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The Ghost Returns

Frédéric Engerer has brought Château-Grillet back to life
At just 9 acres, Château-Grillet is one of the smallest appellations in France.
Photo by: James Molesworth
At just 9 acres, Château-Grillet is one of the smallest appellations in France.

Posted: Jul 24, 2018 11:30am ET

I'm not surprised that Frédéric Engerer and estate manager Alessandro Noli figured out how to unlock the potential at Château-Grillet. I'm a little surprised they got it done so quickly. The intense Engerer manages Artémis Domaines, the group of wine estates owned by French billionaire François Pinault and his son François-Henri. In 2011, Artémis purchased Château-Grillet, which had been owned by the Baratin family since 1830.

Grillet had become a ghost wine under the previous ownership, with wine insiders nodding in quiet acquiescence as it failed to deliver on its lofty potential. But Engerer and Noli started breathing life into this old legend almost immediately. Changes in pruning and plowing took a toll at first, shocking the vines into drastically low yields in the 2012 and '13 vintages. But by 2014, the trend began to reverse, along with a notable uptick in quality.

The 2014 vintage is the best yet under the new ownership. Emphasis on yet. I tasted through 2015, '16 and the components of the still-aging 2017 on my recent visit, and the wines are continuing to improve. While Engerer prefers the lean style of the mineral-driven 2014, the riper and more alluring '15 will win a lot of fans. Then comes '16, which has a subtle, smoldering intensity and was probably tight in this showing, having just been bottled.

Along with the vineyard coming back to full potential in terms of production, Engerer has also added to it, clearing land on either end of the estate. He added two-thirds of an acre on the north end that is within the Château-Grillet appellation (Grillet is a monopole). He also planted another .0.4 acres on the south end that is technically Condrieu, the appellation that encompasses Château-Grillet. A purchase of a neighboring parcel gives Engerer a whopping 1.2 acres of Condrieu, which is being farmed and vinified in exactly the same way as the Château-Grillet vines. The difference is illuminating, and seems to have been a key for Engerer and Noli as well in 2017.

The 2017 Condrieu bottling is round, full and fruit-driven, with up-front pear, apple and peach notes that are dense and unctuous in feel. It's very Condrieu, the spiritual home of the oft-exotic-styled Viognier grape.

In contrast, tasting through the various lots of 2017 Château-Grillet, by picking date and corresponding pressing, shows a completely different wine. The first picking from vines atop the terraced vineyard is racy and bright with a very floral bent; it's all treble. The lot from the second picking, in the heart of the vineyard behind the château itself, glistens with pear, quince and yellow apple fruit backed by a racy, filigreed minerality. A third picking, from the middle of the slope, offers a beam of pear fruit that has eau de vie–like intensity and purity. All told, the tiny 9-acre vineyard was picked in nine lots over seven days, an exacting level of detail.

Then Noli pours a mix of the lots in the proportions to be used for the final blend. It streams out honeysuckle, heather and jasmine notes, backed by almond, peach, melon and apricot flavors. It has restrained power, subtle depth and buried minerality through the finish.

It's pretty clear to me that in 2017, Engerer and Noli have it figured out. Château-Grillet is a ghost no more.

Follow James Molesworth on Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1, and Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1.

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