I knew of and had already enjoyed wine by E. Guigal when I learned the winery and operation was very close to Vienne, my destination when in France. Contact was made through their website and a date for a tour and tasting was set. I was thrilled. We were so close that Natalee and I borrowed bikes and rode over four miles to E. Guigal headquarters in Ampuis, right on the Rhone River.
After a brief wait in the elegant lobby, and the gathering of another eight people, Stephan came out and introduced himself as our tour guide.
E. Guigal has a rich history and is so well known that Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate credited the Guigal family as “This planet’s greatest winemaker.” Etienne Guigal was the youngest in his family and, in the early 1930s, landed in Ampuis when his family could no longer care for him. He picked apricots prior to obtaining a job at Vidal Fleury Vineyard at age 14. He started pruning in the vineyards and rose to Maitre de Chai (head steward) over the next 15 years. Etienne left Vidal Fleury in 1946 to begin his own company, E. Guigal.
Etienne’s son, Marcel, got involved early due to his father’s loss of eyesight in 1961. Marcel leads the company today, though it is very much a family run business, with Philippe, Marcel’s son, serving as Director and Oenologist.
E. Guigal is known for its strong work ethic and passion for quality, elevating Guigal wines to the top of the wine world. E. Guigal is certainly the leading winery in the Rhone Valley. Through growing the brand, Marcel brought notice to Côte-Rôtie and other appellations within the Rhone Valley that were in danger of being forgotten in the annals of the district’s wine history. This region has a 2,500 year history of wine making and is truly the cradle of wine culture in France. Marcel and Philippe carry on the tradition laid out by Etienne – leadership and excellence in wine for the Rhone Valley.
Initially, Etienne did not own any vineyards. He purchased grapes from regional vineyards and learned the process of making wine. Even today, they are not a large vineyard owner. A conscious decision was made that when a vineyard is purchased, it must be one capable of producing top quality wines. They currently own only 150 acres throughout the northern Rhone region. In keeping with their careful selection process, these vineyards are recognized as the finest collection in the region. They own vineyards in the Côte Rôtie, sites in Condrieu and Saint Joseph, parcels in Hermitage, and a few in Crozes-Hermitage. It is these vineyards from which they create their award winning, estate-bottled wines.
A unique aspect of E. Guigal is their approach to viticulture. Most of their vineyards are on steeply sloped, terraced land. They manage the vineyards for the long term, methodically building and rebuilding plots for optimal soil and mesoclimates of the sites. They prune low and strictly limit the number of shoots per vine, which trains the vines for low vigor and low yield, thus producing a natural balance and intense flavor concentration in the grapes. No pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals are used in the vineyards. This nurturing and fanatic caring for the land may be why some of the vines date back to the 1890s.
The underground tour continued through blending rooms and we discovered that Guigal has its own cooperage that is able to turn out three to five barrels a day. Of the six million bottles they produce each year, they export about 50% to over 100 different countries. Each country has its own labeling requirements, which makes bottling, labeling, and boxing critical to the process.
No one knows the Northern Rhone region better than the Guigal family. To supplement their holdings, they still buy grapes from within the region, much like Etienne did when he began the company. Due to the company’s stature, they have access to all the top fruit wherever they source. In the Southern Rhone, they buy only wine, but use an unusual process. Without a single contract, Marcel and Philippe travel and taste from wineries known for their quality. In any given year, they will purchase the top 1% of the wines they taste. Because of their reputation, they have access to the very finest wines. When they find a wine that is exceptional, they will buy it without regard to price or vintage. They understand that producing outstanding wine has a cost. On their majestic Chateau d’ Ampuis overlooking the Rhone, is carved this motto, “Nul bien sans la peine” – no good without pain.
Because of the steepness of the slopes, harvesting is still done by pickers the old way, by hand. Once loaded on a truck, they come into the winery and are inspected and stemmed before heading to the press. Guigal uses a pneumatic press for the white wines. It resembles a large sun-tanning table, but it closes tightly and a bladder that forms the lining of the press is inflated to an exact pressure. This allows juice to be extracted, but stops before any of the bitterness flows into the juice.
At the end of the tour, we tasted two whites, a 2012 and a 2014 Condrieu; a 2014 Cavelle, which is their top Rosé wine; a 2013 Saint Joseph (100% Syrah), which had a spicy pepper flavor on the palate yet a full blackberry flavor on the finish. Their 2010 Côte Rôtie (primarily Syrah/Viognier) had strong notes of cedar on the nose yet a pleasant earthiness on the palate.
E. Guigal allows their great raw materials to flourish in the bottle. Because they seek and grow truly outstanding grapes, they claim not to “make wine,” but let the wines come together over time. Guigal wine undergoes natural yeast fermentation with minimal intervention. No fining (a process to make wine clear) or filtration occurs during their wine making. Guigal’s top wines are known for their long maturation time in barrels – up to three and a half years. They do not rush their wines even though it may be costly to hold vintages of Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Côte Rôtie longer than other vintners. But when you go to open a bottle of E. Guigal wine, you know it is ready for enjoyment.
