Domaine Combe-Queyzaire, Côtes du Rhône


Country & RegionFrance, Rhône Valley
Appellation(s)Côtes du Rhône,
Côtes du Rhône Villages
ProducerDenis Deschamps

D enis Deschamps grew up in the Alpine foothills of Savoie. After earning degrees in enology and viticulture, he took up consulting in 1996 in the completely different terrain of the southern Rhône Valley. Specifically, to the far side of the valley’s mighty river on its right bank, where the prevailing watershed flows eastward off the Massif Central rather than westward off the Alps.

In 2000 he took a gig in production at the Estézargues co-op, further south on the right bank. You know this small co-op’s wine even if you think you don’t; many of its members’ brands are omnipresent in the US market. In the 1990s the cooperative became a model of non-interventionist winemaking. Its guiding principles included best farming practices; making specific cuvees for each of its ten growers under their labels rather than bulk blends under generic labels; spontaneous ferments without yeast additions; no enzymes; minimal or no fining and filtration; and bottling with a very low dose of sulfur. In 2001 the director of the co-op left for Roussillon to start his own domaine, leaving the direction to his assistant and Denis Deschamps. In 2002, Denis became the president.

Domaine Combe-Queyzaire's Denis

He changed nothing. He tweaked the methods and purchased new equipment, while above all encouraging his growers toward organic farming. Most converted during his tenure, which lasted 18 or 20 years, depending on how you look at it (he handed over the keys but got pulled back in when his successor didn’t pan out). Despite his loyalty, he felt the keen desire to embark on his own venture. He had put in his time and now he wanted to make his own wine from his own vines.

In 2017 he bought three hectares at the end of a small valley (a combe in French) in Saint Nazaire, in the same general area where he had started his consulting career. Since he lives in a neighborhood named Queyrade, he coined Combe Queyzaire for his nascent domaine, combining the place where he comes from with the place where he goes to. In the years that followed, he added parcels in nearby Vénéjan and in Saint-Gervais, all in the Cèze Valley on the right bank of the Rhône. Today, he farms 37 acres organically divided among more than 30 parcels. These vines grow in loess with calcareous sandy soils, and in galets roulets, and their average age is fifty. He sells roughly half of his production in bulk, keeping the choicest to make two reds and one white in an old cellar in Saint Nazaire.

Domaine Combe-Queyzaire's Grenache vines

It would be a silly mistake to discount his wine as just another Côtes du Rhône. They’re wines from a master at the top of his game, the best from his old vines that he makes with the same care, skill and principles he used at Estézargues. The difference is that now he’s working on a very artisanal and personal level.

The Wines

Côtes du Rhône
Grenache, Syrah and CinsaultThis wine comes from sandy loess soils and calcareous soils (limestone for the Rhône is a rare terroir and can give real lift to a wine), and is aged in concrete tanks. The blend is roughly half Grenache and half Syrah with a touch of Cinsault, and yields average around a mere 20 hectoliters per hectare for this and the Villages wine below. Both wines are de-stemmed but the grapes are not crushed, which permits a level of carbonic maceration (thus greatly reducing SO2 additions--which is, in fact, the only addition, and a very small one at that). “The spirit remains the same as at Estézargues: to extract the best components of the grapes, adding little else.”
Côtes du Rhône-VillagesGrenache and SyrahThis comes from his plot growing in galets roulets, an ancient river terrace of stones, sand and clay. The blend can change significantly if, for example, frost hits the early budding Syrah. In 2020, the blend was 80% Grenache; in 2021, 50%. The Syrah is raised in older 225-liter barrels while the other wines are raised in concrete. Starting in 2022, Denis began to incorporate larger demi-muids barrels for the Syrah.