After two amazing and unforgettable months adventuring through the beautiful wine estates of Bordeaux, it’s time for the next and final phase of my Summer wine journey. On Tuesday, September 1st at 7:30am I’ll begin working the harvest at E. Guigal, as part of the 2009 Vinification Team. Philippe Guigal, General Director and Winemaker, will be my boss. I figure what a better segue than to provide a quick overview of this world-class estate. Although stay tuned … there will be one last post on Bordeaux just before my departure, as I am visiting Château d’Yquem this Friday.
E. Guigal Château d’Ampuis is located in the Northern Rhone Valley in the small village of Ampuis, about 30 minutes south of Lyon and 10 minutes from the town of Vienne. The estate has been owned by the Guigal family since its foundation in 1946 by Etienne Guigal. The total surface area of plantings is 109 acres, including the following varietals, Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. The vines are spread out among three Northern Rhone appellations—Côte Rôtie (49.4 acres), Condrieu (5 acres), and Ermitage (10 acres). The average age and yields of the vines is 40 years and 33 hectoliters per hectare. Some of Guigal’s most famous estate labels include Condrieu “La Doriane”, Côte Rôtie “Château d’Ampuis”, Côte Rôtie “La Landonne”, Côte Rôtie “La Mouline”, Côte Rôtie “La Turque”, and Ermitage “Ex Voto”. In addition to their estate bottlings, Guigal also produces negociant wines from numerous appellations, including Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-du-Rhone, Crozes-Hermitage, Gigondas, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, and Tavel.
Regarding the vinification for the Viogniers (Condrieu), the juice is left in contact with the skin for 4 to 8 hours. The fermentation takes place in a mix of new oak casks and stainless steel vats at a low temperature around 16 degrees Celsius. This technique, employing low-temperature fermentation while the skins are left on the grapes, was pioneered by Guigal and is called maceration particulaire. Following the fermentation, batonnage (stirring of the fine lees) is completed for the wine in barrel and malolactic fermentation is carried out both in oak and stainless steel.
The Syrah wines are vinified in a traditional manner, including both pumping over and punching down during the 3 to 4 week fermentation and maceration. Regarding the oak barrel aging, the technique is quite extraordinary for the Northern Rhone, or for any French wine for that matter. The Côte Rôtie and Ermitage wines are aged for over 30 months in new oak casks. More specifically “Château d’Ampuis” is aged for 38 months and “La Landonne”, “La Mouline”, “La Turque”, and “Ex Voto” are all aged for a staggering 42 months. Quoting Marcel Guigal, referencing Robert Parker’s The World’s Greatest Wine Estates, “(…) Oak alone is capable of enhancing the raw material created from fruit and soil, with delicate hints of wood, vanilla, or choice tannins. Oak reveals the authenticity of wine without ever dominating it, gives it expression while profoundly respecting its balance, origin, and vintage (…)”
As was already mentioned above, the history of this great estate begins in 1946 when Etienne Guigal, Philippe’s grandfather, started the family business. Prior to founding the estate, Etienne had worked for 15 years at Maison Vidal Fleury, which also produces Northern and Southern Rhone Valley wines. In fact today Vidal Fleury is owned by Guigal. Although Etienne left a strong legacy, most modern critics consider that the estate’s international fame and world-class quality grew most rapidly under the management of Etienne’s son, Marcel. Furthermore, Robert Parker’s obsession and passion for Guigal wine, dating back to the 1970s, provided the estate with an undeniable boost. To quote Parker, “there is no winemaker on planet Earth who has produced so many compelling wines irrespective of the vintage conditions as Marcel Guigal.”
There are many explanations as to what exactly makes Guigal wine so good. Guigal cultivates organically without the use of any chemical fertilizers or treatments. Furthermore, Guigal’s harvest is famously late, as the estate aims to pick its grapes at the ripest point possible. Additionally, the yields are exceptionally low and intervention is at a minimum during the vinification. Rackings are limited and the wine undergoes no fining or filtration. Be prepared to decant! The same standards are applied to all of Guigal’s negociant wines.
Although Guigal has earned a reputation for making world-class Rhone wines, independent of the appellation, certainly its Côte Rôtie single vineyard bottlings (La Mouline, La Landonne, and La Turque) are the most cherished of all Guigal wines, earning a spot among the list of the most sought after wines worldwide. La Mouline, with an average age of 60 years, is typically the first vineyard to be harvested. The wine doesn’t undergo any punching down, only pumping over, during the maceration, in order to avoid extracting too much tannin. The aim is to produce the most silky, elegant, and complex of the single vineyard Côte Rôties. La Landonne is the second single vineyard to be harvested. The vineyard lies on an extremely steep, south-southeastern slope. Vinification takes place in a closed tank with a system of automatic punching down. The aim is to maximize the extraction; and considering there is no Viognier planted on this parcel, like in the case of La Mouline, the result is one of the most concentrated and powerful wines produced anywhere in the world. La Turque is the last of the single vineyards to be harvested, due in part to the grapes’ higher than average acidity level. The youngest of the three single vineyards, the yields tend to be a little higher, between 35 and 40 hectoliters per hectare, compared to between 25 and 36 for La Mouline and La Landonne. When it comes to the vinification, La Turque is treated in the same way as La Landonne. The resulting wine is a combination of both La Mouline and La Landonne. La Turque is not as tannic as La Landonne, yet is just as concentrated, while sharing the intense aromas of La Mouline.
Although this post does not include a tasting, I invite you to revisit my post from Le Grand Tasting in Paris. Haruka and I were fortunate enough to attend a prestige tasting of Guigal and Gaja, hosted by Philippe Guigal.