back from the Rhône, back, just, without sleeping the night in a snow drift near Brighton, from Helsinki, the first 2008 tasting notes are being gradually fed in. It is a vintage that needs micro-investigation - what the French term "le travail de fourmi (the work of an ant). No blanket statements can be made. Each domaine must be judged separately. Under Saint-Joseph, notes on the whites of Domaine Bernard and Fabrice Gripa should be looked at. Under Hermitage, the 2008s of Marc Sorrel, and his 2007s, all of which are now bottled, are also reviewed. Also under Hermitage, the new venture Nicolas Jaboulet, Perrin Frères has been added, a merchant business that started in August, 2009, and released its first wines in November, 2009. Under Cornas, the 2006, 2007 and 2008 (in cask) of Thiérry Allemand have been tasted in December chez the enfant terrible.
Under Condrieu, the Domaine Georges Vernay range was tasted, including a 1976 Coteau de Vernon, which is also covered under Recent Tastings under the title 1979 & 1976 Georges Vernay. And the Domaine Faury has been updated, their whites from 2009 and 2008, their reds from 2008 and 2007. At Côte-Rôtie, the organic, sometimes no sulphur child Jean-Michel Stéphan and his range of 2007s, 2008s, 2009s have been entered. Jean-Michel is a rare example of carbonic maceration use, his inspiration being the late Jules Chauvet of justified past Beaujolais fame. Also the highly promising Christophe Billon`s 2007s, 2008s and 2009s have been reviewed, as have the 2009s, 2008s and 2007s of another young Turk, Stéphane Pichat, and the traditional Domaine Gallet.
Cornas (cheval mascot) alert: the mighty Cornas WON by 13 LENGTHS (13 longueurs pour ses fans les vignerons) in his 2mile, 1.5 furlong steeplechase for younger horses on Dec 17 at Exeter. He was actually joint favourite at odds of 11/10 and eased round, jumping accurately, and won without being fussed by his rivals. His sore hoof (the first four letters of his name, actually) had been attended to, and he prevailed in style. I vaguely cheered him on from minus 15 Centigrade in Finland while discussing the merits or otherwise of the Finnish economy, (unemployment rising in 2010), while the race was run, without my usual bottle of 1991 Clape Cornas to hand. Probably just as well. ALLEZ, CORNAS! His fan club grows all the while, and I took the opportunity of informing the Mayor at the December Cornas Wine Market that his foreign ambassador had 4 legs, and a much higher profile than him. He took it in good part.
DOMAINE FLORENTIN BOUGHT BY DOMAINE JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE
Officially signed and sealed at the end of July, 2009, the Saint-Joseph Domaine Florentin has been bought by Jean-Louis Chave - both families resident in the little Ardèche village of Mauves. This was a private deal, with the Florentin family approaching Monsieur Chave. The transfer comprises the fabled 4 hectares of Le Clos, 1 hectare of vines near its boundary stream on the Coteau La Carrière, a hectare on the hillside sub-site of La Tête de l`Aigle on Les Côtes at Mauves, and two to three unplanted hectares on the Mauves hillside. La Tête de l`Aigle site is being re-planted or cleared, and shows great promise for the future.
Recovering from pneumonia, Jean-Louis Chave stated: "it is a place that has always made me dream - it has been there since the sixteenth century, and is the one property like that at Mauves and in the region. There is just the one owner, the vines are on granite, and it is not there by chance - it is south-facing, keeps the sun very late in the day, and has its own little garden. The objective is to make a wine of singularity, individuality, one that has its own origins. It was our good fortune that it was never on the market."
The Clos was for many years called Clos de l`Arbalestrier, until a Swiss wine merchant challenged the use of its name in 2001. The estate was bought by Dr Emile Florentin in 1956, and his children had juggled working it alongside their own activities such as the practice of homeopathy. The vineyard`s Syrah averages around 50 years, while the 1 hectare of Roussanne and Marsanne averages towards 30 years` old.
Practices here included the use of a horse to work the vineyard, with minimal spraying and intervention - all encouraging for Jean-Louis Chave. In the cellar, the style was to leave the wines a very long time in old oak - with oxidative tendencies as a result. "I will make a separate Saint-Joseph with this under the name Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, just as I will with the vineyard I planted at Lemps on the granite hill there," says Jean-Louis. "I expect a wine of finesse, one that is very, very fine."
Jean-Louis worked the vineyard from January 2009, starting with its pruning, so the 2009 wine will be an authentic addition to the Chave stable: a Syrah of some pedigree awaits, therefore, with the bonus of a refined white Saint-Joseph as well.
back from the Rhône, the first 2008 tasting notes are being gradually fed in. It is a vintage that needs micro-investigation - what the French term "le travail de fourmi (the work of an ant). No blanket statements can be made. Each domaine must be judged separately. Under Saint-Joseph, notes on the whites of Domaine Bernard and Fabrice Gripa should be looked at. Under Hermitage, the 2008s of Marc Sorrel, and his 2007s, all of which are now bottled, are also reviewed. Also under Hermitage, the new venture Nicolas Jaboulet, Perrin Frères has been added, a merchant business that started in August, 2009, and released its first wines in November, 2009. Under Cornas, the 2006, 2007 and 2008 (in cask) of Thiérry Allemand have been tasted in December chez the enfant terrible. mid-November 2009: starting to be fed in are STGT and w.o.w. wines tasted in the Rhône this month, along with the first 2009s, notably the whites. Look for any STGT wine with 11/09 as the tasting date. The vins de pays 2008s are shaping into very good value, easy drinking wines - there are some under the w.o.w. bracket, and right good they are, too. Domaines visited and written up so far are at Condrieu, the two Frankies - François Merlin, and François Villard, along with the nicely local, STGT-leaning Marie & Pierre Benetière.
One of my first ever visits to Condrieu in June, 1973, was to Pierre`s brother who was then a négociant in the regional wines, and thus one of the few people dealing in finished wine in bottles at the time. My domestic drinking in Aix-en-Provence was the starred litre bottle, plastic top, Ventoux red and rosé from the Cave de Beaumes-de-Venise, about 80 centimes a pop if I remember rightly. Bottles with corks were for big hitters.
