Laurent Combier has a Tom Cruise smile. He is a powerfully built guy, with a seemingly permanent tan and a smile that begets smiles. But despite his outward magnetism, Combier is a careful planner and a deep thinker. Born from the land, his vineyard development has become one of the marvels of the northern Rhone. The apricots, peaches, pears and grapes of the family's estate have been farmed organically for years. When you walk the orchards or the vineyards, you are almost startled by the health of the plants. The vines speak to you. They seem to have Laurent's smile and exuberance.
Combier's grandparents were fruit farmers in the Ardeche, the rugged department to the west of the northern Rhone. In the 1930s, they moved to La Roche du Glun, a hamlet that sits on an island between the left and right banks of the Rhone, near Tain L'Hermitage. The family took over 15 acres, 10 of which were planted to vines in the walled-in plot called Clos des Grives. In the late 1940s, when the French government was building the railway connecting Paris to the Rhone region, the Combiers made their living by supplying the railway workers with apricots and a little homemade wine. Laurent's father became the estate manager in 1962. By then, the rail link was complete, but he realized that he could turn an excellent profit exclusively by growing and selling the estate's fruit. M. Combier began to buy more parcels. A few years later, the Combier estate once again proved to be a magnet for a regional construction project: A proposed canal would run through the little island on the Rhone, and literally cut the Combiers' house in two. Laurent's father moved the family to the right bank of the Rhone, close to Le Clos des Grives.
In 1977, at the age of 23, Combier found an apprenticeship at the famous Domaine Ott in Bandol, then he moved up the Rhone to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. During the 1980s, Crozes-Hermitage had a decidedly mixed reputation, to the extent that it even had one. Only a handful of small producers were making excellent wines under their own label. But when Laurent returned home, he truly understood the potential of his Syrah. Beginning with only 10 acres of vines, he built a state-of-the-art cellar in 1990 and set out to make a name for himself. Since Laurent's hand-harvested, low-yielding fruit was of such a high caliber, even his first vintages were outstanding. Very quickly, he built a reputation for producing subtle wines that slowly reveal layer upon layer of sweet fruit, velvety tannins, and freshness and acidity.
The 2005 growing season was in a word--awesome. Low yields and a perfectly temperate, late ripening season led to grapes full of maturity and with the kind of structure that gives longevity in the cellar. Laurent's Crozes-Hermitage (100% Syrah) is powerful and rich, yet has beautiful upfront aromatics of black fruits and black pepper. It's a wine to taste now for its youthful purity but also to save and open over the years for the complexity that will surely develop. Drink over the next 15 years.
Suggested Food Pairing:
Lamb is king in the northern Rhone. A dish of grilled lamb chops with fresh rosemary and some grilled vegetables would be ideal.