If you’ve been following my Rhône coverage closely as I travel through and blog from the area regularly, you’ll remember that I stumbled across this small winery a couple of years ago as it was just starting out in 2007. During my last visit, I was able to taste the winery’s first vintage still resting in barrel. Now, I can report on the final, bottled results.
To recap, Claire Darnaud-McKerrow’s father is a native of the Northern Rhône town of St.-Jean-de-Muzols, located in the heart of the St.-Joseph appellation. Born in the Rhône herself, Darnaud-McKerrow has worked in the wine industry in various capacities for several years, including a stint at the Cave de Tain co-op. While traveling in New Zealand and Australia for a while, she eventually met her husband-to-be, Shane, and the two wound up settling back in the Rhône, close to her birthplace.
Her local knowledge helped get her the inside track on a few lots of old vines that Raymond Trollat, an old-school producer of St.-Joseph, was letting go following his retirement. Shane is earning his chops by working in the cellar at Jean-Louis Chave and the couple now has their first wines in bottle.
The St.-Joseph La Vendèima 2007 is the debut release; all of two barrels were produced. The wine is stylish, with a very subtle smokiness (no new oak was used and the grapes were not destemmed), leading to tobacco, olive, mulled currant and incense notes that glide through the elegant finish, offering outstanding quality.
The white wine is a bit of a curiosity. Sourced from vines planted within the St.-Joseph appellation but including a mix of unapproved varieties, the wine has been declassified and will be labeled as Vin de Table Français White La Vendèima 2007. The wine does contain the approved Marsanne and Roussanne varieties, but also small amounts of Chasselas, Ugni Blanc and others as the vineyard is an old field blend that has never been purified to AOC regulations. As with the red, it's also aged in used oak, which results in a very pure, unadorned style showcasing delightful honeysuckle, salted butter, white peach and chamomile notes backed by a focused, minerally finish, offering very good quality. (Note: official reviews of both wines will appear in our online database soon.)
The wines won’t be easy to find—an Australian importer has taken most of the production from the 2007 harvest and the 2008 vintage was even smaller due to the severe selection that Claire and Shane made following the difficult season. For now it will take an enterprising importer (and a dogged consumer) to track down what little wine they have left to offer. Darnaud-McKerrow does hope to eventually expand enough to better supply this market with some wine, but before you complain about another wine that you can't find, remember that it’s my self-imposed edict that leads me to tell you about this winery, which epitomizes the small, artisanal, family-run operation that many wine aficionados adore. So, happy hunting!
And on that note, I am signing off for a while. Now I’ll be taking a break through the Labor Day weekend to recharge the batteries for our busy final quarter. I’ll be back in the office on Tuesday, Sept. 8, with the blog picking up shortly thereafter.
Until then, keep drinking the good stuff!
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