At Côte-Rôtie, René Rostaing and the brothers Bonnefond, Patrick & Christophe have also been revised. At Saint-Joseph, neighbours Emmanuel Barou, Pierre Finon and Pascal Marthouret, the first two successful with vins de pays and Finon especially with his whites, the last-named in the w.o.w. camp. Also Louis Chèze, up on the plateau at Limony, whose domaine has almost become an empire since he started in the 1980s, and Domaine du Chêne at Chavanay. At Séguret, the ever reliable, good quality Domaine de Cabasse, also a hotel in the summer months, has been added, as has a small but active enterprise at Ventoux, at the village of Le Barroux, St Jean du Barroux. (Mass in the church there is spoken in Latin). At Plan de Dieu Côtes du Rhône Villages, a young man with a small vineyard, Hervé Bessac, is a new entry, as is the large 70+hectare Côtes du Rhône estate at Suze-la-Rousse, Château La Borie, provider of well-fruited wines. Another good domaine with clearly-fruited wines is Domaine Marie-Blanche at Signargues, one of the recent Côtes du Rhône Villages.
More field visits are now in progress.
NEWLY PUBLISHED: THE FINEST WINES OF CHAMPAGNE, Michael Edwards
Michael Edwards is an old friend, but there are good reasons for including a review of his new book here. Elegant prose is one - "coaxing dancing vitality from the grapes" when pressing - is one. Another is the precision of the writing across 100 domaines, houses and growers, their stories woven into reflections of how a certain wine tasted in its youth as compared to today. The stories are personal, and so is the style of writing - it would be a Cuvée Tradition if it were a Rhône wine. Many growers I have actually never heard of - the emphasis is particularly on the next generation of small growers able to make and sell their own hand-made wines, a signal force for the better in Champagne. There are photographs of each person behind the House or domaine, as well as well-taken vineyard and village views by Jon Wyand, a wine photo journalist of many years standing. It costs precisely £20, the price of a simple bottle of Champagne, and takes its firm place in the Best Value category of wine books.
The Finest Wines of Champagne, Michael Edwards, Fine Wine Editions, Aurum Press Limited, http://www.aurumpress.co.uk/ ISBN 978 1 84513 4860 £20
THE FANTASY WORLD OF JEAN-LUC COLOMBO
Jean-Luc Colombo, always a self-styled enfant terrible, shook up the rural burghers of Cornas when hitting the scene in the 1980s, and trumpeted a change for the better. Bordeaux casks, new oak, marketing gimmicks were all part of the package. Recently, it has been his wife Anne who has stoically stuck to the task of making his Rhône wines, from both vineyard and merchant grapes. Jean-Luc is not often in Cornas these days.
Now Jean-Luc has taken a journey in his mind that exceeds what most people would describe as lucid, or fair. His involvement in the Côte Bleue, a small area just west of Marseille, has been extolled on his website as follows: "a domaine with a micro-climate that produces surprising wines." He named the trio of red, rosé and white Les Pins Couchés, and said that he would be fighting to get this area its own appellation. The winemaker in its literature was named as Jean-Luc Colombo, the wine was a Coteaux d`Aix-en-Provence with the subtitle of Côte Bleue. Recently, the title had shifted to Rosé de Côte Bleue.
EXCEPT . . . . There never was any wine from this domaine, and Jean-Luc has been up before the beak, and found wanting. In his defence, he stated that he had dreamt of a domaine like this for a long time, and had decided to create it after the death of his mother in 1995. "I bought plots in 1992, but it is true that I had not launched the exploitation," he told the Tribunal, according to reports in Le Dauphiné Liberé. His hectares at Sausset-les-Pins never actually produced any wine. Instead, he bought wine from different cellars in the Coteaux d`Aix-en-Provence. Over the time in question, 2004 to 2007, that represented 80,000 bottles or turnover of €776,000.
Two fines of €2,000 for him and €15,000 for his business were levied, with his lawyer stating that "he did this above all for love. It was a wink to his origins."
Côte Bleue becomes Côte Fantôme. No further comment.
Cairanne and Rasteau are both applying for full appellation status, with Rasteau due to rise to that top tier first. The wines from both villages are some of the most enjoyable currently produced in the Rhône, and are also excellent value for money. Nor are they too gimmicky in approach. At Cairanne, Domaines Alary, des Amadieu and Berthet-Rayne M & A have been added, while at Rasteau, the traditional, hearty duo of Beau Mistral and Bressy Masson are now posted for their recent wines. Elsewhere, at the "keep an eye on" appellation of Massif d`Uchaux, a trio of Domaine de Dionysos, du Roucas Blanc, and the utterly reliable Château Saint-Estève d'Uchaux. Under the Côtes du Rhône appellation heading, the well-established, punchy Domaine Les Asseyras and two young growers, Sophie Vache at Domaine de Gigognan, and Sébastien Guigue at Domaine de la Rouette. At Gigondas, the Château de Trignon, that now belongs to Jérome Quiot of Domaine du Vieux Lazaret at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and at Visan, the reliable Cave des Coteaux, and the progressive Domaine des Lauriberts. Lastly, at Costières de Nimes, the excellent Mas Carlot of Nathalie Blanc-Marès.
A very large review of 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape - the vintage at the time, where the wines are now - has been posted under RECENT TASTINGS. I am sure some of you are wondering when to drink these wines as they hit a more mature, second stage. As a consequence, a series of domaines at Châteauneuf-du-Pape now have older vintage tasting notes posted - notably Château Fortia, Château Rayas, Domaines Autard, Font de Michelle, Marcoux, Solitude, Villeneuve, also the most unusual and legendary (the word not used lightly) Château de Fonsalette under the Côtes du Rhône appellation heading. Added to Châteauneuf-du-Pape have been Domaine de Montpertuis, the reliable Co-operative Le Cellier des Princes at Courthézon, the very traditional, low profile Domaine du Banneret, the new, organic Domaine Benedetti and the Domaines Mousset of the Château des Fines Roches family, while under the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation features the Domaine de l`Arnesque, a domaine making steady efforts to improve quality.
the final entries for 2007 Saint-Joseph red and white and for 2007 Saint-Péray have been completed under the 2007 Northern Rhône sidebar, and both are compared as usual to 2006. At Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a full entry of the part vineyard owner, mainly merchant Brotte, Père Anselme has been done, along with a refresh of Château La Nerthe, including older red and white vintages. The Domaine des Relagnes, part of which is now Domaine Olivier Hillaire, has been entered, while the the Brotte Châteauneuf Domaine Barville has been given its own entry, with wines tasted back to 1999. The Brotte-owned Château de Bord at Laudun, and at Cairanne, their partnership Domaine Grosset and the wonderfully traditional Domaine les Hautes Cances (that Col du Débat - well, fasten your seat belts) have also been entered, along with Domaine de la Renjarde at Massif d`Uchaux (Nerthe connections there). Also, relative newcomer Domaine de Givaudan on the west bank Côtes du Rhône.
