On a recent exploration of the vibrant Napa scene, we attended an event hosted by Napa’s Cadet Wine Bar, featuring the Jack Edwards’ portfolio of Rhône imports.
The room was crowded with familiar faces gathered to enjoy the variety of selections. The flight included awarded bottlings by Francois Villard, Louie Cheze, Pierre Gaillard and Jeanne Gaillard. The wine were well thought out and orchestrated by Jack’s expertise.
The Rhône Valley in France is in the southeastern part of the country below Burgundy. It is split into two major regions, Northern and Southern Rhône. The Rhône river carved in the middle of the valley is key. One of the most impactful climatic features is the Mistral wind blowing up to 60 miles per hour, acts as a fan that cools the region and creates microclimates. The soils that characterize this region range from rocks called ‘Gallets’ to granite on the higher elevations. The North champions Syrah, which is the only red grape allowed, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne while the Southern portion produces wine from several varieties, especially in the Chateauneuf du Pape wine, which allows up to 16 grapes in its blend.
Jack, who has a deep knowledge of the Rhône Valley both as a personal favorite and a businessman, has spent several years visiting the estates and creating strong partnerships. On this evening, he was moving from table to table, sharing his expertise and telling stories about the producers, vineyards and styles, which added an important aspect to the tasting.
Francois Villard, a trained chef turned sommelier and later a winemaker in 1989, is known for producing rich and concentrated wines with high complexity. He works with vineyards from Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, St. Joseph and St. Peray. From his lineup, a bright and charismatic Marsanne Blend from Saint Peray vintage 2014, a oily textured, complex and powerful Le Grande Vallon Viognier from Coindreau also 2014 and the 2013 Le Gallet Blanc from Cote Rotie, which is made of 100 percent Syrah showed a seductive aroma of blackberry and a velvety tannin structure reflective of the cool vintage.
From Pierre and Jeanne Gaillard, a 2014 La Releve Jeanne Gaillard from St. Joseph. This Syrah, made from grapes from 30-year-old vines, displayed an exotic purple flower arrangement with ripe red berries and cherry cola in the palate, both powerful and gentle.
Jeanne Gaillard, Pierre’s daughter, became enamored of the art of winemaking at an early age. This led her to study sales and viticulture in Beaune, and later she found herself making wine in Burgundy and California before returning to the Rhône where she shines. Pierre, on the other hand, cut his teeth at Vidal Fleury and Guigal before founding his estate in 1985.
A 2014 Ro-Rée Syrah from Domaine Louis Cheze completed the flight. A serious, stern handshake of a wine that offers a deep red fruit basket aroma, crunchy tannin and a memorable long finish. The vineyard in Saint Joseph is gifted with granitic soils that give this wine the beautiful mouthfeel. Domaine Louis Chèze was founded in 1978. His focus lies in Saint Joseph, Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie. His style is modest and compelling.
To round up the evening. Donald Patz, founder of Patz and Hall Winery, decided to unveil a secret project. He has started a collaboration with Francois Villard. They secured grapes from the highly acclaimed Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino to produce Syrah and Viognier. In its early stages, this wine is currently resting in barrels. Donald shared a couple samples with the attendees, and I’m excited about it.
Domestically, we are lucky to have great examples of Rhône varietals in the hands of winemakers such as Aaron Pott and his expressive Syrah. Phillipe Melka makes a solid Viognier under the Skipstone label. Campesino Cellars Rhône Blend from the Baybos Vineyard in Sonoma is a delicious example. Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project ‘Androkteinos’ also provides a rich and intriguing Syrah from the Hudson Vineyard in Carneros. The high-elevation Colgin Cellars IX Estate Syrah has all the bells and whistles while Helen Keplinger makes harmonious interpretations of both red and white Rhône blends from plantings in the Sierra Foothills and Sonoma Coast.
Paso Robles has also managed to make these varieties shine due to its soils and climate. One cannot talk about Paso Robles without mentioning Tablas Creek and the Beaucastel family’s efforts. Chronic Cellars has a playful interpretation from this area.