More and more women are successfully taking control of wineries around the world. Such is the case at Domaine du Cayron. The difference, as our wine scribe Jim Walker discovered, is that this stellar Gigondas producer of the Southern Rhône is operated by three sisters – Delphine, Cendrine and Roseline Faraud.
In late January of 2007 Hélène and I once again marched eagerly through the portals of the Inter Cave wine emporium in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, anxious to see what new treasures our friend and mentor Christian Esparza (see My Other Partner in the Wondrous World of Wine) had lying in wait for us. After the requisite greetings and jibes about my lack of progress in mastering the French language we got on to serious matters. “Do you know the highly esteemed Gigondas house called Domaine du Cayron that is owned by the Faraud family?” asked Christian. “Come try their 2005 vintage.”
I will save the tasting notes for a little later. Suffice to say for now that it was brilliant. However, we were concerned that if we approached Domaine de Cayron we would be in conflict with our superb supplier just down the road, Domaine Palon (see Gentleman’s Portion wine post), producers of Côtes-du-Rhône, Vacqueyras and Gigondas so popular with our clients. “Not to worry”, opined Christian. “These are two very different styles of Gigondas that will actually complement each other. The Cayron is very traditional while the Palon is a more modern wine. And, the Farauds and Palons are great friends and have long supported each other.”
So the next day we headed north-east into the country past Châteauneuf du Pape towards the imposing jagged heaps of rock called the les Dentelles (lace, not teeth) de Montmirail. We passed by Domaine Palon and climbed the hill to the small, charming village of Gigondas where there seem to be more cats and dogs than citizens. Domaine de Cayron is on the left as you approach the town square.
This classic Provençal hill town has narrow sidewalks scaling up the Dentelles, more tractors and mini-trucks than cars, a hodgepodge of houses and caveaux and shade trees aligned strategically around the village square (where a game of boules is usually in progress). Gigondas was once the site of impressive Roman villas: artefacts from the Roman occupation of France have been found throughout the village and surrounding vineyards. The word Gigondas is believed to be derived from the Latin word jocundits, which meant ‘merry city.’
From the 19th Century, Gigondas’ reputation for the strength of its wines led to strong demand from Burgundy négociants for Gigondas in bulk for blending. From Corton to Chambertin, cutting with Châteauneuf du Pape or Gigondas was commonplace, less favoured Burgundian crus getting cheaper, gut-scorching North African plonk instead.
Until 1971, Gigondas was just another village of the Côtes du Rhône appellation. But thanks to the efforts of Pierre Amadieu, Edmond Chauvet and Hilarion Roux who strongly believed in the merit of its wines, Gigondas was awarded its own appellation status that year. The Gigondas growers, convinced of the importance of Grenache to their wines, persuaded the authorities to raise the maximum proportion of this grape from 65 per cent to 80 per cent in 1986. The aim was to reduce plantings of Cinsault, a grape that produces large quantities of thin wine, and to increase the proportions of Syrah and Mourvèdre.
As Robert M. Parker, Jr. notes in his excellent book Wines of the Rhône Valley:
“Gigondas remains one of the wine world’s great bargains. Gigondas is never a shy or subtle wine. Its appeal is its robust, frank, generous, extroverted character, in addition to its value. It is to be savoured and admired because of these virtues. Great wines from Gigondas will rival those of its neighbor Châteauneuf du Pape and the wines produced under the skillful hands of the Faraud family often do just that.”
Considered by many to be the benchmark producer in the appellation (Robert Parker includes it as one of three ‘Outstanding’ producers), Cayron makes a Gigondas of phenomenal richness and incredible longevity. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more terroir-expressive wine anywhere in the Southern Rhone; bold, explosive, stunningly evocative garrigue flavors careen from the glass, blaring their stamp of origin like a neon sign. These are old-styled, powerful wines with gobs of fruit and irresistible personality. Furthermore, Cayron is among the most age-worthy of Gigondas, delicious upon release, but improving for well over a decade and holding strong for a long time thereafter. This 42 acre domain includes 40 separate plots and is a classic, truly top-flight estate.