2009 SO FAR
CONDRIEU: Paul Amsellem, Domaine Georges Vernay: "our winter was a real winter, with cold, likewise the spring with good rainfall. We have seen summer temperatures between 30°C and 35°C. The vines are in magnificent shape, with no illnesses, and the rain we needed fortunately came on 25 August. We are a shade ahead, probably starting on 12 September - maybe ten days ahead of usual." 26 August.
Philippe Faury, Domaine Faury at Chavanay: "we have very pretty vines, we lack water, though. It`s very dry, has been very hot, no hail. We may start around 10 September." 3 August.
CORNAS: Vincent Paris: "the season started very well - it was quite dry, with rain when it was needed - for example, when the grapes were forming in April and May, including at night. Flowering was 10 days ahead of normal - around 20-25 May, and happened very quickly and well. Since June there has been less rain, and virtually none since the start of July. It is now very dry, and we have had to cut back some of the crop. Anyone who hasn`t cut back crop will have double the quantity this year. Rain would be welcome now - once a week in the night would be ideal! We had 5mm last night, 2 August, and it has fallen from the 30s°C to 23°C today, 3 August. The forecast is for the heat to resume back to around 32° from 6 August. In early July we had hot days up to 37°C. Our young vines are suffering a little. It is a year when the tannins could be a bit hard as a result of the lack of rain." 3 August 2009.
CÔTE-RÔTIE: Brigitte Roch of Clusel-Roch, while preparing a salad for the harvest team: "good quantity - 38-40 hl/ha for our Condrieu, and probably around 37 hl/ha for our Côte-Rôtie. We harvested the Viognier 1 September, and started our Syrah crop on Viallière today; when we finish that tomorrow, we will wait until 15 September, next Monday, before re-starting. On my last journey I brought in grapes of very good colour, with good total acidity, at 4 gm/litre - that was from 1985 Syrah from Viallière. It`s 28°C today; we had around 20mm in early September, after we had started on Condrieu." 8 September.
Jean-Paul Jamet, Domaine Jamet: "very good so far. There was an early start to the cycle, so now that we have cooler weather, the vines are still ahead, maybe by 8 days, having been 2 weeks ahead in mid-summer. The only minor defects have been a tiny amount of mildew and black rot. Our veraison (grapes turning colour) is well advanced now. We have had drops of rain here and there, so there is no stress on the vines and we have hardly had to drop any grapes. We would be ready for harvesting 15 September, but I would as usual like to wait a bit longer than that. Our last rain of consequence was about 25-30 mm (about 1 inch) in early July. Now it is cloudy and cool - 23-25°C - and 2009 is the third year in a row like those we used to have in the 1980s - just a few hot episodes rather than searing heat. The hottest days were a few in July at 35°C." 3 August.
CROZES-HERMUTAGE: Alain Graillot: "we harvested our white crop on 1 and 2 September, with yields better than expected, around 40 hl/ha, all very correct. We started the reds on 8 September - the Syrah is magnificent, ripe, free of any rot, good, ripe yellow stems. It is not a misery. One of my non-scientific vintage indices is that I`ve been getting telephone calls from growers in Burgundy, the south of France, Spain. When the vintage is poor, my telephone is silent." 9 September.
SAINT-JOSEPH: Pascal Marthouret: "2009 is good so far - the vines are magnificent. The old vines are OK, but given the lack of rain, the younger vines are beginning to show a little yellow on their leaves. We were behind in the spring. But now I`d say we are in advance. I would expect us to pick in the beginning of September, against the 20-25 September in 2008." late July 2009.
Philippe Faury, Domaine Faury: there is a low crop for the whites this year - the Marsanne and the Roussanne, like some people, like to rest from time to time. The reds have needed cutting back for less crop, but the vines on the slopes have felt the lack of rain. Our old vines are in good shape. We are set for a good vintage if all continues well." 3 August.
CHÂTEAUNEUF-du-PAPE: Michel Gonnet, Domaine Font de Michelle: "We are ending today, having started on some of our Châteauneuf whites on 28 August. The crop is very small, but the grapes are top quality. There isn`t the degree of 2003 or 2007 thanks to the mid-September rain. We had 60 mm (2.4 inches) here, and 30 mm in the Gard at our domaine at Domazan on 16th, with another 4 mm on 17 September here. We therefore waited until 25 September before re-starting at Châteauneuf. The polyphenolic ripening was unblocked by the rain, especially on the Grenache." 1 October.
Patrick Brunel, Château de la Gardine: "We end tomorrow, having started on our Roussanne at Châteauneuf on 26 August - we could even have picked it 4 days earlier, in effect, since it was very fast to ripen. We had good rain, around 37-45 mm (1.5+ inches) on 16 September, which lowered the degree and encouraged the polyphenolic ripening. The quality is very good, the yield is light. September has been hot, a true Indian summer. Now it is hot and cloudy." 1 October.
Michel Lançon, Domaine de la Solitude: "A small crop for us - we suffered from a lot of coulure (failure of flowers to convert into fruit) due to the Mistral during flowering, and we are looking at maybe 25 hl/ha for the reds. The quantity on the whites - the Roussanne and the Grenache blanc - is good, around 30-33 hl/ha. We had picked the Cinsault by 3 September, and then are pausing for 4 to 5 days. Ripening has been irregular, with the drought and blockages having their effect." 3 September.
Daniel Brunier, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe: "it`s healthy - we have a good crop for now, there aren`t too many grapes, either. Some zones, especially those with young vines, would benefit from rain, since July was dry and there was a lot of north wind which dehydrated the vines. We may start around Monday 7 September. The Syrah may be ripening ahead of its usual cycle, also in relation to the Grenache this year." 3 August.
GIGONDAS: Jean-Pierre Meffre, Domaine de Saint-Gayan:"2009 is a very particular year - not homogenous, with some areas very much in advance - for instance, some growers started to pick their white grapes on 26-27 August, while others find their crop lacks degree. I picked my white crop the first week of September - for my white Côtes du Rhône. The Viognier was at 15° and most unusually, the Bourboulenc, which I normally pick around 10 October at 11° or a little more, I picked a month early this year - at 12°. Some Grenache for my Côtes du Rhône is at 16°.
One of the important factors this year is there have been storms, but so localised as to make any easy harvesting decision impossible. Where there has been rain, the vines have never paused in their growing cycle, they have high degrees, they`re healthy, and can be picked now. For instance, at my northern end of Gigondas I had two rainfalls of 15mm (0.6 inch) in July-August, whereas at the southern end, towards Vacqueyras, they only had one 10mm and one 5mm fall.
