The life and wines of Laure Colombo
My first meeting with Laure Colombo is in a North Yorkshire pub. I order a pint, she drinks tea and tries to stifle a yawn. It’s 5 o’clock in the afternoon and she has just woken up.
Over the course of our pub meeting, the story behind her fatigue unfurls: it was her birthday party just a few days earlier and the all-nighter is now catching up with her. The car journey through the country lanes of North Yorkshire to our meeting was just the ticket for a cheeky afternoon nap although a cup of tea later, she is noticeably perkier.
The daughter of Jean-Luc and Anne Colombo, Laure is following the wine route that her parents paved. The story goes that her father, armed with a pharmacy degree from Montpellier, and her Marseille-born mother set up a wine laboratory in the Rhône Valley and little by little, her father started to buy some grapes, then some vineyards…
Laure, who wasn’t even born when her parents upped sticks to the Rhône, is now in her early 30s and well qualified to join the family business with a viticulture degree from Bordeaux University and a winemaking degree from Montpellier. She’s also been to business school and worked vintages at Grover Vineyard in India, Esk Valley in New Zealand and Château Haut-Brion. Today, she is settled on her farm in St-Péray with her photographer boyfriend despite a hectic travel schedule.
The farm is now well populated following her birthday: she received a rabbit, a goose, a pregnant cow and a pig to add to the chickens, beehives and Camargue horse already in residence. Sadly, Jean-Michel the male goose recently disappeared so if you’re wondering what to get her for Christmas… Of course, there are vines too: she’s planted a few hectares since buying the estate two years ago. She’ll produce her first wine this year but has no intention of creating a separate Laure Colombo brand.
Luckily it’s an isolated farm so that the birthday dancing ‘til dawn didn’t disturb their neighbours. And now, anyone can now overnight in the farm’s guesthouse should you wish to party the night away. Laure says: “It’s not a five-star hotel but there’s a good cellar and it’s in the middle of the northern Rhône.”
Since buying his first parcel of vines in 1987, Jean-Luc Colombo has not been without his detractors. He was a thoroughly modern man in a traditional region – his medical background giving him a scientific approach to producing fine wine. His short-lived career as a chef though meant he was not just interested in formulas but flavours. He was also interested in promoting the wines of the region and along with Anne, the pair has made an invaluable contribution to Cornas.
The fact that Anne became the first female president of the Cornas winegrowers’ assocation just a few months ago suggest that the couple are now part of the furniture. However, you don’t often hear much about Anne – men still rule the wine world. “France is still a macho country so even if it says Jean-Luc on the label,’ says Laure, it’s not the whole story. And then we also discuss the fact that her mother is the viticulturist. Those in charge of the vineyard aren’t as widely celebrated as the winemakers even though it is the viticulturists who do the hard yards. The Rhône is a place of talented woman: France’s only female 3-Michelin star chef , Annie-Sophie Pic, is just 20 minutes down the road from Laure’s farm – another reason to beat a path to St-Péray.
Best known for its Cornas wines, the single vineyards of Les Ruchets and Terres Brulées make powerful, intense Syrah that is structured and built for the long haul. Jean-Luc Colombo also makes plenty of affordable, early drinking Côtes du Rhône wines, and has ventured as far as Provence. You can view my tasting note here from Laure’s tasting here.