François Merlin is one of the most exciting names in the Northern Rhône today, producing elegant Syrah and Viognier.
Merlin is a rare first-generation Rhône winemaker. The son of a chemical engineer, he moved to Saint-Michel-sur-Rhône, just south of Condrieu, in 1989. He has never studied wine officially, but instead learnt from the best – namely in the vines of Domaine René Rostaing, with a stint at Georges Vernay.
He planted his first plot in 1989, and the estate today consists of nine hectares, spread across a multitude of tiny parcels, in Condrieu, Côte-Rôtie, Saint-Joseph and the Collines Rhodaniennes.
The emphasis is firmly in the vineyard, with a sustainable approach, avoiding chemicals in all but the most severe vintages. The yields are low, around 35hl/ha, the fruit picked by hand, and the use of new oak has gradually been reduced, using Stockinger demi-muids alongside French barriques.
Condrieu Les Terroirs is a blend from three sites (totalling 1.5 hectares), with vines averaging 30 years in age. The wine is matured in oak (around 20% new), producing a notably mineral, fresh style of Viognier. The Condrieu Jeanraude comes from two specific plots: from Jeanraude (next door to Château-Grillet) and the Poncin vineyard (home to his oldest vines, planted in the 1950s), both on a bedrock of blue-grey granite. The wine is matured in oak (around a third new), more structured in style than Les Terroirs, and needs time in bottle to reveal its full potential. The fruit for the reds is mainly de-stemmed (entirely for the Côte-Rôtie, with a portion of whole-bunch for some of the Saint-Joseph cuvées), with maturation in 20-100% new oak, depending on the wine.
François’s son Laurent studied viticulture and joined the domaine in 2013, adding even more focus to the work in the vineyards. His second son Julien is now also working at the property.