At present, the days are 30°C, the nights 10°C - that`s good for the anthocyanins (anti-oxidants, colour agents) and thus for the colour of the wines, but no rain is forecast in the next few days. I estimate we are losing 10% of our juice per week with this drought - and that is on a crop that is already limited in size. I worry about excess concentration of tannins. I will probably destem all my Côtes du Rhône and Rasteau red crop this year; with my 90-100 year old Grenache at Gigondas, I will probably keep the stems. There will be some superb reds, but the year is less good for the rosés and the whites." 8 September.
Céline Chauvet, Domaine du Grapillon d`Or: "it is very good for now; we had a lot of winter rain, flowering and the veraison went well, and we are about a week ahead - say, the 15-20 September, against the 25-27 September of 2008. There was a rainfall of about 13mm (1/2 inch) on the night of August 1st, followed by a 50 km an hour Mistral, so everything is in good shape. There is a normal quantity in prospect." 4 August.
TAVEL: Fabrice Delorme, Domaine de la Mordorée: "impeccable vines, very healthy, we may be 3 or 4 days ahead of usual. There was welcome rain in the winter, a touch of coulure or poor fruit formation on the Grenache during flowering, and yields might be a little down on a year such as 2007. In June there were one or two hail storms in Saze, Domazan and Saint Laurent-des-Arbres, but nothing serious. July was dry and hot, the hottest days around 35-36°C. We had a well-timed rain shower of 8mm (1/3 inch) on the night of 1st August. Now, the 4 August, it is 27°C, and it`s good that recent nights have been fresh, down to 19°C or so. We may start on our whites in the last week of August." 4 August.
CÔTES-du-RHÔNE VILLAGES: Eric Michel, Domaine Cros de la Mûre at Massif d`Uchaux, with vines there and at Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape: "it`s been good so far, we have had interesting conditions. About 70 mm of rain in early June was important, and boosted the vineyard. This was followed by 45 days of good weather, which allowed the vegetation to develop. There is practically no illness in the vineyard this year. We have had a few storms, but nothing bad. There have been some very hot days. Very precocious - Châteauneuf-du-Pape is 8 days ahead, as are Gigondas and the Massif. If August goes well, we will start to pick the Massif vines in early September. Our Syrah vines are now nearly all red in colour. Yields are normal - there was a small amount of coulure here and there - May wasn`t that hot, so yields are average, but there were a bit fewer bunches on the vines this year. Yesterday, 2 August, we had 10mm of rain, followed by Mistral, so no real effect. 20 mm after 20 August would be ideal, and with the Mistral that could refine the tannins. Today it is 26°C, but previous days have been 30-33°C." 3 August.
CÔTES-du-RHÔNE: in the Gard, David Givaudan of Domaine de Givaudan, whose domaine is the later ripening little Tave valley, west of Laudun, said that he was starting the picking of his white and rosé crop the week of 7 September, and the red grape crop the following week. "Quality is very beautiful," he said. 4 September.
Also from the Gard, west bank of the river, Michel Lançon, Domaine de la Solitude reported: "We started 2009 harvesting on 3 September with our Roussanne; thankfully, we had two rainfalls in the Gard at Sabran in August, one of 12 mm (0.5 inch) and the other 19 mm (0.76 inch), so ripening went ahead smoothly." In August temperatures got to around 40°C." 3 September.
The final entries for 2007 Saint-Joseph red and white and for 2007 Saint-Péray have been completed under the 2007 Northern Rhône sidebar, and both are compared as usual to 2006. At Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a full entry of the part vineyard owner, mainly merchant Brotte, Père Anselme has been done, along with a refresh of Château La Nerthe, including older red and white vintages. The Brotte Châteauneuf Domaine Barville has been given its own entry, with wines tasted back to 1999, while their domaine of Château de Bord at Laudun, and their partnership Domaine Grosset at Cairanne have also been entered, along with Domaine de la Renjarde at Massif d`Uchaux (Nerthe connections there). Also, Domaine de Givaudan on the west bank Côtes du Rhône.
Most of the 2007 Northern Rhône vintage report has been completed - see the sidebar 2007 Northern Rhône. Domaines added at Châteauneuf-du-Pape include Juliette Avril, Roger Sabon, Moulin-Tacussel, Lou Fréjau, de l`Harmas, Panisse, Jean Royer, Vieux Lazaret and a handful of fairly recent start-ups - La Ferme du Mont, Bouvachon-Nominé, Le Pointu. At the Massif d`Uchaux, the interesting Château d`Hugues, run by the exotic character Bernard Pradier, is also included, as is Domaine de l`Arnesque at Côtes du Rhône Villages. In the Côtes du Rhône category, the interesting, organic Domaine Rouge-Bleu (USA connections through M.Espinasse`s wife Kristin), the merchant Patrick Lesec, who has many selections across the Rhône, Denis Tardieu - small domaine, also a Paris resident, and Château Saint-Jean, of Christian Meffre (Château Raspail, Gigondas), where good Plan de Dieu is also being made.
recently posted: many 2007 Northern Rhône reds from Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, as a prelude to the full 2007 vintage report on that region. One or two brand new domaines have come with that, notably Domaine des Pierres Sèches at Saint-Joseph and Domaine de Chasselvin at Crozes-Hermitage. Also Puyméras in the hills of the Southern Rhône near Nyons, the sound Co-operative and the also pretty decent Domaine Faucon Doré. Puyméras was one of the 4 new Villages recently promoted to that status, but suffers from a lack of profile - there isn`t much wine. The Co-operative only works about 130 hectares, and there is just a handful of small domaines whose main focus is on Côtes-du-Rhône, which can be produced in higher volume per hectare. They are good country wines, which I recommend notably to anyone holidaying in this area. Also added have been Florent & Damien Burle (STGT) and the very good Domaine Saint-Gayan at Gigondas, Domaine Les Grands Bois at Cairanne, several domaines at Costières de Nimes, Domaine des Banquettes and Grand Nicolet at Rasteau, Château de Domazan at Signargues on the right bank, the Gard département west of Avignon, and Martinelle at Ventoux. The 2006s and 2007s of leading domaines at Vinsobres were tasted in the spring, and comments on these have been posted. Report on 2007 Northern Rhôneto follow.
PAUL AVRIL, 1937-2009
Châteauneuf-du-Pape lost one of its best, most elegant ambassadors and promoters of quality in mid-June 2009. Paul Avril, owner of the excellent Clos des Papes, had struggled with cancer for some time. Paul took over from his father Régis in 1963, and guided the domaine towards its current status as a top-class source of genuine Southern Rhône wines.
