The affable and knowledgeable Brigitte Roch.
Meeting Brigitte Roch was one of the great pleasures of our trip to the Northern Rhone. She’s a joy to be around and we thoroughly delighted in our time with her. Clusel-Roch is a Côte-Rôtie winery that makes traditionally styled (employing some new techniques) elegant wines. Brigitte’s husband Gilbert Clusel’s family started in the wine business three generations back and Gilbert inherited a small portion of Côte-Rôtie’s Grandes Places vineyard from Gilbert’s father Rene and started making wine. They’ve secured other vineyards for fruit as the years have gone on. Gilbert and Brigitte’s son Guillaume also does a lot of the work in the winery. The day we visited father and son were out tying errant grapevine stalks to the triangular-shaped posts that are favored in Côte-Rôtie.
The vines right behind the Clusel-Roch Domaine
Guillaume has also started a small project of making wine from the Coteaux du Lyonnais appellation that lies between Lyon and Vienne. Guillaume found an old abandoned vineyard of Gamay and has made a go at making a less-expensive wine that he’s been able to put his own stamp on. The Gamay was impressive and tasted just as good as many high end Beaujolais that I’ve had (although admittedly I haven’t had a whole lot of high end Beaujolais). Guillaume also made a pleasant rosé using the saignee method from the same grapes as the Gamay.
On to the Syrah and the real reason we came to see Brigitte. The Clusel-Roch Cuvee Classique is made with native yeast fermentation, gravity fed, punched down twice a day and basket-pressed after one month on the skins. It spends two years in barrel (20% new) and is bottled at the beginning of harvest usually in September.
The design of the winery allows the grapes to be brought in through the outside doors at the top level and then gravity fed into the tanks.
The property that Gilbert and Brigitte own is all massale-selected vines from the original “Serine” clone of Syrah from Côte-Rôtie. They graft this variety from the original plantings from the Les Grandes Places vineyard. Not a whole lot is known about the origin of this “O.G.” clone of Syrah but there’s little doubt that it makes the best Syrah on the planet, or at least the Syrah that best fits the Côte-Rôtie appellation. According to Brigitte, the townships of the Côte-Rôtie area spoke a dialect before the Romans arrived that was called Serine, so the name goes back to the beginning of the region. Gilbert and Brigitte were instrumental in the 1990s in the push for more massale selection when many vineyards began to be planted over to clones. Brigitte thinks that the preservation of the Serine clone that is unique to the Côte-Rôtie is integral to the preservation of the tradition of exemplary Syrah for the region. She believes it’s a more complex and floral Syrah than the clonal varieties that were introduced and some experiments they performed in the winery bore this out. They’ve also found that the modern clones of Syrah are too vigorous for the tight spacing that Côte-Rôtie employs and tend to grow too quickly and aggressively for them to keep them in check. The Serine vines seem to fit the land.
Brigitte has also been instrumental in getting the region mapped out. In fact, before the region was officially mapped by the appropriate French authority, Brigitte drew it all out by hand. She even color-coded for soil type.
Brigitte’s beautiful hand-drawn map of Côte-Rôtie.
The famed schist in the soils of Côte-Rôtie.
The Clusel-Roch family are also proponents of organic farming. In Côte-Rôtie, being organic is not just a simple matter. The steep slopes make chemical weed spraying a difficult-to-resist temptation. But they noticed the negative impact spraying had on the soil and the vines so they decided to commit to plowing by hand and on the steepest slopes they use a winch to help pull the plow up the row as it is hand guided from behind.
We tried the 2013, 2006, and 2005 Classiques and the 2013 Vialliére and Les Grandes Places. The Vialliére and the Grandes Places are vinified similarly to the Classiques. All the wines were spectacular with bright acidity and lots of floral aromas. These are such elegant Syrahs with the structure to age for a very long time. I found them to be a little light in the mid-palate which might be something that fleshes out as the wine ages as the 2005 proved a tad richer than the other vintages. The 2013 Les Grandes Places was a special pleasure to taste as it had the structure and mid-palate richness that one expects from Syrah but also the unmistakable floral element of a Côte-Rôtie. Such a gorgeous wine. The Classiques were also hard to beat and we purchased a 2013 and a 2005 and look forward to tasting the wine again in a few years (or more!) and thinking of our time with the affable Brigitte.