Succession is an inevitably precarious affair in the world of wine, which is not only a product of its geology and climate, but the actualization of an individual grower’s aesthetic sensibilities—and, unavoidably, the expression of a grower’s personality as well.
Neal Rosenthal began working with Domaine Gour de Chaulé in Gigondas nearly forty years ago, first with the iconic Aline Bonfils, who had just taken the reins from her mother Rolande and significantly expanded the family’s estate-bottling efforts. Back then, a woman helming a winery in the Southern Rhône valley was an even rarer sight than it is today, and Aline’s rugged, old-school wines reflected her tenacity and resilience. Here was Grenache given discipline by whole clusters, articulating stony power more than gushing opulence, and blossoming with age in remarkable fashion. An early-1990s Gigondas from Aline will rival most any similarly aged Châteauneuf-du-Pape you could throw its way.
Aline’s daughter Stéphanie gradually assumed control beginning in the late 1990s, and while Stéphanie has always followed her mother’s general regimen—patient noninterference in the cellar and an unwillingness to sculpt away the terroir’s inherent rowdiness—her wines are subtly more elegant, a hair’s breadth more approachable, though not at all wanting for power. Who can say why? It’s one of wine’s greatest and richest mysteries.
Two years ago, Stéphanie’s son Paul—the first male in the family lineage for four generations—began working at Gour de Chaulé full-time. Paul is remarkably spirited and highly articulate, exuding a confidence that belies his young age and echoing a bit of his grandmother’s lovable toughness. It’s a testament to his abilities that Stéphanie treats him more like her peer than her kid in the cellar, and their inevitable occasional disagreements are conducted with mutual respect and ample dialogue.
With the 2018 vintage, Stéphanie entrusted Paul with a parcel of the estate’s oldest vines: Grenache, a portion of which is ungrafted, planted on sand just across the street from the winery itself in the first years of the 20th century. Inspired by sand-grown-Grenache exemplars like the mythical Château Rayas in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Paul aimed to craft a wine that showcased Grenache’s finesse rather than its amplitude. After a natural fermentation without de-stemming—always the Gour de Chaulé modus operandi—he raised a portion of the harvest in used barrique, a portion in 600-liter cask, and a portion in a nine-hectoliter cement egg, comparing the results throughout the élévage. Cement won handily, and so Paul bottled the contents of the egg without any added sulfur under the name “La Numéro Huit”—eight being his favorite number, one which seems to pop up in his life with uncanny frequency, as well as the symbol for infinity, a nod both to the eternal nature of terroir and to his family’s unbroken stewardship of their land.
Only 1200 bottles of the 2018 “La Numéro Huit” were made, and it is a stunning achievement that speaks to Grenache’s ability to convey remarkable nuance when treated with respect. Paul deftly avoids Grenache’s garish glop without overcorrecting into gluggable frivolity, channeling the rigorous structure typical of Gour de Chaulé into something remarkably fresh. Acidity here is pert, unapologetic; the fruit is vivacious and ultra-pure, reveling in its vibrancy of texture. Youthful experimentation is impossible to resist when rendered with such arresting force of personality and utter deliciousness, and our hats are off to Paul for this wonderful new cuvée—a feather in the cap of one of our greatest and most important domaines, and a harbinger of great things to come.