Tag Archives: Southern Rhone Valley

Rising cream (Rhone Valley, France – Day Four)

Cooperative wineries are something that is pretty unique to Europe, and is possibly a little hard to understand for producers from New-World producing countries. The notion of hundreds or thousands of different growers all providing their fruit to a collaborative facility that has the responsibility of vinifying and either selling or bottling the collective wine produced is a very historic one, and it has only been the last 50 years that has seen more individual producers establish their own wineries, either from their own vineyards or purchased fruit. It must be a little bit scary trusting someone else to handle a year of your life, and also a little sad to know that it will be blended into many other wines and somewhat lost in the multitude. At the same time it must be relieving to know that you are going to get some money for your fruit regardless, rather than being completely at the mercy of the vintage and the market. In the Rhone Valley there are negociant producers who purchase wine (and in some cases fruit) to mature, blend and bottle under their own label. This model is much more familiar in the new world, as the largest producers in every country would need to buy fruit from growers often in different regions, to feed the increasing demand globally for their branded wines. This of course is in addition to their hundreds or thousands of hectares of vineyards, which is often the same size as entire appelations in Europe which many have hundreds of separate vineyard owners. Like Guigal, my appointment on Day Four was a producer based in the Northern Rhone that owns vineyards in several appelations, but relies on wine purchased from the Southern Rhone to provide the bulk of their sales.
Saint Joseph vineyards

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All things considered (Rhone Valley, France – Day Three)

The Rhone Valley is arguably one of the most diverse regions in France, if not Europe. Covering over 200 km from north to south it is one of the longest regions, and with the difference in climate and soil conditions provides many opportunities for viticulture. The region is split from Valence, about 100km north of Avignon and 100 km south of Lyon. North of Valence has a much more continental climate, cooler and well protected from winds and rain. South of Valence is more Mediterranean in climate, warmer with more wind influence. This is probably the most important difference between the north and south. Throughout the entire region, there are a multitude of producers of different size and style. Growers who may not make or bottle their own wine may be part of a cooperative that vinifies the fruit, and either sells the wine in bulk or bottle. There are more artisan producers who only produce wine from their own estates, whether in a single appellation or several. Then there are those in between, who produce wine from their own estates, and also purchase fruit and/or wine from growers to produce/bottle under their own label. It is very common for producers in the Northern Rhone Valley to operate in this model, as in the north there are not enough vineyards and they are also very expensive to purchase and manage, and so they compensate by bottling wine from the south were fruit is less expensive and in much larger supply. In several cases a Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge wine may account for 50% of the bottles sold each year. The first appointment for my third day epitomises this model (Guigal), the second has only just started to move into this realm (Chateau Font de Michelle), and the third only produces wine from their own estates across three appelations/vineyards (Domaine de la Renjarde/Le Prieure de Montezargues).

Only days away from capfall and flowers developing

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Are you Rhonesome, tonight? (Rhone Valley, France – Day Two)

There are so many differences between the Northern and Southern Rhone Valleys that they should almost be called completely different names. Almost the only thing in common as I mentioned in my last post, is the fact that the four varieties grown in the north are also grown in the south. The Northern Rhone is a much more narrow and elevated valley than in the south, which opens up into wide plains with rolling hills rather than steep cliffs. This type of land actually reminds me of the way the Adige River flows south from Austria through the Italian Alto Adige and Trentino regions into Veneto. Secondly the amount of vineyards in the Northern Rhone is 3,000 hectares, which is the same amount as Chateauneuf-du-Pape alone, one single appellation of almost ten in the Southern Rhone. Thirdly the general approach for the Southern Rhone is for volume rather than quality, particularly for the Cotes-du-Rhone appellation, and there are only a few which go for quality above all else. In the Northern Rhone there is really only one appellation of eight that is more geared towards volume and compared to the Southern Rhone would be considered one of the quality appelations. In the Southern Rhone there is significantly more wine blended between areas than in the Northern Rhone, not to mention a great many more varieties blended, whereas in the north they really only use four and never blend more than two together. Probably the biggest difference is the amount of wine produced by cooperatives, much of which is sold to negociants within the Rhone Valley or outside of it and then bottled by someone else. Very rarely does wine get sold in bulk in the north; it is either sold as grapes or bottled wine. The first appointment I had for today was a negociant producer owning no vineyards (Tardieu-Laurent), and the other was the opposite, only producing wine from their vineyards in the Southern Rhone Valley (Vieux-Telegraphe).

Different sizes of barrels used to mature wine

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I’m feeling Rhonery (Rhone Valley, France – Day One)

I spent a nice weekend checking out some of the sights in Marseille and Avignon, two very important and historic cities in Provence, before heading to the next region on my trip. I was actually returning to another region I visited in France when I was here in 2010, but much like Alsace I could only spend one day in the Rhone Valley when I last visited. Whilst this was long enough to fall in love with the region, it wasn’t enough to truly learn about the different appelations and wine styles, so I was very excited to return. My plan was to spend a few days in the Southern Rhone, and a few more in the Northern Rhone, because the Valley is a few hundred kilometres long which I discovered in 2010 when I drove from Lyon to Chateauneuf-du-Pape and back in one day. From north to south they are completely different in many ways, and therefore should never be considered as one region, much like Provence. Whilst all the varieties that are grown in the Northern Rhone are found in the Southern Rhone, the opposite is not true, and the wines are very different. The appellation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape itself, covering 3,000 hectares of vineyards making it one of the largest single appelations in France, can use up to 13 varieties. Whilst the Northern Rhone has very steep vineyards with very different terroirs and only four varieties, the Southern Rhone has generally flatter vineyards and more varieties to work with and blend.

One of the most iconic items in French wine

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