From Cars to Côte Rôtie: Cédric Parpette

From Cars to Côte Rôtie: Cédric Parpette

Bonjour d’un bosseur qui a laissé le monde des bagnoles pour soigner la Serine,
Twenty years ago, Cédric Parpette knew virtually nothing about wine, nor wine growing. He was an auto mechanic whose preferred drinks were beer, whiskey, and rum. However, when he fell in love with his wife-to-be Christelle Fernandez, destiny threw him a curveball that he could never have anticipated. His father-in-law, Réné Fernandez, was the owner of a three hectare parcel of vines in the incredibly steep, iron-oxide rich, hard terres brunes schist rock soils of the lieu dit Montmains above Verenay in the famed Côte Rôtie appellation, arguably the noblest and most complex terroir for Syrah in the world. Réné had planted the vineyard in 1986-1987, with the lower portion planted to more commercial clones, and the upper portion planted (moreso by luck than deliberate intention) to the unique local mutation of Syrah known as Serine whose oval/olive shaped berries have adapted over the millennia to this severe environment. Serine is renowned for its higher toned acidity that, when coupled with the ripeness of intense sunshine, cooling northerly Mistral winds, and incredibly poor bedrock soils yield a full bodied wine of remarkable delicacy and finesse, full of savory and mineral aromas/flavors at low levels of alcohol, a combination that render it unique on the world stage.
Réné sold the majority of his grapes to Guigal, the commercial giant and flagbearer for the region as a whole, keeping roughly 20% of the grapes to make his own wine that he commercialized under his own label. As he grew older and without any sons, he turned to his stout and sturdy son-in-law Cédric to see if he had any interest in continuing the legacy of his work. Cédric worked the harvest and vinification with his beau-père (father-in-law) one vintage and something about the entire process stuck with him. He found himself torn, both attracted to and frightened by the prospect of leaving the security of his oh-so-concrete career as an auto-mechanic. Luckily, his boss at the time gave him encouragement that if he tried to take a go at it and it didn’t suit him, he would be welcomed back with open arms. With this assurance as insurance, he threw himself into the fire full time, and within a year, it was clear that he would willingly take up the yoke of vigneron. A year and a half of formal oenology schooling later, he was in the saddle, virtually a one man band, the second smallest estate producer next to my brother-from-another Pierre Benetière….
One of the first things that Cédric did was to purchase an unplanted parcel in the lieu dit le Plomb in 1996, a slightly higher elevation site that is in fact a flat plateau (vs the 60-70 degree steeps of the Montmains). Although it is flat, its soil is almost purely the hard iron-oxide micaschist bedrock, with pieces of quartz and a few other interesting geological bits. The parcel sits just above a rock quarry, whose side cut reveals how much the soil here is rock, rock, with a side of rock. He planted .6 hectares to Serine with genetics that were given to him by Gilbert Clusel of Clusel-Roch, whose ancient vine Grandes Places Serine vines serve as a reference point source of viticultural patrimony. Clusel and Parpette are literally neighbors in the town of Verenay, with Clusel also farming in Le Plomb just a skip and a jump from Cédric. He initially sold most of the fruit to Guigal, but today keeps all of it, yielding approximately 2k bottles in a good year, or roughly 165 cases. As a related side note, today he only sells a small bit of the lower Montmains to Chapoutier, who uses it for his lieu dit Montmains bottling, at, ahem, a very different price….It was clear from nearly the beginning that the Le Plomb material was even denser in dry extract, thus Cédric has always vinified it slightly differently, and aged it for even longer in barrel. I will detail in the Menu portion exactly what and how…..
As a “little guy”, with no prior experience in the fine wine world, he has a refreshingly honest and simple approach to his commercial attitude. Nearly his only “marketing” would be when he attended the Marché aux Vins, the annual Ampuis based trade show, to show his wares, with a consistent enthusiastic murmur among insiders about the unadulterated purity of his house style and self evident high quality vineyard work ethic behind it. He says that he has always followed the good ol’ golden rule when it comes to pricing, seeking to set a bottle price that he himself could afford and would be happy to pay. I have to say that in terms of substance for your dollar, I do not know of any finer quality/price rapport that exists in the appellation. He has fortunately fallen into good hands in terms of agents to represent him in France, as his wines are now featured in roughly twenty!! Michelin starred restaurants!! This overwhelming recognition of the raw quality of his production hasn’t gone to his head one bit, however. He has no intention of swelling his prices, even though I openly encourage him to do so, as it is more than warranted!!

Even though I have represented his wines for the past few years, this was the first time that we have been able to connect for a visit (hence all of this good depth of detail…). Let me tell you, the guy is as awesome as his wines are. He is, again, refreshingly candid and genuine, somewhat cherubic even in his self-evident sweet nature (and big cheeks!). It was a glorious sunny Saturday, Oct 28th, as you can see from his shorts and T-shirt in the photo above taken in the upper Montmains. As good as the more solar 2015s are, I was blown away by his 2016 wines which possess a sense of classicism, precision, and balance that are absolutely benchmark examples; Cédric thinks that both 2010 and 2016 are the finest two vinages he has made as a vigneron. I was also very impressed with his Condrieu wine, from the richer soiled lieu dit Piaton, a more fruit/floral driven example that is full of the inimitable light-on-its-feet intensity that makes this such hallowed ground for the Viognier grape. To keep freshness, he both picks early and blocks the malolactic fermentation, seeking to keep energetic elegance in the denser, honeyed nature of this sugar prolific grape variety. For the entire range, but particularly for the red wines, I could not recommend these wines any higher for both self-professed sophisticates and newbies alike. In their naked substance and authenticity, it doesn’t get much better than this, nonetheless when you factor in the value quotient. Once you do take that into account, these are plain bonkers-off-the-charts good Côte Rôties. Heed my call when I say that 2016 is the real deal and then some!!!! And so…….


