2019 Domaine Viret Syrah "Energie"

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This is an outstanding wine.  As you will see in the long, but worthwhile read below, there are some funky philosophies that are a part of the winemaking technique and culture of this winery.  I have often found that the story of this type of wine is far more entertaining than the wine itself.  More often, the "natural" wines are austere and rustic at best.  A seasoned poet turned Master Sommelier is needed to wrap their head around the wine and develop a snake-oil salesman's pitch to make normal people actually want to try it. 

This is not one of "those" wines. 

I was beyond pleasantly surprised at the character of this Syrah.  It is pure, balanced and reminiscent of a Northern Rhone Syrah from a warm vintage.  It is worth mentioning that while this wine could be labeled Cotes du Rhone, the winemaker has chosen to use the lesser designation of Vin de France.  The winemaker believes that the CDR designation would do a disservice to the uniqueness of this wine.  I agree.  This following is a long, but very interesting read, taken from the Rosenthal website.

Atop a hill in Saint-Maurice-sur-Eygues, in the southern Côtes-du-Rhône, a structure looms at once imposing and beautiful. Constructed of rectangular earthen-yellow stones broader than a human’s wingspan, it is flanked on the entirety of its left side by an Ionic-columned portico, and punctuated on its upper level by three large circle-top windows. This is Domaine Viret, and it is only the beginning of the story of one of southern France’s most fascinating and inscrutable winegrowers.

Our first visit to Viret, we navigated the winding driveway, surrounded by a sprawling amphitheater of vines planted in various configurations (north-south rows, east-west rows, square grids, and yes, spirals), and pulled up to the mesmerizing building whose dimensions up close were even more staggering. Given our trip-typical dearth of proper rest, the uncanny quality of the mise en scène struck us with exceptional force: Is this actually a winery? Are we inside a Stanley Kubrick film? Am I still asleep? Half-expecting a procession of cloaked druids or reanimated mummies to emerge from the colossal lower-level double doors, we were surprised when, ten minutes later, a car—not even a DeLorean—pulled up and a man in blue jeans stepped out: it was Philippe Viret.

Calm and friendly, Philippe, who constructed the winery alongside his father Alain in the late 1990s, immediately began humanizing what our weary brains had been struggling to process. These huge wall-stones were pulled from a local quarry—the same source the Romans used in constructing the famous Pont du Gard (the Viret property itself is an old Roman site)—and were numbered such that the winery could be constructed with the stones in the same configuration as when they were excavated. Their remarkable thickness allows for impeccable temperature regulation without technological interference—a boon in such a warm climate as the southern Rhône. Also, upon closer examination, the structure was not perched fully atop the hill but was built into the side of its peak, thus allowing everything to move via gravity through the winery’s various tiers from the moment the grapes are brought in. This was beginning to feel relatable, familiar even, but we had yet to begin discussing what Philippe is perhaps most famous for: Cosmoculture, a system of farming of which he is the only practitioner and for which he holds an actual patent…

Cosmoculture employs knowledge of the earth’s energy fields, known as telluric currents, in deciding where to plant, how to plant, when to harvest, and many other viticultural activities, as well as dictating the construction and operation of the winery itself. A well-established if not widely exposed field of inquiry, knowledge of telluric currents informs research into fault zones, ground-water sources (Viret is built atop a large underground spring, in fact), geothermal activity, and many more areas. Insofar as it involves homeopathic vineyard treatments, polycultural principles (Viret encompasses 60 total hectares of which 35 are planted to vines), and attention to lunar cycles, Cosmoculture can be seen as a sort of extension of biodynamics. And, like biodynamics, Cosmoculture involves practices which may seem at first arcane or esoteric but are in fact connected to ancient wisdom—to knowledge humans cultivated and transmitted for millennia before we allowed technology to begin to supplant it. Of course, this would all threaten to become grand eco-philosophical performance art if Philippe’s wines were simply ordinary; thankfully, however, they are among the most soulful and evocative wines in the entire region.

Not much that takes place inside the winery, save perhaps the large illuminated crystals resting on pillars at various spots, would shock a well-versed enthusiast of low-intervention wines. No outside yeast strains have ever been introduced here; vinification is never thermoregulated; and the wines all move via gravity through the building’s ingeniously conceived multi-tier system. Philippe favors very long macerations—at least 45 days for the reds, and up to a year for his various skin-contact whites—and extracts mainly via infusion with extremely minimal punching-down. This results in texturally seamless wines of fine and dynamic tannins not unlike those of Château Le Puy, in fact—another of our producers who employs infusion, and another property, with its backyard cromlech and dolmen, well-acquainted with the energy of the earth and the wisdom of the ancients.

Although he is far from dogmatic about it, Philippe generally adds no sulfur at all to his wines at any point during fermentation or aging. And not only are they stable, but they are capable of significant cellaring; in fact, since his first vintage in 1999, he has held back 10% or so of his top few cuvées for late release, and we are excited to be able to offer some 1999 and 2000 with our inaugural shipment. He also gives his wines significant time in barrel to harmonize and stabilize, and while, for instance, a dyed-in-the-wool old-guard farmer like the late legendary Henri Bonneau may well have chuckled at the whole Cosmoculture thing, he would have fully understood the merits of Philippe’s extra-long barrel-aging regimen. Indeed, Viret’s wines, particularly with some age, hone in on some of those same elusive sub-zones of spice-inflected umami and reined-in savory volatility that contribute to the magic of Bonneau’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

We have thus far paid but one visit to Philippe, whose life’s work and philosophy are complex enough to merit a book-length exploration, and there is much more to be learned as our relationship develops. However, the opportunity to represent such iconoclastic and personal wines which nonetheless so deeply articulate the rugged terroir of the southern Côtes-du-Rhône was impossible to pass up. Whether one chooses to ignore Viret’s guiding principles entirely or to plunge into them headlong, these are wines that startle with their immediacy, enthrall with their depth, and enliven with their deliciousness.


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