Spanning just 3.5 hectares, Chateau-Grillet is located in the Northern Rhone on the right bank between the villages of Verin and Saint-Michel-dur-Rhone. On December 11, 1936 Chateau-Grillet succeeded in obtaining Appellation d'origine contrôlée status, making it one of the first French appellations and also one of the smallest.
Even more rare is its status as a monopole; Chateau-Grillet is an appellation of only one producer, a status that speaks to the quality of both the terroir and the wine that it produces.
The vineyards of Chateau Grillet and neighboring Condrieu were planted by the emperor Probus in the 3rd Century AD from plants brought from Dalmatia, an historical region of Croatia on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. Numerous mosaics preserved at an archeological site in Saint-Roman-en-Gal (around 12km from Grillet) confirm the region’s origins, with one of the pieces depicting a harvest scene and grape crushing. The early development of the vineyards is most probably linked to the Pax Romana, a long period of relative peace experienced during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD that would have allowed the ancient Gallic tribe the Allobroges to acquire Roman citizenship and therefore have the right to plant vines within the Rhone.
In the Middle Ages the wines of the Rhone Valley were difficult to sell in northern France, owing to the exorbitant taxes charged by towns along the route. Then, in the 17th century, sales of Rhone Valley Wines began to develop in Paris, this time transported along the Loire River. It was during this time that a small Chateau was built on the estate, which was later to be enlarged by its successive owners. From as early as the 18th century, the wines of Chateau Grillet graced the cellars of some of the world’s most famous collectors. Thomas Jefferson visited the property in 1787, and in 1829 James Christie purchased bottles of Chateau-Grillet on behalf of King George IV of England.
For many years, Grillet belonged to middle-class families from Lyon. The property remained with the Neyret-Gachet family from 1827 to 2011, passing from one generation to the next. In June of 2011 the property was acquired by Francois Pinault, owner of Chateau Latour and Domaine d’Eugenie in Vosnee Romanee. All three estates are managed by Frederic Engerer.
The vineyard of Chateau Grillet is in the form of a south-facing amphitheater. It enjoys an exceptionally hot and sunny micro climate, and is protected from the winds of the north. The name “”Grillet” may refer to the hillsides “grilled” or burnt by the sun. The vines have an average age of 45 years and are planted on breathtakingly steep slopes. They are at 150-250 metres above sea level and are spread over 76 marvelous terraces, called “chailees”, held up by dry stone walls which have been meticulously maintained and preserved over the centuries.
The soil at Chateau-Grillet is composed of two different geological formations: Ancient biotite granite formations from the Paleozoic Era, which include rock made up of quartz, feldspars and micas, which erode to sandy soils with some clay content and more recent formations which consist of loess deposits from wind-blown dust.The latter are found occasionally in the hollows of the vineyard. The poor soils are well drained, and the friable sub-soil allows for the vine’s roots to dig deep to draw on water and mineral elements.
Though minuscule, the vineyard has difference microclimates which vary according to altitude, exposition, and distance from the stream. These factors effect the ripening of the grapes and require precise monitoring throughout the grape growing process. They also help to determine which parcels will be including in the final blend for Chateau-Grillet, and which grapes will be selected for the second wine of the estate, Pontcin, which only began in 2011.
All of the grapes at Chateau-Grillet are hand harvested, and each selection of vineyard parcels are pressed separately. The pressing is gentle, with careful oversight throughout the process. A new tank room was installed before the 2012 vintage, with small stainless steel, temperature controlled tanks. This allows for each parcel to be vinified separately and with precision. Depending on the parcel, alcoholic and malolactic fermentation can take place in either the tank or in the barrel.
For Chateau-Grillet, all of the wine goes through malolactic fermentation. Aging for 18 months takes place in French Oak Barrels, with roughly 20% new oak. For Pontcin, the Chateau’s second wine, not all of the parcels go through malolactic fermentation. The aging process is only 12 months, and a greater percentage of new oak may be used during the maturation process.