Wine column for week of March 4

Rhone Vignobles is a group of boutique winemakers from the Rhone region of France. They visited Hong Kong and Shanghai in late February to raise awareness of, and find local markets for, their wines.

The 15 winemakers – 14 men and one woman – have worked together since 1996.

The Rhone Valley is France’s second largest region in terms of production after Bordeaux. The big names like Chateau Beaucastel are well known and have big reputations, and also high prices.

Some of the smaller producers are less well known, yet they deserve attention because of their attention to detail and passion for what they do.

Alain Graillot, owner and winemaker at Domaine Graillot and a spokesperson for Rhone Vignobles, said they cultivated their wines with utmost respect for the environment.

“Rivalry is never an issue in the group. What matters is friendship, trust and sharing,” he said.

“Some wines [the group makes] are organic, some are bio-dynamic; others apply the principles but not the label, while others are currently being certified. We cultivate sensibly, mindful of the soul and the environment.”

Laurent Combier of Domaine Combier said his father was the first in the northern Rhone to embrace organic grape cultivation in 1970. His reds are elegant, with great finesse, and I enjoyed the hints of violets on the nose and the elegance of the fruit in the mouth.

The group obviously respects each other and all appeared keen to learn from the others. The level of rapport and friendship was obvious during my time with them in Hong Kong.

As Alain Graillot noted, as sole producers many would not have evolved as quickly. But as a group they share and absorb information from each other, which helps them evolve.

“We travel together, discover new consumers together, visit other estates together, and meet at each other’s homes to discuss new ideas.”

Alain Graillot’s wines are deep and luxurious, and one senses the quality and the heart that has gone into making them.

You can watch a video interview with Alain Graillot talking about Rhone wine at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXGQaCK-0l4

Alberic Mazoyer has run Domaine Alain Voge since the latter retired from active winemaking, and has converted the estate to bio-dynamic principles. Alain focused on French markets while Alberic has pioneered foreign markets. Their wines exude finesse, and they work well together as partners.

The group consists of sophisticated and passionate people. Many had fascinating histories prior to becoming winemakers.

Cecile Dusserre of Domaine de Montvac was a ballet dancer before she became a winemaker in her early 20s, and combined her two passions. Many of her wines are named after aspects of ballet. I especially enjoyed her 2009 Arabesque. An arabesque is a long and graceful pose made by balancing on the supporting leg while extending the free leg behind. The wine is similarly balanced and graceful.

Francois Villard of Domaine Francois Villard trained as a cook before turning his attention to wine in 1989. Now he is one of the most regarded winemakers in the northern Rhone.

His white wines are elegant and offer lingering flavours of tropical fruit. His condrieu, made from viognier, is a delight. He is an innovator and has even planted pinot noir and chardonnay on land he said resembles Burgundy in the Rhone region.

Hubert Valayer of Domaine de Deurre has a fourth dan in judo and rides a Harley-Davidson. His father gave him control of the estate in 1987. Hubert has travelled the world looking a new techniques and combines transatlantic technology with French terroir.

Yves Cuilleron of Domaine Yves Cuilleron is known as “Mr More” because of his big plans. He rejects conventional thinking and creates wines he believes are unique to the region. He makes more than 30 different wines. His condrieu is a lovely wine.

You can read more about Rhone Vignobles at http://www.rhonevignobles.com/.

* Published 7 March 2013. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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