Cornas legend passes at 93
Auguste Clape was a true legend of not only the appellation of Cornas but of the whole northern Rhône Valley. He passed away this month at the age of 93.
Terraced Cornas vines key to the quality of the Clape wines
Clape made traditional Cornas of remarkable quality, complexity and the ability to evolve with long ageing in bottle. His son Pierre-Marie and grandson Olivier continues to do so. The wines, particularly the reds of the Rhône region have become both trendy and increasingly pricey in recent years. This wasn’t always the case but the Clape wines have been very well established not only in France but also in the United States and United Kingdom for decades. They were the first domaine to bottle their wines from the appellation in the late 1950s.
Apart from at fairly impersonal tasting events like the Découvertes in the Rhône I met Auguste Clape with his son Pierre-Marie on one occasion while researching a dissertation on successfully growing Syrah with two other wine students. In what were certainly very traditional old cellars Auguste and Pierre-Marie expounded on their wine growing philosophy with the aid of chalk, making notes on the surface of one of their old foudres. We didn’t have a great grasp of French and nor did the Clape’s English. It didn’t matter, we discovered in remarkable detail the Clape approach of maintaining old vines and vineyards, planting by mass selection, vinifying their wines traditionally, although always ensuring the ripeness of whole bunches, not just grapes and much else. One of my great wine experiences.
Here is our profile of the Clape domaine from the upcoming 11th edition of Wine behind the label:
“Pierre-Marie Clape now makes the wine at this domaine ably assisted by his son Olivier. The property is a long established leader in the Cornas appellation, founded by Pierre-Marie’s father, the late Auguste Clape. The vine growing and winemaking is fiercely traditional, old vines are prized, vines are re planted by mass selection and no new wood is used whatsoever. However, any stems retained during vinification are always fully ripened including crucially the stems and each parcel is vinified individually before ageing for close to two years in foudre. The resulting wines are supple with harmonious tannin and fruit, balanced, very refined and capable of long ageing. A total of 8 ha of vines from a number of first class precipitous, terraced plots that date from the 1890s contribute to the impressive quality. By necessity, everything must be done by hand. The Cornas is justifiably worthy of our top super five star rating. The Cuvée Renaissance is a second wine. However, although it’s made to help maintain the quality of the Cornas, it’s also very impressive. Inevitably from younger vines, it lacks the weight and power of the grand vin. Both the intense, spicy Côtes du Rhône red and rounded, richly textured Saint-Péray offer reasonable value and there is also an IGP Syrah, Le Vin des Amis. (DM)”
Auguste Clape has certainly left quite a legacy.