Yves Cuilleron has established himself as one of the leading producers of high-quality Rhône wines, building on the foundations laid by his grandfather and uncle since the estate was established in 1920.
Originally Yves had no intention of being a winemaker but during his national service in Alsace he embraced the twin joys of food and wine, and found himself drawn back to family vineyards in Condrieu and Saint-Joseph when his Uncle retired in 1987.
He decided to move operations to his mother’s home village of Verlieu and by 1992 had built a brand new winery. Over the years Yves enlarged the domaine with vineyard plots in Côte-Rôtie, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Péray and Cornas, expanding and modernising the winery as he goes, keeping a close eye on every aspect from vine to building design. ‘It is,’ he says, ‘the price for quality’.
He wants things done his way, without easy or off-the-shelf solutions, and his rigour and passion have kept him in the front rank of winemakers in the northern Rhône. He now owns 59 hectares of vines on a variety of soils where he practises viticulture raisonnable, a sustainable approach that is not organic but which focuses on the health of the vineyard and the wider environment while doing whatever is required to produce the best fruit possible.
Work in the vineyards is intensive, almost all done by hand, with strict control of yields and constant attention to the canopy to allow in air and light and impeding the development of fungal diseases. Even pest control is now carried out through the use of pheromones to sexually confuse troublesome bugs rather than spraying pesticides around.
In the winery the mantra is ‘Keep things as simple as possible’. Here more than anywhere Yves' methods straddle the traditional and the modern. After careful sorting of the grapes, and in the case of black grapes destemming, the must or juice is fermented using natural yeasts, without any additives or acidification during the process and without temperature control. Every wine is vinified according to its merits and with no set procedure, and any maturation follows the same principle. Reds and whites spend time in wood, barriques or foudres, for varying times contingent on the style and vintage. The wines that see time in barriques are not excessively oaked to allow the terroir to have a clear expression. Red wines are fined and bottled without filtration while the whites are fined and then bottled after only a light filtration. The aim is to show the variety at its best, with a sense of place, with purity of fruit and with a character that is unique to the estate.
In 1996 Yves joined with fellow winemakers Pierre Gaillard and François Villard in establishing Les Vins de Vienne, a project to revitalise the forgotten vineyards and wines of the Seyssuel area close to Vienne and across the river from Condrieu and Ampuis. Noting that the area had an ancient reputation for quality that had largely been overlooked in recent times, particularly since the ravages of pyhlloxera in the late 19th century, they decided to get together and make wines from these wonderfully sited, granitic, schistous slopes overlooking the Rhône.