Wines by Region / Northern Rhône / Crozes Hermitage / Domaine Combier
|Charles Neal Selections||
Charles Neal Selections © 2020
|Charles Neal Selections||
Pont de l'Isère, Drôme
Maurice Combier left the Ardèche department in 1962 and bought property in Pont de l'Isère in the Drôme department to the east. At that time, the nearby Valence area was France's top fruit hub, so Maurice continued his father Camille's tradition of growing fruit. The apricots and peaches were sold to a local fruit cooperative and the grapes to the cooperative in Tain l'Hermitage a few kilometers north.
During the 1970's, Maurice began working all of his land organically, rather than spraying his plants with dangerous chemicals and pushing production with synthetic fertilizers. As this was previously unheard of in Crozes-Hermitage (and for that matter, just about all of Europe), he became known locally as Maurice le Fou (Crazy Maurice). But before long, the orchards and vineyards had achieved a balance and were producing even more delicious fruit. Other producers in the area soon followed Maurice's lead. To his delight, in 1989 Maurice's first son Laurent came into the fold and continued selling their fruit. Laurent concurrently studied viticulture and agriculture in Orange and did apprenticeships at various wine domaines further south, including stints in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Domaine d'Ott in Provence. Maurice and Laurent decided to leave the cooperative the next year and set off on their own. They established their own fruit brand called Combier, whose organic peaches and apricots are still available throughout much of France.
They also began bottling their own wine from vineyards surrounding the house. Slowly Laurent started expanding the cellar, finally constructing an underground chai where all his vinification and aging now takes place. The domaine now comprises 20 hectares of vines, of which 90% are red. There are many different vineyard plots, all vinified differently and all producing wines of different personalities.
The Domaine’s Range of Wines
Laurent Combier Cuvée
Albert Begot was a well-respected grower in the northern part of the appellation and a family friend. When he retired, Laurent came to a rental agreement with him and produces his “bistro blend” made partly with the organic fruit that he works himself (the other part comes from the domaine’s own Syrah grapes). The soils of the domaine’s own parcels for this cuvée are chalky-clay with pebbles on the southern side of the estate and loessic slopes on the northern side. The vineyard (relatively young) produces just under 45 hl/ha and the grapes are all hand-picked with selective sorting.
Domaine Combier Cuvée
The fruit for the Domaine Combier cuvée comes from a number of different sites in and around Pont de l'Isère. In the town of Gervans, two vineyard sites--Cafiot and La Tuilière—have soils combining sandy soil with some granite, whereas another parcel near the Rhône river, Les Iles, contains small, round stones. Still another parcel, Les Garennes, is predominantly silt. Like all the cuvées on the property, the fruit is harvested by hand with yields at 42 hl/ha.
This line includes a Crozes Hermitage and a Saint-Joseph, with the Crozes grapes coming from vineyards in Serves and Gervans (on decomposed granite sand or loess), and the Saint-Joseph coming from Saint Jean de Muzol (on granite slopes). The yields are low: 30 hl/ha for the Saint-Joseph and 35 hl/ha for the Crozes-Hermitage. All harvesting is done manually.
Clos des Grives
Laurent's top cuvée is Clos des Grives, from a hedgelined, enclosed vineyard located just east of the domaine and next to the property of winemaker Alain Graillot. The soil is rich with red clay and chalk, along with plenty of alluvial stones. The 4 1/2 hectares of Syrah were planted in 1954. Yields are low, about 35 hl/ha, and harvest is by hand, after three passes through the vineyard.
Fruit, Finesse and Flying
"I search for a purity of fruit, above all," Laurent Combier states when talking of his wines. "Syrah is a grape of finesse, and in hotter climates of the new world, this finesse is often difficult to achieve. That's one advantage that we have in the northern Rhône." As if running an agricultural and viticultural domaine weren't enough, in 2002 the busy Combier bought a 13-ha domaine in Priorat, Spain. Here, along with his partners Côte Rôtie producer Jean-Michel Gerin and Peter Fischer from Château Revelette in Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence, he makes a Priorat called Trio Infernal. So in between the day's fruit market fluctuations (Laurent states during the season he alternatively has 2 or 3 phones going to inform customers of the day's ups and downs) or directing his three-man team in the vineyards, Laurent might hire a plane which he himself pilots to Tarragona to then work in his Spanish vineyards.
