We had the pleasure to discover a 5 pages report about the Rhone Gang in Korean women's magazine Luxury last december, following the visit of Korean journalists in Montfaucon. The article perfectly describes the Rhone Gang's stategy and philosophy (translation below).






Getting bored with life? Time you had a showdown with the Rhône Gang!

Not once upon a time but right now, four gutsy guys - three winemakers and one wine broker - are jazzing up one not-so-hidden corner of the wine world: France's Rhône Valley, a ribbon of wine-friendly land, 500 kilometers, or about 300 miles, running north-south slightly below France's waistline. Already renowned for their previous grape-related exploits, and always eager to fling themselves into some newfangled scheme, this foursome has launched Project Rhône Gang, with the mission impossible-NOT of creating a wine in their own, offbeat image: unfussy and - this is the keyword - fun. A visit to their Website is entertaining as well as tempting, featuring not only thirst-making details about a wine they want you to sample but also an olde-timey, b&w, clip, complete with twangy theme song.

All novice wine lovers tend to be obsessed with the varying capacities of various noses and tongues to identify a wine's signature, or "notes" - flavors and textures defined, in turn, by a vocabulary ranging from raspberries to animal nose by way of seawater. As sommeliers are wont to say, wine is a matter of memory, not just taste buds, calling on all the senses.

It was with this thought in mind that we headed for the Rhône Valley late last October, just when the vintners there were in the first stages of their work on the latest grape harvest.

Kim Huck, director of the Podo Plaza, in Seoul, a wine (and wine only) emporium, is a Rhone-wine fan. "Côte du Rhône wines are ranked third place, after those of Burgundy and Bordeaux," he concedes, but the first-rate ones in fact should get first place. In any case, everybody - and I don't mean just Koreans - agrees that Rhône wines are the winners when it comes to the price-quality ratio. There is such a wide range of wines in this region, from the southern-end blends of up to twelve varieties to the northern ones made exclusively from Syrah - the star of this region - by way of the whites, with their long cave life: something for everyone!

In fact, this "sleeping lion" as Mr. Kim puts it, is attracting the attention of more and more wine connoisseurs. And smack in the middle of this burgeoning interest: voilà! are four bandits, united by one simple, down-to-earth truth: "A good wine is one that is always welcome at your table."

The Adventure of the Four-Barrelled Bandits

Here we are at the Château of Montfaucon, a fifteen minute-drive to the north of Avignon. Four stylishly coiffeured men dressed to the hilt bid us welcome. These are the four founding bandits of the Rhône Gang, who hold sway over the wines of the southern Rhône: three vintners, each attached to one of three Châteaux - Montfaucon, Pesquié, and Saint-Cosme - and the broker who runs the house of Avitus Wine. They work as an ensemble and also individually, producing each year vintages under their own labels as well as the one branded "Rhône Gang."

Even while managing their own vineyards, they got together to establish a new sort of product, based on a new, wider sort of cooperation and an equally expanded variety: wines elaborated from grapes grown in many regions, including but not limited to their own properties."Wanted" and "Holdup," vintage 2004, are the first bottles, born of this undertaking, to see the light of day, having matured in the cellars of the Château de Montfaucon.

CAPTIONS
1. Syrah is the varietal most typical of the northern Côtes du Rhône.
2. Côte-Rotie 2006, of the Château de Saint-Cosme, 100% Syrah.
3. Quintessence 2006, of the Château Pesquié (80 % Syrah and 20 % Grenache).
4. Baron Louis 2006, of the Château de Montfaucon. Facing page (left to right): Arnaud de la Chanonie, Frédéric Chaudière, and Rodolphe de Pins.

It is high time that we take the pleasure of introducing to you the Rhône Gang foursome:

1. Arnaud de la Chanonie is a wine broker, which means that his basic rôle is that of middleman: he purchases wines from winemakers of his selection, and gets them into the right shops and stores. Constantly keeping himself au courant when it comes to the state of the wine market, he combs the region in search of the best wines-to-be.
2. Rodolphe de Pins, of the Château de Montfaucon, learned his trade at "U. C. Davis." He took up the reins of his family's enterprise after having worked on Australian properties, and then, closer to home, at the Vieux Télégraphe. His style is epitomized by his "Baron Louis," a blend of seven grape varieties.
3. Paul Chaudière, of the Château Pesquié, is widely renowned as a specialist in the blending of Syrah and Grenache. He excels, as well, in the production of a white that is primarily Viognier.
4.Last but not least, Louis Barruol, of the Château de Saint-Cosme, is simply the last word when it comes to the best to be found in the Côtes du Rhone: Gigondas, Saint Joseph, Condrieu, Côte-Rôtie. Unluckily for us, our visit coincided with harvest time on his property; but we were able to talk with his three fellow-Gangsters.

The name "Rhône Gang" had us braced for a lineup of weatherbeaten, hard-bitten bad guys. In fact... So we put the question to the broker, Arnaud de la Chanonie: What are you guys getting at?

"The word 'gang' conjures up a bunch of bullies," he replied, "and you are surprised to find us anything but? Well, then, maybe we have succeeded, because our aim has been to turn expectations on their heads. The traditional image of wine is awfully stuffy: that's the price of prestige. We want people, including those who feel a little intimidated, to associate wine with the opposite of stuffy. Step One is to break with convention, and so our weapons of choice are merriment and foolishness. That's the how and the why of the Gang -- though in fact we've been a gang, doing our damnedest to wreak nonsense, since our teen years together."