We closed the tour with 30 minutes of tasting a wide selection of wines.
A note for those interested in trying some of these wines – both Van’s Liquor and Family Beer carry E. Guigal wines and may be able to order a specific one if you are interested. Just ask Jeff or Tim.
Wines I’ve recently tasted…
If you don’t find the wines listed here locally, ask at your favorite place to shop if it is possible for them to order the wine for you. Just because you don’t see them, that doesn’t mean they cannot get them.
2008 L’Hostellerie Alsace Gewürztraminer – Emile Beyer – Alsace, France
This 100% Gewürztraminer wine was brought to Music in the Arboretum by my good friend, Gerry Podraza. He picked it up at Family Beer and it was a pleasant surprise to both of us. The cork was totally moldy, but inside was a wonderful expression of a German wine… out of Alsace. A classic German Gewürztraminer from France! The wine had a dark amber color and strong nose of wet straw, yet a sweet, very ripe banana or pear essence on the palate. A feel of honey in the mouth was smooth and slick with more viscosity than I expected. Though I was not able to find information, my guess this was aged in oak. A week later, being stored in a refrigerator, it was still good. It drinks like an aperitif.
2004 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – Tera Blanca Winery – Washington State
I was quite pleased with this wine as it held up well for its age. It took a long time to open up, but the tannins were soft and smooth on the palate. Flavors of licorice and blackberry seemed to dominate with a hint of graphite. This is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Red Mountain AVA on which sits Terra Blanca Winery. A very dark red color which is typical of Red Mountain fruit. 13.5% ABV
2015 Satigny Pinot Blanc – Le Prieure – Genève, Switzerland
Natalee and I enjoyed this 100% Pinot Blanc on our last night in Geneva, Switzerland. We wanted to try a local wine and found this at a pub right near our accommodations. This was a very pleasant Pinot Blanc that revealed typical aromas of floral white flowers and yellow fruit (peach). The palate expressed a brightness with subtle flavors of melon and crisp pear. The wine had a very pale yellow color and was quite refreshing on a warm day. 13% ABV
2014 Côtes du Rhône Entr Amis – Clos Du Père Clément – Rhône, France
In the Southern Rhone region, Mourvedre, Grenache, and Syrah are the most common plantings of red grapes. This wine combines just Grenache and Syrah in a wonderfully tasting wine. The wine displays a pretty bright garnet color with crimson reflections. The nose gives intense fruity and floral notes with some spice. A wine of this character, with no strong overtones, offers flexibility as you’ll find it goes very well with appetizers or grilled meats. 13.1% ABV
Dubuque Food & Wine Fest 2016
November 5 & 6
If you like fine food paired with excellent wine, don’t miss this event. Get your tickets now!
Friday November 5, 7:00-9:00 p.m.
The event opens Friday night at the Diamond Jo with Food being prepared by Woodfire Grille, Caroline’s, L. May Eatery, Pepper Sprout, and Brazen Open Kitchen. Jeff Jansen carefully pairs wines to accompany the food that is being served. There are wine tables placed about the room for your tasting pleasure with the food interspersed. This one night alone is worth attending, but it gets even better.
Saturday, November 6, 1:00-4:00 p.m.
The events continue on Saturday at Stone Cliff Winery. The famous Soup Cookoff takes place under the tent while tasty foods from Candle Ready Cakes, Cremer’s Food Coop, The Food Store, East Mill Bakeshop, Fresh Take, and Galena Main Street Cheesecake will temp your taste buds. Stone Cliff Winery, Van’s Wine & Liquor, Millstream Brewery, Jubeck New World Brewery, and Potosi Brewery provide a selection of beer and wine that should keep your whistle wet while judging the soups. Another “don’t miss” part of Saturday is the Celebrity Chef presentations. These are local folks who know their way around a cook stove. This year Brian Pechous, Greg Nauman, Dave Chapin, and one yet to be determined will share their expertise and provide delicious morsels to sample.
Sunday, November 7, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
To cap off the weekend, join the crowd at Van’s Liquor on Sunday morning. There will be Mimosas and Bloody Marys available while you shop some incredible deals on all those wines you’ve tasted over the two previous day.
Put this on your calendar now, but more importantly, purchase tickets early. Want to make it an easy weekend? Check out the deals offered by Hotel Julien Dubuque and the Grand Harbor Resort. Both of them have put together “Stay-n-Play” packages (or should I say Wine/Dine & Slumber) so you can take the worry out of driving home each night.
Go to www.dbqfoodandwine.com for the latest information and tickets.