Daniel Brunier was absolutely beside himself with anticipation last month when the subject of the 2016 Vieux Télégraphe vintage came up. “I would never use this word lightly, but 2016 is the absolute best vintage I’ve ever seen here since 1978… I loved the 2010, the 2007, there were others which gave great emotion, but 2016…” and with that he just nodded his head in disbelief. This was at a casual, home-cooked, off-the-record dinner, not at a trade or promotional event. “This vintage is so… vibrant. The rusticity of our La Crau vineyards, of the old Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is back”. Intrigued, we went to the cellars the next day to taste. We tasted out of the casks, and indeed what was in the glass was unlike no other Châteauneuf I’ve ever experienced. The juice was luminous and bright, clearly alive and kicking. The taste was salty and spicy, herbal and airy…hardly what one would expect from this neck of the woods, yet a profile for which I believe all great southern wines can strive for, and perhaps once did strive for a few generations ago. Four generations of Bruniers have been farming the rock covered La Crau plateau since 1891. The steady family stewardship of the land, coupled with one of the most singular terroirs of the world (the rock covered plateau where these vines grow is at points four meters deep with rock before you hit a grain of soil), along with ideal growing conditions and a winemaking approach of zero extraction, gives you…2016 Vieux Télégraphe.
One cannot think of Châteauneuf-du-Pape without thinking of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. The Brunier family is legendary in its own right, having been rooted to the plateau known as La Crau for over a century. The wines of Vieux Télégraphe evoke terroir in its purest form, reflecting the dramatic climate, the rough terrain, the sun exposure at a high altitude, the typicity of the varietals, and of course, the influence of their caretakers, the Brunier family. For many, La Crau is Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s grandest cru. The wines of V.T. are classic, displaying strength, rusticity, and tremendous longevity. Their goal is to find a harmony between aromatic complexity, tannic structure, and richness, which they achieve 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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