Julien Cécillon

Relatively speaking, the northern Rhône is a tiny viticultural region, with only around 2,800 ha planted in total, and its more famous wines difficult to obtain—so it’s a special pleasure to see a new producer rise and begin to offer excellent work in the area. Julien Cécillon is one such winery founded by two winemakers, Texas-born Nancy Kershen and Rhône native Julien, who labor together to make elegant-but-drinkable versions of this famous place’s wines.

 

Before founding the domaine, the pair both worked in various contexts in the wine industry—Nancy in New Zealand and Napa; Julien in South Africa, around the Rhône, and in California, where he and Nancy met. Their relationship and shared passion for wine inspired them to begin a project together; in 2011, Julien and Nancy got things started with a tiny parcel in Saint-Joseph of only .3ha. It’s also of note that Julien’s long heritage in the Rhône is comprised of eleven generations of winemakers, including his lauded uncle, Jean-Louis Grippat—who, though now retired, will often bike past Cécillon vineyards and check to see if they pass muster.

 

Over the last ten years, Nancy and Julien have been persistent and managed to amass more bits and pieces of vineyards around Tournon, Julien’s home village, and the surrounding municipalities. Now, Cécillon has not only estate parcels of vines in Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage, but also some in the Ardèche near the village of Ardoix. In addition, Cécillon also produces négociant bottlings from vineyards belonging to different local growers in different terroirs. Farming on the estate vineyards began conversion to organic farming in 2019; certification will be complete in 2022.

 

Obviously, the domaine’s Syrahs are the core of the production here, but there are also a number of white wines from Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier that we’ll see from the domaine, as well as one jolly Gamay—a full and diverse expression of varying terroirs throughout the northern Rhône. Happily, these aren’t slick Rhône wines, overly manicured or over-processed—all the wines are fermented with native yeasts and aged primarily in neutral wood—these are for people who are fans of tradition here but also appreciate a polished touch. Production is limited: most of the plots of vines with which the domaine works are between .25 and 1.5 ha, and aficionados of the Rhône are already well in the know about these wines, so if you’re curious, nab some Cécillon while you can.

“I believe that the terroir differentiates our parcels; each one is unique.” — Nancy Kerschen

Wines

Cornas ‘Saint Pierre’

Varietal: Syrah

Color: Red

Farming Practice: Organic

Cornas coming from a tiny .25ha parcel biodynamically and organically farmed by a neighbor, called ‘Saint Pierre,’ at the very top of the village on pure granite soils. 26 year-old vines. 280m elevation. Fermentation is 10% whole cluster in stainless steel tanks; élevage is 18 months, in a combination of new oak barrels (400L) and neutral barrels (225L). An elegant interpretation of an otherwise wild, intense appellation.

IGP Gamay ‘La Savane’

Varietal: Gamay

Color: Red

Farming Practice: Sustainable

‘La Savane’ comes from a 2-hectare parcel planted in 1978 in Ardoix, a rugged landscape deep in the hills of the Ardèche. The soils in this parcel are decomposed granite and sand; altitude is at 400m. Fermentation is 70% destemmed, 30% whole-cluster in stainless steel; élevage is then split between steel and larger 5-7 year-old barrels. ‘La Savane’ is a darker, deeper, Rhône-styled Gamay.

IGP Marsanne ‘Cornilhac’

Varietal: Marsanne

Color: White

Farming Practice: Organic

100% Marsanne, sourced from two different parcels of young vines totaling .95ha, both on decomposed granite soils. Fermentation and 9 months’ aging in split into 80% stainless steel and 20% neutral oak barrels. Melon-fruited and sunny, but with a mineral finish that keeps this northern Rhône white from being overblown. Organic.

IGP Syrah ‘Les Graviers’

Varietal: Syrah

Color: Red

Farming Practice: Sustainable

‘Les Graviers’ is a négociant blend of three vineyard sites in the Rhône. The majority of fruit comes from the southern parts of the Drôme and Ardèche, a smaller amount from vineyards around Tournon. ‘Les Graviers’ means ‘gravel,’: the winery was a former gravel warehouse, and the market square in Tournon where Julien grew up is called ‘Place des Graviers.’ The soils in this 4 ha cluster of vineyards are clay-limestone and granite with pebbles; fermentation is 70% destemmed, 30% whole-cluster in stainless steel. Élevage is between 8 to 14 months in neutral barrels.

Saint-Joseph Rouge ‘Babylone’

Varietal: Syrah

Color: Red

Farming Practice: Sustainable

The Saint-Joseph ‘Babylone’ comes from old-vine parcels near the historic center of the appellation, including century-old vines from the ‘Côte des Rivoirs’ parcel in Tournon. Additional vineyard sources in Vion and Ozon round out the blend; all parcels are between 125 and 250m elevation. Soils are granite de Tournon (decomposed granite with sand and gneiss), which lends this Syrah a clear sense of acidity and lift. 75% destemmed / 25% whole-cluster; fermentation in stainless steel; 17 months’ élevage in 1 to 6-year-old barrels.

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