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The Terroir !

All the flavours of Cornas
are found in its natural environment !

Sight is the first sense to awaken in order to enjoy a better drinking experience. Mountainous and extremely powerful, fiery and tamed, warm and cool, the qualities of Cornas wines are firstly those of its landscape.

The Rhone River

Credit where credit is due, the first glance will be for the Rhone River. This “fierce bull leaping towards the sea” has set the tempo of the Northern and Southern winegrowing area, to which it gave its name. In this northern part, the Rhone snakes its way along and it has sculpted a very strange form of geography here. The right bank proudly looks across to its fraternal twin on the opposite bank. Vines cling to steep slopes cut into terraces, some holding just a few rows of vines. It is not hard to imagine the back-breaking work it required to make them. Created in this impressive and so very distinctive mountainous area, on these narrow terraces decked with low, dry-stone walls, Cornas wines display their resilient character. They are the exact image of their roots established this landscape since ancient times.


The Syrah, the only grape variety of the AOC, enriches the wines with its own distinctive characteristics by giving hints of blackberry, violet, liquorice and spices. But where do these flavours from the earth and plants comes from? The vines are protected by oaks, pines, boxwood, honeysuckle, rockrose and broom. They live alongside weeds and wild flowers. In such a setting, botany unquestionably contributes to the spirit of this place. It is the guardian of the natural balance of the landscape and vines. The wines possess all these delicate touches and all these flavours. But this is not all, they also benefit from the “wine-producing suitability” of this site with, among other advantages, an abundance of nitrogen or the fact that roots delve down deeply thanks to a ground covering of native plants.

The soil

For millions and millions of years, the Rhone River has sculpted the winegrowing area by fracturing rocks and by forming vast sandy surfaces. Vines are planted in those located to the South or to the East. The area of Cornas is largely comprised of granites with, to the north of the village, a small mass of limestone scree. The soil’s mark becomes that of the wines, equally precise and honed. Sustained by the stone, like a framework, their flesh will come from the fruit and their style from the winemaker’s own personal touch.

An interview with Georges Truc, oenogeologist

« In Cornas, winegrowers are viti-sculptors too. »

The “hallmark” of the Cornas winegrowing area is its specific shape in the form of a natural amphitheatre, with its extremely steep slopes. Where does this come from?

Georges Truc: since the beginning of the Quaternary geological period, whereas it could have flowed far more to the East, in areas easier to erode, the Rhone River literally gnawed this eastern edge of the Massif Central upon which now stands the Cornas appellation. But the river quite simply allowed itself to be guided to this site by the vast glaciations of the Quaternary period. For information, during the last two Ice Age periods, glaciers came as far as Lyon, up to La Croix-Rousse; just imagine that!

The Rhone River has therefore literally sculpted Cornas!
Yes, absolutely. It worked like a carpenter and cut roughly a very, very steep slope. In turn, winegrowers have chiselled this slope. I often like to say that winegrowers in Cornas have been “viti-sculptors” as much as viticulturists.

This natural amphitheatre, of what is it comprised?
The substratum of Cornas is comprised of solid granite, a very large feldspar. Feldspars are groups of minerals distinguished by the presence of silicate of alumina which have a high content of potassium and micas, the other minerals of granite. We find these granites as far as Tournon, where they are called “Tournon granites”. These granites are even called “horse teeth granites”, because they are the same size as a horse’s tooth.

Why are these granites of such interest?

It is because they have a double attribute. The first stems from the periods of climatic deterioration during the Quaternary period. Without this crucial phenomenon, there would simply not be vines clinging to these slopes. Indeed, despite its appearance of an extremely hard-wearing rock, granite is in fact very sensitive to deterioration, especially these feldspars that water and bacteria manage to erode really quite easily, as well as the micas. So this means that this granite will turn into sand mixed with clay. And these clays provide reserves of mineral elements the vine will be able to draw upon. The vine is in fact quite demanding for potassium and iron to give colour to the skins of the Syrah grape, and for manganese and magnesium, an essential mineral for the plant’s physiology.
This is why these slopes in Cornas would never have been suited to wine production if it had not been for these phenomena of erosion.

What is the second attribute?
Cornas is truly a site that concentrates rays of sunshine! This position of the winegrowing area in a corrie is quite exceptional in the northern part of the Rhone Valley.
In the majority of cases, we find slopes with South-East exposure located on the left bank of small tributaries of the Rhone, but they do not form this effect of a natural amphitheatre. This specific feature has contributed to the renown of Cornas wines having exceptional ageing potential thanks to their magnificent tannins. These days, winemakers know how to temper these tannins and we can now enjoy these wines when they are young, Thank God!

Reynard, Geynale, Chaillot, Patou, Les Rieux, Saint-Pierre…, la liste des lieux-dits est longue. Ils figurent de plus en plus sur les étiquettes. Selon vous, à juste titre ?

Erosion has formed this natural amphitheatre with slopes facing more to the South-East, others more towards the East and others more towards the North-East. This diversity of micro-climates often only concerns one plot or a small group of plots. In my opinion, all these areas therefore really deserve this distinction of named locality. Making wine by complying with this plot selection concept is becoming totally logical, as it is in Burgundy with the climats.

How does this distinction manifest itself in the wine?
There are quite a few of us who are convinced by “geo-sensorial” wine tasting, one that takes into account this idea of “the feel on the palate”. It enables us to differentiate a Cornas from high-ground, where the winegrowing area of this natural amphitheatre has developed a little more towards the West. The ripening of the grapes is slower here, the texture of tannins airier and less concentrated. It also allows us to pick out Cornas wines from the middle of slopes, the fine, traditional Cornas; these wines have richer, more tightly-knit tannins, but today, thanks to viticulture that protects the ecosystem, they are now very pleasant and delicious.
Finally, Cornas wines from the piedmont plateau, that is to say the lower part of the winegrowing area, a lot richer in deep earth, which gives easy-drinking, lighter wines.

This feel on the palate you mention seems linked to minerality, a very trendy term at present?
In Cornas, minerality is anything but a sham! It really is perceptible and linked to this granite substratum I mentioned previously, very rich in potassium, iron, magnesium and with a little manganese too. It gives a sensation of taste that is very different to acidity.

So the minerality differs according to the position on the slopes?

Yes, absolutely. In the centre of the slope, there are small or large splinters of granite material. Right at the top, the topography changes and the components are almost the same, but with more clay. Then the slope becomes totally steep with a bank that joins the plateau. This plateau at an altitude of 500 metres is richer in clay, whereas the other side is less so. In the lower part of the winegrowing area, we find components of rough sand upon which wines with gentler tannins are made. So, on the palate we have a tactile sensation of suppleness, not roughness.

To conclude?
Cornas is an appellation gathered around a small village. It is rather like David against a vast Goliath that surrounds it, don’t you agree? I see Cornas rather as a tremendous specificity that now succeeds in showing itself quite admirably to its best advantage.

Interview by Claire Brosse, Culturevin