I have known the DOMAINE DE COYEUX since the 1970s. Its 130 hectares lie at height behind the villages of BEAUMES-DE-VENISE and SUZETTE, in the lee of the limestone landmark of the DENTELLES DE MONTMIRAIL.
A sleepy estate with some good old GRENACHE dating from the 1950s and 29 hectares of MUSCAT vines, it was bought in the late 1970s by YVES NATIVELLE, a self confessed technocrat who had worked at Rhône-Poulenc in marketing. His project was ambitious and scaled. He doubled the MUSCAT and started to produce his own wine instead of selling it off in bulk. The house was completely redone, the cellars were modern: this was a state of the art project.
Monsieur NATIVELLE’s style was more Parisian than Rhodanien; he knew the three star Michelin chefs, and sold much of his wine abroad, successfully going after a more fine style on the MUSCAT than had previously been the habitude at Beaumes. Low temperature fermentation and cooling systems played a large role in that.
And then one very unfine day, things started to unravel. There was an old decorative beam in the cellars, no more than a couple of metres long, and the decision was taken to paint it. Somebody went down to the local DIY suppliers, came back with a pot of xylophène (a woodworm and pesticide fluid) and painted the beam.
I was a pretty regular visitor, since I appreciated the wines, but they started to disappoint. In blind tastings there was almost always a taint in them, and one could guess the identity of the domaine. And the problem persisted and persisted. COYEUX dropped off my radar. The vineyards started to be neglected, the wine was sold in bulk, and things declined in alarming, sorrowful fashion.
Imagine my happy surprise, then, to discover a wine ranked in the top two after a blind tasting of 84 wines from GIGONDAS at DECANTER in October 2015, a wine that came from the DOMAINE DE COYEUX. I immediately went to see the new owners.
The brothers HUGUES and JEAN DE FERAUDY used to do la chasse up in these quiet areas, so knew the estate. They had a big business in nearby Aubignan in fruit and vegetables, and heard that the estate was on the market. They bought it in December 2013.
The vineyard is visibly ailing in many places, but the core remains a good one: the location is magical, there are old vines that will perform well with a little more love and care than they had been receiving, the wretched beam has been disinfected (it took three months), and the hopes of a new family are riding high once more.
There are two BEAUMES-DE-VENISE reds, two MUSCAT DE BEAUMES-DE-VENISE and a GIGONDAS. Please log in to read more about this revived estate and its wines.
The vinification of the 2015s has been proceeding on roller skates, with growers keen to show me their wares. The SYRAH wines of the NORTHERN RHÔNE are remarkably darkly coloured, and at six weeks taste like wines at six months of age. They are profound and very sustained. The whites face a challenge of high degree, but are very well charged.
The GRENACHE took its time to ripen in the SOUTHERN RHÔNE in 2015, but there, too, the first red wines I have tried from places such as BEAUMES-DE-VENISE, CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES and CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE are all very encouraging – plenty of deep content with some freshness as well.
With such a media and notably social media storm around the 2015 vintage across Europe, 2014 will be swiftly overlooked and perhaps forgotten. However, these are wines of commendable purity and present really good drinking. The first report on the NORTHERN RHÔNE in 2014 is on CONDRIEU – go to the 2014 NORTHERN RHÔNE Tab and click on THE LEADING WINES.
The 2015 harvest continues to excite growers, with CHRISTINE VERNAY and YVES GANGLOFF at CONDRIEU speaking of their pleasure at the quality of the crop, even if the grapes have been small and yields reduced. Down at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE the CHÂTEAUX of BEAUCASTEL and RAYAS and the eminent CLOS DES PAPES have all been harvesting in the first week of October, content as anything with the quality of their GRENACHE: “we receive grapes like these once every ten years,” EMMANUEL REYNAUD of RAYAS told me.
Amidst such excitements occurred a precious wine moment, when life was placed in perspective thanks to the extraordinary work of the late NOËL VERSET of CORNAS. A Tribute dinner was held in London for his life from 4 December 1919 to 11 September 2015, and this has been celebrated under the GOINGS ON tab. I hope all of you will raise a glass of Cornas to him in the coming weeks.
