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Auguste Clape 1925-2018

I will not even attempt to do more than quote Kermit Lynch, other than to say simply, Auguste Clape, Thankyou.

Even when Auguste Clape appeared in newspapers and magazines and his reputation spread worldwide, it did not change him, it did not go to his head, and he never tooted his own horn. How I loved Auguste’s humility. He wanted to make something good, something fine, something that gave people pleasure. That’s all, and that’s a lot.

His humility and honesty made tasting with him a treat. His ego never got in the way—he could be severe about one of his cuvées and so could I as we searched to define the nuances of a successful wine.

Those of you who cellared and enjoyed drinking his Cornas might also enjoy knowing that success did not alter his lifestyle. He never changed or remodeled his modest home, never judged by social status. As much as we saw each other over almost half a century, Auguste and I never wined and dined and lived it up together. Unusual. We were happy in the winery under his home, nose to glass, tasting and spitting, exploring what was in our glasses. In Vino Veritas. In Auguste Clape Veritas.

The good news for fans? Both Auguste’s son and grandson have for years worked alongside him. His skills will continue to be found in bottle.

Kermit Lynch

In 1996 during my first week at Yarra Yering, Doc handed me a bottle of wine, with simple instructions, enjoy. It was a 1983 Auguste Clape Cornas. Wow! The sophistication and personality of the wine was insane. It just screamed DRINK ME! The beautiful texture, incredible depth of fruit, and, elegance. The complexity of the wine entranced. A Guiding Light in the Making of Yarra Yering Shiraz wines.

In 1999 I found myself cruising through the Rhône Valley. Dining at Le Chaudron in Hermitage, I completely miss read the menu and ordered a plate of offal, don’t get me wrong I love a little offal, but, a full plate, was a bit much. Fortunately, I had no problem with the wine list. On it the epic 1990 JL Chave Hermitage, the elegance and sophistication, married with incredible power and such beautiful tannins took me back to the 1983 Cornas from Clape. It remains in the top 10 wines I’ve ever drunk!

At the time, in Australia, when you saw this intensity of flavour it was typically in a wine that was over the top, clumsy, and with a less than pleasing texture. These two makers were doing something incredible, they were taming the beast. Moving from Death Metal to Mozart!

Producers like Clape, Chave, Allemand, Jamet, and, Paris are amongst those leading the Northern Rhône by example toward wines of as Nick Stock put’s it, “…greater depth, definition and interest across the board. Much like the Southern Rhône, refined ideals and methods elucidate this region’s fascinating and expressive terroirs. It’s something we feel very positive about.”

About August Clape

If you French is OK, this is worth a watch. note, the large old barrels, no double new oak here! Cement is often used for maturation.

Cornas is one of the world’s few blue-chip addresses that we still associate with traditional winemaking. For this, we can thank Auguste Clape, the village’s icon, who has demonstrated for more than half a century how to make old school Cornas of beauty, typicity and character.

Clape Cornas is the very essence of traditionally made Northern Rhône Syrah, born of the ancient clone, “la Petite Syrah,” planted in the village’s best sites, blended for balance and complexity and allowed to “make itself” as much as possible.

All of this is a result of Clape’s vast experience and open mind; he has always worked traditionally, but not bound by rules, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. As John Livingstone-Learmonth states in The Wines of the Northern Rhône, “… he is one of the few growers I have ever met who succeeds in bridging the connection between man and nature … Belief, on the one hand, listening on the other. No closed walls. The true philosopher born of the exceptional opportunity that winemaking can confer.”

Today, octogenarian Auguste continues to make the quintessential Cornas, with son Pierre-Marie and grandson Olivier at his side. Most importantly, Pierre-Marie has worked with Auguste since 1989, thoroughly absorbing his methods and philosophy, ensuring a seamless transition from one generation to the next. In fact, Pierre-Marie’s rich, two-decade “apprenticeship” reminds us of Maria-Teresa Mascarello’s years of collaboration with Bartolo.

Better Than Ever

Today’s Clape wines are greater than ever before—and not just because of the arrival of a new generation. The vineyards are obviously older and they’ve benefited from the addition of century-old Petite Syrah vines purchased from Auguste’s fellow icon, Noël Verset. Today, few French growers have a more impressive palette of crus with which to work than does Clape.

And finally, there has been the creation of lesser cuvées, which allow Clape’s flagship Cornas to have even greater depth, complexity and typicité than in the past. More than ever, Clape’s Cornas is the very definition of the appellation.

The winemaking today is of course largely unchanged. The family harvests only when the fruit is fully ripe, and the old vine fruit is not de-stemmed. The primary fermentation takes place in concrete tanks for six to seven days, followed by three to seven days of maceration to extract fine tannins.

After malolactic, ageing is in old demi-muids and piéces; there is no new oak. As Auguste Clape told author John Livingston-Learmonth, “as for ageing casks, here you need neutral wood with no tannin in it. The Syrah must breathe.”

