The Combier family first moved from Ardèche to the Rhône in 1936, when Camille Combier bought three hectares of vines in the Crozes-Hermitage appellation, and sold his wine to the Tain l’Hermitage co-operative.
In the 1960s Camille passed control to his son, Maurice, a passionate lover of the land who didn’t like the new technology growers were using in the vineyards, believing it to make bland, samey wines. In 1970 he took the brave decision to buck convention and converted the vineyards to sustainable farming, without herbicides or pesticides. By the time his son, Laurent, took over in 1990, he was eager to continue his father’s pioneering environmentally mindful production and had visions of creating his own wines, and so he left the co-op and built a cellar on their farm.
Laurent believes that in order to make a great wine, he must allow nature to dictate his work in the vineyards, and bases his decisions on the soils, the living organisms and the lunar calendar. He now not only has 25 hectares in Crozes-Hermitage but also a hectare in Saint-Joseph, as well as being part of a joint project in Priorat in Spain since 2002.
In 1990, his first year in charge, Laurent created Clos des Grives: a wine made from a single 9.5-hectare vineyard, almost half of which dates back to 1952, having been planted by his grandfather Camille. Unlike the granite soils planted with syrah to the north of the property, Clos des Grives is a chalky limestone plateau with smooth pebbles, and is planted with seven hectares of syrah and 2.5 hectares of marsanne and roussanne.
Clos des Grives is the family’s ‘haut couture’ wine, hand-crafted with great care from start to finish. The red is a 100% syrah varietal that is vinified in stainless-steel tanks before spending a year in new oak. Since 1994, Laurent has also created a Clos des Grives white, which is 95% roussanne.
The rest of his range is vinified in a mixture of stainless steel, cement tanks and barrels, a blend which varies depending on the vintage conditions.
He doesn’t believe in producing wines that are harsh and austere in their youth, preferring to create wines that can be enjoyed from the beginning. Nonetheless, there is no denying that Clos des Grives does reach its best after a few years in bottle, if it can be resisted!