Condrieu is a French winegrowing appellation located in the northern Rhône Valley, near Vienne and to the south of Côte-Rôtie. The vineyards are situated in the seven communes of Limony, Chavanay, Malleval, Saint-Michel-sur-Rhône, Saint-Pierre-de Boeuf, Vérin, and Condrieu in the French departments of Ardèche, Rhône and Loire on the steep slopes of the foothills of the Massif Central on the bank along the Rhône River.
The Condrieu AOC was officially created in 1940 - and the four southernmost communes can also produce wine under the Saint-Joseph AOC. Condrieu is famous for its Viognier white wines, and is the northern most ‘white wine’ appellation in the Rhône Valley. Viognier has been cultivated since Greek times (with still unresolved links to Dalmatian origins).
Emperor Domitian ordered the vines to be torn from the earth in 92AD as he believed the wine had a detrimental effect on his soldiers, but in 280AD Emperor Probus had the vines replanted, stating that it had a beneficial effect on men.
Viognier underwent a turbulent period with: phylloxera, WWI, the great depression, WWII and industrialization almost left the village abandoned. In the 1950s, the Condrieu wine market, the region’s oldest, virtually disappeared, as there were simply not enough winemakers. It is said that only 10 hectares were being farmed - out of the originally defined 170ha.
The vines were maintained by a small group of winemakers who were passionate about Viognier, and the vineyards were reborn in the early 1980s: the abandoned hillsides were replanted and the terrace walls rebuilt. In 1986, Condrieu winemakers made a final adjustment to the appellation’s territory. With one third of the land area being removed, leaving only the hillsides with the best exposure, where Viognier can mature to its very best potential - and has become a global benchmark.
As in much of Northern Rhône, the climate of Condrieu is continental, characterized by cold wet winters and hot summers. Ideal sites, vineyards are planted on granite soils, south facing, which aids growth during the cool months in late spring and early autumn. The narrow terraces are generally composed of granite and ‘arzelle’ - a mixture of decomposed granite, mica, shale and clay that gives Condrieu wines their fruit driven aroma of peaches and apricots.
The well-drained granite soil retains heat during the day and reflects it back to the vines at night. The best vineyards have some natural shelter from the fierce northern winds that blow through the region and wreak havoc during flowering. The steep incline of many vineyards introduces the potential hazard of soil erosion.
The clone of Viognier grown in Condrieu produces low yields, small berries and is less productive than clones planted in other regions of France. This contributes to the rarity and expense of Condrieu wines, with only 54,000 cases produced in 2013. Condrieu wine is often characterised by delicate aromatics of peaches and white flowers. Some examples also have notes of anise and melons. Often the wine is full bodied and rich in a style that is texturally similarly to Chardonnay. Normally the wine is made dry but the fruitiness and perfume of the bouquet can suggest sweetness. Though during favourable vintages; some producers will try to make a late harvest or botrytis wine.
The Viognier grape is naturally low in acidity which challenges growers and winemakers to keep the wine from becoming flabby. Also the delicate flavours can be overwhelmed by too much oak during winemaking. The planting density must be at least 6,500 vines per hectare, with a yield of 41 hectolitre per hectare. The grape must reach a maturity producing a finished wine which has at least 11.5% alcohol by volume, but no more than 14%.
Viognier produces impressive wines with exceptional character. This single varietal produces smooth, generous wines. On the nose typically fresh and highly aromatic, contains floral notes and ripe fruits such as peach and apricots. Agreed by those in the know, it is at its best while young - as it ages, it starts to show musk, gingerbread and even tobacco notes.