Rayas sits at the top of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape tree of producers, having a reputation for legendary wines and winemakers. Current winemaker Emmanuel Reynaud succeeded his somewhat eccentric Uncle Jacques following the latter’s sudden death in 1997, and, after grappling with the responsibility and legacy left by his forbears, has begun to make the kind of wines that earned Rayas its supreme reputation over the last 130 years or so.
The domaine itself is small at 10 hectares, set among woodland on poor, generally sandy soil with a touch of clay and limestone and very few of the pebbles and stones that are so much a feature of Châteauneuf elsewhere.
Grenache is the single variety upon which the style, and indeed the fame, of the red wine rests. Not for Rayas the cocktail of 13 varieties permitted, and sometimes used in full by one or two others. Instead, all their eggs are placed in one varietal basket and the terroir clearly shows grenache at its very best. Yields are, by many standards, tiny and often harvested fairly late as a consequence of the terroir rather than simply by choice.
Whole bunches are gently pressed and fermented in concrete tanks before spending 16 months or so in great foudres or demi-muids of various sizes. Only 1,100 cases are made of the first wine and a second wine has been established to offer a conduit for wines from younger vines on the domaine. A white wine is made from plantings of grenache blanc and clairette.
Emmanuel, like his Uncle Jacques, does not seek the limelight but his sensuous wines take care of that for him.