In the southern Rhône Valley of France, the Gigondas wine appellation produces bold Grenache-based wines that are blended with smaller amounts of Syrah, Mourvèdre, and other red grapes. At the region's heart are the Dentelles de Montmirail, towering limestone ridges whose formation created many different subsoils. The predominance of limestone, a type of carbonate sedimentary rock, is one of the biggest factors in Gigondas' subtlety and freshness. The significant day-night temperature shifts, created by the mountain's height of nearly 2,400 feet, also help maintain the grapes' acidity and balance. 

Among the area’s top producers, Château de Saint Cosme stands out for its quality winemaking and eco-friendly practices. The estate’s long history dates back centuries, with evidence of winemaking on its site since Roman times. The property has been in the Barruol family since 1490, with 15 generations of winegrowers succeeding one another. 

Owner Louis Barruol is now leading Château de Saint Cosme, making wines that reflect Gigondas' unique terroir. The 22 hectares of estate vineyards are cultivated using organic and biodynamic methods. In the cellar, only native yeasts are employed, and the wines undergo minimal intervention, remaining unfined and unfiltered.

Grape Collective's Lisa Denning sat down with Château de Saint Cosme winemaker Nicolas Chevrol, who has been working with Barruol since 2016, to discuss the teroir of Gigondas and the winery's hands-off approach to winemaking.

Lisa Denning: Can you tell us the history of the Château de Saint Cosme?

Nicolas Chevrol: Château de Saint Cosme is a family estate. Louis began working in the business with his father in 1992. The estate was in the family of Louis’ mother, and his parents began growing vineyards at the beginning of the '60s. But the family of Louis is 16 generations of one grower on the estate, so there is a lot of history there.

Can you tell me about your background and how you became the winemaker for Château de Saint Cosme? 

My family has a winery in Northern Rhône, so I grew up in the vineyards. After that, I went to agriculture engineering school to learn about agronomics and growing and cultivating vines. Afterward, I did an enology diploma to improve my skills in winemaking. After my studies, I had several work experiences in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, particularly with Philippe Cambie, the famous winemaker and consultant there. After that, in 2016, I went to Château de Saint Cosme.

When Louis took over from Henri, his father, what changes did he initiate?

When Louis started to work with his father, he wanted to grow and develop the estate. And so he began working a lot with selections of terroir and developing the market. But in the beginning, he learned a lot working with his father before changing anything. By the end of the nineties, it was a good time for him to make wine without his father. At this time, he developed, for example, the three single vineyards of Gigondas to show the diversity of the terroir. And because for us, it's very important to focus on terroir to make very pure wine. He also converted the estate to biodynamics in 2010. 

Another Gigondas wine producer, Henri-Claude Amadieu, told me that Louis is a very important figure of Gigondas, one of the most dedicated wine producers when it comes to promoting the area.

Yes, Louis is the president of the Union of Gigondas, our association for wine growers. He tries to manage the appellation to grow it and show it to the world. He really wants to improve the quality of the appellation and be more present on the market, showing the high quality of wines.

Can you describe the Gigondas appellation in terms of its terroir, the grapes that grow there, and what makes it unique from other southern Rhône appellations?

Gigondas is a very atypical southern Rhône appellation because we have different influences. The first one is the Miocene sand, a sediment from the Mediterranean Sea of the past that left a lot of sand that transformed into rock. And we also have the limestone mountains, the Dentelles de Montmirail. And this combination brings a lot of different kinds of terroir to the appellation. It's the reason Louis developed the three single vineyards. It was to show the difference between terroirs that are very near to each other. At Château de Saint Cosme, we have 15 hectares of Gigondas around the castle. And in this area, we have a lot of different terroir, and this is very typical of Gigondas. It could be compared to places in Burgundy with parcels that are very close to each other but have very different terroir. 

Can you tell me about the estate’s three single vineyard plots?

Louis created them in 2003 from very old mixed plantings of Grenache, beginning with Hominis Fides and Le Poste, and then in 2004, he created Le Claux, one of his father’s favorite vineyard sites. They’re all planted with Grenache, and the winemaking process is the same for the three single vineyards. The only difference is the soil. Hominis Fides single vineyard is sandy, Le Poste is limestone, and Le Claux is clay. With the three single vineyards, you can have a good picture of the appellation, and it shows how the wine turns out using the same process but with one difference, and that is the soil and the terroir.

