I left New Zealand 12 years ago wanting an adventure in wine, but with no goals or plans to one day own vineyards in France, let alone in Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu. It has been an absolute adventure - something I thought to be impossible. But Domaine Graeme & Julie Bott is proof that anything is possible if you want it enough. Back in New Zealand, I was always interested in Syrah. Working in Hawke’s Bay and on Waiheke was great, and I remember often tasting wines from the Northern Rhone. The real draw was to discover the ‘Holy Grail’ of Syrah, which brought me to Côte-Rôtie.
Julie is French, and grew up in this area, but never thought she’d become a vigneron one day. Here, you become a vigneron generation after generation, as the appellations are so small and land prices are so high. We met while we were working for a winemaker in Ampuis and shared the same passion for wine. We are very complementary, as I studied winemaking and Julie did her studies in international trade. When we created our domaine, we did everything together, from building walls and planting, to working the seasons in the vineyard.
It started by accident in 2015, when Julie and I were looking to buy our first home and came across a small house on the hillside of Verin, the village just after Condrieu. When we visited the house, I was surprised there were no vineyards planted, as the 3,500m2 block around the house was in the Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) Condrieu. Furthermore, the neighbouring vineyards are Coteau Chery and Chateau Grillet, famous in our region. When we bought our first house and land, Domaine Graeme & Julie Bott was born.
We then set about actively searching for other land in the region and found some to buy and plant in Saint-Joseph, Seyssuel and finally in Côte-Rôtie. We feel very lucky to be here and are aware that during our lives we are only caretakers of the land in these appellations; we try to work our vineyards with precision and respect, which is why we are currently under organic conversion. Our ideas of winemaking are similar - to respect the terroir and make the best wine we can. We will only make wine 25 more times, so we need to think about the next generation and the impact our decisions will have.
Since 2015, Julie and I have planted 7 hectares of vineyards, starting out with a wheelbarrow to take all our tools to the steep slopes, as we had no tractor. We remember levels of fatigue we didn’t know existed; working the hillsides is hardcore, but worth it when we taste the wines.
We started making wine in our garage, which was only 16m2 and now have a real winery in Ampuis at the foot of the Côte-Blonde vineyards. We would like to buy or plant another 2 to 3ha in Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu, and one day sell some of our wine in New Zealand.
There are signposts for New Zealand destinations in the vineyard, which are there to remind me of my roots. The fact that I grew up with another culture and travelled a lot gives me a greater vision on what we are doing. I have been really well welcomed here, having spent many years as an employee and gained the trust and respect of the local winemakers, who now refer to me as the ‘Kiwi of Ampuis’.
The greatest challenge has been creating all of this from nothing, with just the two of us. We have no financial backing, just a very good banker, who thankfully is crazy enough to follow us.
We are going into the unknown with 2021, as on 8 April we lost a huge amount of our harvest to frost. In front of our eyes, we watched the best part of the harvest turn to dust.
What’s next? We’re raising the second generation of Bott on the land, and she will have the choice to decide what she wants to do in life. And, perhaps trying to find some time to come back to New Zealand to go fishing and see my family. Who knows? We are still at the very start of this story.
A bientôt, Graeme