Lovers of Virginia wine are most likely already familiar with the grape Viognier. Some of Virginia’s initial recognition in the winemaking world happened, based on wine made from this grape. In fact, in 2011, the Virginia wine marketing board named Viognier the “signature” grape, to help its wines gain recognition outside of the state.
Viognier, which found a second home in Virginia, actually hails from the northern Rhône in France. Its official home is Condrieu, which is a French wine-growing Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), near Vienne and just below the Côte-Rôtie AOC. The name “Condrieu” is from the French term coin de ruissean which translates to “corner of the brook.”
Grapes have been grown in and around Condrieu since Roman times. The wines from this region gained popularity in the 18th century, as they were brought to the Paris market. During peacetime, the wines would also make it to the London market. The wines from the region received more recognition when négociant businessman Marcel Guigal worked to expand the market for Condrieu wines. Guigal produced wine from grapes sourced from small growers in the AOC. Demand grew, as did the vineyard plantings.
The Condrieu AOC covers vineyards planted on hills along 12 miles of the Rhône river. The vineyards here fall into seven different communes, as follows: Limony, Chavanay, Malleval, Saint-Michel-sur-Rhône, Saint-Pierre-de Boeuf, Vérin, and Condrieu. The wines made in the AOC are only white and only made out of Viognier. In the 1960s, there were about 25 acres planted. Currently, there are over 640 acres.
The AOC restrictions include vine density plantings, yield, and sugar levels for potential alcohol. Vine density must be 6,500 vines per 2.47 acres, with a yield of just over 1,083 gallons. The grape must reach at least 178 grams per liter, and the final wine must be between 11.5 and 14 percent alcohol.
Wine made in the Condrieu AOC often have aromas of peaches, pear, dried fruits, honeysuckle, and white flowers. The wines can be full-bodied, rich in weight, show minerality, and even have an oily texture. Viognier is a low acid grape, and that is often challenging for winemakers, as they want to keep the wines fresh and bright. Traditionally, the wines are dry in style, however, some sweet late-harvest wines are made.
Within the boundaries of the Condrieu AOC, is another AOC called Château-Grillet. The whole AOC is under 10 acres and is owned by an individual winery, Château-Grillet. Only 10,000 bottles of wine are produced each year. The wines from this vineyard show aromas of apricot, truffle, and honey, with flavors of apricot, honey, and tangerine. With age, the wines show more floral aromas. Wines here are cellared for at least 24 months before release, in a combination of new and old barrels.