Alain Graillot has been the producer in Crozes-Hermitage since he began in 1985. His wines kick you in the face with structured tannins and robust fruit but maintain an elegance only Northern Rhône Syrah can carry. So as I drove through Pont-de-l’Isère to meet him at the end of a 10-day trip to southern France I had to wonder whether Alain’s son Maxime, who started making his own wine in 2004 with the same fruit in the same cellar, would produce the same wine.
When I finally found the entrance to the tiny winery, the legendary winemaker — now retired — welcomed me inquisitively, “You are the Sommelier from New York?” I assured him I was, and he seemed to set his skepticism aside as we walked through his barrel room and descended stairs to the cellar. At the bottom there was a small room with three stainless-steel tanks and a handful of barrels.
To start the tasting, Alain pulled a bit of Crozes-Hermitage blanc from tank so we could taste it together. The Marsanne (80%) and Roussanne (20%) blend is aged partially in demi-muids and partially in tank. The small amount of oak used rounds out these particular grapes that so often call for richness. “Now we can begin,” he said, pulling open another door that led us to a winding tunnel filled with old barrels.
It was time to taste the Crozes-Hermitage that made him famous. Alain uses 100% stem inclusion and ages the wine in barrel for one year. In its youth, the wine is abrasive but very appealing, though the finished product holds such longevity it can seem a shame to drink it young. Alain makes a Crozes-Hermitage he calls ‘La Guiraude.’ In the best years, he selects a barrel that holds the most potential for longevity. This barrel is then bottled under the separate labeling. Not produced every year, the output can be minuscule, in 2008 just a few cases were made.
We tasted through his 2013 and 2012 vintages. The 2013 was one with very low yields resulting in a concentrated wine. While the 2012 held less intensity its aggressive structure transmitted power and a robust energy. Alain studied in Burgundy, alongside names like Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac, and his love of Burgundy shines in his wines. He even uses some old Burgundy barrels that he gets from “his friends.”
Maxime popped in for a bit to say hello and it was time to taste what the next generation had to offer. Alain informed me that his son runs his estate in its traditional manner, and Maxime says he would never dream of changing his father’s traditional domaine with his modern approaches. Instead develops his own projects while keeping the tradition and hard work of his father alive.
Unlike his father, Maxime de-stems almost all of his fruit creating a much more approachable product. A vin de piscine (wine to drink by the pool) is what Alain coined Maxime’s 2013 “Equinoxe” Crozes-Hermitage. Indeed, if you were going to drink a Syrah by the pool, this would probably be the perfect fit.Maxime also makes a Cornas and St. Joseph. His wines are reminiscent of his father’s in their fruit quality and incense but differ in structure and force. Also produced in small quantities, his wines have developed a sort of cult-following.
Though he is retired, Alain will never stop producing iconic wine and new and exciting projects are alive in the Graillot family. In 2014 they will make a Beaujolais from land they just purchased in St-Romain and in 2016 a Fleurie.