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Legendary Northern Rhône Vintner Auguste Clape Dies at 93

From his small family estate, Clape turned the Cornas appellation into a world-renowned source of Syrah
Auguste Clape, center, with his grandson Olivier and his son Pierre-Marie at their Cornas winery.
Photo by: Gail Skoff
Auguste Clape, center, with his grandson Olivier and his son Pierre-Marie at their Cornas winery.

Aleks Zecevic
Posted: July 19, 2018

Auguste Clape, the French winegrower who helped put the Northern Rhône appellation of Cornas on the map, died July 13. According to one of his U.S. importers, his health had been failing him in recent months, and he passed peacefully and surrounded by his family. He was 93.

"Like Noel Verset, he was one of the true greats of Cornas, making wines of great complexity and aging potential that brought great notoriety to the appellation," said Clark Terry, marketing director at Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.

During his winemaking career, Clape's domaine, A. Clape, helped turn Cornas into one of the world's most revered sources for Syrah. The Clapes had been winegrowers for several generations in the Languedoc, until difficult times at the start of the 20th century led the family to start over in the Rhône Valley. Born in 1925, Auguste starting working at the estate started during the 1940s. In 1949, he married Ariette Frugier, who inherited about 8 acres of vineyards from her family. At the time, vignerons in Cornas were selling their grapes to the local négociants. In 1957, the Clapes became the first in the area to bottle their own wine.

Slowly, the wines earned a reputation for quality in foreign markets, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States. Success allowed Auguste to gradually expand their land holdings and upgrade their winemaking equipment.

His approach to winemaking hardly changed. He fermented all his wines in neutral cement vats and aged them in large, used oak foudres. He believed his methods allowed the wines to display the character of the granite-rich slopes of Cornas.

The estate's Cornas has earned a classic score (95 to 100 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale) 10 times and has earned a spot in the Top 100 Wines of the Year on three occasions.

Clape passed down his experience and knowledge to two generations. His son Pierre-Marie began working with him in 1989; Pierre-Marie now oversees the estate with his son Olivier, who began working with the family in 2002.

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