About the Winemakers

We haven’t the space here to list all of our winemaker friends, but here are some snaps and potted biographies of a few.

Christelle Betton, Roche de Glun (Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage)

Christelle Betton

Christelle Betton

Charming, friendly and passionate about wine, Christelle recently took over the running of the Domaine Roland Betton estate from her father and has already begun to win medals. By her own admission, she speaks English “like a Spanish cow” and the estate buildings aren’t much to look at, but the wines are delicious and include a prized white Hermitage from the family’s tiny vineyard on the hill, in addition to white and red Crozes-Hermitage.

Julien and Emmanuelle Montagnon, Livron (Brézème)

Julien and Emmanuelle Montagnon, Livron (Brézème)

Julien and Emmanuelle Montagnon

In the dark days of the 1970s Jean-Marie Lombard kept Brézème winemaking alive almost single-handedly - it was the great Hermitage winemaker, Gérard Chave, who saw the potential and encouraged Jean-Marie to start making wine for himself when previously the grapes from his tiny ¼ hectare (roughly ½ acre) vineyard had gone to a local co-operative. Jean-Marie went on to become respected by fellow winemakers and known to wine lovers throughout France despite his estate’s size.

But all good things must come to an end and Jean-Marie retired just before the 2012 harvest. Luckily, the estate is in the best of hands. Julien, a local lad, and Emmanuelle worked alongside Jean-Marie for his last two vintages (while managing, somehow, to produce superb wines at their own domaine in Roussillon on the opposite side of France!). Now grown to 7 hectares, the estate would still be considered tiny by most standards. In Brézème it constitutes 20% of the total vineyard area.

Frédéric Raspail, Saillans (Clairette de Die)

Frédéric Raspail

Frédéric Raspail

Like Christelle, Frédéric is another young gun who has taken over the running of the family estate, in his case after learning his trade at the Champagne house Bollinger. He makes the best Clairette-de-Die we have ever tasted, but he is rightly proud of his Brut (dry) Cremant-de-Die and a very good still chardonnay. The estate is organic and one of the few to still carry out the delicate tasks of picking the grapes and riddling the Clairette by hand.

Xavier Gérard, Condrieu (Condrieu, Côte-Rôtie)

Xavier Gérard  with Cote-Rotie in the background

Xavier Gérard with Cote-Rotie in the background

Xavier’s father, François, has recently retired, allowing Xavier to officially combine his own estate - a mere 1ha or 2½ acres - with his father’s slightly more extensive holdings in some of the best vineyards of both Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie (upon which Xavier also worked even pre-François’ retirement). 2012 also saw the first harvest from Xavier’s new St Joseph vineyard, although the fruits of this particular labour won’t be available for a while yet.

Although young, Xavier is a traditionalist at heart (a good thing too, if you ask us) and the wines reflect that. This does mean that the Côte-Rôtie, especially, doesn’t have the immediate, some might say transient, up-front appeal that using lots of new oak barrels would give the young wine. But patience is a virtue and those prepared to wait just a bit longer are rewarded with profound, deeply pleasing wines that have a strong local identity.

Johann Michel, St Péray (Cornas, St Péray)

Johann Michel outside his winery

Johann Michel outside his winery

We thought we’d made a real discovery with Johann Michel: a super-talented young winemaker who nobody had heard of. Well the locals obviously knew of his reputation - his annual production of St Péray was selling out in a month - but still, it’s always good to spread the word a little wider. And then we found out that the world’s most influential wine critic, Robert Parker, had given Johann’s wines 90+/100. Not so unknown then. Oh well…

None of that stops these being great wines and Johann being a nice guy.

Valérie & Philippe Chaume-Arnaud, Vinsobres (Vinsobres, Côtes du Rhône , Côtes du Rhône Villages)

Valérie & Philippe Chaume-Arnaud and  son Thibaud

Valérie & Philippe Chaume-Arnaud and son Thibaud

Valérie and Philippe run the highly-regarded Chaume-Arnaud estate in Vinsobres. Both are passionate about biodynamics, a self-supporting farming system most easily (but slightly inaccurately) described as a more rigorous form of organic farming, not only for the sake of their land and its future, but also as a means for smaller farmers to protect themselves against big business. (We love the proud vignerons-paysans - “winemakers-peasants” - sign on the winery door.)

All of which would count for nothing with wine lovers on both sides of the Atlantic, if the wines weren’t so damned good. They make a reference Vinsobres, all dark, cool fruit, and a stand-out white, while their lesser known wines include a small production of Côtes du Rhône Villages from vineyards in St Maurice (the next door village) that includes a pleasingly high proportion of carignan giving it a dense, tarry palate. These are wines and people who deserve championing.

