Viognier is no easy grape to grow. Until the vines are about fifteen, they don’t give their best fruit. The plants are susceptible to all kinds of diseases and pests. Their yields are sparse and the grapes ripen irregularly.
Maybe that’s why the grape was headed toward extinction. In 1965, only a few acres of Viognier remained under cultivation in Condrieu, in the grape’s Rhône Valley homeland. Since then, Viognier has been making a comeback—first in Condrieu and then in the south of France in Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence. Later, the plantings spread to California and Australia. To give you an idea of the escalation, in 1993 California crushed 231 tons of Viognier grapes. Ten years later it increased to 9,800 tons.
Viognier is aromatic with vibrant floral qualities, sometimes even perfumelike. The classic Old World style of Viognier is crisp, dry, and intense. As winemakers around the world craft their own Viogniers, more variations in style appear. While cooler regions of California produce a style closer to the French classic, wines from warmer areas are richer and fuller.
It’s rare for France to permit using a white wine grape in a high-quality red wine. In an unusual twist in the vineyards of the Côte-Rôtie, Viognier vines are planted among Syrah vines. The white and red grapes are harvested and vinified together to produce the highly regarded Côte-Rôtie red wines. In this same tradition, Storybook Mountain Vineyards blends a touch of Viognier in some of its Zinfandels!