Finding Connections in the Northern Rhône

Northern Rhone Wine 2016 JL Chave Selection Silène with the painting "Syrah" by Act2Art by RuBen

Finding Connections in the Northern Rhône


I’ve only been to France once.  We were in Germany and during our week in Hamburg we took the train to Paris for a single day.  Up early, we arrived at the Gard du Nord train station and made our way to Le Sacre Coeur to climb the steps. We wandered past the Opera House on our way to the L’Arc de Triomphe.  Lunch was at a small table with an appropriately rude waiter under the Tour d’Eiffel. 

A boat took us down the Seine to Notre Dame and we walked back to the Louvre to look at the Castle beneath it and then wandered the museum briefly, with a quick late day stop to see the Mona Lisa.  Feet hot and sore from all the walking, we kicked off our shoes and cooled our feet in the fountains around the glass Pyramid.

I could not remember dinner.  I asked Michael and his memory was clear, it was at a small sidewalk café.  The table next to us had a German couple that refused to speak German or French and would only speak English to the waiter. We returned to our tiny hotel room only to quickly sleep and wake early to take the train back to Hamburg.  It was only a brief “Golden Day”.

All of my knowledge and connection with France come through connections.  That entire day was based on the connections I had put together from 4 years of studying these places in High School French.

Now, my knowledge of France and French wine come through bottles of wine, and wonderful people I have met who connect me with France through their eyes.

Connections are something I look more closely for these days.

The French #Winophiles

This month the French #Winophiles, are discussing the Northern Rhône.  I love Rhône style wines.  The key word is “style”.  There are so many of the rhône varieties have been planted in the new world and that is where I find my connections.

Rather than focusing on food this month, (my pantry did hold the ingredients to make a cassoulet!), I thought I would focus on the other connections that I have to the Northern Rhône.

Grapes of the Northern Rhône

Unlike the Southern Rhône where you find at least 16 different varieties, the Northern Rhône has just a few varieties to choose from. While there are several white grape varieties you might come across here, including Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, the Northern Rhône is focused solely on one red grape, Syrah.

JL Chave Sélection Crozes-Hermitage “Silène” 2016

Northern Rhone, Silène 2016 Crozes-Hermitage from J.L. Chave Sélection
Silène 2016 Crozes-Hermitage from J.L. Chave Sélection

This wine is from the Crozes-Hermitage AOC of the Northern Rhône.  These vineyards sit around Hermitage AOC on the East bank of the Rhône River.  The revered Hermitage AOC, is commune size and is surrounded on 3 sides by Crozes-Hermitage, with it’s last side against the river.  Crozes-Hermitage is much larger with plots less sought after than Hermitage.  None-the-less, this is a fine wine and a little less exorbitantly priced than the other smaller AOCs.  Half of the grapes for this wine are from an estate parcel planted in 2003 that is on the east facing flank of the Hermitage Hill.  This allows the vines a more granitic soil than the vines on the valley floor.

Bob Lindquist & Chave

My story, as I said, is about connections and I chose the JL Chave syrah for a connection with Santa Barbara.  In 2016 we attended a Syrah Seminar hosted by the Santa Barbara Vintner’s Association.  On the panel was Chris Hammell, the Vineyard Manager for Bien Nacido Vineyards, in the Santa Maria Valley.  Chris told a story about meeting Jean-Louis Chave .  Chris was pretty excited about being in the cellar with one of the most famous people in the Syrah world.  The first thing that Jean-Louis says to him? “Hi Chris, thanks for coming.  How’s Bob Lindquist?”. 

Bob Lindquist at the Zaca Mesa Seminar April 25, 2015

I had the honor of meeting Bob Lindquist, while in Santa Barbara the year before, during a seminar on the winemakers of Zaca Mesa.  Bob was an early Rhône Ranger advocating for syrah in the US.  He made his Qupé wines at the winery on Bien Nacido Vineyard with Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat for many years.  After selling Qupé, he remains at the same winery, making his Lindquist Family Wines.  He is quiet and humble, makes delicious wine and is a legend in California Syrah. 

The Chapel connection

Chapel of St. Christopher, L´Hermitage, Rhône-Alpes, France
Chapel of St. Christopher, L´Hermitage, Rhône-Alpes, France

My other connection is via Hermitage.  No, I have never been there.  I have only seen photos of the iconic stone chapel that sits on the Hill behind the town of Tain l’Hermitage.  This is the famous Chapel of St. Christopher.

When we visited the Yakima Valley in 2018, we heard about a vineyard with a stone chapel created to be similar to this famous Chapel.  This past fall we were able to return and to take in the sunset with the owners of the Red Willow Vineyard where it stands.  We sat eating Rainier cherries and drinking wine with owner Mike Sauer and his son Jon.  Again, humble people who grow amazing and sought after fruit. The story of the chapel, you can hear straight from Mike below. They planted this difficult area with Syrah and Viognier.  The chapel is very reminiscent of the Chapel of St. Christopher.

