THE ESTATE’S HISTORY
Since 1940, successive generations have served the terroir:
Francis launched the first Vernon cuvée ;
Georges followed in his father’s footsteps in 1953. He is widely recognised as having saved the Condrieu appellation and created the Chaillées de l’Enfer in 1992 ;
Christine took over the Estate in 1996. In terms of whites, she is responsible for the Terrasses de l’Empire, which she created in 1998, but from that point she also made the Estate famous for its reds, launching its famous Côte-Rôtie cuvées: Maison Rouge which she re-launched and vinified from 1997 and La Blonde du Seigneur, created in 1998. Today, the Estate is internationally renowned for both these wines as well as the Condrieu appellations.
Today, the Estate extends over 24 hectares, divided between the appellations AOC Condrieu, Côte Rôtie, St-Joseph, etc. 17 ha are on steep slopes where the talk is of « heroic viticulture ».
A fine wine is a meeting between a terroir and a man or woman. The exceptional quality of the terroir is a precondition which influences the talent of the winemakers, here Francis, Georges and then Christine, and which guides and perfects. The Estate’s location presents extraordinary conditions for the development of the Viognier and Syrah grapes and crafting them sensitively reveals all their aromatic finesse, producing tense, elegant and classy wines.
The vines are planted on steep slopes, in terraces. The low walls work with the climate, the stones storing the sun’s heat during the day and releasing it overnight. So, the vine enjoys an exceptional microclimate, hot and sunny, subject to winds from both the north and south. Rare conditions indeed
SOILS AND SUBSOILS
The vines also benefit from exceptional soil quality. The Coteau de Vernon is comprised of decomposed granite (the secret of its freshness…) and the Chaillées de l’Enfer come from a granite outcrop. The Maison Rouge vines are planted on granite soils which give the wines intensity and elegance.
« Here the vine grows in the shadow of those who craft it. » Georges Vernay
Three generations have helped elevate the Estate to this level of excellence. This is a story of commitment and hard work, with the greatest respect for the land, the vine and the men and women who work it.
Achieving the most exquisite possible expression of the vintage is not guaranteed; a rarefied terroir, consecutive vines, a wine created through effort, patience, listening, attentiveness, etc.
Here, this always means giving your best, sticking to your values and following your beliefs, caring by relying on the support of skilled teams, trained in the specific features of the Estate and charmed by Christine Vernay’s strong beliefs.
A HISTORY OF A FAMILY AND ITS TEAMS
After running the Estate alone for over 10 years, Christine is now assisted in the vineyard by her younger brother Luc Vernay, who manages and runs the field teams. Both manage the men and women employed by and committed to the business. Depending on the time of year, up to forty people work at the Estate carrying out the essential tasks required by organic farming on the steep slopes, where everything is done by hand.
Vernon is a hillside and also a 19th century building constructed at its base by the Lyon-based architect René Dardel, a man who loved nature and painting. The family residence reflects the spirit of the Estate, life amidst the hills, listening to nature and making the best of it.
Christine Vernay, 3ème generation
Christine Vernay took over from her father in1996. Once a teacher at the ENA, she grew up on these hillsides and the scent of mint, the taste of acacia and the delicacy of the violets runs through in her veins.
Through hard work and commitment, she has raised the celebrated estate that her father left her to the top of the podium and amassed a number of titles including “Man” of the year in 2012 (Bettane & Desseauve), Member of the Académie du Vin of France and the International Academy of Wine (AIV). She is also recognised as an outstanding winemaker and today makes some of the finest wines, some of which have been awarded the famous 100/100.
SENSITIVITY, TECHNICALITY, EXPERTISE
Fine wines are those that tell a story. This means that those who make them give of themselves, offering up their innermost sensitivities. It also requires a perfect command of the production and vinification procedures that allow this sensitivity to flourish through a process that must be faultless. It is a story of technicality and expertise. An everlasting profession.
The constant quest for perfection means reviewing the working methods every year. Work begins in the vines, since a complete understanding of the plots of land and the vines is essential. Christine Vernay regularly walks the slopes of the vineyard and observes.
