The story of Christophe Curtat is about a wine lover who fell hard for his passion. So hard, in fact, his passion led him to quit his successful, though meandering, career in his 40’s to join the ranks of vignerons in his beloved Northern Rhone. Curtat did not come from a winemaking or viticultural background, though in his early days he got a taste for agriculture when he worked with his father who was a wheat farmer. Later, his love for wine and tasting led him to develop friendships with some local vignerons who ultimately turned him on the the life of the Grape.
Christophe’s first vintage was 2005. Through the help of some local contacts, he rented a small parcel of Saint Joseph vines and made a little wine, but ended up drinking the entire production with friends (a fine debut!). The following year he found 1 hectare of vines to rent from Pascal Jamet and with that he produced his first commercial vintage. He also started working in the cellars at both Domaine Francois Villard and Domaine Yves Cuilleron in exchange for winery space, and so he named his Saint Joseph “Nomade” as a nod to his days as a wandering winemaker.
Today, Christophe Curtat has a small winery on the Route de Lamastre and seven hectares of vines split between Crozes Hermitage (1 HA), Saint Joseph Rouge (mostly planted in the 1950s, though some 100 years old) and a bit of Saint Joseph Blanc, all of which he farms organically, though not certified. The vineyards are dominated by veins of granite covered by a thin layer of clay, but some of the parcels also have a presence of sand and pebbles which adds to the layers of complexity in the wines. Christophe believes that working the soils is perhaps the most important (and most demanding) thing he does in either the vineyard or cellar. And given the steep slopes on most of his vineyards, it is painstaking work that has to be done by hand!
While many of Curtat’s winemaker friends in the region make somewhat bigger and flashier wines, he is wedded to produce Syrah that is energetic, pure and “crunchy”. He argues it is harder to make elegant Syrah than it is to make powerful Syrah, as the grape can quickly and easily go toward extraction unless steps are taken in vinification to back off and encourage tension and finesse over pure power and heft. As such, his winemaking and élévage tends towards the traditional and more old school Northern Rhone. He incorporates 25-35% whole cluster fermentation in tank, eschews punch downs, and then raises the wines in no more than 20% new oak. He has also been experimenting with some 500 liter puncheons.
When you meet him, Christophe comes across as somewhat of a renaissance man having led so many lives and careers. Part dreamer, though certainly accomplished realist, his unwavering passion as a wine drinker and collector over many years has afforded him the perspective to craft exactly the kinds of wines he hoped to produce; wines the French fondly refer to as les vins de plaisir (pleasure wines), but also classically rendered vins de terroirs (terroir wines). He couldn’t have said it better than he did when he said, “I make wines for people who want to drink!”. One glass just isn’t enough…