The Faraud family has been making just one wine, an extremely concentrated, intense Gigondas for over 150 years – and it is consistently an excellent value. They produce around 30,000 bottles of it per year. Michel Faraud turned over the operation of his winery a few years ago to his three daughters – Delphine, Cendrine and Roseline. The eldest, Delphine, is in charge of sales, accounting and client relations, while Cendrine and the youngest Roseline tend to the vines and make the wine with a little direction from papa. They work diligently in the vineyards, restricting yields and always harvesting at maximum ripeness. The wine then rests in old wood for a year before it is bottled. The Farauds don’t fine or filter their Gigondas and the massive amounts of ripe black fruit flavors found in their wine are always tempered by a profoundly
complex expression of the terroir.
Everything at Domaine du Cayron seems to be done the old fashion way and the result is a full-bodied, sensual wine that truly excites the senses. The ancient press shown with Cendrine, Roseline and Hélène standing guard is not a prop; it is used for every vintage, after the grapes have been hand-picked and sorted.
Over the years we have happily tasted many vintages of the Domaine du Cayron Gigondas and there is a definite consistency of charm and character among them – a real house style that reflects their family traditions. They are being made the way the Farauds want them and are not manipulated to appeal to the prejudices of wine writers or large importers. They don’t have to – each vintage is practically spoken for before the bottling begins.
I promised to tell you about the first Cayron Gigondas that I tried at Christian’s – the 2005 vintage. Here are my tasting notes of yore:
The 2005 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas is comprised of 70 per cent Grenache, 15 per cent Cinsault, 14 per cent Syrah and one per cent Mourvèdre. The vines average more than 40 years of age and the yield was a miserly 23 hectolitres per hectare. This is a very big, serious and classic Gigondas from a great vintage that needs at least another year in the bottle before consuming. The yield is a most stingy 23 litres per hectare. It is a beautiful dark red with an intense nose of spring flowers, blackberries, minerals and cherries. In the mouth it is full, elegant and dense with cherry and cassis notes and a very, very long finish. It will go wonderfully with red meats (magret de canard would be divine), game and a wide variety of cheese.
I have had this wine many times over the succeeding years and it simply gets better and better. Here is what Robert Parker said about it:
“The 2005 is a bigger, beefier, richer wine, bordering on rustic, but it pulls back just before it goes over the edge. Dense plum/ruby with notes of incense, black pepper, lavender, black cherries, and cassis, the wine is spicy, herbal, meaty, and a classic Gigondas to drink over the next decade. This classic producer of Gigondas (40 acres with relatively old vines) makes wine based on 70 per cent Grenache, 15 per cent Cinsault, 14 per cent Syrah, and the rest Mourvèdre. The wine is aged 6 to 15 months in old foudres.” Score 89-91/100 – Wine Advocate, March 2008
Not long after lauding the 2005 vintage, Mr. Parker became disenchanted with the Faraud’s Gigondas and a bit of a feud developed. It seems that Michel Faraud had decided to reline his fermentation tank and the wine critic claimed it gave the wine a funky aroma and taste. Michel said that this was nonsense and so the battle waged. I don’t believe that Mr. Parker ever reviewed the Faraud’s Gigondas again. I must confess that was unable to detect what the fuss was all about. The wines have remained quite wonderful over the years.
We reluctantly decided to sever our relationship with the Delphine, Cendrine and Roseline and Domaine de Cayron several years later when the LCBO suddenly made it unreasonably onerous for us to operate making it necessary to greatly reduce the number of wineries we represented. The Faraud’s Gigondas was always expensive compared to other Gigondas (the 2005 vintage was offered at $34 the bottle which was higher than most Gigondas sold at the LCBO) and as a result sales were somewhat meagre. In addition, we had difficulty communicating with the Farauds and getting them to follow through on orders. There was one instance when they took three months to respond to an LCBO purchase order: “Oh, we were busy!” But overall it was a pleasure to represent the Farauds and, if you ever get the chance, do give their magnificent Gigondas a try.
PS: If you enjoy fabulous wines from the Rhône Valley, take a gander at our Arthur’s Cellar website. Better yet, sign up on our homepage to receive our electronic bulletins – no fees or other obligations; just great wine.