The Clusel family comes from a long lineage of farmers in Verenay—the northernmost village in Côte-Rôtie. They tended syrah vines on the decomposed schist known locally as l’Arzel, but they also cultivated vegetables and apricot trees like most true paysans in the area. When Gilbert Clusel took over the 8-acre domaine in 1980, the Côte-Rôtie appellation was not the celebrated winegrowing area it is today. Vineyards were in disarray, many having been abandoned since the first World War. He and his wife, Brigitte Roch, turned their full attention to the vine, instituting changes that transformed their steep, hillside plots in concert with other forward-thinking vignerons in the region. For Clusel, those changes involved stopping all chemical treatments, replanting by massal selection from his own heritage vines, using home-grown compost instead of fertilizer, fermenting using native yeasts and fully converting to biodynamics by 1990.
Most of the work at Clusel-Roch is carried out by hand, not only because that is the family’s preferred method but because the landscape of Côte-Rôtie demands it. Few plots are accessible to tractors, requiring sometimes one person per 2.5 acres during periods of pruning, trellising or debudding.
In 2009, Gilbert and Brigitte’s son Guillaume took over a modest surface area of Gamay and Chardonnay vines in the Coteaux du Lyonnais, a few hours upriver from the family home, which he converted to organic viticulture. The terrain there is a little more forgiving than in Côte-Rôtie and the youthful, approachable wines a nice complement to the more powerful Syrah cuvées.
variety: syrah soil type: mica schist avg vine age: 30 years
Viallières is a southeast-facing lieu-dit in the northern part of Côte-Rôtie on iron-rich mica schist soil. Clusel-Roch’s vines there are a massal selection of heritage Ampuis Serine. The grapes are partly destemmed and undergo a 3 to 4 week-long maceration. The resulting wine is aged in 25 percent new oak for 2 years before release.
Coteaux du Lyonnais ‘Traboules’
variety: gamay soil type: glacial moraine & gneiss avg vine age: 30 years
This Gamay comes off of two terroirs near the Rhône river—a plot in Millery on glacial moraine soil and a plot in Orliénas on gneiss. The grapes are hand harvested and partly destemmed then pressed after 2 weeks and aged for 6 months in stainless steel. It’s a fresh, minerally red built for BBQ, charcuterie and year-round enjoyment.