The whole thing could be misconstrued as being a bit ostentatious.
The big names on the hillsides, the recently restored castle and the new flashy warehouse on the main street with its lacquered gold exterior…. Don’t forget the modernity of their wines punctuated by sweet new oak; at the very least one can say that this producer isn’t shy.
As is so often the case though, further investigation caused me to realize that to define a seminal producer like Guigal with such a cursory glance is a mistake. So, here is a little more context I gleaned from a recent trip to Cote Rotie that significantly changed my perspective of E. Guigal and their wines.
Let’s start with a little bit of history because to understand Guigal and their wines you need to know who Etienne Guigal was; the E of E. Guigal.
Etienne’s story is one that reads like a list of unfortunate circumstance and perseverance from the very start. His father died when he was 2 weeks old and when he was only 7 years of age his mother sent him off to work in the apricot orchards since she could no longer afford to care for him. When he had spent more than half of his life toiling amongst the fruit trees he decided it was time for a change of careers at age 14. It all started with a visit to his brother in Cote Rotie who was tending vines for Vidal-Fleury in 1924.
How amazing is it that this 14 year old young man had enough foresight to see that his future would be tied to those steep cliffs. What other 14yr olds do you know who would choose the more difficult and less popular of two paths? (wine grapes were a significantly less important crop compared than apricots at that time)
Through sheer force of will and the mettle forged within him by circumstance Etienne started to elevate his station in life by saving what little money he made to purchase vineyard land. In time he would go on to own the company he started with, Vidal-Fleury, and become the largest land holder in Cote Rotie by a considerable margin. Yet life wasn’t through challenging Etienne. He had to fight his entire village when the local mayor decided that the hills of Cote Rotie would be much better for the elevage of second homes for rich Parisians. A law was passed that requiring the vines to be Cote Rotie uprooted which Etienne successfully overturned. Yet, it’s likely that the greatest challenge of all for Etienne was learning how to transmit all of his drive and fortitude through the hands of his 18 year old son Marcel when he suddenly went blind. He never gave up, and this headstrong young man ended up vinifing 67 harvests at the base of his beloved cliffs.
Why is all this important? Taste Cote Rotie ‘La Turque’ and tell me you don’t sense the spirit of the entrepreneur within it. It’s larger than life, aggressively forward thinking and polished with all the trappings of luxury.
Look at an image of the cliffs of Cote Rotie you can understand how the dreams of a lonely young man toiling on them under the summer sun might fixate on one day raising a family in that Chateau below. Its lovely shaded gardens next to the cool waters of the sparkling Rhone must have seemed like a vision of heaven.
Take into consideration all of the perseverance it took for this same young man to triumph over life’s adversities and to prosper from such a harsh terroir and you might be able to forgive the audacity of emblazoning one’s name on a hillside.
The spirit of the entrepreneur, the determination of a young man set on changing his stars and the dream of a better life, this is what defines Guigal. These are the traits required within men who desire to overcome the intensity of this region so defined by the indefatigable Rhone and its cliffs so rudely sculpted by weather and 2000 years of men’s toil.
I think now I understand Guigal just a little bit better and I challenge you to consider some of these points the next time you serve/taste their wines.
Somm Bytes – E. Guigal
- Based in Cote Rotie, where they are the largest landowner, Guigal produces wine from across the Northern Rhone and some regions in the Southern Rhone.
- Guigal owns 35ha of the 230ha total ha in Cote Rotie. The remaining hectares are divided among 130 +/- other growers.
- Works organically in the vineyards whenever possible.
- Guigal has its own team of 7 fulltime stonemason’s whose job it is to repair the miles of stone retaining walls in their vineyards.
- Many of the walls still exist from Roman times, 2000 years ago. “Those walls don’t need fixing” says Phillip Guigal.
- Stylistically they have a relatively modern and fruit forward style with significant use of new French oak. They own their own cooperage and source oak from only one forest, Jupilles, within the larger region of Troncais
- Guigal owns other producers, Vidal-Fleury and Bonserine both which have their own production team and Domaine Jean-Louis Grippat and Domaine Vallouit which have been incorporated into the Estate.
- Currently managed by Phillipe Guigal son of Marcel Guigal whose father Etienne started the company.
- Investing heavily in the historical landmarks of the Northern Rhone. Guigal made a deal with the French government to purchase Chateau d’Ampuis. They also offered the services of their stonemason team for 1 year free of charge to repair the terraces of L’Hospice du St. Joseph.
- Guigal produces more than 3 million bottles of Cotes du Rhone of an exceptionally high quality. Phillipe and Marcel routinely taste 100 wines a day from 800+ producers in the Southern Rhone in order to determine what will make it into the blend. “this is our business card” explained Phillipe, “it represents the rest of our company so it has to be a exceptional everytime you open a bottle."
The La La wines
The La La wines are the crown jewels of the Guigal regime. Sourced from their best parcels on the cliffs of Cote Rotie; La Mouline, La Turque and La Landone? Are some of the most sought after wines in the world. Although made in the same manner, (fermented in stainless with continous pumpovers for 4 weeks and 42 months in 100% new oak), each has its own style and flavor:
La Mouline is the most feminine in style, beautifully aromatic and silky with 11% Viognier in the blend. The vineyard is shaped like an amphitheatre which concentrates the ripe fruit intensity balanced by depth of minerality from very old vines.
La Turque comes from a vineyard with a higher percentage of iron is the soil which although balanced by limestone gives this wine a darker fruit core and more structure than La Mouline. Contains around 7% Viognier in the blend.
La Landonne really captures the essence of Cote Rotie. Coming from clay rich limestone soil with a high degree it is the most intense, most structured of the three wines with exceptional potential to age.