Clos des Papes has always remained faithful to the practice of making just one wine - no super-cuvées for them. In 1973, Paul told me: "The Popes used to receive their taxes in kind from the local vignerons, and so installed one giant cuve into which went all the different wine. They were always delighted to find that the assembled wine from this cuve was of a consistently high standard."
Paul was always a man ready to offer his time and abilities for the good of Châteauneuf. He was President of the Syndicat des Vignerons in the early 1970s, and told me then that one of his great struggles was to get more of the wine bottled within the appellation. For those of tender years reading this, it may come as a surprise to know that one of the great names for trafficked wine in the 1960s and 1970s was Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Only 20% of the wine was then bottled locally, with merchants from all over the world mixing nefarious hybrid wines in with it. It sold on its name alone, and yet "real" Châteauneuf was known to only a few lucky people well connected with dedicated importers - Frank Schoonmaker in the USA, Berry Brothers in England, for instance. Paul compared the situation to that of Alsace, and must have been very content to have witnessed the rise to genuine international prominence of his and his colleagues` wines.
In his later years, Paul was often on and off a train to Paris to put the view of the Rhône and to be present at INAO meetings. He could rest happy in the knowledge that his son Vincent had taken over the reins of the estate with confidence, and by the early 2000s had moved Clos des Papes on to a footing that received widespread international acclaim. The cellar was expanded, while the roof of Vincent`s flat fell in, something that buried a lot of white wine, but not Vincent.
Paul was a man of great charm, not the exciteable southern farmer - and therefore made many friends around the world, taking his confidence and sense of purpose with him. Like his wines, he was a man of finesse, and will be much missed in the local community, and among his many friends all over the world. As one of the oldest families at Châteauneuf-du-Pape - the Avrils were the village`s first consuls and treasurers between 1756 and 1790, and their house stands beside the fountain of the village - it is good to know that Paul-Vincent Avril has been handed a bright torch from his illustrious father. Salut, Paul - I drink to you.
JEAN HUGEL, 1924-2009
One of my favourite London tastings used to be in the days when Hugel and Paul Jaboulet Ainé shared the platform. This would be an opportunity to observe and enjoy Gérard Jaboulet and Jean Hugel at work - one might even say, at play. They were peas of the same pod, very precisely. Both exuded charm and a lively flair, both were compellingly enthusiastic about their wines and their regions, both were notable Ambassadors for Alsace and the Rhône. Jean, or Johnny as he was always called, had the harder task: he was born when Alsace had just returned to being French after the First World War - and then witnessed the invasion, and conscription of thousands of young Alsatian men by the Germans sixteen years later.
His escapades in the Second World War were many and varied, but throughout his life he retained a sense of drive and an energy that would have shamed many younger people. I first met him in the cold of a January day in 1974 when looking for an Alsace Maison that could export its wines for my old friend and then employer Melvyn Master to the USA. There were maybe half a dozen houses then working with the States - think about that - hardly any Alsace shipped to that now vast market. Dopff & Irion, Hugel, Pierre Sparr, Trimbach - and few others. Johnny Hugel was ready to give suggestions, to point me towards lesser-known houses, to encourager. His welcome was exemplary, incredibly open and generous - and was long remembered by me from that time in my callow youth.
His passing has greatly saddened the wine community, which he united with his tireless good humour. My own title - the man who made Alsace - fits him well. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family.
Domaines from Costières de Nimes have been posted. Costières is far and away the most interesting of the four satellite appellations attached to the Rhône, with a terroir south-west of Avignon capable of producing excellent whites (often Roussanne-inspired) and genuine, punchy reds. The roster is topped up by excellent rosés - really drinkable quaffers - from domaines such as Mourgues du Grès. The occasional small Côtes du Rhône domaine has also been added; these can reflect the trend of young people wanting to exit the local Co-operative, build their own cellar, and make their own wine from trap to line. Hats off to them - they give the region renewed energy and inspiration more often than not. See the appellation tab Rasteaufor the Domaine des Banquettes, for instance.
A review of 25 2008 Tavels and a handful of 2008 Lirac rosés has also been posted. Go to Recent Tastings, and double click on the L-H tab marked Tavel 2007 & 2008. A trio of Lirac domaines likewise appear - the fruit-friendly Domaine Brice Beaumont, the Château Correnson - good rosés - and the accomplished Domaine du Joncier of the artistic Marine Roussel. A somewhat belated but full report on 2006 Northern Rhône has also been posted. See the left hand tab, log in, and click on Leading Wines. Many growers` quotes are included, some of them "in running", as the vintage has developed out of its nappy stage towards post-bottling.
Recent additions to the Northern Rhône feature a wide range of small domaines - the heart of the region. From Condrieu - the improving Domaine Niero, also Facchin and Pichon, both accomplished. From Côte-Rôtie - the Domaine Barge, with son Julien very active now, Bernard Burgaud, the wonderful Domaine Jamet, Domaine Patrick Jasmin, Domaine Michel & Stéphane Ogier (powering ahead), Domaine Daniel, Roland & Gisèle Vernay, Domaine de Rosiers of Louis Drevon and the traditional Bernard Levet. From Crozes-Hermitage - Laurent Habrard, Fayolle Fils & Fille (accomplished), Gripa (excellent), Gilles Robin, Yann Chave. From Saint-Joseph, Domaine Vallet (improving), Domaine Jérome & Pierre Coursodon, Domaine de la Côte Saint-Epine (improving at last), Etienne Becheras, Emmanuel Barou (organic), Domaine du Chêne, Domaine Grangier (a new domaine), Jean-Claude Marsanne (traditional), Domaine du Monteillet (modern, zappy wines). From Cornas, the great Domaine Clape of Auguste and Pierre, Franck Balthazar, the talented Jérome Despesse, Dumien-Serrette, Alain Voge`s now bottled 2006s, Matthieu Barret of Domaine du Coulet and the young Mickael Bourg. From Hermitage(and Saint-Joseph) the classic STGT exponent Bernard Faurie.
AWARD GIVEN IN THE RHÔNE
At 09.12 on the morning of Thursday 19 March, 2009, I received a tap on the shoulder in the historical surroundings of the Salle de la Grande Audience in the Palais des Papes, Avignon. It was Richard Jaume, from the Domaine Jaume in Vinsobres. I was about to embark on a tasting of many of the domaines of Vinsobres in the imposing underground surroundings of the Papal Palace - fitting, since this March marked the 700th anniversary of the Popes` arrival in Avignon, when the seat of the Papacy shifted to Avignon.
