2011 will be Philippe Verzier’s 24th harvest, but he will only be 42 when the crop will be in his cellar. He is a young, but very experienced grower.
Philippe is ambitious. The proof is his recent move on the Côte-Rôtie vineyards. His first vintage there was in 2008. A year after, in 2009, he made another step forward, producing yet another wine on the same appellation on the Grandes Places terroir, which is one of the very best.
The family estate, back in 1928, was once mainly agricultural (fruits, cereals, and cattle) and has become totally dedicated to wine since 1988 when Philippe’s wine adventure began.
Many winegrowers in the northern Rhône have had side activities to achieve a decent standard of living. Not so long ago, in the 19th century, Condrieu was only considered a nice white wine for the Rhône river fishermen.
Domaine Chante-Perdrix production approaches 40,000 bottles on about 25 acres of vines. For those who might think it is not much regarding the surface exploited, surely you would change your mind if you paid a visit to the vineyards of northern Rhône. You will see the brutal declivity of up to 60%, seldom less than 30%. It’s impossible to plant the 4,000 vines per acre the Médoc terroirs of Bordeaux do so easily. Here, if you plant 2,000, it’s the best deal you can have. It is impossible to use mechanical equipment to treat the vines. Almost everything is done by hand, and hard work makes people here tougher than the granite under their feet.
Saint-Joseph is a very long, but very thin strip of land that goes from Mauves-Tournon in the south to Chavanay in the north and is more than 35 miles long. But, less than 2,600 acres are planted as only the slope can bear the name of Saint-Joseph.
Two wines are under the Saint-Joseph name, the Empreinte (which means print, like finger or hand print in French) is the traditional wine made out of different plots blended together. The Madone is a single vineyard situated at the very top of the slope above the village of Chavanay where Philippe, his wife, and their three children live.
Philippe Verzier has planted vines of Roussanne to increase the complexity of his white Saint-Joseph. The blend, presently 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne will evolve gradually toward a 50/50 blend between the two varieties. A courageous act given the fragility of Roussanne, which is very rewarding aromatically, but easily contaminated by rot or any other vine enemy.
Here, like in the other terroirs of northern Rhône, the growers have the right to blend white varieties with Syrah up to 10%. Philippe, as most of his colleagues, does not.
The estate has started its bio conversion, and the 2013 crop will bear the biological label, another step forward for Philippe.
With the Saint Joseph tradition, I would go with barbecue beef or lamb, smoked meats, and roasted duck filet. For the Côte Rôtie, dark meat game seems the best choice, just roasted with almost no sauce when the wine is young. Add some sauce when you add years and remember to use spices and red or black fruits in it.
I am extremely confident in Philippe’s work and I am ready to bet anything that his wines will be eagerly sought after in a very short time.