Alexandre Liotaud, Sainte Jalle (Coteaux des Baronnies)

Alexandre Liotaud

Alexandre Liotaud

Alexandre and his father, Jean-Yves, work Domaine du Rieu Frais’ 30 hectares around Ste Jalle in the beautiful hills and mountains of the Baronnies, some 15km distance and 200-300 metres altitude away from the main Côtes du Rhône vineyards to the west. The higher vineyards allow them to grow different grape varieties - cabernet sauvignon and merlot in addition to syrah for the reds, chardonnay and viognier for the whites. There is no “appellation contrôlée” up here in the mountains, Coteaux des Baronnies being a simple Vin de Pays label (or IGP as we must now call it) and so it’s harder to charge the wines’ true worth. But the savvy locals all know that the cabernet and merlot would put many a Bordeaux to shame and the viognier is one of the very few more affordable versions of the grape that has true varietal character.

Jean-Marc Brun, Rasteau (Rasteau, Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages)

Jean-Marc Brun

Jean-Marc Brun

Jean-Marc Brun’s Domaine Beau Mistral estate sits at the bottom of the hilltop village of Rasteau, facing the imposing buildings of the local co-op. We would contend, however, that bigger is not always better, at least when it comes to the size of wine domaines. Jean-Marc’s reds, on the other hand, leave nothing to be desired in terms of hearty, spicy, robustness, from the regular Côtes du Rhône through to three cuvées of Rasteau in ascending order of seriousness. The Côtes du Rhône Villages white is rich and aromatic, a food wine more than an aperitif, while there are two shades of delicious Vin Doux Naturel sweet wine. Amusingly, the VDN can also be bought “en vrac”, allowing locals to pick up 5 litres of delicious but 16.5% alcohol syrupy sweetness any time they want. The mind boggles.

Anne-Marie Gaudin-Riché, Gigondas (Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhône)

Anne-Marie Gaudin-Riché

Anne-Marie’s Domaine du Terme estate is in the heart of the Gigondas appellation, on the plain just below the village. The family have been active in the area for many generations - although the estate is now independent, her grandfather helped establish the village co-operative which many small growers still belong to and her father led the growers’ grouping. The wines are great examples of the Gigondas/Vacqeyras style - robust and hearty, with a true southern, grenache intensity and little in the way of oak to mask the fruit.

Marie-Thérèse Combe, Vacqueyras (Vacqueyras, Gigondas)

Marie-Thérèse Combe

Marie-Thérèse's Domaine La Fourmone is a standard bearer for the Vacqueyras appellation and a constant in the annual French wine "bible", Hachette – indeed, in the 2013 issue the estate got top rankings for both Vacqueyras and Gigondas.

Here, elegance has as much priority as raw power and the wines are notable for their velvet-like textures. Maybe it's the family's artistic temperament coming through - Marie-Thérèse is a dab hand with the oil paints and her father wrote poetry in Provençal.

Cédric Guillaume-Corbin, Vinsobres (Vinsobres, Côtes du Rhône)

Cédric Guillaume-Corbin

Cédric's biodynamic Domaine La Péquélette is the smallest estate in Vinsobres but punches well above its weight. He left the local co-operative in 2004 and his first independent vintage, 2005, was named one of the top wines in France. Skip forward to his latest vintage, 2011, and guess what? France's most influential wine magazine has named it one of the best wines of the vintage. All this despite very Heath Robinson surroundings.

Mickaël Bourg, Cornas (Cornas, St. Péray)

Mickaël Bourg

Mickaël’s is the smallest estate we work with, just 1.8ha (about 4½ acres) of vineyards spread across the villages of St. Péray and Cornas. But we reckon the quality of his wines is superb and the methods are truly artisanal, down to a hand-cranked grape press and a horse for ploughing. People talk about garage winemaking, but this is the real thing – Mickaël’s car has been pushed out to make way for the barrels!

Cyril and Patricia Chastan, Orange (Châteauneuf-du-Pape)

Domaine de Saint Siffrein

Cyril and Patricia Chastan (not forgetting maman and papa) run the highly regarded Domaine de Saint Siffrein estate in Châteauneuf-du-Pape that has garnered high praise (and points, should you care for such things) from American, British and French wine critics. More importantly, we love the wines too. The 20ha of vineyards are covered by the famous “galet” stones that give the wines of the appellation their warmth and generosity.

You can find out more about the estate by going to www.domainesaintsiffrein.com.

Coralie Goumarre, Courthézon (Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-du-Rhône)

Coralie Goumarre

Coralie Goumarre’s organic Domaine Galévan wines were a revelation when we discovered them: Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes-du-Rhône of surprising finesse and bright, pure aromatics, but no lack of southern power.

