Winegrower: Franck Balthazar - Vigneron
Region: Cornas (France)
Franck Balthazar makes traditional Cornas and is recognized by Hugh Johnson as one of the appellation’s top two winegrowers producing some of the region’s finest wines (the other is Thierry Allemand, a great admirer of Franck). Franck’s father René Balthazar and his uncle Noël Verset are regarded as past legendary Cornas winegrowers. Today Franck produces tiny quantities of his own wine from vineyards previously owned and farmed by both these men; vineyards located on the granitic, steep, sun-baked slopes of Les Chaillots. Franck produces a mere 650 to 700 cases annually from two vineyards; one with 100 year old vines, the second with 50 year old vines. These wines are named “Cuvée Chaillot,” after the vineyard and “Cuvée Casimir Balthazar” in honor of his grandfather.
The Balthazar Domaine dates back to 1931, when it was founded by Franck’s grandfather Casimir. René took charge in 1950 and, along with his contemporaries Auguste Clapé and Franck’s uncle Noël, started to bottle his own wines in the 1970’s. Before then he sold his wines in barrels to local restaurants.
Franck, who was educated as an engineer, left that profession in 2002 to satisfy his longing to grow great wines in his home of Cornas. He works his 3.5 ha estate alone using the traditional farming and winemaking methods of his father and uncle. The vineyards are planted exclusively with an ancient local clone of Syrah that has small berries and greater aromatic complexity than modern clones. A horse is used to till the vineyards, no synthetic chemicals or fertilizers are used, and all vineyard work is by hand. His approach in the cellar is also ‘old school.’ Whole grape clusters are fermented using natural yeasts in concrete vats, caps are manually punched down and the wine is aged in neutral 600 litre demi-muids (rather than 225 litre casks) for 18 months to preserve their aromas before being bottled in his tiny cellar unfiltered and unfined with minimal or no sulfites added. Every vintage is about balance, purity of expression and beauty.