Marcel Guigal has been called "the planet's greatest living winemaker", "the driving force behind the great success of the wines of the Rhone Valley", and "a genius" - all of which is true. Yet, what is most impressive about the hardworking Guigal is his grounded, down to earth, unpretentious manner, which translates happily into a bevy of excellent, pure expressive Rhone wines at affordable prices. While best known for his other worldly, single vineyard Cote Rotie wines, those collectible treasures constitute only the tiniest tip of the Guigal empire of outstanding Rhone wines. From his cellars in the antique village of Ampuirs, the birthplace of the Cote Rotie appellation, Marcel Guigal fashions mind-boggling, reference point examples from nearly every important Rhone appellation, including Condrieu, Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Tavel, and most recently Crozes - Hermitage. The key to Guigal's success is really quite simple. He cultivates his own vineyards organically with no chemical fertilizers or treatments and picks his grapes late when they are just about ready to explode with their own maturity. This late harvest, coupled with low yields and minimal intervention (including no filtration) gives birth to fragrant, round, ripe natural wines that are immensely pleasurable to drink. When purchasing juice from other producers, a practice which has helped Guigal augment his own estate holdings and hone his extraordinary winemaking skills, Guigal holds those growers to the exacting standards he sets in his own vineyard. He buys only from producers he knows well who subscribe to his philosophy that old vines, low yields, and a late harvest are prerequisites for producing excellent wine. And, if these exacting requirements are not enough to insure quality, Guigal adds traditional wine ageing in new oak for extended periods of time; he is presently the only producer in Cote-Rotie to practice such extended ageing in new oak. Although many of Guigal's vineyards date back to 2400 years, and one can still find the low stone walls constructed by the Romans to terrace the steep vineyard slopes, Domaine Guigal is a relative newcomer to the Rhone. Founded in 1946 by the late Etienne Guigal (Marcel's father) the former quickly began transforming the estate into the reference point by which all other Rhone estates are measured. In addition to elevating the quality of his own estate, the elder Guigal also began the acquisition and refurbishment of Vidal Fleury, another fine Rhone property. Unfortunately, Etienne's wine career was seriously curtailed when he was afflicted with sudden and total blindness in 1961, an event that forced the young Marcel to join the family business as a teenager, devoting his formidable energy and talent to the art of wine. Whether it is by circumstance or Providence, the seeds of greatness were sown early in Marcel Guigal. Today, Marcel is assisted by his able son, Philippe, a fine oenologist in his own right. Crozes - Hermitage is the largest of the Appellations of the Northern Rhone, compromising just over 2500 acres planted exclusively to Syrah for red wine and Marsanne and Roussanne for white. Not surprisingly with an area of this size, there is great variability of vineyard site, and thus of quality of wine produced. The vineyards are largely on the plain, producing solid, reasonably priced wines, but there are some excellent hillside vineyards, which provide concentrated, long-lived wines. In fine vintages like 1999, the offspring of these hillside sites rival many of the more expensive and better-known wines of Hermitage, displaying forthright Syrah flavors, spice and persistency, along with satisfying vigor and intensity. For the first time in the 1999 vintage, Marcel Guigal has produced a red Crozes-Hermitage. He has drawn his cuvees exclusively from prime hillside vineyards.