Verlieu, 58 RD 1086
+33 4 74 87 02 37
I had my first bottle of Condrieu in April 2008. I don’t know why I had never had a Condrieu prior, but I just hadn’t. I was obsessed at first taste. It was an Yves Cuilleron. Our wine sommelier appropriately called it “a thinking person’s wine.” It evolved in so many ways over the course of our meal and the perfumed palate pleasantly lingered indefinitely. This bottle of wine was the genesis of our wine tasting adventure in the Northern Rhône. I fervently researched this AOC and came across the story of one of the true gurus of Condrieu – Yves Cuilleron.
I was intrigued to learn that he was formally educated as a mechanic, but found himself drawn back to his family’s roots of wine making. He took over his father’s estate in 1987. The Domaine now has 128 acres, with a lot of small parcels, requiring 5 weeks to harvest. Yves Cuilleron is a wine making genius, an absolute perfectionist and a phenomenal multi-tasker. He is well regarded by his peers, having engaged in many joint ventures, including Les Vins de Vienne (The Wines of Vienne), a joint venture with other well known vintners in the Northern Rhône (Pierre Gaillard, François Villard and Pierre-Jean Villa) where they resurrected fallow land and, as a result of their efforts, an application for AOC status is now in process. Mr. Cuilleron graciously answered my many follow-up questions post our visit to his vineyard.
What is your policy on treating the vines and the use of pesticides and insecticides?:
“My policy regarding vine treatments is to do the absolute minimum. In order to do this, we try and have feeble vigors on the vineyard, and we work in tandem with the weather as much as we can. In drier years, we try and give between 3 and 5 treatments. In the more damp years, we have never gone above 7 treatments. In the 20 years I have made wines, I have only used pesticides twice (and only on 10% of my vineyard).”
In addition to the many wines you make at your vineyard, you have so many projects – Les Vins de Vienne, Le Bistrot de Serine (his wine bistro for foodies) – to name a few. Even with all of these projects, the quality of your wines is not compromised. How do you balance this?:
“Indeed I have a lot of projects like Vins de Vienne and the Bistrot of Serine. It is a way to collaborate with other people. However, in each activity, we have trusted people who help help us deliver a very high quality product.”
It’s apparent that you work diligently alongside many other key wine makers and growers in the Northern Rhône (Pierre Gaillard, François Villard, Jean-Michel Gerin, and Pierre-Jean Villa, to name a few). What are your thoughts on this strong sense of community and respect for one another?:
“We’re growers firmly established in our terroirs and proud of continuing our work ethos – demanding the best of ourselves in order to make great wines. And naturally we enjoy sharing… It is very nice to work with other wine makers, and it enables fruitful exchanges. What is great is that on my own domain, I can work with my own philosophy, completely freely and the common projects are made by compromise and constructive discussions.”
With your latest endeavor for wine making at Yves Cuilleron – the Cuvées Bourasseau – you hand select 3 barrels each per appellation (Condrieu, Côte-Rôtie and Saint Joseph Rouge). The bottles feature the works of local artist Robert Bourasseau. Tell me more about this.:
“For the Bourasseau cuvées, my aim is to make wines of outstanding quality by selecting only the very best of my vineyard. It is a selection on the vines and in the cellar, in order to make exceptional cuvées.”
You seem to have a less traditional approach to wine making, which I find refreshing. What is your inspiration?
“My inspiration for the vinification is to have grapes of the best quality and vinify them in a very simple way with traditional processes, in order to respect what an appellation must be (respect for the terroir, vintage, tradition and savoir faire). I don’t want to do too much oenology and technology, which are the characteristics of “industrial wines” and not “terroir wines.”
It turns out that I am not the only Yves Cuilleron aficionado. Upon arriving in the tasting room, I noticed many of the wines were sold out. I started to fret. I had built up so much anticipation for tasting these wines. Well, fret not. We ended up tasting 10 different wines (see photo). For the über Yves Cuilleron fans out there, they hold wine future sales (en primeur) from 17 November to 31 December in the harvest year.