"My father once had the dream to make the farm completely self-sustaining, making bio-fuel with the help of the animals on the farm," Laurent says. "But now that we don't have cows anymore, that's somewhat difficult." I suggest solar power, and Laurent turns to me with a twinkle in his eye as if he's already begun thinking of that possibility.
Domaine Combier Crozes Hermitage “Clos des Grives”
The winery’s top cuvée is from a hedgelined, enclosed vineyard whose soil is rich with red clay and chalk, along with plenty of alluvial stones. The Syrah vines were planted in 1954, and have yields of 35 hl/ha. The upbringing is similar to that of Domaine Combier, apart from the fact that he uses 25% new oak for the cuvée, while the rest goes into oak that has previously seen 1 or 2 wines.
It is an opaque color, and its wonderful nose combines black fruits, violet, pepper, spice, vanilla and a touch of smoke. New oak flavors lift the wine well. Dense and long—almost more Hermitage than Crozes-Hermitage.
Domaine Combier Crozes-Hermitage
The Syrah fruit for the Domaine Combier cuvée comes from a number of different sites in and around Pont de l'Isère. The soils of these parcels are chalky-clay with pebbles on the southern side of the estate and loessic and granite slopes on the northern side. The grapes are completely destemmed, then spend a 25-day fermentation period in stainless steel vats with twice-daily pump overs. All the wine goes into barrels that have previously seen 2 or 3 wines. Malolactic takes place in oak, and the wine rests in cask for 12 months. It is only then that the wine is blended, and then minimally sulphured and filtered ever so lightly.
It’s a deep ruby color with concentrated raspberry, pepper and violet aromas. Medium-to-full body with a supple texture and good acidic structure. Lovely pure Syrah flavors from the Northern Rhône.
Cuvée Laurent Combier Crozes-Hermitage
Known among our salespeople as the “Purple Label”, this is 100% Syrah is designed to be a food-friendly introduction to the peppery Syrah of Crozes-Hermitage. The destemmed grapes see a 20-day fermentation in concrete vats, undergoing twice-daily punchdowns and pumpovers. The wine then goes into an œuf (egg) where it will spend 8-10 months. Made from cement and holding 6 hl of wine (600 liters or about 2 1/2 barrels), eggs provide the benefits of cement tanks (cooler temperatures without the expenditure of electricity), yet for much smaller lots. Bright red berry/raspberry-scented fruit with plenty of crushed black pepper notes. Medium body with bright acidity. Good versatile, everyday Crozes.
Domaine Combier Saint-Joseph “Cap Nord”
From 100% Syrah on granite slopes in the village of Saint Jean de Muzol, the hand-picked, totally destemmed grapes are vinified in a 300-liter wooden barrel. There are twice-daily punchdowns. The wine is then aged for 12 months in those same 300-liter barrels. The wine’s aromas are textbook elegant St. Joseph: black pepper, blueberry and eucalyptus, none of them hitting you over the head. Its flavors are complex and slow to reveal themselves, but by the time glass #2 rolls around, they are unmistakably there: white pepper and fresh blue and black fruits. The true minerality comes through on the long finish. Try it with roasted quail.
Domaine Combier Crozes Hermitage “Cap Nord”
From 100% Syrah on southwest-facing loess soils in the villages of Serves and Gerans, the hand-picked, totally destemmed grapes are vinified in small troughs with punchdowns. The wine is then aged for 4 years in 4th use oak vats. A round and fruit forward wine, this has aromas and flavors of plum and red berries and hints of flowers. That being said, it has plenty of tannin and balance as well.