Beautiful Wines Between Northern Rhone and Savoie
We are very happy to introduce the latest addition to our portfolio: the wines from Domaine Mayoussier in Auberive en Royans, Isère, France. Read on for a quick presentation of this domain that is definitely worth exploring for anyone who likes real wine.
I first heard about Antoine Depierre’s wines a little less than a year ago. What intrigued me most was the geographic location of the area called Royans, which borders the north of the Vercors mountain range. I’ve been through it on many occasions over the last 40 years and I never reckoned it was a wine area. I actually went hiking a few kilometers from the vineyard in June 2019 without even knowing it!
For those who don’t know this area, it is interestingly situated between two great wine regions: the north Rhone (Cornas, Tain-l’Hermitage, Saint-Joseph…) and the Savoie region (Combe de Savoie, Gresivaudan valley, the Chartreuse…).
Discovering something new between these two regions that produce top quality wines — some among my absolute favorites — was really interesting, even more considering that the Vercors region, which for the most part is a regional natural park, is absolutely beautiful, just as magical to me as the Chartreuse.
When I learned that Antoine Depierre works very naturally with little intervention in both the vineyard and the cellar (working with horses and banning chemicals and other industrial practices), it only got more interesting and exciting. It was clear that we should meet him, taste his wines and visit his vineyard.
First Visit and First Tasting
We visited the domaine mid-November. It feels like ages ago, before the tariff war, before the covid-19 crisis and the current puzzle our society has become. Back then, we had to deal with a much smaller situation: heavy snowfalls in the north Rhone and Isère regions. We reached the chateau in the late morning, with very heavy and wet snow that had crushed thousands of the region’s walnut trees during the night. The storm had caused a power outage which lasted several days. The heavy snow made our plan to walk in the vineyard a bit challenging but we still had an idea of the surrounding plot around the winery.
Despite no electricity and no heat, the fireplace was on, and meeting Antoine was one of those moments of which you only have warm memories, whatever the temperature actually was. We tasted and shared a good “casse-croute” with local produce from the area that tasted delightfully good; the kind of food that leaves you with the conviction that nothing equals true simple and good ingredients enjoyed in simplicity, in the right setup, and in good company.
Before getting into the wine, let’s talk a bit about the domain. Although a first generation winemaker, the winery is a family business anchored in history. The property is both a farm and a castle, dating back to the 13th century. It has been in the family since 1810, however during that time, it had never been a winery. Antoine, after a first career in the hospitality industry as restaurant manager and sommelier in Berlin, London, Dubai and Miami, decided in 2013 to get back to his roots and launch his winemaking project on the family land. It started with three hectares of vines on the property., a small surface still offering a large variety of soils composed of clay/limestone, alluvials and galets-roulés. Today, Antoine is running both the cellar and the vineyard, and the whole family is involved.
Although the vineyard is recent and the region feels new to viticulture, Antoine mentioned that they’ve found traces of vineyards from way back. There are administrative records from farmers selling wine to Versailles in the 18th century, so the Domaine Mayoussier might actually be a revival of ancient practices!
Antoine’s goal, especially for the estate wines, is to craft wine that reflects his taste. Unsurprisingly, for someone who has been in the industry for many years, he has a clear preference for low intervention wines that speak for and about the terroir, the fruit, and the soil. And unsurprisingly for a sommelier, he is also very obsessed with making wines that are clean. He has very little tolerance for flawed and unbalanced wines, which can be tricky to manage with low intervention practices, but that is also when beautiful things happen!
Unlike many new winemakers in Isère and Savoie (Thomas Finot, Domaine des Rutissons, Nicolas Genin …) with whom he still has a lot in common, Antoine is not following the trend of reviving rare indigenous varieties. He’s not digging for the old grapes that are about to disappear, but has been working with relatively common grapes such as Viognier, Syrah, Roussanne or even Sauvignon. He loves these grapes and believes they can be great on his land. We are big supporters of the idea of working on rare indigenous varietalsl and it’s surely great to not let them become extinct, but we also greatly respect Antoine’s stance here, especially when it is beautifully demonstrated in the glass.