There is something about a year that ends in 5. For now, 2015 is starting to resemble 1985, with a little of 2005 and 1995 in it as well. 1985 was a year of well balanced wines all across Europe, the fruit of a sunny summer. 1995 and 2005 were both very good, but more marked by strict tannins than was 1985.
Growers are happy, and a uniform theme is that of a homogenous ripening, across appellations and across grape varieties. Harvesting is under way, as befits a hot vintage with large tracts of dry weather. However, the saving grace this year has been well-timed summer falls of rain which helped the vineyards avoid stress during the periods of heat.
THIÉRRY ALLEMAND at CORNAS is well on the go, and ahead of the local pack. He told me: “I started my harvest on Saturday 29 August, and did another two days this week; I will finish on 8 September. The maturity is good – around 13° all over. I have done any cap punching yet, but the colour in the vats is black and joli. The yield matches 2011 more or less – a round 28-29 hl/Ha.
The last rain was three weeks ago – we had 11 mm (0.4 in) and the grapes aren’t large due to the dry conditions. We have another two weeks with no rain forecast as well. The technicians such as the oenologues say this year will be like 1989 – hard and not balanced. I say it is a beau year, like 1999. One of the challenges is to extract only softly or to go slowly this year in the cellar. I am one of the few to have harvested here, and I know that if people go for a very, very ripe crop they risk overdoing the extraction and having wines that lack freshness and balance.”
Elsewhere at CORNAS, the CLAPE family have harvested their whites, and started on their SYRAH on 5 September, as did FRANCK BALTHAZAR. Many have not yet started.
There is optimism in the air across the region. From CAIRANNE, which is on the threshold of ascending to its own cru status, above a VILLAGE, DENIS ALARY, President of the Syndicat des Vignerons and owner of the accomplished DOMAINE ALARY, reported: “a superb vintage is in sight. The 120 mm (4.8 in) of rain in June was vital to allow reserves of humidity in the soils during the hot summer weather. It wasn’t a real heat wave for us here – it was just hot for around 30 days, peaking at around 39°C, through most of July. August wasn’t as hot as July. So it is a hot vintage but not a strong heat wave one as was 2003.
The third week of August rain of 35 mm (1.4 in) has been crucial – it was the first rain since June, and has allowed the tannins to soften, and will also allow ripening to be properly achieved. Ripening has been very homogenous this year, with no pests nor water stress.
The white crop has been harvested, and we are starting the reds now, this weekend of 5-6 September.”
CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE swung into action on the white harvest at the end of August, with estates such as PÈRE CABOCHE (makers of an aperitif, zesty style white), CHÂTEAU MONT REDON (aperitif, fresh and early drinking white), CHÂTEAU LA NERTHE (always one of the first to harvest) and PATRICE MAGNI fast to attack the white crop.
From there, JEAN-PAUL VERSINO of the excellent, traditionally styled DOMAINE BOIS DE BOURSAN gave this view: “it’s been a very interesting year. With rainfalls at good moments, we haven’t suffered from the hot weather. Here at CHÂTEAUNEUF the temperatures reached 35°C to 36°C, unlike the 40°C in AVIGNON.” [of course, this takes us back to the time of Pope JOHN XXII, who between 1318 and 1333 organised the building of the CHÂTEAU to escape the high summer heat of Avignon. Voilà – the weather repeats itself].
“Yes, 70 mm (2.8 in) of rain on 20 June allowed us to get through the whole summer without water stress, so the leaves are still green. At the start of August, another small fall of 5-6 mm (0.2 in) was followed by around 25 mm (1 in) on 24-25 August. The bunches are looking good. One small worry was fog for a couple of days in early September – that’s worse than rain. However, we have had Mistral wind after cool mornings, which are a very good help for the phenolic freshness.
All red varieties are moving forward well, with the MOURVÈDRE faster than usual thanks to the rain; the GRENACHE is 12.5° to 13.8° now, and the SYRAH 12.5° to 13°. If the neXt two weeks are fine, as forecasted, then I would harvest around 8-9 September for my SYRAH, and 14-15 September for the GRENACHE, and that would mean it will be a rich year, with dense wines, robust wines. There may be some low level of acidity, for example from the southern zone, whereas the acidity levels up in the north-west sites such as PIED DE BAUD and MONT REDON are good and fresh.
