About this WINE
Domaine Pierre Gaillard
Pierre Gaillard grew up amongst vines. At 12, he was found ploughing his family vineyard with a horse. Following his winemaking studies in Montpellier, he bought his first lands in St. Joseph in 1981, reviving the “Clos de Cuminaille” – an ancient wine growing estate dating back to Roman times.
In recent years, Pierre’s children have been getting more involved at the domaine; but his own passion and influence still remain at the core of the impressive property. As well as being one of the top growers in St Joseph, Pierre is also one of a handful of producers realising the potential of Seyssuel to the north of the region. In total, he has over 60 parcels spread over 35 hectares in the Northern Rhône, which makes for an extremely comprehensive overview of everything these appellations have to offer.
We tasted the 2021s alongside Pierre-Antoine, Pierre’s son. Some of the wines were still in tank or barrel, so he made us up a ball-park blend to taste. His various incantations of Syrah had the refined, elegant style and notes of fresh herbs common to this vintage. Some new oak is used on the wines but less than some years, to allow the fruit purity to dominate – a style that works especially well this year due to the refined profiles.
As always, the whites on offer are a vintage ahead, so 2022 this year. You’ll remember how hot the summer was and this was true in the Northern Rhône too. However, extreme heat made the vines shut down and prevented sugar development, saving the wines from high alcohols and retaining acidity. Adapted vine canopy management to shade the grapes and prevent sunburn was also key. While the wines have a warmer profile than the 2021s, they nonetheless showed freshness to counterbalance their depth.
Until you’ve tasted Viognier grown in Condrieu, you’ve never truly experienced the grape’s majesty. In the same way that winemakers the world over have planted Pinot Noir in the hope of emulating red Burgundy, so too they’ve planted Viognier in the hope of achieving the unique balance of exotic perfume, weight and freshness for which Condrieu is famed. Few succeed. Traditionally, winemakers here have used relatively inert, large wooden vessels vinification and élevage are in relatively inert, large, wooden vessels, but the new generation of winemakers are increasingly interested in the qualities of new oak.
Plantings have expanded beyond the core of the AOC, around the village itself, to 140 hectares from the low of eight hectares in the 1960s. The vineyards pick up where Côte-Rôtie leaves off, the slope continues, but the schist of the north begins to give way to a little more granite and a topsoil of decomposed mica. Today the appellation is characterised by energy and creativity, and demand for the wines from this diminutive region is soaring.
It is a poor-yielding grape that is notoriously fickle to grow, being susceptible to a whole gamut of pests and diseases. Crucially it must be picked at optimum ripeness - if harvested too early and under-ripe the resulting wine can be thin, dilute and unbalanced, while if picked too late then the wine will lack the grape's distinctive peach and honeysuckle aroma. It is most successfully grown in the tiny appellations of Château-Grillet and Condrieu where it thrives on the distinctive arzelle granite-rich soils. It is also grown in Côte Rôtie where it lends aromatic richness to the wines when blended with Syrah.
Viognier has been on the charge in the Southern Rhône and the Languedoc throughout the 1990s and is now a key component of many white Côtes du Rhône. In Languedoc and Rousillon it is increasingly being bottled unblended and with notable success with richly fragrant wines redolent of overripe apricots and peaches and selling at a fraction of the price of their Northern Rhône cousins.