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.