At less than 2 hectares, Jean-Baptiste Souillard takes micro-production to another level in the northern Rhone. And when we focus on his top Crozes-Hermitage, "Les Baties",we're looking at one tenth of a hectare of 50+ year-old-vines. As much as he's been influenced by the region's great traditionalists, Souillard is carving his own dramatic path that completely defies the norm.
When traditional Syrah here becomes ethereal, floral-driven, and transparent it can thrill me as much as any wine region. Souillard, however, is very much not part of this group. Instead, he shows a dark and powerful side of the region, while maintaining a shimmering sense of clarity. When legendary importer Becky Wasserman brought in the first vintage I took notice. With the awe-inspiring 2015 vintage marking Souillard's 2nd release I was floored.
Souillard knew from a young age exactly what he wanted to do. He closely watched his father's steps as the director of the region's largest cooperative, Cave de Saint-Desirat. After six diplomas in wine studies he went to work for Chateau Latour in Bordeaux and then to Comte Armand in Pommard, alongside Benjamin Leroux.
Producing wine from individual terroirs in Burgundy had a profound impact. After returning home he was disillusioned with the trend of blending vineyards. He also knew that appellations like Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph were capable of greatness, but would continue to underwhelm with this practice essentially "watering down" great terroir. His choice was simple: Create a micro-production négoce operation where he would "follow the Cistercian method. One parcel = one wine.”
Souillard's vision was to only work with old vines on the very top of slopes, the "têtes de coteaux". Within Crozes-Hermitage he also insisted on the northern granite soils, as opposed to the galets roulés more commonly found in the south where wines lack concentration and rigor.
On one hand the winemaking follows traditional methods like large portions of whole clusters for fermentation and aging only in neutral wood. But, the style is one absolutely focused on crafting vins de garde. These are wines built on monumental stature with a rare elegance that's certainly the product of his experiences at Latour and Comte Armand.
"Les Baties" is a .1 hectare parcel located on the back side of the famous hill of Hermitage. Vines were planted in the 1960's at 200 meters on fractured granite soils. Notes of violets, blackberries, smoke, and bacon fat are in abundance. But, they meld with dark chocolate and scorched earth elements that are not regularly associated with Crozes-Hermitage.
Of the entire lineup last month in Los Angeles, Les Baties had the total package. 2015 plays perfectly into the vin de garde style of Souillard. It's a year where every appellation sees elevated concentration and depth. Maintaining energy is the key to success, and this high elevation parcel fits the vintage like a glove.
2015 Jean-Baptiste Souillard Crozes Hermitage Les Baties
$48 per bottle.