Stéphane Rousset’s are the kind of terroir driven wines that get us fired up. There’s no tomfoolery, just solid craftsmanship and a clear concession of the vigneron’s voice for that of his terroirs. Stéphane Rousset is one to watch; for no other reason than he lets great terroirs direct his path to elegant, pure wines of substance. He is a vigneron in the truest sense of the word, and from the first smell to the last sip, each bottle sings the melody of the land from which it was born.
The Roussets are blessed with great vineyards in Crozes-Hermitage, aside from Les Picaudières, and a terrific set of side-by-side, east-facing granite parcels in the lieu-dit, Rivoires, across the river, in Saint-Joseph, which just happen to be right around the corner from the original hill from which Saint-Joseph takes its name.
With his rough, intense look, Stéphane gives the impression he might be a tough guy to squeeze for information, but he’s quite the opposite. On our first visit, Stéphane and his wife, Isabelle, showed us the best of French hospitality, their gorgeous vineyards, and a beautifully run (and very clean!) cellar. To work with such talented and gracious people as the Roussets is the motivation behind everything we do as wine importers.
Stéphane and his father, Robert, both tend to the vineyard work. This virtual two man show practices extremely high grade sustainable farming and when walking through their vineyards it becomes obvious. They respect the soil and nature, and minimize the use of vineyard treatments to copper and sulfur, both treatments essential in all European vineyards whether they are in organic, biodynamic and/or natural winegrowing culture.
In the cellar it’s pretty straightforward and, like many of the cellars in the Northern Rhône Valley, their approach is quite similar to what one would see in a California wine cellar making Syrah. The use of French oak barrels of 225- to 500-liters is employed with a minimum of new oak mixed in only to replace barrels that are in disrepair. Certain proportions of the basic red Crozes-Hermitage is aged in stainless steel, seemingly parcels on granite bedrock with loess topsoil, and then blended in with some of the wines raised in barrels from parcels that are largely grown in granite bedrock with decomposed granite topsoil. The Crozes-Hermitage Rouge “Les Picaudieres” and the Saint-Joseph are raised exclusively in oak barrels with a minuscule amount of them new. As a side note, Rousset has a fabulous collection of single parcel Crozes-Hermitage vineyards that I’ve encouraged him to bottle alone. Hopefully this will come to fruition someday.
His whites made from Marsanne are mostly aged in stainless steel tanks and a proportion of French oak barrels. The stainless is employed as well as the desire to inhibit malolactic fermentation to preserve the elusive freshness whites from this region have a hard time maintaining. All in all, I would characterize the wines made at this domaine as straightforward, made in a humble way to emphasize the voice of their special terroirs and very well crafted.
To read more about Rousset, there is short series I wrote with a little perspective on the history of Rousset and how he came about one of the most enviable collection of vineyards of all of Crozes-Hermitage, all tucked behind the great hillside of Hermitage. Read it here.