Domaine Combier, star of the Syrah grape

Founded just before the Second World War broke out, Domaine Combier carries a history with a family at its heart, one that believed in the Crozes-Hermitage appellation, an understated spot at the time. Since its very beginning, the estate has also been committed to a natural-leaning approach to the craft, using methods that have skyrocketed in popularity of late.

Domaine Combier is a wine estate that took root in 1936 when Camille Combier left his native Ardèche to settle at La Roche de Glun, a property in Pont-de-l’Isère that boasted three hectares of vineyards and four of apricot trees. A regional tradition that persists today, the cultivation of several kinds of fruit on one piece of land is not unlike the concept of polyculture that so many now espouse. The economic boom of the Trente Glorieuses helped get things off the ground, and Combier found success selling his produce to local workers.

Next in the family line was Camille’s son, Maurice, who gave most of his time and effort to arboriculture whilst continuing to sell his grapes to the Tain l’Hermitage cooperative and neighbouring traders. A grower with his finger on the pulse, Maurice converted his whole farm to organics at the end of the 1960s, a challenge he threw himself into after suffering an allergic reaction to a fertiliser. The challenge was made all the more complex by the area’s capricious weather conditions; periods of frost and drought alike don’t tend to lend themselves to a natural approach. At least to begin with…

His own son, Laurent, took up the domain with his wife, Ghislaine, at the end of the 1980s. Equally driven by the potential he saw in Crozes-Hermitage, an appellation far from the spotlight at the time, Laurent came onto the scene with a diploma in viticulture and oenology. Taking up the work carried out by his predecessors, his key projects included increasing the size of the domain, building his own cellar, focussing on Syrah cultivation, and converting to organics. Now he’s got his sons, Julien and David, at his side. The former is passionate about the vines themselves, dedicating himself to them since 2014, whilst David is leaning more towards the business and vinification side of things. A strong start for this dynamic duo.

Respect in every step

There’s a kind of magic in making wines with the finesse of a great Burgundy, good ageing capacity, a frank style, and delicious fruit. At Domaine Combier, all of this comes through in the wine, even if each carries its own special character. “We don’t believe that wines have to be austere in their youth and only good after extensive ageing: a fine wine should be good at the beginning, the middle, and the end!”

To achieve this, “only the most balanced grapes give harmonious, deep, and delicate wines”. At Domaine Combier, these are grown on around twenty hectares, the heart of which is the wonderful Clos des Grives. Planted and replanted using massal selection to retain their typical qualities, the vines enjoy a terroir that varies from north to south. To the north, the bedrock touches well-filtering granite soil, whilst the southern terroir is rich in clay and limestone, covered with stones that take in the heat during the day and return it to the vines at night. ‘Respect’ is the word at the heart of this family’s approach; respect for the earth and its plant life, especially through the waxing and waning of the lunar calendar.

No artifice

As already mentioned, this domain works with Syrah, a grape variety that is reductive in character and needs some time to open up. Vinifications at Combier have nothing artificial about them, with gentle extraction, natural oxygenation, and containers considered in great detail depending on the vintage. From 1990, Laurent Combier opted for thermo-regulated, stainless steel vats, as these are functional and hygienic. Nine years later, the iconic concrete eggs were introduced into the winery, a container that improves the suspension of the lees and ensures a more delicate tannin. In 2001, the concrete vats arrived, and these allow for a gentler pumping over process as well as a slower oxygenation. If you thought that sounded like enough, there are also wooden casks and demi-muids in the line-up, as this kind of container is known for its micro-oxygenation merits. With this meticulous level of attention given to the vinification process, their focus has moved back to the vineyard. Since 2017, Domaine Combier has been putting brainpower and masterful work into a new parcel-by-parcel approach…something to look out for in the next generation of cuvées!

For now, though, we can highly recommend Domaine Combier’s current range, available here

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