Domaine Yves Cuilleron
For three generations, wine has been part of Yves’ family history, on both his mother’s and father’s sides. His paternal grandfather established the estate in 1920, and in 1947 he began selling his wine bottled. In 1960, his uncle Antoine Cuilleron became the manager of his paternal grandfather’s estate. In 1987, when he took over running it, he decided to settle in Verlieu, his mother’s home village.
“To be honest, I saw myself becoming a mechanic rather than making wine. Years later, I did my military service in Alsace, and, through tastings and restaurant outings with my buddies, I really caught the wine bug! When my uncle retired, and with no successor lined up, my parents considered selling the estate. I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation. Wine had brought me back to the vines – and from then on, I couldn’t imagine being anything but a vigneron.”
Yves pays extra-special care to the quality of his vines, and rejects “off-the-shelf ideas”. His vision of viticulture is highly personal: not conventional, not organic, and not biodynamic. He has a simple philosophy: “Grow the best possible grapes.”
As the vineyards cannot be mechanised, much labour is required and the vines receive “haute couture” treatment. Careful management of the growth cycle is another hallmark of distinguished savoir-faire. Low vine vigour, leaf-thinning and green harvesting allow maximum ventilation, reduce sensitivity to disease, and improve grape quality. All the grapes are grown to integrated methods and carry no certification labels – in other words, no standards or regulations constrain our conception of wine.
This approach to grape-growing takes the form of respectful manual treatment. Yves carries out the fewest treatments possible – three to five per year. No insecticides and only small amounts of organic fertiliser define a unique method that deeply respects the balance of our soils. Such consideration is essential, and a prerequisite for a promising future.
Nature does nothing by chance. In this steep-sided part of the Rhône Valley, the first vine-leaf imprints date back seven million years. Vienne was already famed for its wines in the second century BC. Vines grew on the uplands, where the soil was thinnest. There is a pleasing geological unity here, dominated by granite. On the west bank (Côte-Rôtie), the gneiss and micaceous schists make for rugged landscapes; the granite and alluvium (Condrieu and Saint-Joseph) have produced softer scenery. On the east bank, there is the same subsoil in the central part of the vineyards. In the north and south, the vineyards sit chiefly on Quaternary alluvial terraces comprising Pliocene or Miocene clay-rich sediments.
For decades, the domaine has undertaken traditional, straightforward vinification. Cuilleron’s main ingredients? Hand picking of grapes, meticulous sorting in situ, alcoholic fermentation using only wild yeasts, and ageing in oak.
The business may be growing but remains deeply attached to the traditional principles of cap-punching and open-vat pump-overs. They use no oenological products, and technology is kept to the bare minimum.
Yves articulates his vision of the terroir through the wines he makes. From plot to bottle, many decisions are required to express this vision and arrive at wines that satisfy his expectations. A Cuilleron wine bears the imprint of its terroir: it has an original character. Although a large vat room has been built, we have kept many small vats used for single-plot vinification. Although Yves seeks an overarching harmony in the range, the Cuilleron touch lends each wine its own style. We do not focus on a single cuvée and establish a hierarchy; instead, each product is bespoke – the word that best defines us.
An intern we once had at Radford Dale who came from Domaine Yves Cuilleron staged a strike and was sacked on the spot!