Château Grillet

Back on its Perch: The Rebirth of a Northern Rhône Legend

Nestled between the villages of Vérin and Saint-Michel-sur-Rhône, immediately south of the Condrieu area, Château-Grillet is a spectacular, 3.8-hectare site rising dramatically above the Rhône from 150 to 250 meters. The vines perch on 76 dry-stone wall terraces (chaillées) and are worked by hand, hoe and horse-drawn plough. Unusually for the region, the property forms a south-facing natural amphitheatre, which is protected from the La Bise north wind. Here, the sandy soils are poorer and more friable than those of most of the Condrieu appellation, derived from decomposed granite, quartz, feldspar and mica, combined with wind-blown loess. The average age of the vines is 45 years, with the eldest now in their 70th season.

Château-Grillet was already a historic and much revered Estate (and appellation) when it was purchased in 2011 by François Pinault, the current owner of Château Latour and Clos de Tart. Much of this fame derived from the unique story behind this region/producer and the brilliant wines produced here from the 18th century and through to the 1960s (plus arguably the ’71 and ’76). After that, there have been glimpses of greatness, but also much inconsistency. That was until 2011 when Pinault’s team brought serious investment and a flat-out, no compromise, quality-first approach. The aim was to restore the tiny 3.8-hectare AOC of Château-Grillet to its age-old position as one of France’s most extraordinary and unique wines. To this end, the last decade has seen this ancient vineyard get a complete makeover of its viticulture and winemaking. Yields have been slashed, organic certification achieved and none other than Jean-Louis Chave has been consulting. Today, the density, structure, detail and saline tension that characterised the great vintages of the past have been restored—welcome back to the big league, Château-Grillet.

Today, the density, structure, detail and saline tension that characterised the great vintages of the past have been restored—welcome back to the big leagues, Château-Grillet.

Aside from its illustrious wine, Château-Grillet owes its fame to its remarkable setting and the fact that it is one of only two non-Burgundian, single-appellation monopoles (Savennières’ Clos de la Coulée de Serrant is the other). The first plots of vines at Château-Grillet are said to have been planted by Emperor Probus in the third century, with plants brought from Dalmatia. By the early 19th century, Château-Grillet was gracing the cellars of the likes of Thomas Jefferson and King George IV. It passed into the hands of the Neyret-Gachet family in 1823 and became the first Estate in the Rhône Valley to produce, bottle and sell their own wines, starting in 1830.

In the 1930s the first of France’s Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée were being awarded. Around the same time, the influential Lyonnais gastronome Curnonsky had distinguished five white wines as the best in the world, placing Château-Grillet at number three. Le Montrachet, La Coulée de Serrant, Château Chalon and Château d’Yquem made up the quintet! Shortly after, owner Henri Gachet obtained the recognition of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée for Château Grillet—then, the smallest appellation in France.

The property remained under the ownership of the Neyret-Gachet family until 2011. Most recently the property was run by Isabelle Baratin, aided by cult Burgundian oenologist Max Léglise, and Bordelais Denis Dubourdieu. At times during its more recent history, Grillet has struggled to live up to its latent potential and high expectations. Yet the sale of the property to François Pinault in the summer of 2011 marked a seismic change in Grillet’s fortunes. Pinault immediately set his wine director Frédéric Engerer to the task, who in turn brought Alessandro Noli down from Vosne-Romanée to steer the changes required to return this storied Estate to its historical status.

More recently, Alessandro Noli has taken the reigns at Pinault’s Morey St-Denis address, Clos de Tart, and the winemaking at Grillet has been entrusted to Burgundy-based Korean winemaker, Jae Chu (aka Jaeok Chu Cramette). Alongside working at Domaine d’Eugénie in Vosne-Romanée, Jae Chu had also recently started a small and highly regarded négoce operation, Maison des Joncs. The decision to leave her beloved Burgundy was not an easy one, but the chance to head up the latest chapter in Château-Grillet's renaissance proved irresistible. As Paul Wasserman explains, “Château-Grillet is a legendary terroir. For a young female Korean enologist to have a hand in its destiny is extraordinary. We have no doubt that Jae will rise to the occasion.”

The Range

Show All

“It is indeed a keeping wine, one of subtlety and restraint, so comparisons with mainstream Condrieu are simply not worth the effort.” John-Livingstone Learmonth, The Wines of the Northern Rhône

“What work has been done since the purchase in 2011 of this emblematic estate by François Pinault! All means have been implemented to restore this vineyard to the place it should occupy. The consistency of the wines over the past four years is remarkable.” *** Three Star Domaine (one of only six in the Northern Rhône), La Revue du Vin de France

"Château-Grillet tends to be less aromatically effusive and marginally less full-bodied than most Condrieu, but it has an even greater sense of salinity, intensity and tension on the palate." Matt Walls, Decanter

Country

France

Primary Region

Northern Rhône

People

Winemaker: Jae Chu

Availability

National

While you're here

Welcome