Like Father Unlike Son: Harvest with Alain and Maxime Graillot
Crozes-Hermitage is the great contrast to the famed regions of the Northern Rhone. Much of it lies on a plain with sandy clay soils, where many vines are machine harvested. There is variation in the northern villages, which have more granite soils and thus generally more serious wines. Nonetheless, the general image of Crozes-Hermitage is of quaffing wine of mediocre quality.
In the 1980’s Alain Graillot, previously a corporate suit working in agricultural exports, reformed the way in which wines on the southern plains of Crozes-Hermitage were made. He began whole cluster fermenting his wines, operating with minimal fertilizers and ultimately started to make wines with greater density, character and complexity than was the norm.
Alain’s son Maxime joined the team about a decade ago and is now making wine under his own label: Domaine de Lisses. Unlike his father, Maxime removes all stems before fermenting and aims for a simpler earlier drinking wine.
The contrast between the two styles of wine making is significant, but both provide quality at their price point. Both also provided considerable contrast to the other regions I visited in the Rhone and proved that a wine need not touch greatness in order to speak of place. The Graillots’ wines testify that the wines of Crozes-Hermitage are starting to come into their own.
Of Fathers, Sons and Contrasts in Crozes-Hermitage
The soils at the Domaine are clay and stone, with no sand, and the vineyards cover 22 hectares. Maxime’s project, on the other hand, works with purchased fruit as well as some land of his own, and much of the grapes used in his wines are grown in sand, making his wines far fruitier than his father’s, which retain more secondary, earthy and herbal characteristics.
The flurry of harvest was exciting to watch, especially comparing the approach of father to son. Maxime uses facilities built adjacent to the main Domaine and has increasingly expanded his production over the past 5 years, focusing mostly on the export market. Alain, on the other hand, is old school, having been one of the first (and still one of the only) to whole-cluster ferment his Syrah in Crozes. Both have an international mindset, but Alain’s approach is more inward looking and Maxime’s more outward.
Alain ferments his red wine whole cluster in concrete vats after a cool maceration, relying on natural yeasts and using no sulphur. Vinification generally takes 3 weeks. The red is then aged for a year in old oak casks. The main red is built for aging.
Maxime, in contrast, destems and pre-fermentation cools his grapes for 3-5 days. His vinification last 3 weeks and aging takes place in several year old old oak barrels purcahsed from DRC, Dujac and Arlot. The wines of Domaine de Lisses are more feminine than Alain’s and focus on being immediately accessible drinking wines.
The 2009 Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage is made from old vines and tends towards a more vegetal, leafy mode of expression. It is a fairly muscular, structured wine for Crozes-Hermitage with considerable tannin and good length. Very Good+ to Excellent.
The 2009 Equinoxe Crozes-Hermitage made by Maxime is, on the other hand, a zippy fruit driven wine, with a game and mineral underbelly. It is quite delicious and easy drinking classic sandy-soil syrah and a steal at 6.5 euros. Short cuvaison and short aging in 6 year old barrels. Very Good.
The 2009 Domaine de Lisses also from Maxime is his slightly more serious offering. It is an elegant wine, leaning more towards pretty aromatics and silky, lithe texture compared to the Domaine Graillot’s toughness and density. There is less minerality than the Domaine Graillot due to the sand vs. rock soils. This wine is all about focusing on immediate deliciousness and I think it succeeds. Maxime reports that in some older vintages it is difficult to determine whether this wine is old Syrah or old Pinot. 80% destemmed, 10% new oak, the rest in 2+ year old oak. It sees 3 months in tank and undergoes malo in the barrel. Very Good+.
The Graillots are both making excellent good-value Northern Rhone Syrah in two completely different styles. If you are looking for old-world wines with character, approachability and affordability I highly recommend the Crozes-Hermitages of Alain and Maxime Graillot.
- Hey! Syrah Night! | Decant This! … the wine blog of Bill Ward - [...] most fascinating was the father-and-son tandem of ’07 Crozes-Hermitages from Alain Graillot and offspring Maxime’s Domaine Des Lises. [...]
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