“I don’t want to sound too French-y.” That was the moment of self-deprecation from the young winemaker, Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solène, that officially won over the room of tasters — assuming there were any that had not already been enchanted at the first sip of his 2015 Hommage Blanc (Wine Advocate 94 points), a crisp white Rhône-style blend of citrus and wet stone.
A third-generation winemaker from the South of France, Fabre spent his childhood through his early 20’s on the family winery tending to the grapes and learning the old world rituals behind producing exceptional wine. After graduating with a major in winemaking, enology and vineyard management at the Lycée Charlemagne, Fabre took an internship with acclaimed winery L’Aventure in Paso Robles in 2004. His goals were simple: to learn English and perfect his craft. Following his internship, and a brief stint at his parents’ property in Bordeaux, Fabre returned to Paso Robles with his muse, a young woman named Solène (now his wife), and a dream to make his own wine. Again, his goal was simple: to make impeccable wine, his way.
Doing things his unique way is Fabre’s calling card. An artist, Fabre is less concerned with “how it has always been done” — though he absolutely respects the traditions he was steeped in as a child and young man — and more focused on how it can be done to produce the finest product. While the classic trinity of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (“GSM”) is the hallmark of Côtes du Rhône-style wines, Fabre has been known to blend in a hint of white varietals like Viognier to give his red blends a pop of acidity that make them more food friendly and drinkable at an earlier age. And while the Paso Robles AVA is best-known for its heritage Zinfandel and Rhône varieties, Fabre’s appropriately named Cabernet Sauvignon, L’Insolent (Wine Advocate awarded the 2015 vintage 95 points), is as fine an expression as any of its Napa Valley cousins.
Indeed, even Fabre’s approach to wine sales and marketing is outside the box. He works with recreational wine enthusiasts to organize small “pop-up” tastings, many in private homes. And Fabre’s wine club allows customers to select for themselves the wines they will receive — a far cry from the ubiquitous “take what you get” model many clubs use as a producer’s clearing house for less desirable bottles.
When I curiously observed that his Rhône-style reds were not bottled in the typical, fatter, Burgundy-like bottles, he matter-of-factly quipped, “I think the [tall, straight Bordeaux-style] bottles are much more elegant.” However, the uncommon shape of the vessel became irrelevant the moment I tasted Fabre’s 2014 Harmonie (Wine Advocate 93 points) — the epitome of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with its velvety and complex parade of herbs and dark fruit, and as drinkable a GSM blend many vintages its senior.
So, what’s next for the talented Fabre and Clos Solène, currently a two person-operation assisted by some strategically placed electric blankets to help keep select barrels warm at night? Simple: purchasing his own piece of Paso Robles vineyard. I plan to buy a few extra bottles to help him get there.
Tastings can be arranged by appointment.
— Taste of Adventure