Just a mere 2,618 years ago, a small group of Greek colonists found their way to Provence and settled in some grottoes (baùmos in local dialect) on a hilltop. From vine cuttings packed along in their belongings they began a tradition, miraculously uninterrupted since then, of making sweet Muscat, which remains to this day the claim to fame and calling card of the village of Beaumes-de-Venise. Much ink about this Muscat, one of the great sticky wines of the world, has been rightly spilled in these pages over the last forty years. Yet don’t forget about the rouge, the sun-filled, hearty, and meaty everyday wine locals drink without pomp or circumstance between bottles of the sweet stuff.
To walk through the high-altitude vineyards at Domaine de Durban is to walk through history, a handful of the soil reveals ancient Roman roof tiles and medieval pot shards. The scenic views put one at pause considering the timelessness—wine has been a part of the culture here for millennia. Jacques Leydier bought the property in the 1960s when the farm had fallen into disrepair. Today, Henri and Philippe Leydier run the domaine and this magical spot has assumed a higher purpose, producing some of the most memorable wines of the Southern Rhône. The Leydiers farm fifty-five hectares, producing a powerful Gigondas, a velvety Beaumes-de-Venise Rouge, and undeniably the most celebrated Muscat in the entire appellation.
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.
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
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