Domaine Georges Vernay: this is an estate upon whom the entire survival of the appellation once rested and whose ‘Grand Cru’ Coteau de Vernon is regarded as the absolute pinnacle. This is the doyen of Condrieu, the undisputed authority and consequently, their annual production is greedily bought-up by France’s 3-star restaurants; very little makes it across La Manche! UK representation previously for this truly great domaine has been patchy to say the least: a country merchant, for whom we have nothing but respect, has shipped their wines for a long time, faithful and dependable, sales mainly pitched towards the trade. And then there’s (well, was) a pair of well-heeled West-End merchants but neither totally understood what they had: they used a Fabergé egg as a paperweight on a cluttered desk, unloved and overlooked.
We were kindly introduced to Christine Vernay by Thierry Germain
We have of course drunk Vernay many times over the years; the Chaves always order a bottle when we dine together. Then most notably in January, at the nearby La Pyramide in Vienne, we swigged a bottle with the latest Viognier-wizard, Julien Pilon. Like Pilon, Vernay is able to take the Viognier grape and transmute its notoriously low-slung acids into a ball of energy and mineral-freshness. In the case of the domaine’s top two cuvées there are very few white wines built on such a grand scale and yet still poised and precise: a great Montrachet perhaps and certainly Chave’s glorious Hermitage Blanc are both very fair comparisons.
The estate can be traced back to 1938 when Georges’ father Francis planted a hectare on the Côteau de Vernon
The appellation was granted to the village in 1940. By the time Georges came to plant his second hectare just 8 hectares of vines remained in Condrieu – that means there were just 8ha of Viognier vines left in the world! The brutal granite cliffs, only cultivatable by back-breaking labour, versus the lure of easy work in France’s growing post-war industrial cities drained the Northern Rhône of its young men. If it wasn’t for Georges’ belief in the Viognier grape and his own Vernon vineyard it might all have been lost forever. It’s no surprise therefore that Georges was president of the Condrieu growers association for 30 years finally handing over the reins of the estate to Christine in 1996. In those 20 years since, Christine has built upon the formidable legacy of her father, both expanding the estate’s holdings of Viognier but also applying her energy and exceptional talent. Vernay is now as highly respected for delightfully nuanced Syrah, as it is for its majestic Viognier.