"Could we have a drink together at about 5.30 pm?" he asked me. It would be towards the end of a hard day`s tasting: I said, "yes, indeed, fine," without hesitation - "where?". "Here", he replied. Hmm, I thought - there might be more to this than meets the eye. The day flew by, and I ended up in the far tasting salon beyond the big Place of the Palais des Papes, tasting Mathieu Dumarcher and Elodie Baume`s good wines - two young producteurs of note. Pretty convivial, the whole thing. I looked at my watch - it was 5.45 pm. Oh my goodness.
I hastened back to the Palais, worked my way past the week`s star security guard - a man of few words but many a grunt and doubt about human provenance - and rushed down into the Salle. The Jaumes were showing their wines to visitors - life was continuing on its steady way. So I sloped off to see Jean-Pierre Meffre of Domaine St Gayan at Gigondas, only to be smartly hauled back by Richard to a gathering, indeed a circle of rather a lot of people, old, medium and very young.
Suddenly Richard gives a little speech about me - what ees ziss? I shake hands with a French lady and with a little girl, and receive what I then discover to be the Prix Albert Golay 2009 from Vinsobres. There are photographs, applause, and then drinks. I hold a piece of olive wood, old olive wood, that has been sculpted for the Prize. There are grapes lightly cast into the wood, and it weighs quite a lot. The lady is the widow of Albert Golay, the girl his granddaughter, and I learn that I am the first non-French citizen to win this award, now in its ninth year, for writing about and helping the wines of Vinsobres become better known. What an honour.
The Jaumes have a happy tale to tail, by the way. I visited their domaine in 1974, when the father Claude and his wife Nicole were getting it started. My first book recounted: "The private domaines at Vinsobres number about half a dozen, and one of the best belongs to M. Claude Jaume, an ambitious young man who is working hard to increase the size of the vineyard: this now covers 50 acres. In former times the Jaume family also owned several olive groves, but the severe weather of 1956 unfortunately killed off many of the olive trees. M. Jaume`s wine is rich and strongly-coloured; a wine of good balance and long finish, it can live for up to eight years, but should be carefully drunk: its alcohol degree can rise as high as 14, this resulting from the abnormally temperate climate of the whole Eygues Valley."
In those days, there was no Syndicat of Information, no signposts to the domaines, no list of producers - nothing. One of my favourite tactics was to be in the Post Office of a wine village a bit before midday when people would drift in on the lookout for an aperitif companion. I would ask in a loud voice if anyone knew a vigneron who actually sold some of his wine in bottle, and occasionally someone would sidle forward. Usually this was a passport to a ferocious dog encounter, but there were moments of striking lucky. Thus my first book, The Wines of the Rhône, published by Faber & Faber, became a quasi-guide for European wine importers. Many a dog-eared copy of this 220-page book, only published in hardback, was taken round the vineyards. Here in Britain, the Wine Society wine finder, Sebastian Payne, made sure he visited Domaine Jaume next time he was in the Rhône, and as a result, their wines have been imported to Britain for the last 30 years. Tout le monde est content.
The sequel is that I packed the award with great dexterity in my suitcase, avoided excess weight charging from Easyjet, and brought it home in one piece. The olive wood of Nyons sits resplendently there now. It can be viewed under the JL-L profile left hand tag here on the site.
A dazzling array of blossoms surrounded visitors to the Rhône in mid-March, great in their colourful abundance. To my untutored eye, they seemed more copious than usual, which may be thanks to the large amount of winter rain. This has established water levels back to balance, for the first time in seven years or so. There is talk among the oldtimers - "les anciens" - in the Valley that 2009 is going to be a very hot year, something I have also heard from similar muses here in Britain. If that is the case, and the water reserves are high, then 2009 starts promisingly. I have a hopeful hunch about this vintage, I must say.
By the fourth week of March, the Viognier vines in the Northern Rhône had started to weep, while a chat with Philippe Bravay of Domaine de Ferrand at Châteauneuf-du-Pape was revealing. Having clambered off his tractor after working his soils, he voiced his concern that there could be spring frosts this year: "there is a lot of snow still on the Alps, and even the tops of the Ardèche hills have snow that I can see from here. If we were to have a cool, clear night with a full moon, for instance, and no wind, we could have an April frost. I know I shouldn`t worry, but there it is. Our young vines have started to wake up, but the older vines haven`t moved yet," he added.
Recent additions to the Northern Rhône feature three new domaines of good quality each one: the saucily-named SCEA La Tache at Saint-Joseph, Christophe Curtat at Saint-Joseph - both in the prime southern zone of that straggling appellation - and at Crozes-Hermitage Domaine Saint Clair, of Denis Basset. Please also keep checking the STGT and w.o.w. categories as tasting notes on 2007 are being fed in. Notice that Crozes 2007 from good domaines looks like delivering really friendly fruit, classic for w.o.w. However, there are a lot of got-up wines as well from Crozes. Look up the Domaine des Lises at Crozes-Hermitage as well - Big Max, the son of Alain and Elisabeth Graillot, is doing very well there, including being fascinated by Cornas, and check out the rock solid qualities of the Domaine Durand at Saint-Joseph (and Cornas), and the Domaine Belle at Crozes-Hermitage (and Hermitage).
Northern Rhône entries from Chapoutier and their offshoot Ferraton (both under Hermitage appellation), Marc Sorrel from Hermitage, and Alain Graillot at Crozes-Hermitage, with a look at his 2008s. 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Papes from Château Cabrières, Clos Saint-Jean, Château Maucoil, Château Mont-Redon (inc their Lirac), Domaine Pierre André, Domaine de Ferrand, Vignobles Mayard, Domaine de la Millière, Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Mas de Boislauzon, with the Domaine de Villeneuve and at Vacqueyras, the Château des Tours piloted by Emmanuel Reynaud of Château Rayas entered up, and a good 2007 Villages from Domaine de Saint-Siffrein at Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
There is also a brand new venture involving Michel Chapoutier in the form of Pierre-Henri Morel, one of his lieutenants at Tain, who in June 20008 bought the old Domaine Jean Marchand at Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
For lovers of STGT wines, see the now entered up Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, also from there the Domaine Lou Devet and Clos Saint Michel. At Gigondas, the Domaines Santa Duc and La Roubine have hit the airwaves.