I expect yield to be 30 hl/ha without problem. So we are lined up for a classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape vintage, unlike the last vintages 2013 and 2014, which were either on low crop or lower ripeness than this year.
I harvested my white crop on 4 September – their balance is good, with the ROUSSANNE ranging from 12.8° to 14.5°. The white is very aromatic, very joli, with good matter and a nice richness.”
GIGONDAS is always weeks behind CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, so frequently benefits from an Indian summer – a fine and warm September. This could be the case in 2015, with LOUIS BARRUOL of the top notch CHÂTEAU DE SAINT COSME, the new President of the Syndicat des Vignerons after FRANCK ALEXANDRE of DOMAINE LES TEYSSONNIÈRES, informing me: “I have felt for several months that we have a potentially major vintage on our hands – une Grande Année. The bunches have good shape, and the phenolic ripening of skins and pips, tannins is very beau, as well. Cool nights have helped.
The winter rain was a great help this year, which means that the vineyards didn’t suffer in July, while another 60 mm (2.2 in) in August was also important, centred on around 50 mm (2 in) on 24 August. That’s about five weeks before our harvest here, so it was well timed. If we can have another three weeks of good weather, then we have won the race.
The ripening this year hasn’t been prey to what happened in 2003 and 2011, when the sugar ripening got ahead of the tannins – it has been a concerted process of ripening, which of course will help balance. The GRENACHE has done well this year, more than in the past two vintages.
As for yield – after the big crop in 2014, one would normally expect a reduced crop the next year. But luckily it’s been OK this year. Our only hindrance has been black rot in June and July – this is very rare here, and in fact I have never seen it before in my time here, so that will be something that will return in future, I fear. We lost 5% from that.
I have harvested my white crop – they are attractive, but perhaps lack freshness, with the malic acidity low due to the heat of July. But their pH levels are good; my CÔTES DU RHÔNE white is 13°.”
from HERMITAGE, MARC SORREL reports: “I was in the vineyard this morning, 3 August, and it looks magnificent. The last rain was two falls of 40 mm (1.6 in) on 10 and 16 June; since then, we had 8 mm on 31 July, and that’s it. The June rain got us through July, when we had a good two weeks of canicule (very high heat), up to around 35°C at the hottest.
My SYRAH on LES PLANTIERS [low down, beside the railway], MÉAL and GREFFIEUX is joli; there is some stress on the high zones, where the soil is shallow. The veraison (grapes changing colour) has been very precocious this year, starting 12 July, and nearly all done now – it started on 2-3 August in 2013, for instance.
It’s still hot, over 30°C, but I don’t associate this year with 2003, which ran with high heat all across June, July and August. Perhaps 2009 was similar. The bunches are attractive, with good clusters and well-sizes grapes. The crop size is good, perhaps better for the SYRAH than the white grapes. At this rate, I might be harvesting the whites around 8-10 September, and the SYRAH five to six days later.”
from CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, LAURENT CHARVIN of DOMAINE CHARVIN reports: “the vineyard is very, very healthy. The only small thing was some black rot, which we haven’t seen recently, but that’s been sorted out. The veraison on the GRENACHE is 80% completed. There’s no rot, and the yield is average size plus a bit. We had 10 mm (0.4 in) of rain on 31 July, with the previous rain between 60 and 80 mm (2.4 in-3.2 in) in mid-June. Here and there are signs of stress on the vegetation, but things are running well.
You have to remember that this is a region accustomed to temperatures at 30°C or more, so the heat this year hasn’t been extraordinary. There is no comparison with 2003 – neither the same high heat nor the same drought. Nights have been warm, obviously, but are a bit fresher now. At this rate, I might be harvesting the GRENACHE around 8 September.”
Christophe blended local roots – his maternal grandfather was a founder of the Tavel Co-operative and his mother a Lafond – with outside drive and ideas. In 1998, he told me that he enjoyed the Tavel he was making in 1987, his first full year at the Domaine de la Mordorée when aged 25, but “the nose lacked aroma and freshness - it was cooked.” With his degree in commerce, and having seen his father Francis successfully build and sell a business in nuclear industry clothing, he was not the sort of man to sit idly by and let that situation continue.
His solution was to extend the duration of the cool maceration of the crop, but also to install a destemmer, since a long maceration could bring vegetal and bitter elements to the wine. He also upgraded the press and the cooling system. There was no hanging about.