The Chapel on the Chapel Block at Red Willow Vineyard Yakima Valley Washington
The Chapel on the Chapel Block at Red Willow Vineyard

Connections with Art

I looked around to find a place to photo this bottle and it practically pulled me to a painting downstairs that was done by my brilliantly talented friend RuBen.  The painting has always felt like a glimpse of the universe to me, which felt appropriate.  RuBen painted this piece inspired by a wine.  That wine?  Syrah.

2016 JL Chave Selection Silène with the painting "Syrah" by Act2Art by RuBen
2016 Silène with the painting “Syrah” by RuBen

A final thought

These places are states or continents apart.  Some share climates or soils that are similar, and all have kindred spirits working the land.  They are different and unique, as are the wines that come from the grapes they grow and turn to wine.  But, in their own small region, a dot on the map of this large globe, they are connected. It’s a reminder that we are all connected.

Join the French #Winophiles on twitter this Saturday April 18th at 8 am PST to speak about all things Northern Rhône.  And then take a look below at the other amazing pieces shared by my fellow #Winophiles.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

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Robin Renken
[email protected]
  • theswirlingdervish
    Posted at 11:41h, 18 April Reply

    Such a lovely post about connecting with the wine and each other. So relevant right now! And the idea of sitting on a hillside at sunset, eating cherries and discussing wine with a winemaker – well, what could be better than that?

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 17:26h, 18 April

      It was a simply glorious evening. Mike Sauer at Red Willow is actually a grower, and a legendary one in the Yakima Valley. He was instrumental in planting new varieties in the region which thrive. He is also just a salt of the earth human and it was an honor to spend an evening with him, especially in such as spectacular location, surrounded by the chapel and vines that he had planted. It is an evening I will never forget. (Seems like the Northern Rhone brought amazing memories back for both of us!)

  • advinetures
    Posted at 22:55h, 18 April Reply

    We were sorry to miss the chat this morning as we adore wines from the region. I love how you made the connection to SBC syrah and having recently met Bob, we can speak to his humility and knowledge. What a delightful man! And I had no idea about the chapel at Red Willow…oh the places we need to go once restrictions are lifted!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 23:20h, 18 April

      Oh the places we will go, the people we will meet and the wines that we will drink! I’m sorry you missed it this morning also. It was a busy chat! I could barely keep up! And there were so many amazing wines and stories and pairings!

  • Lynn
    Posted at 12:44h, 19 April Reply

    The little things… absolutely enjoyed reading about these little things that created a Northern Rhone connection for you: Paris, art, the buildings, the people the generosity (or not, dang that waiter but then that probably added to the experience!). So refreshing, life is indeed about the connections.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 14:30h, 19 April

      Indeed it is. I now add you to my list of “French Connections”. Here’s to sipping Condrieu together someday!

  • Always Ravenous
    Posted at 17:55h, 19 April Reply

    What a wonderful connection of people, places, and wines. You are so right…”It’s a reminder that we are all connected.”

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 18:42h, 19 April

      Wine is almost always delicious, but when it comes with a connection, a story or a memory it always tastes better.

  • Martin D. Redmond
    Posted at 18:46h, 19 April Reply

    A thoroughly entertaining post Robin. I love the Chave/Lindquist story! Isn’t it funny how connected winemakers are a world apart from one another? It’s a unique group of folks who seem to have a deep and abiding respect for one another. Oh to be a fly on the wall during their gatherings.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 22:15h, 19 April

      Thank you Martin! I do love the connectivity in the wine world. I have actually been a fly on the wall on at least one occasion. Michael and I were having dinner at a restaurant in Los Alamos and were seated at a 2 top next to a large table with a group. The center of the table was dotted with bottles. It was Jim Clendenen and his team from Au Bon Climat out for a post harvest dinner. The laughter and joy from that table filled the room.

  • wendyklik
    Posted at 20:44h, 19 April Reply

    Thank you for sharing your day in Paris with us. I love traveling virtually through these wine groups.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 22:42h, 19 April

      The virtual travel with this group is amazing isn’t it Wendy! Every now and then I get to stroll down memory lane, but mostly I live vicariously through others photos.

  • terristeffes
    Posted at 17:42h, 20 April Reply

    Thanks for coming to Our Good Life to visit! I enjoyed reading your stories. I am so interested in more, I read about your Malbec wines, too.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 16:47h, 21 April

      Thanks Terri. There is so much to explore in food and wine.

  • Nicole Ruiz Hudson
    Posted at 17:53h, 20 April Reply

    Love the connections and memories you drew on. It’s so nice to draw back on these memories these days.

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 16:49h, 21 April

      Thanks Nicole. These day’s I am enjoying opening a bottle and finding connections, be it through places we have travelled or places we would like to travel! For me, making the world a smaller place in this way is comforting.

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