I hold to the village and its growers, was straightforward. My children would have vines, rather than just books to remember me by, and that, surely, is the best of legacies – something running over a matter of decades – in fact just as long as it takes a wine village to achieve recognition and its true worth.
MARTIN CLERC - Côte-Rôtie Coteaux de Tupin - 2017- ()
(casks) dark, shiny, inviting robe. The nose is upright, alert, smoky, holds cool and clear black fruit, oaking in behind. The . . . .
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MARTIN CLERC - Côte-Rôtie Collet - 2017- ()
(casks) full, dark red; the nose has an air of crushed blackberry, mulberry, suggests a dab of rose petal florality. The . . . .
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RAVOIRE ET FILS, OLIVIER RAVOIRE - Côte-Rôtie Ravoire & Fils Olivier Ravoire - 2017-
(casks) sombre dark robe; the nose produces firm oak varnish, which prevails over its blackberry fruit within. The oak brings sweetness. . . . .
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