LVT 2014 r Lower Drôme Brézème, pure Syrah wines. An impressive newcomer. Born in Orange, Charles Helfenbein started from zero – his parents had no vineyards. After a bts diploma from Champagne between 2000 and 2002, he studied viticulture at the Lycée of Orange; between 2004 and 2008, he “circulated in France”, spending time in Alsace to learn about white wine, Provence to learn about rosé and the Rhône for red wines – Colombo, Delas and Dard & Ribo. He rented his first vines in time for the 2007 vintage – 4 hectares of Brézème that had been providing crop to the Cave Co-operative de la Valdaine at St Gervais sur Roubion in the lower Drôme.
He has bought his own cellar and equipment for the time being. St Julien en Saint Alban in the Ardèche has 60 hectares of vineyards that are allowed to produce Côtes du Rhône, whose crop has previously been sold as bulk wine to the likes of Delas, Alain Voge and Paul Jaboulet Aîné. Helfenbein has purchased crop from St Julien en St Alban, while Eric Téxier is now an owner of vineyards there. Moved to a larger cellar in 2014. Marsanne and Roussanne are being planted in 2015-16.
LVT 2014 r 2014 wh Brézème is south of Valence, on the east bank of the Rhône. Good terroir. Syrah does well here. Jean-Marie Lombard was the leading grower for these full-bodied Côtes du Rhônes for over two decades until selling his domaine to a low-profile industrialist from Valence.
Julien Montagnon’s parents lived at Livron-sur-Drôme in Brézème country. The Montagnons arrived from Roussillon in the south-west just before the 2012 harvest. 2013 was the first whole year that included a full growing season in the vineyards. 2014’s crop was vinified in a new cellar. Bottling is also done by them at the domaine now. The vineyard is worked organically, and only wild yeasts are used for fermentation. Vastly improved white wine here in late 2000s - Brézème is an excellent terroir for whites.
There is also a merchant business, Maison Lombard, that deals in small quantities of northern Rhônes - Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitasge in red and white, and from 2014, Cornas.
LVT 2018 r 2017 wh Eric converted to winemaking in 1999, having started gradually in 1989. His first career was as an engineer in the nuclear industry. His early small steps were with Guffens in Burgundy. In 2016 his son Martin took over care of the vineyards, renting from his parents in a form of metayage. Eric takes half the crop from him, isn’t involved in the day to day vineyard work, instead looking after the old vines, and in taking cuttings from them for new plants (massale selection).
Eric makes largely sulphur-free wines, and has something approaching a cult following in the USA. The wines accentuate fruit, and he has backed off an overtly ripe and rather extracted style that prevailed in the early 2000s. His recent focus has been on Cotes du Rhône from Brézème with the Domaine de Pergaud on the left bank [clay-limestone soils, interesting for the Roussanne] and from St Julien en St Alban on the right bank of the Rhône [granite soils, windy] in its middle belt, the southernmost part of the northern sector. His most unusual wine started in 2016; called Le Clau, it is a Vin de France red made from Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche (the parents of the Syrah). There are 700 plants in six rows, planted before the 1940s at St Julien. Across the board, the wines hold pretty racy fruit.