There are reds aplenty, including a rare, 100% grenache, premium Châteauneuf-du-Pape made from grapes grown in an old, hillside vineyard, but the unoaked white Côtes-du-Rhône and oaked white Châteauneuf (made in tiny quantities and which makes one think of a southern Meursault) are also delicious.

Alain Verset, Cornas (Cornas)

Alain and Emmanuelle Verset with Paul, your host

Alain comes from of a long line of Cornas winemakers and is resolutely old school. He makes wines like his father did, and like his father before him. That means old basket presses, open topped fermenters and no destemming of the bunches before they go into the vat. I’m fascinated by these wines and their spice rack aromas – after all, I was already working with three producers of Cornas when I met Alain so there must have been something special.

Alain’s 2 hectares (5 acres) of vines include some of the steepest vineyards I’ve ever seen, which he hops across like a mountain goat.

Philippe and Sylvie Desbos, St Jean de Muzols (St. Joseph)

Philippe and Sylvie Desbos

Like Alain Verset (see above), Philippe and Sylvie Desbos like using old-fashioned methods at Domaine de Gouye, but in their case you can also add the use of a horse (called Ramses) to plough their hillside vineyards; it’s much, much slower, but suits them well (and it’s good for the vineyard).

From unlikely surroundings – you’re welcomed by a farmyard rather than a slick tasting room – come some of the best St. Joseph reds and whites I have ever tasted, true “terroir” wines that could only come from their region.

Sébastien Wiedmann and Lucie Fourel, Tain l’Hermitage (St. Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage)

Sébastien Wiedmann and Lucie Fourel

Seb and Lucie live together but don’t share their winemaking skills. Which is probably just as well, as they don’t seem to agree on much when it comes to methods. Happily, the results are similarly good and they seem to rub along very well.

In his tiny cellars near Tournon, Seb works organically, with no added sulphites, using “hands-off”, Beaujolais-ish techniques to make an extraordinary St. Joseph red that burst with red berry fruit. He is a natural rebel who flirts with disqualification from the appellation every year. Lucie also farms organically, but her winemaking techniques are classical and the wines she makes, great examples of red and white Crozes-Hermitage, are more classic too.

Claude Pleindoux, Aubignan (Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, BdV Rouge, Côtes du Rhône, Ventoux)

Claude Pleindoux

We first met Claude at a wine fair in Beaumes de Venise. His wines were new to us - he had only recently left the local co-operative to set up his own Domaine L’Arche des Garances estate - but his stall had gathered a crowd of enthusiastic tasters. It was soon clear why - Claude was someone who obviously knew exactly what he was doing. Our review of the fair on the Rhône Wine Tours blog said that Claude’s was the best red wine we tasted that day.

Skip forward six months and we met Claude again, this time at his small estate a few kilometres from the famous wine village of Beaumes de Venise, where we discovered the rest of his range – reds from the slopes of Mont Ventoux and Côtes du Rhône; a selection of whites, including an intriguing off-dry muscat (perfect with spicy food); and, of course, Claude’s delicious sweet muscat.

Well you don’t pass up the chance to work with someone so good.

Frédéric Boissonnet, Serrières (Condrieu, St. Joseph)

Frédéric Boissonnet

Frédéric’s Domaine Boissonnet estate was established in 1990, the year his son was born. As he says, it was quite a year for him. 2013 wasn’t so bad either as he was named Winemaker of the Year at the Gastronomy and Wine Awards in Lyon.

Frédéric makes an archetypal Condrieu, all richness and apricot fruit, and a range of white and red St. Joseph going from classic through to the appropriately-named Extrem, which spends almost two years in new oak barrels.

Aurélien Chatagnier, St. Pierre de Bœuf (Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, St. Joseph)

Aurélien Chatagnier, St. Pierre de Bœuf

Aurélien is a young guy making a big name for himself. His old stone cellars are in a tiny hamlet on the plateau high up above the river. There he creates fantastic wines from his miniscule vineyard holdings in some of the northern Rhône’s most prestigeous wine regions. The whole range, white and red, shares a delicious purity of fruit that marks it out from most of Aurélien’s neighbours. (And, for lovers of the obscure, he makes a delicious vin de pays gamay from some of the last gamay vines remaining in the Rhône.)

Gilbert Sabon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Côtes-du-Rhône, Lirac, Châteauneuf-du-Pape)

Gilbert Sabon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Gilbert and brother Denis run one of the most famous estates in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Roger Sabon (named after their father). The range covers everything from a juicy, fruit-forward CdR through to several cuvees of CdP that, while by no means cheap, must represent some of the best value available in the region.

Réjane Pouzoulas, Rasteau (Côtes-du-Rhône, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Rasteau, Rasteau VDN)

Réjane Pouzoulas, Rasteau

Réjane and brother Wilfried are in charge of Domaine Wilfried on the edge of the village of Rasteau. Their Rasteau red has a winning combination of concentration and freshness and we also have a soft spot for their Cairanne red, which is as elegant as you could wish for. But our greatest love is reserved for their extraordinary Vin Doux, a sort of sherry meets Madeira fusion of dried fruits, walnut and deliberate oxidation.

