After a delicious lunch at la Mule du Pape, we headed to Domaine Giraud to see what this younger generation of farmers has been up to, and to taste for ourselves whether the influence of Philipp Cambie is as heavy-handed as some claim (and if, in the end, it even matters when the only question we should be asking is, “Does it taste great?”). Let me be another voice shouting in the desert: Consultant or no, these wines taste good—no, they are better than good, better than great even; they are a new superlative not yet invented.
When I tasted the 2007 ‘Tradition’ I thought to myself, There is no way this can be just their introductory cuvee. But it is, and it was delicious. I imagined a Scharffen Berger sandwich, with a layer of plum jam bordered by coils of thyme-studded licorice. It became clear to me after talking for a while with Francois Giraud, son of Pierre Giraud (after whom their 100% Grenache cuvee is named), that this was an uncompromising and visionary young man filled with age-old wisdom, a boy who grew to manhood through the soil of Chateauneuf like his father, and his father before him. Not long after we sat down to taste with Francois, his father Pierre, the great and mighty tender of vines (and altogether prolific drinker), joined us for introductions and to inspect what wines we’d tastes so far. From what I’m told, despite the fact that Francois and Marie, Francois’s sister, have since taken over day-to-day operations at the estate, Pierre still haunts the vines and the winery, apprehending unattended bottles, offering helpful, though perhaps unsolicited criticisms and inspecting the imminent or latest harvest. He is a formidable figure, and if he told me something had to be a certain way, I’d listen. If his son and daughter have the sense I think they do, they’ve listened to their father quite a bit, and thus proven him a wise man.
Marie joined us not long after Pierre did, and we tasted wines together in their modest tasting room, made all the more warm and enriching by Pierre’s stories and boisterous, contagious laugh. You don’t need a fancy wine tasting room when you have wines as good as these and people as wonderful as the Girauds. I was extremely impressed by the Gallimardes cuvees. Marie was gracious enough to take us through the dynamics of that hot southern vineyard and their personal harvest culture. The 2006 was sensational, making the decision whether to buy the stupendous 2005 or the 2006 extremely difficult. I deferred to the 2006 because it managed to be both weightless and yet one of the heaviest hitters on the table. Irony? Hardly. 2006? Assuredly (refer to aforementioned opinions). We finished the tasting with a glass of the 2008 ‘Tradition’ (very good considering the challenges of that rainy vintage) as well as a component of the future 2009 ‘Tradition’.
2009, according to the Girauds, will be yet another sterling vintage for Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Although a month has passed since I tasted the wine, I still recall every indication of its imminent greatness, despite its profound youth. In an attempt to summarize the culture at Domaine Giraud, and to a greater extent the culture of consulting enologists and the proliferation of super-cuvees or new blends with atypical (read: non-traditional) cepages, let me say that Domaine Giraud need no help from outside sources to make great wine. They have every asset they need already at their fingertips. The influence of Philip Cambie, or a Didier Robert, is not felt in the final product, but rather in the processes that lead to a vision fulfilled. Elements of the younger generation of Chateauneuf seem compelled to translate a new tradition, to foment the (r)evolution and exploit something unexpected, radical. Lest we forget, the traditions we now hold so near and dear were at one time as new and radical as the vision of this next generation in Chateauneuf. If there is talent out there—acknowledged, renowned, qualified talent—willing to help this generation realize the dreams of their youth, then you cannot fault these budding stars for reaching out to consultants any more than you can the writer who studies diligently the works of Joyce, James or Cather. The Rollands and Derenoncourts of our day and age can be as rich a wellspring of inspiration as they can be a boatload of hints and data. Some say these 'flying winemakers' impart too distinct a signature. On the other hand, I beg the question: Who says this ‘signature’ isn’t exactly the kind of wine some gasping vigneron had been struggling to make for so long, believing he had the right raw materials, just couldn’t bring it all together? Is it then the signature of a Chris Ringland? Or is it some other dreamer’s vision at last fulfilled?
At Domaine Giraud, these are the wines of Francois and Marie alone. No one else. And they are far from gasping. They are plowing through the pitch at breakneck speed, size 5 in hand, ready to take on the world, and ripe with all the talent and veracity to do so. Lest we forget about Pierre, he’s probably a grandpa by now, and aside from this newfound joy in his life, he’s a great giver of joy himself. After the ballyhoo of stories shared and bottles re-tasted (and re-tasted, and…), Pierre kindly escorted us to his dear friend’s estate, Clos du Mont Olivet.