Rising cream (Rhone Valley, France – Day Four)

Cooperative wineries are something that is pretty unique to Europe, and is possibly a little hard to understand for producers from New-World producing countries. The notion of hundreds or thousands of different growers all providing their fruit to a collaborative facility that has the responsibility of vinifying and either selling or bottling the collective wine produced is a very historic one, and it has only been the last 50 years that has seen more individual producers establish their own wineries, either from their own vineyards or purchased fruit. It must be a little bit scary trusting someone else to handle a year of your life, and also a little sad to know that it will be blended into many other wines and somewhat lost in the multitude. At the same time it must be relieving to know that you are going to get some money for your fruit regardless, rather than being completely at the mercy of the vintage and the market. In the Rhone Valley there are negociant producers who purchase wine (and in some cases fruit) to mature, blend and bottle under their own label. This model is much more familiar in the new world, as the largest producers in every country would need to buy fruit from growers often in different regions, to feed the increasing demand globally for their branded wines. This of course is in addition to their hundreds or thousands of hectares of vineyards, which is often the same size as entire appelations in Europe which many have hundreds of separate vineyard owners. Like Guigal, my appointment on Day Four was a producer based in the Northern Rhone that owns vineyards in several appelations, but relies on wine purchased from the Southern Rhone to provide the bulk of their sales.
Saint Joseph vineyards

This producer is Delas Freres, a producer I was familiar with as I had sold many of their products back at home. I had first come into contact with Delas when I attended what I think was my first trade tasting as the wine buyer of King & Godfree, and what a first it was. It was held at two-hat Melbourne restaurant Grossi Fiorentini (which I returned to about one month later to celebrate my mother’s birthday), and the ambiance and food suited the wines perfectly. Wandering around the room tasting through the extensive range was also my first real introduction to Rhone Valley wines, and I was pretty blown away by the diversity and difference of these wines, some of which are made with very familiar varieties. Based on this tasting I stocked several of the wines, including the Tavel Rose, Ventoux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, and also what was our number one Cotes-du-Rhone red, which I recommended to hundreds of customers. Being so familiar with the brand but now having a lot more experience I was very interested to visit and see what they were all about. I was welcomed by the head of visits to the winery, Bruno Gonnet.

Commendation award from the 1879 Sydney Wine Competition

Delas was based originally in Toulon but is now based outside the town in St Jean de Muzols. This makes their heart in the Saint Joseph appellation, and some of their best vineyards are located here, including the fabled Sainte-Epine vineyard. They have a number of vineyards throughout the Northern Rhone, including Cote-Rotie, Hermitage and Condrieu. They purchase fruit from other vineyards in the north, and also a lot more from the south, also from a range of appelations. With so many appellations and single-vineyard wines as well, the range can be quite extensive. Freres meaning brothers refers to the original founders of the winery back in 1835, who actually were commended for their 1870 Hermitage in a wine competition in Sydney back in 1879. Today the winery is owned by the Roederer family, who have more recently improved the selection of wine and fruit, and also the processes used to make and bottle the wine. Red wines are often traditionally fermented in open cement vats and plunged to extract the colour and tannins, before they are racked blended and transported to a combination of tanks and barrels before bottling. The winery uses predominantly Francois Freres barrels for the maturation, but they only use newer barrels for the top red and white wines. My host took me through a pretty comprehensive tasting of mostly the Northern Rhone wines, and you can see my notes here.

Delas red wines

Click here to see more photos from Day Four in the Rhone Valley, France. In the next post I visit Jean-Luc Colombo in Cornas.

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