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Country of Origin: France
Location: Ampuis, Northern Rhône
People: Agnes Levet, Owner & Winemaker
Nicole Levet’s grandfather first purchased vineyards in Ampuis in 1936 and began making wine immediately thereafter. Initially, he delivered his Côte-Rôtie in barrels to the city of St. Etienne where he sold it to bistros and cafes for consumption. In 1966, Nicole’s father, Marius Chambeyron, began to bottle a small portion of the production of the estate. Marius Chambeyron was a proud and somewhat brazen man who, despite the tiny size of his estate, proudly painted his name on the rocks that fronted the terraces of his small swath of vineyards as in the manner of the seigneurs of the appellation like Guigal, Delas and Vidal-Fleury. As Rosenthal Wine Merchant prepared to begin their commercial relationship in the 1980s, Monsieur Chambeyron took ill. Fortunately, his daughter Nicole and her husband, Bernard Levet, were prepared to continue Chambeyron’s life’s work.
It was with the formidable 1983 vintage that Bernard Levet took over the wine production as well as the management of the vineyard with Nicole. This exceptional couple has now been responsible for the development of the domaine, increasing the vineyard holdings and expanding the cellar capacity, so that they can now bottle their entire production. Nicole and Bernard have now been joined by their daughter, Agnes, who has inherited the love for vineyard work and obsession with detail that are essential parts of her parents’ character.
The Domaine’s current total production is 12,000 to 15,000 bottles annually and is exclusively of the appellation of Côte-Rôtie. The domaine consists of 3.5 hectares of vineyards, all of which are located within the boundaries of the town of Ampuis and are entitled to the Côte-Rôtie appellation. The vines are dispersed among six separate parcels. The vineyards are all steeply terraced and must be worked and harvested manually.
- Chavaroche: (Côte Brune/southwest exposure/average age 40 years/1.2 hectare)
- Landonne: (Côte Brune/one-third hectare/entirely old vines)
- Font Jean: (Côte Brune/young vines/.15 hectare)
- Les Craies: (Côte Blonde/southwest exposure/entirely old vines/half hectare)
- Mollard: (Côte Blonde/southeast exposure/old vines/one-third hectare)
- Moulin: (situated just below La Turque/young vines/.4 hectare)
The grapes are generally not destemmed before passing through a pneumatic press. The primary fermentation takes place in epoxy lined tanks. There is a long maceration that lasts three weeks. The fermentation temperatures reach 30 degrees Celsius. The malolactic fermentation normally finishes by the end of the year. The wine is then racked into large oak barrels where it spends the remainder of its first year. At the beginning of the second year, the wines are racked into medium-sized barrels (or demi-muids), 10-15% of which are new. In the third year, the wines are racked again and left to complete the barrel aging in a mixture of demi-muid and small barrels. The wines are bottled after three years of barrel aging with a light fining and no filtration.
Wine Advocate 1/2022
"Bernard's daughter Agnès Levet kindly greeted me on a Sunday afternoon and tasted me through the current lineup at the family's tiny tasting room on the main street in Ampuis. They own 4.5 hectares of vines, almost all in Côte Rotie, but they recently added 3,000 square meters of Condrieu in Saint-Michel sur Rhône. Harvest there was set to begin on the following Wednesday, weather permitting. For the Côte Rotie, the recent vintages have allowed more and more use of whole clusters, and the soft-spoken Levet said that 2019 and 2020 were essentially all whole-bunch fermentations. While both years were warm, in 2020 the bit of rain that fell in July was sufficient to prevent any blockage; the vines continued to ripen and harvest began on September 7. In 2019, the Levets delayed picking until September 20. 'We had to wait because of the blockage,' said Levet. Rather unusually, there's no pigéage here, with maceration by submerged cap, lasting about three weeks. After pressing to large vats for malolactic fermentation, final maturation takes place in 600-liter demi-muids. I'm not sure why the Levet wines hadn't been reviewed much by my predecessors at RPWA, but these are genuinely impressive, traditionally styled efforts that merit considerable attention from lovers of Côte Rotie.'"
Vinous Media 9/2019
"The modest, soft-spoke Agnès Levet is clearly reveling in the extra space of her expanded cellar, which sits just behind the family’s storefront on the main (only) drag of Ampuis, which is tricked out with modern, highly efficient new equipment, notably floating top tanks, which she says 'helps the work happen more quickly because of the extra space.' But things remain unchanged when it comes to vinification. The wines are still being made with a high percentage, up to 100%, of whole clusters and aged in large, old foudres and mostly neutral demi-muids. These are always wines that deserve time and their drinking windows can go way out there, as numerous examples of bottles from the ‘80s have consistently proven to me. They can be extremely stubborn in their early years, especially the La Chavaroche, so impatient wine lovers need not apply. There’s always a certain wildness to the wines as well, and their character hearkens back to the Côte-Rôties of the old days, which has earned the Levets a steadily growing, highly enthusiastic following. Two thousand seventeen 'has classic lines but the wines are rich as well,' Agnès Levet told me. 'They have depth but also good tension and strong but not severe tannins, so they are definitely wines to age.'"
Vinous Media 9/2019
"Under the watch of Agnes Levet, the family’s domaine is producing what are, in my opinion, their best wines ever. Long-time fans of the wines made by her late mother, Nicole, and her father, Bernard, who still tends the family’s vines, will quickly recognize the domaine’s old school style, but with a greater degree of polish in this set of 2016s. Fresh, energetic fruit leads the way while the tannins in all three bottlings announce themselves with less vigor than was the case at the same stage in past vintages – all signatures of the vintage, according to Agnes Levet. I’ve been extremely impressed with the steadily rising quality over that last decade-plus. Agnes Levet’s wines are only going to get better now that her highly efficient, modernized cellar is fully operational."
Vinous Media 3/2016
"While I'm a long-time fan of the Levet family's traditionally made wines, there's no doubt in my mind that with the arrival of Nicole and Bernard Levet's daughter, Agnes, the wines are now among the very best being made in the appellation. The wild character and concentration that has always marked the wines is still there, but there's a degree of elegance and, I daresay, polish to them that one didn't find in decades past. The wines are still raised in large oak foudres as well as demi-muids, with only about 10% of them new, and the flagship Chavaroche bottling only sees foudres, which is often the case with the Journaries as well. Agnes told me that while she thinks the 2014s will drink well on the relatively young side because 'they have a very nice balance of richness and freshness,' the concentration and power of the 2013s makes cellaring them 'an obligation.' They'll be shutting down soon, she thinks, and after that, 'you should really wait at least ten years, maybe fifteen' before revisiting them."