This is how she makes her decisions, such as those to prevent or treat diseases or when to harvest. This field work and her particularly mindful contact with its hillsides, guide her work in the cellar.
Strong beliefs in vines:
care for the hillsides
The hillsides of Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie are places with a rich and dual heritage. They are not only vineyards set on land which must be kept for crops, they also represent a vital natural rural heritage.
Although Georges Vernay is recognised as having saved these hillsides, Christine has watched over them since 1996, an heiress taking care of her inheritance, but also an experienced winemaker and manager of an Estate that she runs and develops according to her values and beliefs. So here, there is no trade, only land that is acquired so it can be cultivated :
I have a very strong attachment to my vines and my terroirs. I love identifying the terroirs and allowing them to express themselves. All my wines come from my vines and the grapes that I have cared for. Trading is another job, which I believe, must be separate. As my father said “12 jobs, 13 troubles » ».
Photo : New planting, April – July 2019 :
In 2019, she rebuilt the chaillées, the dry-stone walls that support the terraced vines, on the Vernon hillside and replanted the vines. Once again, nothing was left to chance and the new plants were replaced using the selection massale, process where cuttings are taken from the best older vines in the vineyard, thereby maintaining the vineyard’s health and diversity.
For over 20 years, Christine Vernay has used organic farming methods. Considering herself as the custodian of a land for which she is responsible for caring, she has long been committed to organic farming, long before it was fashionable or urgent to do so. She has now successfully demonstrated that, while it is difficult to work the steeply sloping vineyards using organic farming, it is not impossible.
Mulching, grass growing… she is constantly experimenting and today, most of her investments go towards implementing sustainable cultivation techniques which protect the environment and unquestionably enhance the purity of her wines.
While she believes that organic farming is an ethical issue, she is moving towards biodynamics as a philosophy :
« For more than 20 years I have worked using organic farming methods, even if I only recently applied for certification. This is primarily an ethic deeply rooted in the Estate’s values rather than a commercial strategy… Over 20 years, I have shown that we can be organic even on the slopes, that this had a price, but that it was possible. I’m trying to go even further, towards biodynamics which is more of a philosophy, a personal belief. Organic farming is a responsibility. But it is a great adventure and I’m beginning to see the results in my wines. Aubert de Villaine says that wines from organic practices have greater transparency. I think they also have another vibrancy. But everything is in the subtlety of the attentiveness !»
AND A CONSTANT SEARCH FOR THE BEST CHOICES
A wine carries the beauty of the gesture of those who create it. On these craggy slopes the grapes are harvested by hand.
Christine stands out due to the unique personality of her wines. She owes their elegance to her work with the vine, but also in the cellar, searching out the meeting point between her personality and the terroir. She reveals the wine as much as the excellence she expects of it. Intensity, tension, freshness… « The colour, the aromas… everything that the wine slowly releases to the senses has a meaning and must be interpreted ».
Time does its work, amid the secret of the cellars, the wines slowly develop, releasing aromas, building structure. Behind the breathable wood, each of the wines gradually matures before, one day, providing an amazing encounter.
Once again, the choices reveal Christine Vernay’s beliefs. For both the reds and whites, the nature of the containers (tanks, barrels, etc.) enables her to craft her search for the expression of the terroirs. Without ever confining herself to systematic practices, she experiments, tests, tastes, tests, tastes and adapts depending on the years and the characteristics of the vintages. Here, nothing is left to chance, but everything is constantly reassessed, adapted and adjusted. Christine Vernay does not simplify things; she goes into detail and loves it. It is her very own hallmark, perfectly unapologetic….
From the land to the glass, every stage in the life of the future wine is a decisive moment.
Christine Vernay supervises each step because she has long known that she also owes the exceptional quality of her wines to the sum of all the details that make a fine wine possible. Biodynamics requires that bottling takes place on still days with no wind, preferably a fruit day (when the moon is in Aries, Leo or Sagittarius) and with a waxing moon.
As for the emotion that emerges from La Caille on such days, it is unique, and also the emotion of a team that is seeing the culmination of the care taken… to take care.