The Balthazar domaine dates back to 1931, when it was founded by Franck’s grandfather Casimir. René took charge in 1950 and followed his contemporaries Auguste Clape and Noël Verset into domaine bottling on a small scale in the 1970s. All the while he continued to sell most of his wine in cask—as Casimir and so many others of his generation had done—to the local cafés.
Franck now bottles all of his tiny production, made by methods little changed from those of his grandfather. The domaine’s vineyards are planted exclusively to la Petite Syrah, the ancient local clone whose small, olive-shaped berries produce a wine of greater aromatic complexity than modern clones.
Balthazar is so dedicated to the domaine—and the traditional ways of his ancestors—that he plows his holdings with a horse. His approach in the cellar is just as “old school.” His time-honored regime includes whole cluster, native yeast fermentation in concrete vats; manual cap punching; and aging in old, neutral demi-muid barrels before bottling without fining or filtration.
The aging in demi-muid rather than the smaller pièce is fundamental to the domaine’s philosophy. As René Balthazar told Rhône wine guru John Livingstone-Learmonth, “We raise the wine in 600-litre demi-muids because they keep the wine’s perfumes better than the 225-litre casks.”
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