Domaine Georges Vernay - Rhône
Daughter of the renowned Georges, a pioneer in the renaissance of the Condrieu appellation, Christine Vernay has been forging her own path with style and charm. "I feel much comfortable after all these years, but every vintage brings renewed excitement, it is always different. I don't claim to have found all the answers, that will never happen, but I have a broader perspective, and feel able to handle challenges with more ease."
Sensation of freshness
Still as infatuated with Viognier as the day she started, Christine prepares her winery with meticulous care. The variety is known for its temperamental nature, susceptible to coulure and with difficult vegetative cycles, but it flourishes on these imposing hills overlooking the Rhone valley. In the winery, she explains, it requires gentle handling. It has a tendency to 'flex its muscles' and to show off its aromatic character, which can render the wines ‘blowsy' - a quality for which it is often criticised. It requires real skill to achiev balance, to preserve the right levels of acidity in the vineyard. The Vernay's two prime sites, Coteau de Vernon and les Chaillées de l'Enfer are planted with old vines and produce grapes with exceptional freshness, but the date of the harvest is the most crucial and sets the tone for the vintage. It can still be difficult: take 2009 which had high sugar levels but lacked acidity, characteristics that can result in a heavy wine. "that year I was happy” recalls Christine "I worked throughout the year and managed to retain the freshness.”
Hard work, patience, intuition are qualities this former teacher has been able to bring to her change of career. A lecturer at the Ecole nationale d'administration, she used to live in Paris with her husband Paul Amsellem, who owned a children's clothes shop. She had an intimate knowledge of the family's Condrieu estate, having often joined her father in tasting and her mother with shipping duties, whilst her brothers helped with the harvest and in the winery. Georges had envisaged one of his sons would take over, or even Christine's husband Paul, but Christine was insistent. Having relocated to the family house, which sits at the foot Chaillées de l'Enfer, she and Paul took to their new roles with gusto, she behind the scenes, he in charge of sales.
A peaceful haven
Their children, Hugo and Emma, are now in the twenties and her brother has also moved with his family from the Alpes to join the family business. He is currently overseeing the replanting of the magnificent terraced parcel of vines surrounded by cedar trees behind the family dwelling. It is a hugely symbolic vineyard, the initial part having been planted by their grandfather and another section by their father. Christine and Luc are working together to build up this natural edifice bit by bit, two thousand square metres this year, three thousand next year, encompassing one hectare in total. Christine shows us around a mud hut which sits overlooking the young vines "it has no water or electricity, it is our little haven of tranquility which is 100% environmentally friendly! We plan to renovate to create a peaceful and calm retreat for visitors looking for a break from modern life..” She has fond memories of this place where she used run down the steep slopes as a child.
Christine is very grateful to her father for having ‘allowed her the space” even at the start before her efforts started to pay off. "it wasn't that he didn't have confidence in me, rather that he wished to protect me. He never said as much, but his manner implied it.” With each vintage, her expertise grows and she has taken her talents as a winemaker to Cortone in Tuscany, a region she is besotted with. "Italy allows me to take a new approach with Viognier and syrah.”