From the talked about 2007 vintage at Châteauneuf-du-Pape a set of leading domaines have been entered for their reds and whites: most recently, Domaine La Barroche, Bois de Boursan, du Caillou, Les Clefs d`Or, Girard de Boucou, Pegau, Porte Rouge, Saint Paul (part of Grand Tinel), 3 Cellier (half of the old Saint-Benoit), along with La Bastide Saint-Dominique, Berthet-Rayne, Cristia, Fontavin, Mathieu, Mereuille, Pères de l`Eglise, Puy Rolland, La Fagotière, Olivier Hillaire, Nalys plus Mordorée and Lafond Roc-Epine from Tavel, along with Châteaux Fines Roches, Font du Loup, Jas de Bressy (owned by Fines Roches), Mont Thabor, Vaudieu, the Clos du Mont-Olivet, Domaines La Boutinière, Chante Cigale, Chante-Perdrix, de la Côte de l'Ange, Giraud, Grand Tinel, Marcoux, Pierre Usseglio, Vieux Télégraphe.
Previously Châteaux Beaucastel, Fortia, Gardine, La Nerthe, Rayas, Domaines Beaurenard, Bosquet des Papes, Charbonnière, Janasse, Raymond Usseglio, Les Cailloux, Clos des Brusquières, Clos des Papes, Cuvée du Vatican, Eddie Feraud, Le Vieux Donjon. Fairly priced domaines in the form of Domaine de la Guicharde at Massif d`Uchaux, Domaine de Lucéna at Visan and Domaine des Pasquiers at Sablet are also worth a view.
Please see Best Value Wines for a tremendous value white Laudun 2007 from Marks and Spencer in England, on sale at £4.49. Scroll down to the Southern Rhône section there. The season of sales in wine is upon us in a big way, and I must emphasize that these discounted wines have all been purchased at Euro rates between 20% and 30% more favourable than they are now for British importers. There could be some very severe price rises from mid-2009 onwards as new stock arrives. so now is the time to find a corner of your home for some bottles to get you through the year.
LAY & WHEELER (GB) BOUGHT BY MAJESTIC WINES
Lay & Wheeler, based in Colchester (a good spot for oysters), Essex, in the south-east of England, were one of the leading family importing firms when I started in wine in the 1970s. The Wheeler family were active and visible, and their wines were carefully selected, with small domaines of character present. Their Rhône exposure was above average, with Clos des Papes and Beaucastel on the roster back in those days. Gradually, however, they lost that sense of focus and became just another rather "international" company, and the sense of their sniffing out interesting producers declined. They opened a large cellar facility in the Midlands, and informed me that for rather a lot of money I could view my stock of a few cases on line 24/7. Exit my wine from their care, with my friend and colleague Jancis Robinson taking them to task on her website. Well, there you go.
Majestic are the mainly southern England, stock market-listed company that took over a lot of empty cinemas in their early days, to allow display of the boxes and also car parking. They were active traders in one-off lots of wine including excess stocks of Bordeaux from the Swedish monopoly that they cleverly re-imported. Purchases from them are strictly by the case, not the bottle. From Châteauneuf-du-Pape, they import a very good, traditional wine in the form of Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils, a large part in magnums.
MONDAY 6 APRIL, 2009 - RHÔNE DINNER AT LE CAFÉ ANGLAIS, LONDON
I will be singing away about the Rhône, with wines, some of them nicely mature, from Vine Trail. Northern and Southern Rhône will be presented. The Café Anglais is Rowley Leigh's fun, quality restaurant in West London - maybe I should be uppity and call it Notting Hill. Rowley has the cookery, recipe column in Saturday`s Financial Times, and is someone I have known for a little while now. He has shown perspicacity in writing about traditional dishes, less high profile cuts of meat and other squeeze-friendly options recently in the Pink`Un. He is also a Rhône lover de fondation, no recent jumping on its 2007 bandwagon. Donc, he knows what dishes to present. You have been warned. The cost is £70 a head.
8 PORCHESTER GARDENS, LONDON W2 4DB, +44(0)207 221 1415 firstname.lastname@example.org
Page link on the dinner http://www.lecafeanglais.co.uk/newsletter.asp ?
Added so far in January 2009 have been the tasting notes of my December 2008 visit to Paul Jaboulet Ainé. My recent article in the Decanter Magazine of February 2009 took around 9 months to write, since I was so vexed by the style of the wines emerging from the new management regime. I regard Jaboulet, the icon of my youth in the Rhône, as vital to the region`s heritage and well-being. Thus wines that do not come close to local expression are of great concern for the Rhône`s identity. Comments on the domaine wines can be found in the Paul Jaboulet slot under the Hermitage appellation heading.
From November 2008 visits, Domaine de Montvac, Vacqueyras; Domaine Jean David, Séguret. Both interesting domaines, the latter STGT, organic wines. 2007s assessed at Château de Beaucastel, a visit to Domaine Pontifical at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and at Cornas, Vincent Paris` first vintage of La Geynale, the 2007 (I am in the group owning that vineyard) and his other young wines, and a tasting with Jacques Leminicier of his Cornas and Saint-Péray 2007 and 2006. Dec 2008 visits to Guigal, Vidal-Fleury and René Rostaing at Côte-Rôtie, André Perret and Domaine Georges Vernay at Condrieu and Saint-Joseph have also been logged, as have June 2008 visits to Domaine La Fourmente and Domaine L`Orbieu at Visan.
HENRI BRUNIER, DOMAINE DU VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE
The owner of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Henri Brunier, died in his sleep on the night of 26 October, 2008. A man possessed of a most winning smile and a natural charm, Henri was the epitomy of the southern countryman, his unflustered walk and way with words a superb antidote to the usually ruffled state of this visitor who would often be struggling to arrive on time.
Under the charm, there existed plenty of steel as Henri worked to improve his wine and enlarge the estate. He also had to contend with a family fall-out - between his father and his uncle - so that there was anything but a straightforward family succession at this domaine. It is little known that Château Rayas was able to use the Vieux Télégraphe name and exploit 4 hectares of its vineyards from around 1930 to 1940, and the deal was actually only ended when the 15 year-old Henri "bumped into" his uncle on the main avenue in Avignon, and sorted it out, man to man.
In my first Rhône book, written in the mid-1970s, Vieux Télégraphe was a 38 hectare property whose wine was "always splendidly full-bodied and well-balanced." Today there are 70 hectares, and it is one of the top names, its wines eagerly appreciated around the world.
I have a couple of stories in mind with Henri. One is the utter pleasure of sitting in his modest kitchen eating scrambled eggs diced with black truffles, that delicious plate encouragé by his 1962 white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a wine of the most abundant, enveloping richness. This was probably in the mid-1990s, when the wine was over 30 years` old, and still dispensing a fantastic swirl of aroma and a profound heart of southern bounty. A magic moment.