And can you tell me about the grapes that you grow in Gigondas?

In Gigondas, the outstanding grape is Grenache—almost 70% of the appellation. But you also have Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. These are the most chosen grapes when planting in Gigondas.

What is the philosophy and culture of winemaking of the estate?

For us, it’s very important to use non-interventional practices, so we use full bunches and natural yeasts, and we don’t filter or fine the wine. We try to do the minimum amount of manipulation to show the purity of the fruit. At Saint Cosme, we usually work “à la main.” I want to make wines that express their terroir with purity and personality. I want to make balanced wines with a great ability to age.

Château de Saint Cosme is certified organic. Do you use biodynamic methods?

We are using some biodynamic practices but are not certificated because we don't use all the techniques. 

Let's talk about climate change. What are some things that you have noticed and have been taking measures to deal with?

Not particular to the estate, but with the Union of Gigondas, we are working on this problem because, for us, it's better to do it together with the Union. We are trying some old wine grape varieties we no longer use because they were maturing too late. With the warmer climate, it’s good for us to try using them again because they produce less alcohol than Grenache, for example, in a warmer climate. It could be a solution for us so we are trying to experiment with old varieties we want to use more of.

What are those other grape varieties?

We want to use more Cinsault or Counoise, and we are also experimenting with Picpoul de Noir and some other old varieties.

According to the appellation regulations, is there a certain amount of the blend that must be Grenache?

We have to plant a large percentage of Grenache in the vineyard—I think it's close to 60 percent—but we also have a lot of other grapes we can use. So yeah, we can have some other varieties to help solve the problem of higher alcohol levels in the wines. 

Is it true that 99% of Gigondas wine is red wine?


Tell me about the other 1%.

The good news of the appellation is that as of 2023, we can produce white labeled as Gigondas, thanks to the hard work of the Union of Gigondas. We will have the first bottled in 2024, made from a big percentage of Clairette, a minimum of 70%. It's very good news for the appellation because it's a very good terroir for growing white grapes. We have a big proportion of limestone, and we have a cool climate, so it's perfect conditions for growing white grapes to make very ripe and balanced white wines.

What about rosé? Can you tell me what Gigondas rosé is like? 

We don't produce rosé, but historically, producers have been allowed to do so. We keep it in the appellation, but at Château de Saint Cosme, we will not produce it. Outside of the reds, we prefer to focus on white.

Generally speaking, how would you describe the taste of your red wines to someone who's never tasted your red wine?

We try to have very ripe grapes so we produce balanced wine with soft tannins. Gigondas produces wines with a wide diversity of flavors with fruitiness, like wild blackberries and strawberries, when young. But with some aging, you can taste forest floor, cinnamon, and gingerbread. 

And why do you think Gigondas is not as well known as its more famous neighbor, Châteauneuf-du-Pape?

Because Gigondas is like the younger brother, and it’s smaller. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is 3,000 hectares whereas Gigondas is only 1,500. But I think with the creation of white Gigondas, we will maybe become more visible. 

In 1997, the Barroul family started getting into the negotiant business, correct? Yes. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, Louis was looking for a new challenge, and he created a négociant business that he likes to call a "Négociant-Vigneron.” During his travels and tastings in the Rhône Valley, he often thought that many great terroirs were underexploited. His wish was to become a négociant who would work with the spirit of a vigneron using ancient methods, meaning being and remaining a small producer, working with winemakers who have the same ambition, and transporting wines in casks to avoid racking them and killing their fruit.

In 2019, the family purchased another estate, Chateau de Rouanne. Can you tell me about it and where it's located?

Château de Rouanne is 20 kilometers north of Gigondas, so it's very close. We knew this estate well before the purchase because it was one of our producers of Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône, a négociant wine, and we know that it was a very big terroir with a lot of potential. So we bought it to produce a Vinsobres wine because Vinsobres is a really unknown appellation with big potential. And, like in Gigondas, there’s a lot of limestone in the soil. So in this terroir, we have a big opportunity to produce very fine wines like at Saint Cosme, but not too far away from Gigondas. The winemaking team works together with Louis to produce the wine. It's really a team family—we have to be connected with each other to make wine with identity.