The best way to sample the Rhône Gang's signature sense of humor is to pay a visit to their site, www.rhonegang.com. Among the distractions are a Chaplin-esque clip (in b&w, of course), and another with a Jesse James-esque ballad, which they were inspired to compose, for soundtrack. It's a great communications medium, since it's always open to endless modification.

We aimed our next question at Fred Chaudière: How did his family react to the Rhône Gang Project? Weren't they appalled by the prospect of seeing their dignified reputation, built up over the centuries, besmirched?

« Not a bit! » he replied. « In fact, my father played a leading rôle in getting the project under way. While he is well-known and respected for his expertise regarding Syrah and Grenache, he hasn't lost his sense of adventure, not to mention his passion for wine. So he didn't hesitate to give our Project thumbs up. » Needless to say, his father didn't neglect to remind them that to arrive at a truly original wine, rigorously high production standards are essential.

So the Rhône Gang bandits are forever on the lookout for must – grape juices destined for fermentation – worthy of their lofty ambitions. Two of their trusty steeds, in their hunt for the must they must have, answer to the names of Triumph and Harley-Davidson. « Well, sure, we've got to have mounts that fit our image! » Arnaud exclaimed. « We are all motorcycle nuts. We're planning a California motorcycle tour, for 2009, starting in Napa Valley, to meet our distributors. »

A fun-loving wine, we learn is also a wine that functions well in a tasting.

The longer we listen to these Gang guys, the eagerer we are to sample their wares. The big question now is: Will the tasting to take place in the cellars of the Château de Montfaucon convey the merry credo of the Project: fun and greatness can find true happiness together.

The first wine in the lineup: « Holdup » (subtitled « When Rhône meets Burgundy »). Just take a look at the picture of the four mustaches representing the four Gang members and you'll get a good idea of just how carefully they fabricate their mischief. Frédéric Chaudière recommends Hold-up for wine novices, who will have no trouble appreciating its character as a fruity accompaniment with dinner. He adds, « Hold-up is made from a blend of Grenache and Pinot Noir, which give it its distinctive taste and color. »

Captions

1.Les wines Wanted et Hold-up, with an original illustration.
2.A family photo that conjures up « The Untouchables. »
3.Home page of the Rhône Gang site, packed with info as well as entertainment.
4.The lovely landscape of the Gigondas area, home to the Château de Saint Cosme.
5.Château Pesquié. Its romantic garden offers a lovely spot for dining.
6.Château Pesquié organises hands-on harvest tours, offering visitors a chance to participate in some of the basic steps of the winemaking process.
7.Tasting organized by the Château de Montfaucon.

Frédéric Chaudière goes on to explain, « Holdup's composition is 70% southern Grenache from vines that are 60 years of age and 30% Pinot Noir. The first step is a meticulous examination of the quality of the vines; the second step is harvesting by hand. The essence of Holdup is its fresh-fruit character. Hence the need for fermentation in stainless-steel vats. » The marriage between the femininity of Grenache and the lively character of Pinot Noir is made in heaven. Fresh and medium-bodied, this red wine can even be offered as an aperitif.

The name of the next wine is as original as that of the first: Wanted (subtitled « When Rhône meets Rhône »). It would be hard to forget these outlandish names, such a far cry from the usual long and ornate appellations of most French wines.

This time, it is Rodolphe de Pins who provides the breakdown: « Wanted is produced from the best grapes of the oldest vines – 50 to 90 years of age -- of our three Châteaus.  Wanted wants to be a southern Côtes du Rhône that's classic and yet modern. It's a perfect blend of six varieties: Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Clairette, et Carignan. » Wanted is the Rhône Gang's showpiece. After twelve full months in classic French barrels, a mere 2400 bottles, packed with the scents of fruit and pepper, hit the stores, all of which means that you'd better place your order right away if you want to be sure to get a chance to add it to your cellar. »

A world where the medium is the cépage (the varietal).

The Rhône Gang's hideout isn't found on some shady side street but in a wine cellar, and instead of a cigar each wields a wineglass. They are all constantly on the prowl for a new stunt to expand the comic aspect of their Web site: an offbeat way to spread the word, all the way to Asia, where they have enjoyed a considerable success. (The Korean-language version of the site is currently under construction.) There's also a space provided for blogs, to encourage commentaries and suggestions for the tasting list, and for matchmaking, between wine and recipes. Who knows? A winelover who is really smitten could lead a discussion of the harmonious marriage between Rhône Gang wines and the traditional Korean dish, kimchi!

The Rhône Gang foursome versus the stuck-up French wine world: what a showdown! We are so grateful to them for having organized such a joyous tasting, undertaken in a spirit of good humor. However, to appreciate the wines that star at a tasting is not as easy as they make it appear. In short, what comes across as easy high spirits disguises an immense amount of work and expertise.

The Côtes du Rhône, where men + wines = friendship

Stretching along both banks of the Rhône between Lyon and Avignon, the Côtes du Rhône region enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with plenty of sunshine and fresh winds. Robert Parker, in his well-known French-wines guide, has written that the wines of this region are characterized by an alliance between brilliance and elegance, a marriage that rarely succeeds when it comes to other French wines.

Blending is the key to the Côtes du Rhône's success. More than a dozen different varieties can be recruited, most notably Syrah, a grape typical of the northern Rhône region, and Grenache, representative of the southern stretch. The production of these wines is often limited, since the vines are tended by hand. Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Château Grillet, Saint Joseph, and Cornas are all excellent crus. The wines produced by E. Gigal, M. Chapoutier, and Paul Jaboulet Ainé, all well-known in Korea on account of their high quality, come from the northern region, as well.