E. Guigal

Rhône Valley, France

The impact and influence of the Guigal family across the Rhône Valley, France, and all the world of fine wine is so immense, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that it’s all happened so quickly. In a country with such a rich and deep wine history, the Guigal family’s story is only in its third generation.  The more you learn about the family, the more astounding becomes their story. Their wines are the benchmarks for every Rhone appellation, and over the last thirty years they have become arguably the most lauded producer in the world. Year after year the Guigal family produces wines of exceptional quality that in all classes offer exceptional value.

The remarkable story begins with Etienne Guigal, a remarkably independent and both intellectually and physically capable man. He was the youngest child in his family, but as the most resilient he was sent off on his own at a very young age when his family could no longer afford to care for him. He came to Ampuis, half an hour south of the city of Lyon and the home of Cote-Rotie, to pick apricots. In the early 1930s his brother helped Etienne, still only 14 years of age, secure a job in the vineyards at the largest winery in the Rhône. Etienne started pruning in the vineyards and rose to cellar master over the course of 15 years, before eventually leaving just after the war in 1946 to start his own firm, E. Guigal.

Etienne’s son Marcel became involved very early in the business when in 1961 he was forced to rush back from school because his father was suddenly struck with total blindness. Marcel has led the firm since, and his unparalleled work ethic and dedication to quality have lifted the Guigal wines to the pinnacle of the wine world, and the Guigal domaine to its status as the leading winery from the Rhône Valley. In the process Marcel brought attention to Côte-Rôtie and other appellations throughout the Rhône that were in danger of being lost in the annals of wine history, despite the region’s distinguished past of 2,500 years as a superior wine-producing area, and the cradle of wine civilization in France.

Today, Marcel’s son Philippe serves as Director and Oenologist at Guigal, and with his father is carrying on the tradition of leadership in the Rhône Valley and uncompromising excellence.

The Guigal firm is extraordinary in a number of dimensions. First is their decision that they will only purchase vineyards that are capable of producing truly great wines. Therefore despite their important production, they own only 150 acres, all in the Northern  Rhône. They own overwhelmingly the finest collection of vineyards in Côte-Rôtie, the finest, carefully selected sites in both Condrieu and Saint Joseph, four exquisite parcels in Hermitage, and some of the finest vineyards in Crozes-Hermitage. These 150 acres are truly the finest collection of vineyards in the Northern Rhône, and serve as the source for their estate-bottled wines and the foundation for their Northern Rhône appellation wines.

A second important dimension is Guigal’s approach to viticulture. The Guigal family is tireless in its work on the steeply sloped, terraced vineyards it owns, with views entirely to the long-term. They are methodically re-building vineyards today that won’t be planted for another five to ten years because of their belief in the soils, expositions and mesoclimates of these sites. Their philosophy in the vineyard is to prune low and strictly limit the number of shoots per vine, training for low vigor and low-yields and looking for natural balance and concentration in this manner. No pesticides, herbicides or chemicals are used in the vineyards, and the fact some of Guigal vines date back to the 1890s is a testimony to the nurturing, obsessive approach the Guigals have in their vineyards.

Thirdly, Guigal is a unique negociant company. The family knows the Northern Rhône like no one else, and supplements their holdings by buying grapes from long-time grower partners. In total, they vinify around 33% of Côte-Rôtie and 45% of Condrieu, and have access to top fruit in all the regions they work. In the Southern Rhône, they buy only wine, and with a distinctive approach. Namely, they do not have a single contract. Marcel and Philippe taste relentlessly – typically 200 wines a day before 8:30am, 7 days a week – and start from scratch every year. In a given year, they will purchase the top 1% of the wines they taste, and because of their longtime contacts, they have access to the best wines in the region; they select, in other words, 1% from the very finest wines in the Southern Rhône. Also important to note, they decide very early on what wine they will purchase, sometimes before malolactic fermentation is even finished, and they will not purchase later to meet demand. From their experience, access, and early work, they give themselves the opportunity to find the best possible wines, and if they find a great wine they buy it, regardless of vintage or price considerations. The Guigal’s work ethic in finding the best fruit and wines in the Rhône Valley can be summarized by the motto on the Chateau d’Ampuis: “Nul bien sans la peine” – no good without pain.

