Under the awe-inspiring Château Crussol ruins, first noted in writing in 936 A.D., the Saint-Péray appellation has less than 200 acres of terraced vineyards on hills of granite, limestone, loess, and calcareous deposits. The vineyards must be mostly worked by hand and horse. Saint-Péray was one of the first 9 French winemaking regions to be classified under the AOC in 1936, which is both a testament to the quality of the wine and also a means of control by the Big Bad. They have been making sparkling wines here since 1829, developing fans such as Wagner, Baudelaire, and a few French kings along the way. In recent years, the still wine production has been increasing, in response to market demand. Now only a small handful of producers in the appellation still make sparkling wines, but with Rémy Nodin’s new project, he may have increased the total by 20%!
Just 25 years old, Rémy Nodin is a 4th generation winemaker, running Caveau La Beylesse in the Northern Rhône with his young wife, Amandine. The contrast between the castle ruins, over 1,000 years old, and the young vintner among the budding vines is fascinating; and the story of the region, the family, and the wines is one I’m eager to share with you.
A viticulturist since 1907, Rémy’s great-grandfather Ernest Nodin purchased the 600 year old building at the foot of the Crussol hill and adjacent land in 1936. All the grapes produced by the family were sold until Rémy studied oenology and became a winemaker, although he still sells about half of his crop. In 2003, the first floor of the gorgeous old building was turned into a tasting room and shop, featuring a wide variety of local products from small producers, as well as wines from all over the Rhône Valley.
I couldn’t resist, and bought a mini-bottle (just 1oz!) of a local Poire William Eau de Vie by Distillerie Jean Gauthier. Even wine lovers living in the heart of a wonderful wine region need to drink something else now and then! Back in Oregon, I’d enjoyed Clear Creek Distillery’s Pear Brandy, a similar Eau de Vie made from Williams pears (Bartlett), so I thought I’d give the local one a try. Now the trick will be to arrange a shoot-off. But I digress.
Rémy has been making just 4 different wines, three of which are from the only grape varietals permitted to be grown in Saint-Péray: Marsanne and Roussanne. These are both white wine grapes, used to make both the sparkling and still wines of the Saint-Péray AOC. In addition to using the whites he grows on less than 10 acres of land, Rémy also sources Syrah from the Crozes-Hermitage region, a bit further north and on the other side of the Rhône River.
After studying winemaking in Annonay, Orange, and Beaune, Rémy produced his first vintage in 2009, creating two still wines from 100% Marsanne, the “Classique” and the “La Beylesse”. Both remain strictly Marsanne. In addition, in 2010 he released his first Syrah, made from grapes of the Crozes-Hermitage region, and in 2011 he produced just 546 bottles of “Le Suchat” from 75 year-old vines. The wine is a blend of 90% Marsanne and 10% Roussanne. Not content to rest on his laurels, this year Rémy has started making a sparkling wine, following Saint-Péray tradition. You can follow his exploits on his blog. Caveau La Beylesse is located right on a major road leading from Cornas and Saint-Péray toward Valence, just across the Rhône River. It is a lovely building, and I encourage visitors to the area to stop in.
I went first to the tasting room to try the 2010 wines, and then returned another day to meet Rémy, take a tour of the vineyards, and do a little barrel tasting of the 2011s. The 2010 Classique was sold out, so I was only able to taste the ’10 La Beylesse Marsanne and the ’10 Crozes-Hermitage Syrah. After a stroll through the vines nestled below the ruins, I was able to try the ’11 Classique pre-release. From the barrel, I tasted the work-in-progress ’11 La Beylesse, as well as the ’11 Crozes-Hermitage. For wine geeks interested in detailed tasting notes, please email me and I’ll be glad to share. I’ve decided to stick to the story this time.