Category: Wine Tourism

The Two Invisible Forces Shaping Southern French Terroir

Life has a way of constantly reminding you that ‘You don’t know until you do something. Similarly, you can’t really understand a wine region until you visit it.

Take Avignon, the stunning, walled medieval city near the Châteauneuf du Pape vineyard, which has served as a cultural center for the Southern Rhône ever since popes and antipopes made it their home during the Whack-A-Mole-like papal succession crisis (ca. 1350).

There are no decorative flower pots in Avignon strewn over window ledges. There are no signs of life; no shoes, laundry or rugs set out. There is nothing at all, really, on display outside of the tightly closed windows of Avignon.

That’s because for 150 days each year, Avignon is a wind tunnel. A surreal test chamber for residents — so many fleshy vessels woefully undesigned for its brutal, drying forces.

Like me, you may have heard about the mistral, and imagined it was some gentle breeze which helped vines stay cool. Ha!

This is what we really mean when we say mistral:

You don’t have to be atop Mount Ventoux for the winds to reach up to 80 mph. When pressed, locals typically confess ‘I’ve lived here my entire life, and I’ve never (Click to Read more)

The Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s Beautiful Secret, Part 2

This is the second article on Italy’s stunning Valle d’Aosta region. Here is the previous article on the La Kiuva co-op. This article explores the opposite of the co-op model: independent vigneron Vincent Grosjean.

The Grosjean Brothers’ wines are like dark, knotted oaks; reticent with their charms, slow to grow, open, and reveal themselves. But once they are forthcoming, they count among the most compelling wines ever — and for prices that belie their quality.

Vincent Grosjean in his cellar.

Thanks to Vincent’s brother Eraldo Grosjean who is responsible for the upkeep of the vines, the house has been certified organic since 2010 — and Vincent has been using indigenous yeast to vinify for even longer, since 2004. Even if the La Kiuva co-op and Vincent Grosjean exploit the same varietals, the Grosjean wines are far more challenging wines which often prove severely reductive upon uncorking and insist on cellaring.

When drinking young Grosjean reds, it can take two hours before the reduction “blows off” of his Gamay or Pinot Noir to reveal a wonderfully dark-fruited wine beneath. It’s tempting to confuse this reductive aroma with a whopping overdose of sulfur, but, as Vincent explains, he actually uses only a third of the amount of sulphur permitted1; it’s simply that the wines are bottled in such an oxygen-deprived environment that they gasp for air upon opening and need time.

Aside from Vincent’s unflinching confidence that the Cornalin grape will be a big player in the Valle d’Aosta’s future, it was one of his anecdotes about Neal Rosenthal which marked me.

  • Tasting with Vincent Grosjean at his cellar.
  • Tasting with Vincent Grosjean at his cellar.
  • Tasting with Vincent Grosjean at his cellar.
  • Tasting with Vincent Grosjean at his cellar.
  • Tasting with Vincent Grosjean at his cellar.
  • Tasting with Vincent Grosjean at his cellar.
  • Tasting with Vincent Grosjean at his cellar.
  • Tasting with Vincent Grosjean at his cellar.

 

It wasn’t until Neal Rosenthal stopped in to taste Vincent Grosjean’s wines for the first time that Vincent began to appreciate (Click to Read more)

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  1. “Per quanto riguarda i solfiti, questi sono normalmente presenti nel vino, e noi ne aggiungiamo il minimo indispensabile, meno di un terzo di quelli consen- titi.” Article Dauphin Grosjean, il “patriarca” fondatore della Maison vigneronne, in the newspaper La Vallée Notizi, Saturday Nov. 5 2011. []

The Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s Beautiful Secret

I can see myself living here for a while.

The Valle d’Aosta is the fascinating Alpine junction between France, Switzerland, and Italy.

In the extreme northwest of Italy, Valdostano denizens typically speak both French and Italian, their accents a mind-bending blend of Southern French drawl and classic bouncy, sing-song Italian.

Welcome to the mountains.

Contrary to popular belief, the Romans may not have been first to bring viticulture to the region, with a possible earlier arrival alluded to by locals citing a historian named Guillemot who discovered proof of native vines ca. 2000 or 3000 BC1.

At different moments much later in history, the House of Savoy possessed every greatest wine region in the world: Burgundy, Piedmont, and the Valle d’Aosta (which served as their hunting grounds). Oh, to have been a Duke of Savoy.

The Valle d’Aosta is quite dry, and you’ll see evidence of irrigation all over while driving the freeways — giant sprinklers working to keep vines alive.

Massive streaks of green granite are visible from along the highways that curl through these glacial valleys; roche-mères2 that sit above quarries and seem to bleed crumbly, powdered rock, like green scars cut into the side of a mountain.

Both blue and green granite are common terroir components throughout the Valle d’Aosta. These are ridiculously shallow, sandy glacial soils, where the ocean never reached nor deposited calcium-based limestone minerals (as in neighboring Gattinara, or, say, Chablis).

I’d like to explore this region through two different producers: one is a co-op, integral to the region’s success, and the other an iconic, independent producer. Each is emblematic of the region in a different way. (Click to Read more)

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  1. I can find no trace of this person and am not sure of spelling; if anyone can enlighten me, please comment or email me. []
  2. This best translates to bedrock; imagine an exposed crumbling layer of bedrock whose eroded pieces are strewn down upon a vineyard site to lend its character; or, conversely, are buried deep under a vineyard site, where dry-farmed roots tap into them. []