Hard to believe, but by the 1960s most of the Côte-Rôtie was abandoned to wild brush. One could earn far more money growing apricots along the Rhône than one could growing grapes on the slopes above. What was once celebratedthe world over had quietly slid into oblivion. Thankfully, a few growers weren’t fazed and carried on, earning neither fame nor fortune in return. Even the French had forgotten about Côte-Rôtie, the only remaining clients being local industrial workers who paid pennies for the privilege. Kermit and a fortunate few found their way here in the 1970s, tasted what was then largely a floral, earthy, complex, and sometimes gamey style, and had the foresightto bring it back to market. Slowly the jewel was rediscovered. Soon, though, everyone wanted to make Côte-Rôtie “great” again, which many interpreted as powerful, strong, sucker-punch wines. The old, rustic style began to fade away.
Along came Louis Barruol, with a near-fanatical obsession for the Côte, its terroirs, and its lore. Louis channels the Côte-Rôtie of yore in his vinifications, with a few seemingly simple yet essential guidelines: select grapes from the greatest terroirs (there is indeed a hierarchy, much like in Burgundy, although not codified here), use only Petite Serine (an older, heirloom type of Syrah), whole cluster bunches (the stems are essential), short macerations, and indigenous yeasts. The result here has some meaty “roast” and concentration (which its name implies) and a rustic side (the stems?), all within a soft velvet glove.
Louis Barruol is an indefatigable force in the Rhône, the 14th generation in his family to be making wine in Gigondas. On what was once the site of a Roman villa, Louis’ cellars show spectacular remains of Roman vinification vats carved into the limestone. Here, Louis works with different grape varietals from the Rhône, vinifying each parcel separately. He’s taken to acting as a micro-négociant, working with top growers in the region who still work with Sérine. Producing only a few precious barrels of each cuvée, Louis is helping to save the authenticity and identity of old Côte Rôtie parcels. Together, he and Kermit blend our Northern Rhône wines and a Southern Côtes du Rhône Blanc and Rouge from a selection of Louis’ purchases.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch