As well as tasting the wines and finding out about the vintage, no small part of a wine buyer's remit when visiting suppliers is to find out the latest gossip! This isn't about idle tittle-tattle, it's actually an important aspect of the job. It is only by visiting people and talking face to face that you really get to understand the thinking behind the wine, the producers' personal circumstances and more often than not, what the neighbours are up to too.
Jérôme died in November 2018 and far too early (he was born in 1951). I used to call him 'President' as he wore so many hats. He was at the helm of his family estate, Domaine du Vieux Lazaret in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with whom we have a long relationship. The Society first bought his wine with the 1979 vintage and it was always a relatively affordable and beautifully uncomplicated red that won him many followers amongst our members. Together with his wife Geneviève Jérôme also managed estates in Gigondas, Ventoux and Provence. He was head of the Rhône interprofessional body and was on the INAO in Paris (l'Institut National de l'Origine et de Qualité). An ancestor had commanded a division at Waterloo and we used to spend time talking about things past. Though immensely busy with so many hats to wear, he always gave me time. One Sunday we walked the length and breadth of Châteauneuf and I learned a good deal from him. He will be sadly missed.
I only learned of the death of Michel quite recently. My memories of Michel were of him chain smoking, filling his office with the not too attractive smell of French tobacco, something happily you don't find any longer! I knew him as the general manager of the Caves de Tain Co-operative. At the time we used to buy our Society-labelled Crozes-Hermitage from the co-op. I was young and inexperienced, but Michel always put me at ease and answered my daft questions with both patience and consideration. When I was studying winemaking, he even took me on for a day to learn the ropes. I was put on grape reception duty. The harvest was 1993, one of the worst in living memory. Lots of lessons were learned with Michel.
Gentlemen, I thank you both. May you rest in peace.
More gossip & scandal!
The Rhône is a blessed place. People love drinking the wines; Wine Society members especially. I think that part of the appeal is that the wines seem to express values of wholesomeness, closeness to terroir, a world away from industrialisation. So it came as a shock when back in 2018 a scandal came to light casting a dark shadow over the region. There was fraud linked to unscrupulous merchants and bulk-wine bottlers between 2013 and 2016 when a shortage of wine and rising bulk prices resulted in wines being passed off as something they were not; chiefly this concerned a 'massive misuse of the Côtes de Rhône appellation'. But we are not like supermarkets and do not deal with such large players and as a result we are able to deal directly with growers. Authenticity and provenance are vital for us.
Guigal north and south!
This is an extraordinary family business now in the capable hands of father and son team Marcel and Philippe. Their portfolio is an impressive one with legendary wines such as Côte-Rôtie La Mouline and La Landonne amongst the most famous. To begin with their estate was restricted to Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu, then they bought the estate of Jean-Louis Grippat and that brought them vines in Saint-Joseph and above all, Hermitage.
This year they enhanced their holdings and extended into the southern Rhône buying Château de Nalys in Châteauneuf. This is a large estate which had been badly managed, but make no mistake, Nalys has some of the best plots in the Châteauneuf appellation. Expect quality to go through the roof.
Tasting the 2018s & travels yet to come
Tasting the fruits of 2018 will start not long after this is published and my first job is always the blending of The Society's Côtes du Rhône. This will be in March 2019 during a mid-section of another long road trip that will take in France's south west, Cahors and Bergerac, and then the Alpine wine of Savoie.
Plenty to keep this wine buyer busy and keep you our members in delicious wines for the months and years to come!