Heavy rains late in the 2002 growing season, rare for the normally dry and hot southern Rhône, left many growers fearing their crop would be diluted by the water. Assessing the quality of the fruit throughout harvest and vinification made it clear to brothers Daniel and Frédéric Brunier of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe that the vintage would give a much lighter wine, lacking the color, power, and concentration that had come to typify their Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They decided to create a second label, and so the Télégramme was born. The wine was an instant success: consumers relished the wine’s soft tannins and utter drinkability. It became a staple of the Brunier portfolio, as they continued to produce it from the younger vines, about 80% Grenache, on the stony plateau of La Crau. While the sunny 2016 vintage bears little resemblance to 2002, this wine has all the perfume, plush fruit, and ethereal structure to please right away.
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.
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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