Centuries of tradition

The estate was acquired in June 2011 by the Pinault family, who own several other vineyards gathered under the Artémis Domaines label which are managed by Frédéric Engerer.

Château-Grillet has a rich history, illustrating perfectly the passion and devotion of many generations of men and women for this exceptional terroir.

The vineyards of Condrieu and Château-Grillet were planted by the emperor Probus in the 3rd century AD, from plants brought from Dalmatia. Numerous mosaics preserved at the archaeological site in Saint-Roman-en-Gal (around 12km away) confirm its origins and one of them shows a harvest scene including grape crushing. The early development of the vineyards in this region is probably linked to the Pax Romana. This allowed the ancient Gallic tribe the Allobroges, whose territory included part of the right bank of the Rhône facing Vienne, to acquire Roman citizenship and therefore have the right to plant vines.

In the Middle Ages the wines of the Rhône Valley were difficult to sell in northern France, owing to the exorbitant taxes charged by towns along the route. Then, in the 17th century, sales of Rhône Valley wines began to develop in Paris, this time transported along the Loire River. It was also during this period that a small Château was built at the estate, which was later to be enlarged by successive owners.

The wines of Château-Grillet were already present in the greatest cellars of the day. Evidence of their fame comes from Thomas Jefferson’s visit to the estate in 1787 and an 1814 inventory of the cellar of Château de Malmaison, residence of Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais, first wife of Napoleon I: among other great wines this mentions “296 bottles of Château-Grillet, valued at 592 Francs”. In 1829 James Christie bought bottles of Château-Grillet on behalf of King George IV of England. So the fame of the wine was already strongly established and its price equalled or even surpassed that of Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie.

For many years Château-Grillet belonged to middle-class families from Lyon. For example, Girard Desargues, architect, mathematician, adviser to Cardinal Richelieu and son of a family of Lyon lawyers, retired to Château-Grillet in 1648, during the civil war in France. One of his guests was his friend Blaise Pascal, also a mathematician, who visited in 1652. Pascal makes reference to his friend’s wine in his Pensées.

The estate remained with the Neyret-Gachet family from 1827 to 2011, passing from one generation to the next. During this rich period, one key date was to leave an indelible mark: on 11 December 1936, the Official Journal of the French Republic announced that owner Henri Gachet had succeeded in obtaining appellation contrôlée status for the property. Château-Grillet was therefore one of the first French appellations and also one of the smallest. Even rarer, Château-Grillet is also a monopoly, an appellation with only one producer. This was recognition of the excellence of the terroir and of the wines it produces.

The wine was available in the greatest French restaurants of the time, most notably at Fernand Point’s legendary restaurant La Pyramide in Vienne. This great chef, considered the father of French gastronomy and the first to win three Michelin stars, was one of the most faithful ambassadors for Château-Grillet. His rich and flavourful correspondence with Mr Gachet shows the importance he attached to having this wine in his cellar.

It was also around this time that Maurice Edmond Sailland (1872-1956), the famous gastronomic critic better known by his pen-name Curnonsky, included Château-Grillet at the heart of his famous “five great white wines of France” alongside other prestigious growths: Montrachet, Coulée de Serrant, Château Yquem and Château Chalon. Curnonsky, nicknamed the Prince of Gastronomy, spoke freely of Château-Grillet as a “très grand seigneur” (a great lord).

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