A visit to the Rhône is not, sadly, an annual job, but this year I was lucky. Normally I can combine it with work in Burgundy but this year client no.1’s deadline was earlier and the Burgundy job delayed. Organising visits and the availability of my favourite accommodation (Ampuis, Hermitage and Châteauneuf du Pape) was only partly successful but a small hotel in Ampuls recommended by Philippe Guigal was fine but did no evening meal and on some nights Ampuis restauranteurs goes to bed early. On such occasions pizza and a cool beer is more than welcome after a drive up from Châteauneuf.
My first visit, after arriving by TGV at Lyon, was to the Seyssuel vineyard near Vienne on the east bank, a wonderful SW facing combe originally planted by the Romans but never granted an AOC, yet.
Cheze and others will make sure it performs. It has both syrah and viognier and, what do I know, but I found the viognier pleasantly distinctive.
Then a quick call near Chavannay to see Lionel Faury up in the hills, before heading to Mauves, near Tournon for the night. Streets in Tournon was closed for its annual onion fair until 8 pm with an armed guard 100 metres behind the gendarmes in case somebody tried to get through ! I arrived rather late for dinner, but nothing is ever a problem for my hostess Monique so I ate well as usual and enjoyed sharing a Cheze St Joseph with her other guests. Delighted to see she had invested in the Corton book!
The following morning Fabrice Gripa took me on a tour of his St Joseph vineyards high on the west side of the Rhône. The steep descent by 4×4 was exhilarating even though I had done it a couple of years ago with the Gonon brothers. back at the cellars we managed to talk Fabrice’s father Bernard join us for a picture. Always good to get the generations together when possible. Grabbing a sandwich from the baker in Mauves I headed for the Sentier des Tours in Tournon for a scramble through Guigal’s terraced St Joseph vineyards for a view of the Hill of Hermitage.Then the A7 south to Chateauneuf du Pape. It was somewhat alarming to see the north bound side at a standstill for several miles around Montelimar but happily it had all gone when I returned later in the early evening.
Meanwhile my route took me from Courthezon, past Beaucastel on an abortive effort to locate Rayas in the hope of gatecrashing for a recently requested portrait of Emmanuel Reynaud. No joy, he was away for a couple days. There was time for a shot of CdP from the approach from Courthezon and to eat my sandwich at Sabon before meeting winemaker Roger Negron and then calling in on Paul Avril at Clos de Papes and Isabel Ferrando at St Prefert.
Back in Ampuis the next morning at 8 I was scaling La Mouline with Philippe Guigal under grey skies that were fine for portraits but I hoped for better afterwards for my landscape shots of Côte Rôtie before my 11.00 with Julien Pilon down in Condrieu. In the end patience proved worthwhile and soon I was happily on my way home.