2016 Condrieu Piaton – From deeper soils (read vines can drink more), this is a wonderfully pure honeyed fruit/floral example of Viognier’s charms, both aromatically and on the palate. Not the last word in dynamism and complexity, this delivers the simple pleasure goods with admirable intensity, chock full of the primary qualities so singular to Viognier. The 2016 vintage’s sense of moderation, as well as the blocked malolactic fermentation, gives this a very nice sense of freshness. Pretty hard not to like this…..

2016 Côte Rôtie Montmains – Roughly 500 cases are made annually of his Montmains, a wine that is always more accessible than the le Plomb, with Cédric aging this for one year less than the Le Plomb. I was blown away by just how freakin’ good this is. He used 10% whole clusters for the first time, as the grapes and stems were absolutely impeccably clean and ripe. In its cassis/light black fruited aromas and flavors, with quintessential Côte Rôtie hints of olive and spice and buried minerality, this has an idyllic balance of concentration and freshness, with completely ripe tannic structure and gorgeous precision, all at a wonderfully moderate 12.8% alcohol. In every way, aromatically, flavor, and texture, this screams CLASSIC and CLASS, while still offering a certain approachability. I am a big believer that balance begets balance, that a wine born of harmonious character will age well precisely because it is balanced. Trust me (and Cédric) when I tell you that this is truly great vintage, that you will hear about down the road a bit once the “pros” chime in. MARK MY WORDS. This is ready for pickup now, so this will arrive in December, giving you an early peek at the merits of the vintage in general……

2016 Côte Rôtie Le Plomb – The le Plomb is a wine whose intensity of material (read dry extract/mineral substance) is an obvious and undeniable step up, with Cédric both giving this wine a bit more remontage (pumping the juice from the bottom over the skins soaking on top) and pigeage (gently, manually stirring/pressing the berries) to bring this out. He also ages it for an additional year in barrel, for a total of two years, vs the Montmains for 1 year. He uses principally Chassin barrels for both, one of the classiest and most popular coopers in Burgundy at top addresses. Although its aromatics are a bit shier than the Montmains at this stage, in the mouth, this is a positively outrageously good BOMB of a wine in power-meets-finesse style, explosive in its sense of energy, minerality, and palate coating violet florals/light black fruits, spice, and olives, again at wonderfully moderate upper 12% alcohol. He will not bottle/release this wine until the Fall of 2018, but is graciously allowing me to reserve quantities now, the first person in the world to be able to do so. As such little is made, I wanted to be the early bird, because once the rest of the world catches on to the virtues of 2016, it will be too late….just
add this to the long list of Rob-implores-you-to-listen-and-then-once-the-press-hits-I-am-EXACTLY-right examples that have, by now, likely earned your trust and respect. Get what you can justify, and thank me later!! SERIOUSLY. Cédric will tell you straight up, as good as his ’15s are, the ’16s are even better…..sigh…..people still won’t listen….

2015 Côte Rôtie Le Plomb – The 2015 is long since sold out even though it has just been bottled. This is what remains of my standing reservation from last year. Apparently, I am a very lucky guy to get the Mags that I do, as very few are made (like 120 per year).

IN STOCK: The birds in hand don’t suck!! The moderation of 2014 is gorgeous in its balance and approachability, as Josh Raynolds’ notes attest to. The ’15 Montmains doesn’t suck. Get it while the gettin’ is good…..

2014 Côte Rôtie Montmains
“Vivid purple. Deep-pitched aromas of black and blue fruits, olive, cola and black pepper, and a hint of candied flowers in the background. Broad and deeply concentrated on the palate, offering ripe blackberry, bitter cherry and violet pastille flavors that gain sweetness and become spicier with aeration. The floral note comes slowly on a very long, spice-accented finish, which is framed by youthfully chewy, gripping tannins.” 92 Josh Raynolds

2015 Côte Rôtie Montmains – Seamless and yumtacular….the strengths of the solar vintage indeed are captured here, without excesses.

2014 Côte Rôtie le Plomb
“Vivid purple. Deep-pitched aromas of black and blue fruits, olive, cola and black pepper, and a hint of candied flowers in the background. Broad and deeply concentrated on the palate, offering ripe blackberry, bitter cherry and violet pastille flavors that gain sweetness and become spicier with aeration. The floral note comes slowly on a very long, spice-accented finish, which is framed by youthfully chewy, gripping tannins.” 92 Josh Raynolds


I am sooooo happy to have been able to finally meet Cédric in person, as I appreciate his wines all the more now knowing the gentle, sweet spirit who is essentially single-handedly responsible for their crafting. He is yet another heart-of-gold member of my merry Bacchantic band. There is something to the distillation of a single exceptional individual doing everything themselves, from soup to nuts, rendering the wines even more complete in their sense of authorship. Trust me when I say that it doesn’t get any better than this for the money, and that once you try the wines, you will likely be a fan for life…….



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