Robert Michel

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Robert Michel is the fourth generation of the Michel family to work as a vigneron in the village of Cornas. He vinified his first wines in 1975 and gradually increased his vineyard holdings so that his tiny domaine encompassed slightly over 5 hectares at its apex. We have represented the wines of Robert Michel since the 1994 vintage. During that period of time, we have developed a deep appreciation for his uncompromising work, performed in a heroic effort to defend the grand traditions of this small but important appellation. Over the past twenty-five years, many in Cornas have modified the classic techniques of vinification and elevage so as to produce less austere, more fruit-forward wines that, in our opinion, deny the true character of this challenging terroir. Robert Michel, although he experimented over time with different size barrels and reflected on modifying the use of stems, never lost his love for the “truest” versions of Cornas which, when all is said and done, require that the stems be left intact during the extended cuvaison and that the resulting wine ages best in the larger sized demi-muid form of barrel. The proof of his wisdom and his talent lies in his wines which age majestically and provide clear insight into those elements that make Cornas one of the world’s great wines.
Sadly, after the 2006 vintage, Robert Michel retired. We have lost a formidable source of compelling wine; but, the friendship we have developed with Robert remains. We never pass through Cornas without stopping chez Michel to discuss not only the intimate details of Cornas but to open and delight in the pleasures of his older wines that he invariably retrieves from his private collection; as well, we exchange stories of dogs and nature travels, two “loves” that we both share.

On the other hand, we are delighted to note that Robert Michel has become a mentor to Guillaume Gilles, a young vigneron of Cornas, who now exploits the old vines parcel of Les Chaillots that was always the base of Michel’s “Cuvée des Coteaux”. Robert, in his typical generous fashion, has made his cave and cellars “home” to Gilles’ wines … probably an old vigneron’s way of staying close to his perpetual love.

As for us, once Robert Michel informed us that he was planning on retiring, we had the foresight to maintain a large stock of his wine beginning with the 2003 vintage. So, we continue to maintain his presence on our website since his wines will remain part of our portfolio for a number of years (this being written as of 2011).

Michel’s vineyard property was concentrated within the appellation of Cornas. Of the four hectares he owned within Cornas, 1 ½ were located within the formidable parcel of “La Geynale“. The bulk of the remainder was split between “Les Chaillots” and “Le Quartier de Renard” the grapes from which were used to produce the “Cuvee des Coteaux“. Michel also had access to six-tenths of a hectare in the village of Sarras, north of Cornas, from which he produced a St. Joseph Rouge from the “Bois des Blaches” vineyard site.

All grapes were harvested manually. After a brief cold maceration, the grapes were pressed and alcoholic fermentation took place in stainless steel or cement tanks. Later, the wine was racked mostly into mid-sized barrels (“demi-muids”) to age. The wines destined for the USA, that is, those imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant were bottled without filtration.

Michel-Cornas-Coteaux-2005 Cornas Cuvée des Coteaux: This “assemblage” from Michel is classic Cornas, vinified a la the grand traditions of the appellation : stems included ! Despite that, this wine invariably shows a more gentle side to an appellation that can tend to be hard and unyielding in its youth. There is abundant licorice, black berry fruit and persistent minerality to the finish (the vineyard being underlain with a granite core) but the tannins on the “Cuvée des Coteaux” develop a more round and forgiving texture than the companion “La Geynale”.
Michel-Cornas-Geynale-1999 Cornas La Geynale: This wine is recognized by all the cognoscenti of Cornas as one of the consistently exceptional wines of the appellation, a standard-bearer for those who admire true Cornas. There is a density to the texture and depth to the flavors that is almost unmatched by other versions of Cornas. The tannins are very rigorous at the outset making for a wine that demands patient cellaring. The dark but vibrant purple-black color is classic Syrah from the northern Rhone. Interestingly, for all of its power, the Cornas “La Geynale” frequently settles in at an alcohol level of 12.5%, perhaps achieving 13.2% in certain vintages; this is the mark of a well-balanced wine and is equally true of the “Cuvée des Coteaux” and the Cornas now being produced by Lionnet and Gilles, our other suppliers of Cornas. As well, the great Cote Roties from Bernard Levet fall into this category too.
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