Rhône valley, old-vine Grenache at the top of a plateau, riverbed stones… If you think that sounds like a recipe for success, you’d be correct. Stones aren’t unique to Châteauneuf, by the way. They are also located in humble, off-the-beaten-path Cairanne, an often-overlooked appellation with superb terroir. Catherine Le Goeuil set up shop in Cairanne a little more than twenty years ago and hasn’t looked back. During that time, she converted her vines to organic viticulture and honed her winemaking craft. The grapes are harvested by hand, fermentation is natural, and the wines are bottled without filtration. What ends up in your glass is greater than the sum of the parts: an inky, royal purple robe gives way to aromas of black licorice and Provençal olives. The palate has meatiness, with grain and texture—it sinks in and lingers, serving as a reminder that you’ve found a wine not simply of great value but of true quality from one of the village’s best.
Catherine Le Goeuil’s taste for adventure has made her a leading pioneer in Cairanne. In 1993, with little experience and great determination, she and her family bought a six-hectare domaine. Over time, she converted to organic farming, and is now fully certified. In a village with only two others farming organically, her decisions have been met with suspicion and trepidation. Her vineyards enjoy all the benefits of organic farming: grassy cover crop that provides nutrients and well-aerated soils. She credits this soil for giving her wines with finesse and approachability. Bravery, risk-taking, and persistence in the face of scrutiny have given this creative maverick the fortitude to make delicious, elegant blends year after year.
The southern Rhône valley is Grenache country. It’s also known for its stones. With a viticulture history dating back well before the Popes arrived in the 12th century and one of France’s oldest appellations d'origine contrôlée, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, the southern Rhône is unquestionably one of France’s best known and premier winegrowing regions. The wines have the pedigree and age-worthiness of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but with a rustic, Mediterranean character. Like most wines from southern France, the reds, whites, and rosés are blends. Filling out the Grenache for the reds and rosés, you’ll often find Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. The common white grape varieties are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Viognier, Roussane, and Marsanne among others. From the alluvial riverbed stones found in Lirac, Tavel, and Châteauneuf to the limestone cliffs of the Dentelles de Montmirail that influence Beaumes-de-Venise (where you’ll find excellent Muscat), Vacqueyras, and Gigondas, great terroir abounds.
Kermit’s entrance in the region came in the mid 1970s on his first trip with Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters. On that trip, Richard introduced Kermit to the Brunier family of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. Soon after, Kermit began importing the Brunier’s wines—their Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau” bottling remains a staple of our portfolio today. In the late 1990s Kermit teamed up with the Brunier family to purchase the famed Gigondas estate, Domaine Les Pallières. More than 40 years later, we now import wines from fifteen southern Rhône domaines spanning the entire area of the region.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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