Les Pallières is tucked away in the north of [Gigondas], on the way towards Sablet, and on a hot summer’s day is enveloped in a stillness and a mantle of sweet Provençal aromas that make the visitor feel he is entering an enchanted garden.”
—John Livingstone-Learmonth, The Wines of the Rhône
Livingstone-Learmonth wrote those words in 1992, six years before Daniel Brunier, vigneron of the renowned Vieux Télégraphe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, joined Kermit for lunch at Chez Panisse. At lunch, Daniel casually mentioned that Les Pallières in Gigondas had just come up for sale. The Roux family had overseen the property since 1400. Now, in the spring of 1998, it was clear there was no successor to inherit the legendary domaine. Kermit told Daniel, “It is almost too perfect. Let’s do it, let’s buy it together.” Together, they prevailed over several other interested parties—including some big négociants who had placed higher bids—thanks to the chemistry and shared philosophy between the 73-year-old Pierre Roux and Daniel Brunier’s father Henri. First and foremost, they were old-school farmers who cared about expressing their land through their wines. Right away, Kermit and the Bruniers made a few important changes to the vinification of the domaine’s wines, most notably leaving them unfiltered. In the twenty years since we introduced the first vintage—1998—to newsletter readers, however, not much has changed, except that Les Pallières’ lone Gigondas bottling was split into two: Les Racines and the Terrasse du Diable. The wines have always been robust, but thanks to the Bruniers’ touch and the insistence they share with Kermit on no filtration, the rouges are vibrant, coursing with energy. At five years old, the 2015 Racines, made from 80% Grenache, 15% co-planted Syrah and Cinsault, and 5% Clairette from the domaine’s oldest vines, is in its early prime and will continue to evolve beautifully over the next ten years at least. Opening it now, your nose will be filled with notes of perfectly ripe black cherries, spices, and Provençal herbs—garrigue—whose aromas are released by the hot summer sun into the Gigondas air.
Domaine Les Pallières is undeniably one of the greatest, longest-running properties of the Southern Rhône, having been within the same family since the 15th century. By 1998, with no successors, the Roux family decided to sell. A discussion over lunch between Daniel Brunier, of Vieux Télégraphe, and Kermit Lynch spontaneously turned into a plan to revive the jewel—Les Pallières. The Roux family decided to sell to the Bruniers and Kermit and the Pallières’ renaissance had begun. A focus on terroir and its potential led to a clear, new direction. Domaine Les Pallières has become a partnership among friends, a real meeting of the minds—a creative collaboration of three leading, passionate experts on the wines of the Rhône.
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.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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