“It made our style of Tavel very different from the others,” he told me, adding that after ten years, the other domaines had moved closer in style to Mordorée. When I asked him about the wine’s longevity, or lack of it, he responded that one needed a lot of concentration behind the early aromas, and then the wine could live well; he pointed to a 1988 that had been fresh when drunk in 1996.
For me personally, Christophe’s work with his red and white Liracs was outstanding. His Lirac La Reine des Bois red 2010 was exceptional, balanced and very long, while his whites, which I would often buy, were true examples of the capability of white Rhônes to flourish, pause, then flourish again over a much longer spectrum than most people appreciated. His Reine des Bois white 2001, when drunk in December 2010, held the body of a southern wine, but age had brought finesse, clarity and style – an evolution that would certainly have thoroughly pleased Christophe.
Christophe was the great enthusiast, always buzzing like a bee. Action always prevailed over introspection. There was his Condrieu project, with 0.75 hectare originally planted at Malleval in 2004; also Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where four plots were marked by a collection of wonderfully old vines, dating from the 1920s to the 1960s. As the son of a committed chasseur, or game sportsman, the title of the first special Châteauneuf in 2005, a wine not made every year, was La Plume du Peintre, named after the mythical feather of the woodcock or bécasse. The project was a great success, with his Châteauneuf reds becoming much sought after in the international market.
Never one to sit still, Christophe was prone to fretting, however. I have the image of him in his cellars, clad in slim fit Bermuda shorts and white plimsolls, striding around while talking to me, the chat accompanied by surging energy and arm gesticulations. He worried about the state of his vineyards at the approach of storms – something he could not control; he worried about the level of copper in the soil – something he could control, by cutting the level of copper that he applied to his vines.
His commitment to detail in the vineyard has been commented on to me by fellow growers; his zeal in this all-important aspect of a vigneron’s life encouraged others to raise their standards. He was prepared to work with low yields in pursuit of increased quality; he ardently supported manual harvesting, regarding machine harvesting as a path that went one way – downwards.
He once lamented that “not enough growers around here really love their craft (métier)”, and with his English speaking, his open mindedness to ideas, his restless spirit that in some ways went against his being a simple countryman, I have no doubt that at times he felt like an outsider in his own land.
Now he is gone, a whirlwind blown out at the sadly young age of 52. The more he knew and the more he learned, the more Christophe set himself new challenges; detail mattered to him. His pursuits were many: explore what could be done with the lees, see how much he could get out of the Mourvèdre, his favourite grape – “I adore it because it is difficult” - leave the top of vats of red wine open for three days before bottling, work on the fermentation temperature, dabble with his Embers Wine that reflected both his daughter Ambre’s name (she had helped to harvest the grapes) and an experiment in noble rot, whereby 750 kg of grapes were required to make just 220 litres of wine, more than double the usual amount of crop.
Domaine de la Mordorée was also tireless in presenting itself and Tavel to a wide audience. Only in April 2015 did it show its wines – the only Gard domaine present – at the Marché des Vins de Cairanne. Christophe always made time to talk – at length if asked many questions – even when in the middle of events such as Vinisud or Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône. His enthusiasm and ability to summarise how things were going in the vineyards or in the marketplace never lost their upbeat, “anything is possible” tempo.
Agitator, man with drive and self-belief, who told me “that’s what I’d really like to do – make Grand Vin,” drawing his inspiration from Marcel Richaud and Frédéric Alary, both at Cairanne. Well, Christophe, dear Christophe, you achieved that. In your all too short life, you packed in more than many people could ever aspire to doing. Around the world your wines pleased, brightened and enhanced people’s lives, while at home at Tavel, you won the respect and admiration of vignerons and vigneronnes for all you did for the village and its wines. May you rest in peace.
COTEAU DE VERNON from DOMAINE GEORGES VERNAY approaches sophisticated white Burgundy in its intricacy, and should be drunk when aged at least five or six years. Examples from my cellar of this wine at considerable age have been: the ****** 1976 drunk in November 2009 with the Vernays, the ***** 1983 drunk in October 2005, and the ***** 1996 drunk in July 2011.
An April 2015 vertical tasting of COTEAU DE VERNON DOMAINE GEORGES VERNAY from 2008 to 2013 has been posted.
