Domaine Clusel-Roch : the Family with the Courage to Go Organic in the Côte Rôtie

The prestige that the Côte-Rôtie appellation is known for today is the result of the tireless work that its winegrowers and makers put in for years before it eventually paid off. Brigitte Roch and Gilbert Clusel embody this image of hard-working vigernons that is the cornerstone of the Côte Rôtie’s excellent reputation.

The winegrower dedication that is evident at Clusel-Roch is decades old, long before the Rhone Valley Crus started to gain traction among wine buffs. The Clusels have always worked the land: vegetables, orchards, vines as until the 1980s, Côte Rôtie wines were not appreciated as they are today. The wine was bottled immediately for sale and was only appreciated by a small group of connoisseurs.

In 1980 and fresh out of college, Gilbert Clusel began the relentless work to clear and revive the abandoned vines. As the Côte Rôtie vineyards had been neglected since the First World War (but known as a great wine growing region since Antiquity) Clusel soon saw the grapes rather than fruits of his labour and no longer needed to grow other fruit or vegetables. Alongside this production of the Grandes-Places vine which was planted in 1935 by Gilbert’s grandparents was being bottled separately. The 3.5-hectare estate was named “Clusel-Roch”, a fusion of both sides of the family – Gilbert Clusel and his wife Brigitte Roch.

The 1990s was a decade of change for this domain. The practice massal selection (which involves replanting new vines from the best old vines, producing more complex grapes) was introduced. Clusel resumed plowing, stopped using chemicals, and built a new, more modern cellar. Gilbert and Brigitte decide to go a step further and were awarded organic certification in 2002. Their son, Guillaume joined the estate in 2009, the current general manager. With Côte Rôtie and Condrieu well-established, he introduced a third appellation, the AOC Coteaux du Lyonnais into the heart of the estate.

In Ampuis, the estate only replants vines made from old “Serines” (the traditional Syrah from Ampuis), which produces less but creates more complex aromas. On the Coteaux du Lyonnais, things could not be more different: the slops are less steep than the Côte Rôtie hillsides (not that its difficult to find…), using a Gamay grape instead of Syrah, and produced wines to drink much younger.

There is no doubt that this is a domain that is managed by people who live and breathe it, really passionate people. They don’t let anything slip out of respect for their terroir. Gilbert Clusel and Brigitte Roch are all the more deserving of praise as it is not easy to be organic in Côte Rôtie. The steep slopes of the vineyard tend to discourage winegrowers, and many are driven to treating the vines and weeding the vineyards, to the detriment of the terroir which, admittedly, is not without its difficulties … but would take more than that to stop the Clusels!

What the Experts Say :

Revue du Vin de France (2020): 2/3 stars

“This beautiful estate located in the northern part of the Côte Rôtie appellation has organic certification since 2002. The vines planted come from massal selections. The half-hectare of Condrieu comes from the slopes of Chery and the Côte-Rôties from localities such as Plomb, Chapon and Viallières. The style is one of minimal invention with most grapes kept on bunches. The domain has been enriched in recent years with the addition of a third appellation, Coteaux du Lyonnais.”

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