We recently brought over some wines from Thibaud Capellaro, a young winemaker in Condrieu in the North Rhone, who makes delicious wines in a very natural and non-interventionist way. We brought the 2019 vintage, his second (the first was very, very minimal) and we’ve been very impressed by his wines and happy about the enthusiastic welcome they have received here in New York.

Thibaud at the winery, courtesy to @earlyjuneparis who got lucky to go visit Thibaud last Month

If it were a normal year, we would have tasted with Thibaud in the cellar last week, but because of Covid we had to cancel. However, we were frequently on the phone to see how things were moving along in the cellar.  Here’s a sneak peek at what’s coming next from Thibaud’s cellar in Condrieu. A good part of these wines will be coming to New York, but this will remain very limited quantities as Thibaud’s operation is still small.

As the first bottlings of the 2020 vintage are about to be done next week, we’ll soon be bringing a first batch of three wines which will be released in the spring. Another batch of reds will come later — they need more aging. Here’s what’s coming in the first batch, scheduled to leave the cellar mid to late April. Here’s hoping the cargo shipping won’t experience any more delays.

First, the 2020 vintage of Zé-Ro, a wine that Thibaud first made in 2019 which we couldn’t bring over, as it was already out of stock when we started our collaboration last summer. The few bottles we did get our hands on we loved! Zé-Ro is a rosé made from Syrah and Viognier (80% Syrah). As all wines from Thibaud, it’s done with very minimal intervention– that means no additives, hence  the name. This wine did not even see any SO2 addition in 2019. So far in 2020, the wine is very stable and balanced, and it will again probably not have any SO2 added.   But if there are any signs of deviance in these last weeks, Thibaud might add one or two grams per hl before bottling. This summarizes Thibaud’s approach: aiming at minimal intervention but without flaws, and to release clean, stable, and most importantly, good wines!

Thibaud is sourcing grapes from two farmers and also farming his own plots that he recently planted. Zé-ro is made from grapes that are farmed by a small grower in Chavanay (in the St-Joseph appellation). This farmer has 4ha of vineyard and is practicing a very natural, organic type of farming – without pesticides or herbicides – but is not certified organic, put off by the investment and work that certification requires.

Ze-Ro aging in barrique…
… and in terracotta amphora

When it comes to the cellar work, Zé-Ro is a maceration of Syrah (3 days in 10hl stainless steel tanks).  Fermentation kicks in on the third day, and is then blended with some Viognier/Syrah juice from La Canuse.  The blend is then moved in two vessels for 5 to 6 months of aging: one in a 400 liter barrique and one in a 200 liter terracotta amphora.  The result is a delightful wine, with much more to say than your typical summer rosé cliché from the Rhône… at least 2019 was. We can’t wait to taste 2020.  Full disclosure: this will be a small batch (as you can guess from the size of the barrels) with only a handful of cases reaching NYC, although Thibaud told me we were the biggest allocation!

Next comes a white wine, Le temps d’une bise, which is an interesting blend of Marsanne and Viognier.  Here as well, the grapes are sourced from the same grower in the St. Joseph appellation, from a relatively young vineyard between Chavanay and Malleval (3 years for the Marsanne and 10 years for the Viognier). 

Both grapes are vinified, aged separately, and then blended before bottling. Thibaud made the final blend last week and will bottle next week. The Marsanne is a direct press fermented and aged in a 300L barrique with the originality to be blended with 20% of a maceration of Marsanne 2019 (4 to 5 months maceration). Overall, the 2019 grapes counts for a bit more than 10% of the juice, hence under the 15% limit, so the wine can still be a 2020 vintage. The Viognier is a direct press fermented and aged in a 5hl amphora in sandstone, quietly aging for 5 months without any soustirage.

The Marsanne 2019 long maceration

This wine will come in slightly bigger quantities, as Thibaud makes 1600 bottles, but we are still in the micro-vinification category 🙂 Same warning applies.

The first Petnat experiment in October.

And finally comes the PetNat (aka Méthode Ancestrale). This is the first time Thibaud has done a Petnat, and we are really excited about it. It is made from the same Syrah from Chavanay, St. Joseph AOP.  The grapes go into carbonic maceration for 10 days, then pressed, and then 15 more days of fermentation up to when the sugar level is about right to move into bottles (that was last October) for the rest of the fermentation. Thibaud will then disgorge the bottles during the next week, even if this can be discussed as part of the “PetNat rule”, that makes wine more fit to consume indoors (the lees are forming now a two inch top…). As a first timer, this cuvée was made in very small, almost experimental quantities.  It will be the smallest batch for the spring release, with 160 bottles total and only a handful of cases coming to NYC.

So, that is what’s coming this spring. What next? Well, many other interesting wines!

In 2019, the Klima cuvée was an amazing blend of Gamay and Syrah, but this won’t be the case in 2020. Actually, Thibaud sees Klima as a cuvée in which he can explore with different growers and different grape varieties.

In 2020, Thibaud worked with Gerald Oustric from Le Mazel in south Ardèche. If you have never heard of Gerald Oustric or Le Mazel, this domain is known as a pioneer of natural and organic wine in Ardèche, that started in the seventies when similar things were happening a few hundred kilometers north in Beaujolais. Paul Oustric has since handed the domain over to his daughter and son Jocelyne and Gerald, and Gerald has been pushing even further in the direction of organic and natural practices. The domain is fully certified but more importantly is doing much more than what the certification requires. If you are interested, have a look at this great article on the domain on wineterroirs.com. Gerald Oustric is working with several young winemakers in collaboration on the farming side (like with Thibaud) and even on the winemaking side (like he did with Anders Frederik Steen and others) to help them kick-start their projects.

So, working with Gerald Oustric, Thibaud got both Syrah and new Grenache grapes from old vines between 45 and 60 years! The wines is/are made by fermenting both grapes separately.  We actually tasted them in October from the tank, and they are now quietly aging. Thibaud is not sure yet if he will do a Terra and a Klima from the Grenache and Syrah, or one single wine. All is still possible! Thibaud will continue to listen to the wine and will decide later, as these will not be bottled before mid-summer. Stay tuned.

So Klima and Terra will be different in 2020 no matter what. But what about La Canuse, which has been enjoyed very much here in NYC?  I know quite a few are eager to get their hands on the 2020 vintage. Well, I’m happy to report there will be a La Canuse 2020. It will be slightly different, but in my opinion, in a very exciting way. La Canuse will be a similar style blend, but a different percentage — probably closer to 95% Viognier and 5% Syrah (still within the range of a “reversed Côte-Rôtie”). More importantly, it will not be made from the St. Joseph Syrah but from the plots that Thibaud planted in Côte Rotie. It’s the first harvest, so it will furthermore be a true “reversed” CR. The Viognier was pressed on top of the Syrah as can be seen in the photo, and we can’t wait to taste!

Photo of the Canuse Viognier press on top of the Côte-Rôtie press, courtesy of @thibaudcapellaro
Trying to simulate the Canuse blend in October…

Last but not least, and probably the most exciting, a 2020 vintage of Thibaud’s first red wine from his Côte Rotie will also be released, on the later side. It already tasted beautiful from the tank in October, and I’ve heard from lucky visitors that it has only improved. This wine will continue to age and Thibaud will continue to think about how he will name it, dress it, etc… Stay tuned for more information later this year!

Tasting the Côte Rôtie from the Amphora