Not many families have history that can match up to that of the Jonquères d’Oriola family – the owners of Chateau de Corneilla, in the Roussillon village of Corneilla-del-Vercol. Today the estate is run by Phillipe and his son William, the 27th and 28th generations of winemaker at this beautiful estate, which has been in the family since they bought it in the 1400s following the dissolution of the Knights Templar. The Knights had built it a couple of hundred years before that, and while the family have renovated it in the centuries since, the castle still retains all of its medieval charm. The family is also full of very gifted sportsmen, boasting six Olympic gold medals in Fencing and various equestrian events.
The modern reputation of the domaine is thanks to the innovation of Philippe, who was the first to introduce temperature control into the region during the 1970s. This sort of technology is taken for granted nowadays, but it was such a leap forward back then that Phillipe had to adapt an early system for chilling milk into something suitable for wine fermentation tanks – no one in the winery equipment business had developed a suitable product at that time. The results were startling and not just for the dry white wines that had always been difficult to make in the roasting heat of the Roussillon – the sweet Muscat and Grenache wines made in the Rivesaltes appellation became much fresher and more elegant too. Before long, Philippe’s innovation had spread throughout the entire region, but to this day he remains typically humble about his role in the modernisation of winemaking in Southern France.
Tradition and modernity go hand in hand at Corneilla, but viticulture is done along very traditional lines, with treatments only applied in circumstances where they are essential, and many of the most venerable parcels of vines in the region forming part of the estate. One nod to modernity was the planting of some international varieties to go with their old vines of Muscat and Grenache. These grapes are used to make a range of beautifully precise varietal wines, including a wonderful parcel of Chardonnay in the foothills of the majestic Mount Canigou and a small plot of Syrah in the sub-appellation of ‘Les Aspres’. Both parcels benefit from being nestled between the sea and the Pyrenees, with hot days and cool nights ensuring full ripeness while maintaining excellent acidity levels.
With the reputation of the Chateau being founded on their sweet, fortified wines, Philippe and William were happy for us to take small lots of their other varieties and their enthusiasm for the London Cru project has left us in no doubt that they will provide us with fruit of the highest quality.