Julien Barrot is still one of the young guns in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. At 37, he's got another generation of vintages to look forward to. But he's also got enough vintages under his belt to have some perspective now as well—he started in 2002. There's a subtle shift in style here at Domaine La Barroche, coinciding with Barrot moving into a brand-new cellar facility in time for the 2015 vintage. For background, reference my June 2014 blog post.
The estate now totals 38 acres of vines, with 31 in production, producing about 3,300 cases annually. As new vines have been added, Barrot takes out fading parcels and lets them lie fallow for seven years before replanting, no small economic hurdle when you have such a relatively small domaine. And seven years is longer than most people would leave a field fallow: Three to five years is more the norm.
"When you think about it, a parcel could have been used for vinegrowing for 100 straight years or longer," says Barrot. "There is no way the soil can recover in just a few years after that."
We tasted through some components of the 2016 that will eventually go into the Signature cuvée. In 2016, Barrot kept the stems on his Grenache, a departure for him.
"The ripeness was really good and I like the notes the stems add to the wine," he says.
The first is a 2016 Grenache in demi-muid from vines on sandy soils atop clay and pebbles. It's dark, winey and bursting with dark cherry and fig notes, lined with smoky charcoal and tobacco. A sample of 2016 Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache from foudre that has been cofermented, is bursting with dark fig and blackberry paste flavors backed by smoke, pepper and loam accents. There's lots of bass here, though a flash of iron at the very end gives it cut too. A sample of 2016 Grenache from foudre, from vines on mostly sandy soils with some clay and and pebbles, is dark and beefy, with fig and blackberry paste flavors laced with chestnut and tobacco leaf notes backed by lots of tarry grip.
Continuing, a sample of 2016 Syrah from foudre, from vines on red clay and pebble soils in the west of the AOC, is really vibrant, with gorgeous violet and dark plum aromas and flavors and a terrific smoldering iron note buried on the finish. Dark and seductive, it's reminiscent of a Fonsalette cuvée Syrah and is almost a complete wine on its own. Barrot finishes the tasting with a sample of 2016 Mourvèdre, in demi-muid, that is a mix of press and free-run juice. It's very dense, layered and broad, with dark fig and blackberry purée notes and waves of velvety tannins; an intense display of fruit and muscle.
Barrot also has a 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape white for the first time. A sample from demi-muid will be three-quarters of the final wine (the rest is in stainless steel). It has just finished fermenting. Made from Clairette in the Piedlong lieu-dit it shows bright lemon pith, honeysuckle and verbena notes with a flash of citrus oil through the finish. It's long, with a lovely echo of fruit.
"2016 isn't that interesting," says Barrot, deadpan, before breaking into a wide grin. "It was one of those vintages that was really easy through harvest. And we have quality and quantity."
As for the change here, while the reds are still brimming with fruit, they are not as extroverted as his earlier vintages. The structure is more refined and there are more iron and graphite nuances to balance the fruit.
"2016 is the first year we didn't green harvest at all," says Barrot about his more recent tweaks. "In the past I was always fighting to get low yields for concentration. But then I began to see it was too concentrated and the sugars were getting really high. So we are trying to back off that a bit. You can do a little, but not too much. I want to keep the balance. I want more freshness than what we were doing a few years ago. 2007 was too much, I was too fixed on maturity and sometimes you go past where you should be. In the past I would be picking one day late, now I'd rather pick one day early. Obviously I want maturity, I'm not talking about picking underripe. But if I'm going to take a risk of waiting a day or a few hours, I will stay on the early side rather than late. Because once you go past the point, you can't go back. And that comes from experience."
After tasting, we went out to check on some of Barrot's vines, following a heavy rain storm that brought a little hail overnight. In the accompanying videos, Barrot walks me through some of his vines in the Terre Blanche lieu-dit.