Fourthly, Guigal’s vinfication is singular in the world of wine, and allows their great raw materials to flourish in the bottle. Their vinification approach actually harkens back to tradition in the Rhône Valley, with long aging, which integrates tannins and flavors and creates wines of great complexity and refinement. Because of their superior fruit, the Guigals do not make “simple”  wines – these wines demand time to come together.  All wines undergo natural yeast fermentation, and intervention is at a bare minimum, with no fining or filtration. The top Guigal wines undergo famously long maturation period in barrel, up to three and a half years, but even parcels of old-vine Syrah for their Côtes du Rhône are aged in foudres for six months, completely atypical for the Côtes du Rhône category. The Guigals are so exacting about the aging process that, finding inconsistent barrels from even the best tonnelleries, they make every barrel used in their winery themselves. Every day, five barrels are produced by hand by their single cooper at the Chateau d’Ampuis; they are the only winery in the Rhône Valley with their own cooperage, and one of the only in France. These barrels are destined for their Northern Rhône wines, while they use foudres built to exacting specifications for their Southern Rhone wines. The reality is that it is enormously expensive to hold onto 3 or 4 vintages of Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Côte-Rôtie, or even to hold onto Côtes du Rhône that is two or three vintages behind what other producers are releasing, but it is done for the quality of the wine, and so that consumers can enjoy the wines for drinking upon release.

Year after year the Guigal family produces wines of exceptional quality that in all classes offer exceptional value.

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Wines

Saint Joseph Vignes de l’Hospice

Saint-Joseph

Guigal’s Vignes de l’Hospice is one of the finest sites in the Northern Rhone Valley. This steeply terraced vineyard used to be divided into three, but Guigal now owns majority of this parcel in order to restore perception of Saint-Joseph as an appellation of utmost quality. In fact, Guigal is often asked when they will produce a fourth “LaLa,” and their response is that their fourth single vineyard phenomenon of the Northern Rhone is already being produced: the Vignes de l’Hospice.

Saint-Joseph Lieu Dit Blanc

Saint-Joseph

A result of its quality, Guigal’s Saint-Joseph Blanc Lieu Dit comes from the “Saint-Joseph” vineyard that gives the appellation its name. This site convinced the Guigals to work in Saint-Joseph and help to restore the historic perception of Saint-Joseph as an appellation of utmost quality. Saint-Joseph Blanc is a serious wine, with weight and complexity, and is deeply reflective of its vineyard sites. A seamless balance of freshness and fruitiness, pleasure and interest, and flavors and structure. Guigal’s specialty in whites is especially evident in this wine, as it is almost a deceptively serious wine.

Saint-Joseph Lieu Dit Rouge

Saint-Joseph

A result of its quality, Guigal’s Saint-Joseph Lieu Dit Rouge comes from the “Saint-Joseph” vineyard that gives the appellation its name. This site convinced the Guigals to work in Saint-Joseph and help to restore the historic perception of Saint-Joseph as an appellation of utmost quality. The 100% Syrah wine has complex and deep black fruit, floral, spice and mineral characteristics. Despite its concentration and powerful attack, the wine retains the trademark elegance that Saint-Joseph offers.

Ermitage Ex Voto Blanc

Hermitage

Ermitage Ex-Voto represents the fulfillment of a longtime dream of Marcel Guigal’s to own vineyard land on the hill of Hermitage. Through the purchase of the de Vallouit and J. L. Grippat domaines in
2000, Guigal acquired four exceptional vineyard parcels on this legendary site. The 2001 vintage was the first release of this estate-bottled Hermitage red and white. The quality of the intense old-vine fruit is quite special, but given the Guigal’s already strong work in Hermitage, they decided to only release an Ex-Voto red or white when the wine is utterly exceptional and clearly superior to their appellation bottlings.

Ermitage Ex Voto Rouge

Hermitage

Ermitage Ex-Voto represents the fulfillment of a longtime dream of Marcel Guigal’s to own vineyard land on the hill of Hermitage. Through the purchase of the de Vallouit and J. L. Grippat domaines in 2000, Guigal acquired four exceptional vineyard parcels on this legendary site. The 2001 vintage was the first release of this estate-bottled Hermitage red and white. The quality of the intense old-vine fruit is quite special, but given the Guigal’s already strong work in Hermitage, they decided to only release an Ex-Voto red or white when the wine is utterly exceptional and clearly superior to their appellation bottlings.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc

Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Guigal produces an intensely concentrated, inviting and complex Châteauneuf-du-Pape that is almost unique to the region today. Their passion for Châteauneuf, the leading appellation of the Southern Rhône, runs as deeply as that for their home sites in the Northern Rhône. The combination of working with top fruit that has perfect ripeness, along with their extraordinary patience in the cellar, results in rich and full, yet savory, spicy, seamless and balanced wines. Wines to enjoy immediately but capable of aging, and, above all, wines that leave you wanting more.

