Sixth generation vigneronne Emmanuelle Verset is one of only two women at the helm of a Cornas domaine. The village she calls home bears little resemblance to the Cornas of the first half of the 20th century. By the late seventies, the appellation had just fifty hectares of vines and even fewer vignerons. Phylloxera and two World Wars had taken their toll, but it was the dominance of the negotiants and their demand for low prices that left vignerons with few options. Rather than continuing the back breaking work of tending vines on steep granite slopes for little compensation, most Cornas vignerons went to cities in search of better paying factory jobs.
Noël Verset, Emmanuelle’s great-uncle, was among the few that stayed. He joined his father in 1931 at age 12 and worked his family vineyards for more than seven decades. He upheld the Cornas tradition of producing a single wine by blending his now famed lieux-dits. This hefty arsenal of pure, balanced, terroir transparent wines not only helped save Cornas, it set the standard for the region and secured Cornas’s place in the pantheon of France’s most exalted terroirs and age worthy wines. Today, Noël Verset Cornas are among the most coveted wines in the world.
With no direct heirs, Noël ended up selling his vineyards to colleagues and family. His nephew Alain took over his vines in Champelrose, a vineyard Noël felt brought red fruits and earthy character to his blend. Additionally, Alain inherited prime plots in Les Mazards and La Geynale — both now 100+ years old — from his father, Louis (Noël’s brother). Approaching retirement in 2016, Alain was joined by his daughter Emmanuelle and Domaine A & E Verset was born.
Emmanuelle proudly continues the traditions of her father and her great-uncle, while making improvements to address today’s climate challenges. She has transitioned the holdings to organic viticulture, adjusted trellising to leave as much vegetation as possible during the growing season and began seeding cover crops in the lower plain vineyards. She also built a new cellar, introduced temperature control, and bought a pneumatic press. But she hasn’t changed everything, still opting to use whole bunches, eschew new oak, and to blend her five lieux-dits (Les Mazards, Champelrose, La Cote, Les Cotes, and a small part of Reynard) to produce a flagship Cornas. Additionally, the wine she calls “Signature” is a barrel selection of old vines from the famed La Geynale vineyard. Small quantities of Vin de France Syrah and Viognier round out the range and offer up endless drinking pleasure.
A charming photo of Noël smiling in the vines is propped on a barrel in Emmanuelle’s small cellar. She works with a constant regard for the past and a keen understanding of the role she plays in the Verset family’s future as vignerons in Cornas.