Of the many players in Bacchus’ brigade of devotees, I have never met one as quixotic and super human as Pierre Benetiere. Born and raised in Condrieu in the northern Rhone, he fell in love with the intensely floral and airy charms of Viognier at an early age. He told me that the first time he tasted some of the benchmark wines of Georges Vernay, he decided that he wanted to drink such a wine for the rest of his life. He accordingly apprenticed with the master, and says that he learned more in one single year with Vernay than he could have possibly learned in ten years with anyone else. He owned no vineyards, and had little money. Undeterred, he purchased a STEEP unplanted parcel at Cote Rotie’s southern limit just north of Condrieu in the granitic lieu dit Corps de Loup. He spent the next several years manually carving out terraces and planting vines, a feat of insane physical proportion that continues to this day. Soon after came two parcels in Condrieu in the lieu dits le Tinal and Riollement. The final crowning-gem addition to his holdings was a small parcel of old vines in the heart of Cote Rotie’s famed la Turque vineyard, pictured above. This veritable Grand cru site combines qualities of both brune and blonde soils, silicate limestone AND iron and clay rich schistes. No amount of money could replace Pierre’s love of and connection to this place, in spite of his vineyard neighbor Guigal’s incessant attempts to absorb yet another piece of land into its empire. Pierre is in it for the soul, not the money……
In this small patchwork of vineyards, Pierre labored for over fifteen years without profiting a dime. Supported by his wife Marie, he incessantly fought for his dream, a literal embodiment of Sisyphus’ eternal trials. His traditionalist house style slowly garnered attention from insiders, but he managed to avoid the limelight, eschewing trade shows and the press. He simply continued on his own path knowing that as long as he focused his energies on his vineyards, giving his best so that the vines and soil could give their best, that financial stability would someday arrive as a bi-product. Today, he is finally receiving his due, considered one of brightest stars in all of the northern Rhone by both his peers and hard core Rhone afficcionados all over the world.
When I first met Pierre a few years ago, he had yet to export a single bottle to the States. I discovered after the fact that he had been courted by big fish national importers Kermit Lynch and Peter Weygandt, but chose to pass on such partnerships (his phrasing is much more “colorful”, let’s just say). He and I hit it off, with our conversations steering towards a shared passion for Jazz musics, the inimitable singer/songwriter/actor Tom Waits, the film work of Jim Jarmusch, and sundry philosophical musings. We laughed loud and often together. Having now spent a bit of time together, I can say that there is something of a hilarious and wild genius about Pierre. Sentiments profoundly sacred and profane co-exist in full soul throttle. When he showed me his Cordeloux vineyard and just a few of the current “to do” list tasks like rebuilding collapsed walls and turning the dense rocky soil, I literally had a hard time believing it possible that one man could do all of what I saw in such an unforgivingly steep environment. But he does and has for over 25 years, quietly and methodically. And his body somehow manages to sustain it. His left shoulder is destroyed, but he’s a righty. He just keeps going, inner fire burning bright with devotion…….
What follows is an offering of his 2012 and 2011 Cote Roties and Condrieu. Both vintages exhibit terrific balance and poise that will certainly be a delight to cellar and enjoy over the medium and long term. I’ve included impressions of each cuvee to give you some idea, although words never do justice to all that goes on in the glass, not to mention what forces of nature and man go into MAKING what’s in the glass…..LE MENU:
2012 Condrieu $55 DECEMBER ARRIVAL
At once dense and airy, his Condrieu in these two vintages capture that ever elusive elegance that Viognier’s penchant richness often defeats. Out of cask, the separate components of the ’12 were awesome, with one cask’s higher toned mineral austerity a good contrast to another cask’s broader richness and honeyed floral qualities. The combination of the two should make for a complete wine, a quintessential example of why this is the best place on earth to grow Viognier.2011 Cote Rotie Cordeloux $69 in 750ml, $149 in Magnum IN STOCK
The ’11 Cordeloux is slightly lower octane than the ’12, with a charming tender freshness, textural subtlety, and aromatic complexity that TONS of folks have enjoyed, coming back for second helpings since its arrival last year. It is of darker red fruited tone, with plenty of whole cluster spice and floral complexity.
2012 Cote Rotie Cordeloux $69 in 750ml, $149 in Magnum DECEMBER ARRIVAL
The ’12 has terrific succulent density of lighter black fruits allied to fully ripe tannin. Its savory spiciness, floral length, and palate drenching breadth was just outrageously tasty. I was full of superlatives and expletives in my tasting notes out of barrel, tasted on two separate occasions. This is seriously great and complex Cote Rotie that will thrill fans of his work, northern Rhone neophytes, and just about anybody who likes great red wine…….
2011 Cote Rotie Dolium SOLD OUT
From Pierre’s nugget of vineyard in la Turque, this has become one of the rarest and most sought after bottlings in all of the Rhone. There is but one or two barrels produced each year, aged in Louis-Michel Liger Belair’s used la Romanee cask. It takes its name from the terra cotta amphorae that Romans once used to age and transport their wines and other produce called a dolium. The ’11 had incredible flavor intensity and definition out of cask, far more approachable than the powerful and tannic ’10 tasted out of bottle and barrel the year prior. It is clearly a wine of Grand cru caliber, of multifacted flavor complexity and uncommon elegance. My tasting notes were just full of expletives and !!!!. As good as it gets…..
I consider myself very lucky that Pierre has entrusted me to represent his labor of love, and even more lucky that I can consider him my friend. There is something of a crazy saint in him, of artful complex paradoxical visionary humanity that just rings true and soulful to me. He’s also a flat out hilarious dude with impeccable comic timing; he and his daughter are quite a comic duo together. Check out some of his wines, if you haven’t yet. You will sense that soulful special something, I believe…..
As always with any questions or interests: firstname.lastname@example.org
CHEERS TO PIERRE, TO ALL THAT YOU ARE, CRAZY SAINT VIGNERON DE CONDRIEU!!!!