In light of our focus on Rhône, CellarVie Wines interviewed the charismatic and colourful winemaker Jean-Luc Colombo, in order to discuss the winemaking philosophy behind his award winning wines, the beauty of his vineyards and the 55-year-old’s beloved golden retrievers.
Describe yourself and your attitude to Winemaking in three words…
Daring, passionate, bon-vivant
Briefly describe your wines…
Balanced, elegant, mineral
Describe the Jean-Luc Colombo philosophy and your approach to winemaking…
Jean-Luc Colombo wine making starts with an extreme respect and love of nature. Each wine needs to reflect in its notes the forest around the vineyards, the flowers and herbs growing between the vines. Terroir is at the top of the list. There is no irrigation so that the roots of the vines can go deep in the soil (in Cornas, up to 15-20 metres) in order to absorb all the nutrients and minerals.
The grapes are handpicked, vinified and aged always with the view to express the full fruit characteristics.
The use of wood is extremely well controlled, it’s never 100% new and it is used as a tool to make the wine convey its aromas and personality.
What wines are Jean-Luc Colombo responsible for making?
Jean-Luc, Anne & Laure Colombo
How did you get involved in the winemaking world?
My wife and I did not come from the wine world. At the beginning we had to build a network and a name. The adventure began with the setting up of a centre of winemaking consultancy in Cornas (Centre Oenologique des Côtes du Rhône).
Through this activity I had the chance to work with the very best domains in the Rhône, Provence, Bordeaux and also abroad. The centre still exists today and advises prestigious producers such as Domaine de La Janasse in Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Domaine Combier in Crozes Hermitage.
From this first period onwards the fame of Jean-Luc Colombo wines grew exponentially. Soon I started to build my own winemaking activity. The first vineyard, Les Ruchets, was bought in the early 1980’s for the first vintage of Cornas Les Ruchets to be produced in 1987. Winemaking is not a work: Anne and I made a life choice, a choice driven by passion and dreams that over 30 years of hard work, 24-7, brought us to be one the shining stars of the Rhône Valley.
What are your main passions outside of wine?
I’m a man of passions; it is hard to associate with a single love. When I’m not in my vineyards or in the cellar, I’m on the French Riviera, fishing, or hunting with my beautiful golden retrievers: Syrah, Corton & Fitou.
I’m also what you might call a “gastronome”; I love and communicate around French Gastronomy from my house on the top of Cornas hill where I treat friends and clients to delicious meals.
If you didn't make wine what would you do?
I would have been a chef. It was my childhood dream, but my mum, herself a chef in Marseille, who knew of the hard work and sacrifices required, forbid me from making my dream a reality. Nevertheless I’m a very determined man and at her side I tried to learn as much as I could.
Although I became a winemaker and not a chef, I pride myself on my recipes and hope that my cooking is nearly as good as my wines!
What is your favourite meal?
Its difficult to say what my favourite meal is, since I’m a great lover of good food. Nevertheless this could be an example:
Starter: Caillettes ardéchoises with a glass of St. Péray La Belle de Mai.
Main: T-Bone steak grilled in the fireplace over a fire of oak wood from old Ruchets Barrels, cooked rare with fleur de Sel from the Camargue region and freshly ground black pepper. All accompanied with home-made mash potatoes and a glass of Ruchets.
Cheese: A cheese plateau with a choice of some of my favourite cheeses such as Comté from the Jura, fresh goat cheese from the Ardèche region, Saint Marcellin from La Mère Richard.
Dessert: Stewed quinces from the garden, apple pie from Anne, with a glass of Muscat de Rivesalte.
Where is your favourite place in your vineyard to sit down quietly with a glass of wine?
The top of the hill of Cornas, on my terrace, from where, in limpid days, it is possible to admire the Rhône Valley, the Vercors mountains and up to the “Trois Becs” mountain that corresponds to the Clairette de Die appellation. Of course together with my beloved golden retrievers Syrah, Corton & Fitou.
What kind of events does the vineyard get up to over the Christmas period and the rest of the year?
Grand Tasting in December, a wine fair organised by the French journalists Bettane and Desseauve in the Carrousel of the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Les Ecuries avenue George V in Paris in the first months on the year, a wine tasting event organised by me in some ancient stables in the heart of Paris.
Les Automnales de Cornas, a wine tasting event organised by us in Cornas in autumn to present the freshly released vintage of Cornas in association with prestigious partners of the French gastronomy such as Valrhona Chocolate and the Michelin Star Chef Michel Chabran.
Describe a day in the life of Jean-Luc Colombo
I’m not a big sleeper and wake up early when the sun starts to rise. After letting the dogs out in the garden for a walk, a quick coffee and immediately the first phone call is to my daughter, the cellar and vineyard manager, to make sure everything is under control.
I like to work in the peace of my home on top of the hill of Cornas, that’s why I never get to the office before 11am. When I get to the office I have a word with everyone, Frederic at the reception, Sebastien at the logistics, Julien the sales director, Karine the accountant. I like to talk to all my employees and understand from their words what happens in the business.
Of course I spend a lot of his time with Manu, the cellar master, with whom I taste wines and talks about blends, bottling and ageing.
Nevertheless the best moment of the day for me is when I can run away from the office and take a walk in the vineyards with my golden retrievers, Corton & Fitou. I like looking at the vines and how they reflect the evolving seasons, and to finish, I like to visit my pond to make sure that the ducks did not migrate somewhere else!
Finally the end of the day is a moment of pleasure with a good glass of red wine and a succulent recipe from my wife, Anne, an excellent cook who treats the palates of the entire family to delicious dishes from the southern French gastronomy.
To view all of Jean-Luc Columbo's wines stocked by CellarVie Wines click here.
The 1987 release of Jean-Luc Colombo’s first vintage of Cornas “Les Ruchets” was a “succès fou” taking the French wine world by storm, and becoming the first in a long series of vintages of what is universally regarded as Colombo’s icon wine. Early success fuelled the swift acquisition of additional vineyards. Throughout the years following his meteoric rise, Jean-Luc remains true to his passion for winemaking and constant to his guiding principles, namely: respect for nature and the unique qualities of each and every terroir by an uncompromising support of a sensible alliance between traditional approaches to vineyard management and a modern understanding of the life cycle of the vine.