One day in the kitchen of Louis Barruol's house in Gigondas, the wiry and energetic vigneron opened a bottle and served it blind for me. It didn't take much to guess that it was a Gigondas, and an old one at that. Barruol is arguably the appellation's top winemaker, and in the context of the situation, I could tell that he wanted to show me something he was proud of, rather than try and trick me.
The wine had all the rustic charm that Gigondas delivers, with hints of stems and herb, light chalky threads and beautiful sous-bois notes. And there was still fruit there too—mature, of course, but full of charm and life.
When he unveiled the bottle I was half-right. It was an old wine from the Barruol family property of Château de St.-Cosme. But it was a 1969, made a few years before Gigondas technically existed as an appellation. The wine was made by Henri-Louis Barruol, Louis' father, and it was a source of inspiration for Louis.
Henri-Louis passed away this past Sunday, succumbing to cancer at the age of 89.
"He was my mentor," said Louis.
Born Aug. 29, 1928, Henri-Louis was a furniture maker with a modest business, working hard as France rebuilt after World War II. In 1957 he married Claude, who owned St.-Cosme, and suddenly found himself with a 37-acre estate that was in total disrepair: The vineyards were partially abandoned, and half the estate was in need of replanting.
By the late 1960s, St.-Cosme was up to its full production level after Henri-Louis replanted, a huge undertaking at the time. Along with fellow vignerons Francois Ay of Domaine Raspail-Ay, Rolland Gaudin from Domaine du Terme and Roger Meffre of Domaine St.-Gayan, Henri-Louis helped push for the Gigondas AOC, which was finally granted in 1971.
Along the way, Henri-Louis' best friend was a pharmacist in Carpentras, and the two developed the region's first wine analysis lab. "He did all the studies, all the experiments, all the treatments, all the work, and had an unbelievable scientific background for a vigneron at that time," says Louis. "He believed strongly in science, but also combined an artistic sense from working with his hands as a furniture maker. 'Discipline first, creativity second,' he would say."
Louis took over the winemaking at the domaine in the 1992 vintage, but his father lived on the property and continued to help out through the 2007 vintage, all told a very impressive run of 48 vintages.
Along with his wife, Claude, and son Louis, Henri-Louis is survived by one other son and three daughters, 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
He's also survived by the flagship estate of Gigondas. The 12th-century chapel that sits in the estate's Le Poste vineyard is a more than fitting headstone.