- Northern Rhône, Rhône, France
"I have a hard time thinking of a northern Rhône producer whose wine has evolved as dramatically and positively over the last two decades than those of François Villard. Upon launching his domaine in 1989, Villard quickly built a reputation for producing assertively perfumed and flavored, opulent, even flamboyant wines, often with plenty of new oak influence, as was the fashion in the region at the time. But over the years his style evolved, especially during the last decade. Today his wines, which are often made with a significant amount of whole clusters and almost always a minimal use of new oak, are distinctly in the elegant camp of northern Rhône wines. That’s not to say that his wines are restrained, a point that he readily acknowledges. “You can get intensity of flavor without weight, too much ripeness and too much oak,” he told me. “It isn’t as easy and it takes a lot of work in farming, selection and attention in the cellar but it’s worth it. Plus, the wines age better when they are balanced and not monsters.” - Vinous, July 2019.
Francois Villard was not born into wine; he started out his career as a chef. He grew up between Vienne and Grenoble, in the French countryside. He made his first Condrieu in 1991, a whopping 400 bottles. Today, he’s working with 64 hectares total, of which he owns 40 hectares. He makes wine from Côte-Rôtie down to Saint Peray, and a little of everything between: four Condrieu, five Saint-Joseph (red and white), three Crozes-Hermitage, a Cornas, and four Vin de France (Marsanne-Roussanne, Viognier, and two Syrah).
Villard farms sustainably and hopes to be certified organic by 2023. He works his soils and uses organic fertilizers and organic treatments for disease as needed. He’s working with spontaneous fermentations and he’s begun experiments with making wine without sulfur during vinification and it’s gone well, so he’ll expand on that in the coming years. He has no intention of eliminating sulfur altogether and plans to continue to use a minimum amount of sulfur at bottling. He filters the wines if he needs too, but tries to avoid it.
In terms of style, Villard tends to harvest later than his neighbors, optimizing ripeness. He uses whole clusters during vinification as the stems give freshness to the wine. For his Condrieu, he likes to work with botrytis if possible, but he will only wait if the potential alcohol does not get too high, balance being the key. Villard never chaptalizes and will make several passes in the vineyards to wait for the fruit to ripen. He’s using barrels and foudres for aging, some new depending on the cuvée. The whites are bounding with succulent fruit, a rich texture, and have a deft balance. The reds strike a nice harmony between red fruit notes and spicy earth, classic Northern Rhône. —Michele Peters, French Portfolio Manager