Condrieu La Doriane

Condrieu

La Doriane is a luxury cuvée of Condrieu that the Guigals have produced since the 1994 vintage. A great success since the first vintage, the wine always seems richly oaked and very fruity when young, transforming in 3-4 years into a seamlessly complex, aromatic and vibrant wine. La Doriane contradicts the accepted wisdom that Condrieu does not age well.

Côte-Rôtie La Landonne

Côte-Rôtie

One of the three “LaLa” wines that Guigal produces and are the most collectible wines of the Rhone Valley, La Landonne is a remarkable expression of terroir. And for good reason, La Landonne is situated on one of the steepest vineyards of the Côte Brune, a 45 degree slope that remarkably requires harvesters to start picking from the bottom of the vineyard and work their way up, placing grape bunches in bins that are set on sleds and dragged up the hill. Along with its position at the northern end of the Côte Brune and the fact it is the last vineyard to ripen, La Landonne is the mirror of the feminine and voluptuous La Mouline: it is a wine of driving power, defined by its dark fruit and structure. The first vintage Guigal produced was in 1978, after being planted in 1975 at the time of Philippe Guigal’s birth.

Côte-Rôtie La Turque

Côte-Rôtie

Of the three famous single-vineyard “LaLas” that Guigal produces and are the most collectible wines of the Rhone Valley, La Turque is the newest. This vineyard produced outstanding wines in the first half of the 20th century, but then was not used for wine production for nearly 50 years. The Guigals acquired the vineyard and re-planted it in 1980 and 1981, based on Etienne Guigal’s memory of the quality of the wines it once produced. The first vintage appeared in 1985. In both position and style, it sits between La Mouline and La Landonne: the complex soils lend an exotic character to La Turque, and its concentration and elegance exhibit the virility of the Côte Brune with the subtlety and femininity of the Côte Blonde.

Côte-Rôtie La Mouline

Côte-Rôtie

First planted by the Romans 2,500 years ago, La Mouline is the oldest and most famous vineyard of Cote-Rotie, and Guigal’s single vineyard bottling of La Mouline in the 1960s set off a quality revolution throughout the Rhone Valley. The stunning amphitheater is the most complex plot in Cote-Rotie due to its extremely steep slopes with expositions in every direction. Of the three famous “LaLas” that Guigal produces and are the most collectible wines of the Rhone Valley, La Mouline was the first and is the only one on the Cote Blonde, and its signature is an unbelievable exoticism, an irresistibly and unique lifted floral, black fruit, earthy, spicy perfume, its coiled power always in balance, seemingly endless.

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Reviews

    Lively and focused on the nose

    - "Opaque ruby. Lively and focused on the nose, displaying fresh cherry, blackberry and floral scents and deeper suggestions of pipe tobacco, olive and licorice. Juicy cherry and dark berry and salty olive paste flavors show very good delineation, and a hint of candied flowers emerges on the back half. Fine-grained tannins build slowly on an impressively long, sweet finish that leaves a suggestion of cherry cola behind." 

    “A beautiful Côtes du Rhône that will deliver the goods”

    - "The 2015 Côtes du Rhône checks in as a final blend of 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache and the rest Mourvèdre. It offers a juicy, Syrah-driven bouquet of ripe blackberry fruits, smoked meats, pepper, and hints of underbrush as well as a rich, medium to full-bodied, polished style on the palate. It has ripe tannin, plenty of mid-palate depth, and as I wrote when I tasted it from barrel close to two years ago, it’s a beautiful Côtes du Rhône that will deliver the goods." 

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Marcel Guigal

Marcel Guigal's unplanned entrance into the wine business turned into an unplanned turn as the leader of an entire region. With an unbelievable work ethic, determination, and long term vision, he has been the single person most responsible for the rise of the Rhone Valley from post-war lows that are unimaginable today to extraordinary global recognition.

Philippe Guigal

Philippe Guigal was born in France not far from Ampuis. At the early age of 6 he was inspired by his grandfather and father who worked together. Throughout his childhood he often joined them in the cellars and frequently traveled to visit the vineyards in the Rhone Valley. In 1992, he started his studies in organic chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Lyon and five years later he obtained his oenologist degree from the University of Burgundy. Philippe became the winemaker at the family company in 1997, at the age of 22, a formidable challenge to say the least. In 1999 he graduated with a Master of Science in Wine and Business Management from the O.I.V. (International Organization of Vine and Wine), during which he traveled 2 years visiting 17 wine producing countries. Apart from his company, Philippe Guigal has held a position as French foreign trade advisor since 2009.

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