René-Jean Dard and François Ribo are the Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson of the wine world. Since the 80s, they’ve been fighting for a more sustainably farmed Northern Rhône, while also fighting off the villains trying to steal their vineyards (yes, really).
It’s been one very long uphill battle to get where they are today: selling all of their wine preallocated to some of the most renowned restaurants in the world. As we stand and chat with René-Jean, the phone rings twice from trade customers interested in buying their wines. He politely lets them down—there’s none for sale. This happens every day.
So how did these two quiet guys in overalls become two of the most iconic natural winemakers in the world?
"We had long hair, beards, we didn’t use sulphites, we worked the soils instead of using herbicides. We weren’t like the others. I guess we were considered hippies. And we weren’t the sons of winemakers."
People: René-Jean Dard & François Ribo
Place: Northern Rhône
Varieties: Syrah, Marsanne & Roussanne
Wines: Click here
Did You Know? Depending on the vintage, there are between seven and 16 cuvées of Dard & Ribo produced; from the blends to the single vineyards, some of which (like the iconic Opateyres) come from such small parcels that only one barrel on average is made. Each year, they do a mass blind tasting to decide which wines should be bottled as single vineyard, and which should go into a blend.
It’s not an easy region for organics; the steep slopes make mechanisation impossible for some vineyards. René-Jean says,
“It took us a while to find solutions. The horse was the first part of that. Now, that’s fashionable—many people are starting to work with horses again, but back then we were the only ones.” He chuckles. “At least, definitely the only young ones!”
Every vineyard is different, and over the years they have begun working the soils less and less, to retain more water, to the extent where some parcels are now never worked; the grass is simply cut down, working towards no-till. As we’re discussing the practicalities, François pops his head in to say hello. Generally speaking, he is more in charge of the work in the vineyards, whereas René-Jean does more of the winemaking. We ask him about their treatments in the vineyard:
“The goal is to diminish the doses of copper and sulphur as much as possible via introducing plant-based preparations. We use stinging nettle in our compost, then we also use some burdock, comfrey and horsetail.”
"We’re not looking to make very muscular or tannic wines. We want to make Syrah that you can drink, and Syrah that expresses its terroir. We won’t tell you all these silly things like...
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