The other is seeing his dog feeding technique as his legs became more wonky after he had ceased being active on the domaine. He would place the bowl of dog food on the top of his Renault, sit inside it, release the handbrake, and let it roll gently down to the dog kennel. Voilà! Then, a gentle reverse back to the other end of the courtyard, the job finished. Grins all round if caught out doing this by the likes of me!
His boys have done extremely well, and I am sure that Henri knew full well that Frédéric and Daniel had taken up his baton with relish and commitment. His pride was, I am sure, intense - not that this proud man would ever have made a big song and dance about that.
As a leading member of the community of the village of Bédarrides, Henri will be sorely missed by thousands of people who may not all have worked in the wine trade. His cousins are the Gonnets of Domaine de Font-de-Michelle, and to all his friends and family, I send the most sincere condolences, echoed I am sure by all readers on this site.
ANTHONY PERRIN, CHÂTEAU CARBONNIEUX
The owner of Château Carbonnieux in the Graves region of Bordeaux, Anthony Perrin, died in late September, 2008. Carbonnieux, with Domaine de Chevalier, was one of the Graves that I was weaned on when starting in wine in the early 1970s. Both properties also made splendid white wines, which was part of their attraction. Monsieur Perrin built up his property from 1956 onwards, when, like much of Bordeaux, it was in disrepair and heavily underinvested.
I shared a bottle of the Carbonnieux red 1996 with my very old friend Steven Spurrier after hearing this news. It was a perfect example of an STGT wine, offering a magical simplicity. Here are Steven`s notes: "very young colour fresh and deep, wild roses and a hint of tobacco leaf on the nose, good fruit with all the purity of the northern Graves, a lovely classic wine made in the non-flamboyant style that is getting more and more rare, still a little young but became richer and more gamey as it breathed." We agreed that it had maybe another 8 years to run; its finish was delightfully fresh. Steven added these words about Anthony Perrin:
"The 1996 Carbonnieux red was opened in honour of Anthony Perrin, whose death this week was a great shock. Anthony was one of the most charming and most "hands on" of Bordeaux Châteaux owners and seemed to be as happy in promoting the Pessac-Léognan appellation and Bordeaux in general as promoting his own estate. The wines were as elegant as he was, and priced as modestly as his gentlemanly demeanour."
A true Original, Didier Dagueneau died in a microlight accident in the Bergerac region at the age of 52 in mid-September 2008. His Pouilly Fumé Silex was an arresting wine, with a pedigree that Sauvignon Blanc has rarely attained elsewhere. Stroppy and evangelical about "the cause", his loss is severe, with I am sure many future ideas and stimulations to be presented to the world.
Thus it has been a sad fortnight, as Perrin and Dagueneau were both the sort of men whose work, while wrapped in a pleasure packet, served the interests and intellects of genuine winelovers and questors around the world.
"ENOUGH", SAYS MICHEL CHAPOUTIER, "GET MY CAPITAL OUT OF HERE"
In response to the continuing French government clampdown on the wine industry, with prohibition on any Internet mention or promotion of wine (ie a good mention = promotion), Michel Chapoutier of Maison Chapoutier in Tain l`Hermitage, Northern Rhône, issued the following statement on Saturday 20 September, 2008:
"Given the anti wine policy of those who govern us (take advertising on the Internet as an example), we are deciding to re-orient an important part of our future French investments towards countries outside France. That is why we are therefore stopping our researches in Beaujolais to head our capital towards Portugal, and also some declarations of intent to invest in the Languedoc Roussillon will be diverted to Australia and California."
Some other fruity comments attached themselves to modern dictatorships, but we needn`t concern ourselves with those from the always voluble Michel. His view reflects what many growers tell me in private - that when received in the USA, for instance, or generally outside France, they no longer feel as if they are criminals. Truly, the French government is building up problems around a lost generation of wine drinkers, since much of the youthful drunkenness does not involve wine. Yet wine bottles are shown when binge drinking is portrayed (much as is done by the BBC in Britain), while the culprits are most commonly alco-pops, spirits and beers.
As a good friend, I have often discussed such matters with Michel, and "il faut dénoncer" (one must denounce or expose) is exactly what he has done with this statement.
DOMAINE des TOURELLES, GIGONDAS
The sale was announced in early September 2008 of the Gigondas Domaine des Tourelles to the Perrin family, owners of the Château de Beaucastel at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Roger Cuillerat, owner of Tourelles, stated that while the talks had been in the air for around three years, they accelerated just before the harvest time of 2008. His son Léo is only 8 years` old, and Roger is nearly 54, but has had arm and back injuries after starting work at 14 years` old. "There`s too much paperwork, Léo is too young to know whether he will want to continue with the domaine, and we are looking to build a house away from these cellars," commented Roger.
The Perrins acquire 7 of the domaine`s 9 hectares, with Roger holding on to his 2-hectare rented plot of veteran vines, Le Mazel, just below the village ramparts. He will sell its wine to the Perrins. The Perrin family will take over his bottle stock of 2006 and 2007, and the 2008 will be jointly vinified. "They want to make the same style of wine as I did," reported Roger.
Roger has always liked la chasse - woodcock is his favourite bird - and will be freer to do that after this harvest. However, there has to be sadness with his retirement: this is an STGT domaine, with a genuine viticulteur at its helm, a man whose culture is wine and not agriculture or marketing. These have been personal wines, the sort that all real drinkers and enthusiasts - not collectors or posers - appreciate and investigate with great pleasure and respect. Some similarities exist with the retirement (after a sale to Guigal) of Jean-Louis Grippat in the Northern Rhône in 2001.
On the positive side, the purchasers are a known quantity and respecters of high quality wines. They are also quite local, and follow the path of the Brunier family at Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe who acquired the revered Gigondas Domaines Les Pallières with their American importer, my friend Kermit Lynch, a few years ago.
RENÉ AUBERT, DOMAINE DE LA PRÉSIDENTE, CAIRANNE
The death was announced in August 2008 of René Aubert, owner of the Domaine de la Présidente at Cairanne. He had suffered from cancer. A vigorous, robust man in his mid-forties, René had moved the domaine along the quality path, and was also an explorer, with late harvested Viognier Un dimanche à Octobre en famille in his repertoire as far back as the late 1990s. His father Max had been a notable promoter of Cairanne and involved in Rhône Valley wine administration and public affairs. René`s liking was for big, bold wines. Domaine de la Présidente also owns vineyards at Châteauneuf-du-Pape.