Three Unique Wines

Clape’s masterpiece is, of course, the classic Cornas, precisely blended from five to six cuvées of the oldest vines in the best sites. The backbone comes from Reynard, La Côte and Sabarotte. The old vines here are la Petite Syrah—the old clone considered by many to be the true Syrah—which creates a stunningly deep and complex wine that will develop for decades.

The Domaine now bottles three other Syrah wines as well. The least expensive, but still ageworthy, wine is the Le Vin des Amis, a blend of young-vine Cornas and Syrah grown just south of the village. Next up is the Côtes du Rhône, which includes fruit from 120-year-old vines near St. Peray and declassified Cornas.

Since 1998, a second Cornas has also been bottled: Renaissance. It’s made from 20 to 25-year-old vines on the Domaine’s best slopes as well as older vines from the lower slopes. An earlier maturing wine than the classique, it should develop for two decades.

Clape was the village’s first producer to bottle his own wine in 1957, having previously sold it in barrel to négociants such as Jaboulet. Since that time, Clape’s wine has been the essence of Syrah grown in Cornas’ suntrap of steep granite slopes—dark berries, black olive, dried herbs, woodsmoke and violets when young, developing astonishing depth, complexity and velvety texture with age.

Vintage 2016

From Josh Raynolds of Vinous

“Following the huge success of the 2015 vintage, which produced deeply concentrated, structured and age-worthy wines, 2016 pivoted almost 180 degrees by issuing an abundance of graceful, elegant reds that showcase balance and freshness over mass and power.

Northern Rhône wine lovers with purist leanings will be head over heels with the soon-to-be-released 2016 vintage, which offers an abundance of energetic, well-balanced and generally graceful wines. As impressive as the 2015s are, I’ve encountered a not-insignificant number of collectors who view many of the wines as too much of a good thing: too ripe, too rich, too heavy, too tannic…you get the picture. Most of the producers I visit on my annual trips sympathize with that view to an extent, but are also quick to point out that 2015 is a vintage for the ages and what’s in the glass now will mostly bear little resemblance to how the wines will turn out down the road, maybe even way down the road.

There are no such qualms when it comes to the 2016s, though. A number of producers call it a “dream vintage” for the wines’ collective balance, freshness and expression of terroir. Based on the performance of the wines I tasted from barrel in late March and early June, and the handful of finished wines that I was able to try when I returned home (the barrel samples in this article are scored in a range, as usual, while the finished wines in a single numerical score), 2016 is a vintage that’s a must-buy for readers who prize Syrah built along pure, graceful, dare I say feminine, lines. Even so, the wines are in no way lacking depth of flavour or structure, which leads me to think that many of the wines will hit their 20th birthday in fine form.”

Where in the World are They?

Cornas is at the bottom of the Northern Rhône right next to Valence.

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About the Wines

Wines of Auguste Clape

2016 Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas

99 Points

Many layers of aromas, complex and spicy with a fragrant array of dark brambly berries, dark plums, dark chocolate. Spices and peppers, as well as graphite-like stony notes. There’s a silky core to the palate with extreme power, all delivered so precisely that appear light and elegant. Sweet spiced-fruit flavors run long and bright, exploding in a spectacular spicy finish. Spends two winters in the cellar to deliver finesse in terms of tannins.

James Suckling

97 Points

For the 2016 Cornas, a couple of the foudres I tasted from were truly amazing, like the Sabarotte, which is imbued with the bloody-meaty essence of Cornas, velvety tannins and the Reynards Vieilles Vignes, replanted after phylloxera, which showed incredible perfumes and complexity.

Jeb Dunnuck, The Wine Advocate

96 Points

No destemming as usual, fermented in concrete and aged in large, old oak barrels. A tasting of the four main component parts (La Petite Côte, Sabarotte, La Côte and Reynards) reveals a more classic expression than the very ripe 2015 vintage. Though still ripe, the Cornas terroir is in sharper focus this year, with each terroir clearly showing its character. Fresh, defined and floral aromatics abound, with ripe but chiselled, saline tannins and relatively high acidity. An elegant vintage with good Cornas typicality.

Decanter

2016 Domaine Auguste Clape "Renaissance" Cornas

96 Points

Dark, spicy and stony aromas with a smoky and intense mineral edge, some garrigue herbs, blackberries and ripe plum fruits. A sense of deep-set tension in a succulent array of black-fruit flavors with a long driving thread of tannins.

James Suckling

94 Points

I tasted from several foudres earmarked for the 2016 Cornas Renaissance. All showed good ripeness and richness allied to ample fruit and balanced tannins.

Jeb Dunnuck, The Wine Advocate

2017 Domaine Auguste Clape Côtes du Rhône

100% Syrah. The Côtes du Rhône includes fruit from 120-year-old vines near St. Peray and declassified Cornas.