Jean-Pierre Bertrand, Rasteau (Côtes-du-Rhône, Rasteau, Rasteau VDN)

Jean-Pierre Bertrand, Rasteau

We first tasted Jean-Pierre’s Grand Nicolet wines at Rasteau’s annual wine fair. Clearly, here was something special. We came across them again when the sommelier of a local Michelin-starred restaurant forced glasses into our hands. Yep, our first impressions had been right.

Jean-Pierre makes an archetypal red Rasteau – big, rich and bold – that has been given the highest possible rating, a coup de cœur, by France’s wine bible, the Hachette wine guide.

Christophe Billon, Ampuis (Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu)

Christophe Billon, Ampuis

What Christophe’s range lacks in quantity – two Côte-Rôties and a Condrieu, plus a very tasty vin de pays syrah – it more than makes up for in quality: in May 2014 the main French wine magazine named him its “heartstopper” producer in Côte-Rôtie. This is perhaps understanable when you learn that many of his vines are on the magnificent “Côte Rozier” hillside overlooking the town of Ampuis, a pebble’s throw from Guigal’s La Landonne plot. Thankfully Christophe’s pricing is rather more reasonable.

Damien Robelet, Seyssuel (Seyssuel)

Damien Robelet, Seyssuel

Damien and winemaking partner Jérôme Ogier run the Serines d'Or estate in the tiny vineyard region of Seyssuel, making them one of only 13 domaines that make Seyssuel wine and the only domaine to specialise in the region. Despite stiff competition from the likes of Rhône winemaking stars Chapoutier, Cuilleron and Villard, we'd also say they make the best.

This is possibly the oldest wine region in the Rhône Valley - certainly the Romans wrote about it 2,000 years ago - but its rejuvenation in the last 20 years has been remarkable.

Maxime Gourdain, Ampuis (Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu)

Maxime Gourdain, Ampuis

Maxime only took over the running of Domaine de Rosiers from his uncle a couple of years ago. The estate has prime vineyard land behind the small town of Ampuis, in the heart of Côte-Rôtie, and Maxime is putting it to fantastic use - his reds are concentrated, sophisticated, classy. He also has a tiny plot of vines in Condrieu from which he fashions a gloriously aromatic, rich white.

Marlène Durand and Marc Romak, Les Chassis (Crozes-Hermitage)

Marlène Durand and Marc Romak, Les Chassis

The youngest estate we work with - Marlène and Marc only opened the immaculate winery at Domaine Melody in 2010. But youth doesn't mean inexperience or lack of skill; already the estate has won the most prized award in French wine - Hachette's "Coup de Cœur". Reds, whites (and a very rare northern Rhône rosé) are all delicious.

Thomas Valentin, Mercurol (Crozes-Hermitage, St. Joseph)

Thomas Valentin, Mercurol

Another young Croze-Hermitage estate, but one with plenty of experience. The group of young cohorts that run Domaine Les Alexandrins started out in 2002 by offering vineyard management services. In 2009 they started to lease plots of vines and use the grapes to make their own wine, at first using the facilities at Chapoutier and then the cellars of Hermitage legend Marc Sorrel as they had no space of their own.

Now firmly established in a beautiful old stone building that housed a winery 100 years ago, the team is turning out Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph of remarkable purity of fruit (and a "vin de pays" gamay that restores your faith in that grape).

Anaïs Vallot, Vinsobres (Vinsobres, Côtes-du-Rhône)

Anaïs Vallot, Vinsobres

Anaïs and her father François are the 5th and 4th generation of winemakers at Domaine Vallot - Le Coriançon, just outside the small village of Vinsobres, which is the northernmost "cru" of the southern Rhône. In other words, their biodynamic estate is surrounded by some of the most prestigious vineyard land in the region.

English-speaking Anaïs (she has worked in the USA) is an enthusiastic ambassador for the wines of her appellation and her passion shows in the estate's lovely wines.

Rémy Nodin, St. Péray (St. Péray, Crozes-Hermitage, St. Joseph)

Rémy Nodin, St. Péray

What first attracted us to the estate run by Rémy and his wife Amandine was its sparkling St. Péray. Rémy is one of only five producers still making this "champagne-method" fizz that was once famous throughout France, even Europe - it was said to be Wagner's favourite tipple - and in our eyes he's clearly the best.

But once we'd arrived at the estate we realised that further treasures awaited us - still St. Péray in either light and fresh or big and rich forms, floral Crozes-Hermitage and spicy St. Joseph. What an excellent find.