- 2008 Les Chaillets (100% Viognier; “best and oldest vines on the estate,” muscovite rich granite soil; $50 for 500mL): floral, quince, persimmon, chamomile tea, stunning, elegant minerality; 13% alcohol
- 2007 Ayguets (100% Viognier; sweet, botrytis infected wine taking 4-5 harvests in succession from mid-October to mid-November; muscovite rich granite soil; 39.90€): honey, candied orange peel, orange blossoms, really beautiful and more delicate on the palate than the initial impression; 13% alcohol
Botrytis sidebar: Have you ever had a beautiful Sauternes? Well, you can thank Botrytis (noble rot) for this. This fungal disease is either welcomed or feared. Under the right circumstances – misty, damp mornings and dry afternoons – Botrytis infected grapes result in a gorgeous wine. Botrytis consumes water from the grapes, concentrating the sugars. The result is a shriveled grape with intense flavor. Harvesting is a very labor intense process as many pickings are required.
- 2008 Gamay (100% Gamay; granite and alluvial soil; 6.20€): black cherries, leather, a little chewy; 12% alcohol
Each spends 3 weeks in concrete vats, with lots of pumping over (remontage) and punching down (pigeage) to extract color and tannins. Then it spends 18 months in barriques. The soil is primarily schist.
- 2007 Madinère (100% Syrah, 32.80€) manly, leaves and pips, soil, medium tannins
- 2007 Terres Sombres (100% Syrah, old vines; 50% new oak; 43.00€) figs, dark cherries, tobacco, baking spices; pleasant old world funk; can age nicely
(It follows suit with Côte-Rôtie for the remontage, pigeage and time in barriques. The soil is primarily sand and granite.)
- 2007 Le Pierres Sèches (100% Syrah, “refers to the dry stone walls used to strengthen the vine terracing,” 13.50€): figs, tobacco, toast, white pepper, vegetal; little acidity; drink now or can age 6m-1y for more balance; 13% alcohol,
- 2007 L’Amarybelle (100% Syrah, 50 year old vines, 50% new oak, ST 91, $45): figs, baking spices, white pepper, some acidity and tannins so balances and rounds out for a smooth finish; 13.5% alcohol
- 2007 Les Serines (100% Syrah, cuvée de garde, 25.70€) more fruit forward, stewed strawberries and figs, tobacco, beautiful mushroomy funk; 13% alcohol
- 2006 Les Vires (10% Syrah; just purchased 1.5 acres in 2006, 60% of vines are 90 years old; granite soil; also 3 weeks in concrete vats for remontage and pigeage, followed by 18 months in barriques; 38.90€) prunes, old world funk, leather, tobacco, white pepper, hay; tannins still strong, 13% alcohol
What did we buy, why and what would I pair it with?
I have to admit, we went a little buck wild with our purchases at Yves Cuilleron. Luckily, my father-in-law lives in France, so we were also able to (1) alleviate transport issues by storing our wine with him in the country and (2) sign up for their wine club, enabling us to participate in their futures sales.
- 2008 Les Chaillots – I’m just such a fan of his Condrieu and we had to walk away with some. I loved the minerality and lingering perfume. It would pair well with mild seafood (shrimp, scallops, sea bass) in Thai spices or just by itself as an aperitif.
- 2007 Ayguets – Bring on the stinky cheese/fromage-qui-pue (that was a shout out to my French friends and family). Mmm… a great, creamy blue cheese would be so fabulous with this.
The reds of Yves Cuilleron were also of exceptional quality. We knew we couldn’t pick these up in the States for the same price with transport and taxes. Each had enough tannins to be age worthy. We had to get them all.
- 2007 Terres Sombres and 2006 Les Vires – Adam Sandler said it best, “Turkey for you and turkey for me”… an idea for Thanksgiving dinner.
- 2007 Le Pierres Sèches- There’s a restaurant in NY that prepares the best duck breast. The preparation changes by season, but they nail it every time. This would be so delicious with that or any other perfectly cooked duck breast.
- 2007 L’Amarybelle – With the baking spices on this one, I’d waive in the tagine.
- 2007 Les Serines – My husband makes a mean ratatouille. That or some sort of red meat sauce could match well with that mushroomy bit on the palate.