The clement spring has allowed growers to proceed with plenty of vineyard activity. Apart from tying the young branches to avoid snapping from the wind, there is work on the planting of new vines. In this case, PASCAL FAYOLLE is putting the stakes for 2,000 SYRAH on his newly grubbed out 11 terraces that cover 0.4 hectare. The ground was cleared in 2013, and then left until this year to allow the terraces to stabilise. It takes two men two days to drive in all the wooden stakes.
CROZES-HERMITAGE is indeed the appellation that I term the one of snow and snakes. In the northern sector, where soils are often a loose granite and high up, roads can be closed in times of snow. In the southern sector, which forms the majority of the appellation, I have seen crows feasting off road-kill in the form of a snake.
The northern sector wines bear red fruits, and fine tannins, whereas the southern sector wines more usually express black fruits with racy, streamlined tannins, and evoke the first footsteps towards Provence. “In 2014 I would like a little more depth and tannin on my reds,” commented PASCAL.
CAIRANNE is finally about to be allocated its own full appellation cru status, to join the likes of CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, GIGONDAS, VACQUEYRAS and neighbour RASTEAU. For years there has been a long debate within the village about which lands should or should not be allowed to ascend to this; the broad result is that some vineyards towards the south of the appellation zone will be downgraded to CÔTES DU RHÔNE. Meanwhile, the RED and the WHITE will be CAIRANNE, with the ROSÉ classed as CÔTES DU RHÔNE.
The quality spectrum at CAIRANNE is wider than any other similar promotion of the past 25 years, with at least 25 domaines that can act as locomotives for the desired high standard required if an appellation is to make its own way outside the CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES umbrella. Hence this is an exciting development for the Southern Rhône. A report will follow on all the latest news from CAIRANNE in May 2015.
The 2013 vintage has been selling well according to British wine merchants. Most opening offers are pro rata heavier on the NORTHERN RHÔNE than the SOUTHERN RHÔNE, with the whites from both regions standing out.
The most recent reviews on 2013 have been on CÔTE-RÔTIE and CROZES-HERMITAGE RED. Go to 2013 NORTHERN RHÔNE, subtab THE LEADING WINES
2013 is a West End vintage at Hermitage, where the Big Three climats or sites have all excelled – Les Bessards with its crunchy, fine grain, rocky qualities from the hard granite; Le Méal, ripe and measured; L’Hermite, intricate, complex
2013 Hermitage is a very, very good vintage; with crop levels low, the wines are emerging as excellent when drawn from the main westerly sites. There is a little more depth than in 2012. A full report has been listed under 2013 NORTHERN RHÔNE, subtab THE LEADING WINES.
DOMAINE LA FOURMONE is centred on 20 hectares at Vacqueyras; the 10 hectares of Gigondas are at 380 metres on Le Petit Montmirail, where there is limestone present in the clay, the vineyards surrounded by pine trees and garrigue outcrops. Concrete vat raising and low cellar intervention help the wines to retain freshness, and they regularly provide good value at around €11 for the Vacqueyras at the cellar door. The 2013 reds are above average in both appellations. Marie-Thérèse is also an accomplished painter, who likes to capture the vivid essence of her region in her landscapes. Her son Albin has been working on the domaine since 2011.
Serge Férigoule also has his son Frédéric looking after his vineyards. LE SANG DES CAILLOUX has been biodynamic since 2011. Serge rotates the name of his classic Vacqueyras every three years; they are named after his three daughters – Azalaïs (2012), Doucinello (2011), Floureto (2010) – while his old vines cuvée Lopy, which includes a good slug of Syrah dating from the late 1960s (it was rare to have Syrah planted at Vacqueyras then) and Grenache dating back to the 1940s-1950s, is produced every year. These are genuine wines derived from the heated lands of upper Provence.
Notes on 2013 GIGONDAS and 2013 VACQUEYRAS are now being posted. The great mass of 2013 NORTHERN RHÔNE REDS and WHITES are being tasted at the end of January, and notes will follow on them during February.
Meanwhile a very Happy 2015 to all readers and subscribers. Among the young vintages, 2011s will be showing well, as well as the 2013s from the lower level of the pyramid, their clear fruit and sparkling freshness attributes in the immediate term.