origin of the Viognier grape is unknown. Viognier is presumed
to be an ancient grape, and some have hypothesized that
it may have originated in Dalmatia and was brought to Rhone
by the Romans. One legend states that
the Roman emperor Probus brought the vine to the region
in 281 AD. Another legend has the grape packaged with Syrah
on a cargo ship navigating the Rhone River en route to Beaujolais
when it was captured near the site of present day Condrieu
by a local group of outlaws known as culs de piaux.
origin of the name Viognier is also obscure. The most common
namesake is the French city of Vienne, which was a major
Roman outpost. Another legend has it drawing its name from
the Roman pronunciation of the via Gehennae, meaning
the "road to Hell". Probably this is an allusion to the
difficulty of growing the grape.
was once fairly common. Now it is a rare white grape grown
almost exclusively in the northern Rhone regions of France.
In 1965, the grape was almost extinct when there were only
eight acres in Northern Rhone producing only 1 900 liters
of wine. The popularity and price of the wine have risen
and thus the number of plantings has increased. Rhone now
has over 740 acres (3.0 km2) planted.
DNA profiling conducted at University of California, Davis
showed the grape to be closely related to the Piedmont grape
Freisa and to be a genetic cousin of Nebbiolo.
can be a difficult grape to grow because it is prone to
powdery mildew. It has low and unpredictable yields and
should be picked only when fully ripe. When picked too early,
the grape fails to develop the full extent of its aromas
and tastes. When picked too late, the grape produces wine
that is oily and lacks perfume. Winemakers in the Condrieu
often pick the grapes with a level of sugar that will produce
wine with alcohol in the 13% range. When fully ripe
the grapes have a deep yellow color and produce wine with
a strong perfume and high in alcohol . The grape
prefers warmer environments and a long growing season, but
can grow in cooler areas as well.
the Mistral has a distinct effect on the Viognier vineyards
in the Northern Rhone. The wind tempers the Mediterranean
climate of the region, and cools the vines down after the
severe heat of summer.
expert Remington Norman has identified two distinct strains
of Viognier an "Old World" strain, most common in Condrieu,
and a "New World" strain, which is found in the Languedoc
and other areas. Although made from the same grape, the
two strains produce distinctly different wines.
age of the vine also has an effect on the quality of the
wine produced. Viognier vines start to hit their peak after
15-20 years. In the Rhone, there are vines at least 70 years
has been planted much more extensively around the world
since the early 1990s. Both California and Australia now
have significant amounts of land devoted to the Viognier
grape. There are also notable planting increases in areas
of moderate climate such as Virginia's Monticello AVA region.
decline of Viognier in France from its historic peak has
much to do with the disastrous introduction of phylloxera
insects from North America into Europe in the mid- and late-19th
century, followed by the abandonment of the vineyards due
to the chaos of World War I. By 1965, only about 30 acres
(120,000 m2) of Viognier vines remained in France,
and the variety was nearly extinct. Even as late as the
mid-1980s, Viognier in France was endangered. Paralleling
the growth of Viognier in the rest of the world, plantings
in France have grown dramatically since then. The grape
has been enjoying some success in Central Italy and in the
Piedmont region as well as South Africa, New Zealand, Greece and Japan.
France, Viognier is the single permitted grape variety
in the appellations of Condrieu and ChÃ¢teau Grillet,
which are located on the west bank of the RhÃ´ne River,
about 40 km south of Lyon. The majority of French
Viogniers are sold as Vin de Pays in the Languedoc.
In the Rhone wine region, the grape is often blended with
Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache blanc, and Rolle. In the
Northern Rhone the grape is sometimes blended with Chardonnay.
Vignerons in France often look to plant Viognier in areas
rich in granite soil that have a heat retaining quality
that the grape seems to thrive in. Beaujolais winemaker
Georges In the Cote-Rotie AOC up to 20% of red wine blends
can include Viognier though most growers add no more than
5%. Since Viognier ripens earlier than Syrah, the grape
is normally harvested separately and added to the Syrah
during fermentation. One of the benefits of adding Viognier
is the process of co-pigmentation that is produced which
stabilizes the coloring of the red wine.
the late 1980s, plantings of Viognier in the United States
and Canada have increased dramatically. California's Central
Coast is the leading producer with over 2,000 acres
(8 km2) of the grape planted. Californian Viogniers
are noticeably higher in alcohol compared to other wines
made from the grape. The Rhone
Rangers of the mid 1980s helped spark the increased interest
in Viognier in California.
The grape can also be found in North Carolina, Texas, Washington,
Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New York , Missouri
,and Virginia as well as British Columbia and the Niagara
and Lake Erie North Shore regions of Ontario.
Argentina and Chile have significant plantings of the grape
with some producers in Brazil and Uruguay also experimenting
with the varietal.
Yalumba is the country's largest producer of the grape making
both a white wine varietal and making extensive use of the
grape in its Shiraz blends. Yalumba grows
the grape in the loam and clay soil of the Eden Valley.
Other areas with Viognier plantings include Nangkita., Rutherglen,
Murray River, McLaren Vale, Geelong, Nagambie Lakes, Canberra,
Mornington Peninsula, Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, Geographe
wines are well-known for their floral aromas, due to terpenes,
which are also found in Muscat and Riesling wines. There
are also many other powerful flower and fruit aromas which
can be perceived in these wines depending on where they
were grown, the weather conditions and how old the vines
were. Although some of these wines, especially those from
old vines and the late-harvest wines, are suitable for aging,
most are intended to be consumed young. Viogniers more than
three years old tend to lose many of the floral aromas that
make this wine unique. Aging these wines will often yield
a very crisp drinking wine which is almost completely flat
in the nose. The color and the aroma of the wine suggest
a sweet wine but Viognier wines are predominantly dry, although
sweet late-harvest dessert wines have been made. It is a
grape with low acidity; it is sometimes used to soften wines
made predominantly with the red Syrah grape. In addition
to its softening qualities the grape also adds a stabilizing
agent and enhanced perfume to the red wine.
the grapes are often harvested early in the morning to produce
the clearest juice possible. Some winemakers will allow
contact with the skins. The soft skin of Viognier is high
in phenols - compounds that can leave an oily component
to the wine if left in contact with the skins for too long.
Sometimes the wine is put through malolactic fermentation
to give the wine more weight and to decrease acidity. In
New World Viognier, the lees may be stirred in a process
called batonnage in order to increase the acid levels
of the wine. The wine is then left on the lees till bottling
in a manner similar to sparkling wine production.
creation of the dessert style Viognier, the grapes are often
picked in late October or early November. In the Rhone region,
the grapes normally are not affected by the fungus Botrytis
cinerea though botrytized Viognier is not unheard of. A
common harvest technique used in the Condrieu is known as
Ã l'assiette where a plate is held underneath a
Viognier vine that is then shaken to allow the overripe
grapes to drop unto the plate. Fermentation is then stopped
early through the use of sulphur to allow the wine to retain
a high level of residual sugar. The wine is then chilled
and put through sterile filtering to ensure that the wine
is stable and will not start fermenting again in the bottle.
wine is meant to be consumed relatively young and typically
loses its perfume as it ages. Depending on the winemaking
style the grape can often hit its peak at one year of age
though some can stay at high levels of quality up to ten
years. Typically Condrieu wines are the Viogniers most often
meant to be drunk young while Californian and Australian
wines can handle age a little bit better.
highly aromatic and fruit forward nature of the grape allows
Viognier to pair well with spicy foods such as Thai cuisine.