How long has Philippe Guigal been searching for a domaine in Châteauneuf-du-Pape? "Basically since I started working with my father," he says. "So, 20 years."
There had been other opportunities, but nothing had worked out until last summer, when Guigal bought Domaine de Nalys.
The estate was just what Guigal had wanted in terms of size and location: 131 acres of well-placed vines, neighboring châteaus Rayas, Vaudieu and Domaine de la Charbonnière. Nalys also has history: The estate was created in the 17th century. Most important among the previous owners was Dr. Philippe Dufay, who married into the owning family, but soon fell in love with the property, helping to both both replant and grow the estate, which peaked at nearly 200 acres. When Dufay's son died in 1975, there was no heir, and the estate was sold to the insurance group Groupama, which ran it until Guigal acquired it in 2017.
"It's less than a year, but we've already done things, and we have plans," says Guigal as we walk the property. "And right away we wanted to get to work in the vineyard. Replacing missing vines was key. In the past they would replace one-third of the missing vines each year, this year we replaced 100 percent of them. In addition, we want to go fully organic here, which won't be difficult."
"There has always been good material at Nalys and the tools were there—Groupama invested in the infrastructure in the winery, so that wasn't an issue," says Guigal. "But we needed to hire some more people to do the level of work we wanted in the vineyards. We also hired a vineyard manager for the first time here. And looking ahead, we will build a new winery. Right now there are only large fermentation vats, and we want to bring in more vats and smaller vats, so that we can work at that level of detail."
That detail includes harvesting by vine age, rather than just entire parcels at once, another reason for needing more hands on deck, as now three or four passes through a vineyard will be required.
The estate vineyard is essentially three large contiguous blocks, each with a different terroir. La Crau and its famous large rolled stones, Bois de Sénéchal and its smaller galets over clay, and finally Grand Pierre, situated on a red sandstone known as saffres locally. Production can top out at around 15,000 to 17,000 cases annually, once the replaced vines bring everything into full production.
The 2016 vintage here was blended by Guigal, but the 2017 is the first vintage fully vinified by the new owners. They've also tweaked the name, dropping "Domaine" in favor of "Château." The 2017 Château de Nalys Châteauneuf-du-Pape Ste.-Pierre White is the second wine, offering a brisk and fresh profile of white peach, blanched almond and stone notes. The 2017 Château de Nalys Chateauneuf-du-Pape grand vin uses more Roussanne in its blend and is vinified primarily in wood (very little new) delivering a more typical Guigal style emphasizing a rich and unctuous feel to the mix of peach, citrus oil and mirabelle plum flavors.
"With [131 acres], you need to make a selection," says Guigal of the decision to produce a first and second wine. "This way you have the capacity to handle any vintage. In 2016 and '17, it was a 60/40 split between grand vin and second wine. In a vintage like 2002 or 2008, we probably would've done 10/90. Making a grand vin and second wine allows you to deliver the best expression of the property."
The 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Ste.-Pierre (69 percent Grenache, with 20 percent Syrah and the rest a mix) is supple and charming, with plum and raspberry coulis flavors and a flash of incense through the finish. The 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (59 percent Grenache and 32 Syrah, the latter an important grape for the estate, and the rest a mix) is notably more intense, with plum and blackberry pâte de fruit notes mixed with anise and roasted apple wood. It has good integration and the racy edge of the vintage through the finish.
"Nalys is a property with an identity and a richness, thanks to the 13 varieties we have here. Going forward, with climate change, the need to balance Grenache will become more and more important," says Guigal.
We also tasted a run of individual lots of 2017 reds, with the wines showing better focus and definition (some small fermentation vats were brought in for the vintage), and Guigal seems more than pleased with the early results.
"This was important for us," he says regarding the purchase. "We were always considered quality négociants in and by Châteauneuf. Now we are quality négociants and neighbors."
Welcome to the neighborhood …