Antoine Depierre’s philosophy is about respecting nature, not using machines but horses to work the soil, following organic practices, naturally banning pesticides and working by hand. The philosophy is also one of freedom and transparency, but not of standards or labels, of not seeking any particular sort of certification and not caring too much for the long list of requirements from the appellations and other institutions.
The domain produces seven wines today, four of which are actually produced in partnership with a grower located further south in the Drome. The three others are from the fruit of the domain. The domain is farming a rather limited surface of almost three hectares, which is not enough for the winery to be economically viable.
Extending the production with wines made from grapes coming from another farmer is understandable, and more and more accepted for artisan winemaking, especially as the winery premises has the space and the equipment for that. The requirements and the approach in the farming are very similar, as the domain is working exclusively with one grower who shares a lot of the commitments. That said, for now, Living Wine will focus on importing the wines which come from the domain. They’re more complex and personal, maybe because of the terroir. The other wines are still very good, but perhaps simply less representative of Domaine Mayoussier.
Le Culotté de Mayoussier (2019)
This is a dry white wine from a blend of Sauvignon and Roussanne. As much as Roussanne is common in the north Rhone and in Savoie (there under the name of Bergeron), cultivating Sauvignon Blanc is unheard of, hence the name of the wine – le culotté, which means “cheeky”. Antoine told us the many struggles he faced with the administration to be able to grow and produce wine from this variety in this area. Harvested by hand, the wine is unfined and unfiltered, vinified and aged on lees in stainless steel tanks for six months.
The wine is elegant and surprisingly alive and crisp. We would expect these grapes to give a bigger and bulkier wine, but that’s not the case. It shows a nice backbone of acidity and freshness, recalling citrus notes and more exotic fruits. Still able to stand up with serious food. We pair this with great pleasure with scallops or even with a local plate of ravioles.
If Sauvignon in Isère might have felt like a mistake, no doubt that with the Viognier, we are back on familiar ground, as it’s emblematic of north Rhone, very well known for being used in Condrieux, and also used in many other white appellations in the area. The Viognier from the domain tastes really great to us. It’s classic, dry for a Viognier, which can often give more residual sugar. The wine is aged six months in neutral oak barriques (bought and used before by some estates in Côte Rotie or Cornas).
Probably because of its slightly higher altitude which is not as hot as the Rhone valley, the wine feels fresher than many Viognier, more aerial than many of its expressions in north Rhone. This is a fantastic wine for eating. We enjoy it with some charcuterie, and feel like it would stand nicely with a terrine or even a foie gras, but also work beautifully with aged, hard cheeses like a Mimollete, an old Gouda or Cheddar or even with some hard aged St. Marcellin,another specialty from the region.
And last but not least, the red wine from the domain is made here as well from the most emblematic grape from the north Rhone, Syrah. This wine is probably our biggest crush, although we love all three. I am personally a huge Syrah fan, as I made my wine education with Cornas and St-Joseph, but lately I have been seeking more fruit and light, rather than wines grounded in the earth, and this is exactly what the Syrah from Mayoussier gives me.
The wine is fermented and macerated for a couple of weeks. Antoine punches down the wine daily to ensure a good yet delicate extraction. Then the wine ages in neutral barriques similar to the Viognier, coming from top estates like Domaine du Tunnel.
A fantastic wine for a summer dinner as much as in winter, it’s very versatile and pairs beautifully with red meat and local food from the Dauphiné. I really feel a connection with Mondeuse, which is a cousin of Syrah, in that it carries similar spicy and smoky notes without being ever heavy or big. Maybe, here again, a result of the “pre-alpine” geographic position of the domain between the Rhone and the Alps? Or maybe it is just my imagination, but it’s a delicious feeling!
We hope these wines will please you on this side of the Atlantic and we are looking forward to sharing them with wine lovers in NYC and beyond!