Alain Graillot, the Northern Rhône vigneron whose Crozes Hermitage wines brought new attention to the region in the early nineties, died last week. He was 77.
After learning winemaking in Burgundy under the tutelage of Jean-Pierre de Smet of Domaine de l’Arlot and Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac, Graillot founded his winery on the gravels and galets of La Roche-de-Glun in Crozes-Hermitage in 1985. His winemaking practice was fiercely traditional—he farmed organically, hand-harvested, produced whole-cluster ferments in older oak barrels.
The wines brimmed with vitality. His 100 percent syrah Crozes Hermitage Rouge, was always limpid and savory, more approachable and affordable than counterparts from Hermitage, Cornas, or Côte-Rôtie, a wine that served as a great entry point to the Northern Rhône for many Americans, including myself. The wine was a fixture on progressive San Francisco restaurant wine lists in the nineties and aughts, places like Hayes Street Grill, Zuni Café, and the restaurant I once bought wine for, Forty-Two Degrees, where I carried many vintages.
Those wines played an integral part in shaping the American Rhône movement, inspiring many California winemakers, including Bill Easton at Terre Rouge, one of the original Rhône Rangers. The respect was mutual: Graillot would eventually import Easton’s to France through his company, À Bicyclette Sélection.
During Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône in 2018, the bi-annual tasting of Rhône wines across appellations, Graillot threw a tasting in Tournon. It was there I finally got to meet the man, charming, gracious, and seemingly boundless in his energy and enthusiasm. It was there, too, I got to taste his remarkable Syrocco, a syrah grown in the coastal mountains northeast of Casablanca.
Graillot is survived by his sons Maxime and Antoine. Both are winemakers; Maxime has been making the Graillot wines since 2008.
Patrick J. Comiskey covers US wines for Wine & Spirits magazine, focusing on the Pacific Northwest, California’s Central Coast and New York’s Finger Lakes.
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