Though the Clapes farm only eight hectares, the challenge presented by the rough, tightly stacked terrace vineyards of Cornas is largely enough to handle by anybody’s standards. The dicey precipices make using any machinery in the vineyards impossible. All work must be done by hand. There are no official rules to their viticultural methodology—they work the old-fashioned way, by instinct, feeling, and common sense. The vineyards sit on granite subsoil, behind the village, with optimal sun exposure. They farm a number of prime parcels, including Reynards, La Côte, Geynale, Tézier, Petite Côte, Les Mazards, Patou, Pied La Vigne, Chaillot, and Sabarotte, the latter purchased from Cornas legend Noël Verset. Their only secrets: starting with old vines, and optimizing the ripeness of the fruit as best they can. They accomplish this by holding out before they harvest—a risky game of ‘chicken’ where the trick is to keep the fruit on the vine as long as possible while still harvesting before the rains. Individual parcels are vinified separately via whole-cluster fermentation. Long élevages of twelve to twenty-two months in old, oval foudres add depth to the natural complexity of the wines. These Cornas are capable of tremendous longevity in the cellar, although Kermit also encourages trying them while they are young and fresh, to better appreciate the evolution to come. For a taste of the old-style Syrah from the fabulous, sculptured slopes of the Northern Rhône, Clape’s Cornas is the only place to start.
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