..No one would suspect that inside the drab, unpainted building that houses Château Rayas (sitting unmarked at the end of a deteriorating dirt road in the appellation of Châteauneuf du Pape) are some of the world’s most distinctive wines. The credit goes to Jacques Reynaud and his late father, Louis, who passed away in 1978. Jacques Reynaud (he reminds me of a cross between Dr. Seuss’s Grinch and Yoda from the Star Wars trilogy) is the brilliant, unassuming genius behind these wines, which are made from low yields from some of the oldest vines in the southern Rhône Valley. Reynaud is assisted by his sister, Françoise, who is cut from the same eccentric mold as her brother.
Château Rayas is the antithesis of modern-day winemaking. No stainless steel, no temperature controls, no new oak, and no oenologists are to be found in the Rayas cellar, which contains a hodgepodge of barrels, demi-muids, and foudres. The stories I could tell about Jacques Reynaud could fill a book, but behind his decidedly antifame, anti-twentieth century facade is an extremely well-read gentleman with exceptional knowledge and a love of many things, including fine food, as I discovered over several meals with him at the nearby La Beaugravière.
Getting precise information on what goes on at Château Rayas is not an easy task. Despite having visited and tasted with Reynaud more than a dozen times during the last decade, I still have not figured out what magic takes place in these cellars. Given the extraordinary quality that emerges in the finest years, I can live without the answers. We have gotten to know each other reasonably well, and I will convey a few stones to give readers a glimpse of Reynaud’s impish character. Early in my tasting experience with him, I became irritated after tasting through four different barrels without Reynaud’s saying one word about what was in each barrel. Finally, I asked what we were tasting. His response was, “You’re the expert. You tell me.” Another example of his sense of humor emerged over dinner at La Beaugravière while we were sharing a magnificent bottle of Chave Hermitage. I asked him whom he admired the most. His deadly serious response was, “You.”