An aromatic and plump French grape which is starting to be widely used in Italy both as a single varietal and as part of a blend
The 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 Rhône 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.
The 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.
Viognier was once fairly common. Now it is a rare white grape grown almost exclusively in the northern Rhône regions of France. In 1965, the grape was almost extinct when there were only eight acres in Northern Rhône producing only 1 900 liters of wine. The popularity and price of the wine have risen and thus the number of plantings has increased. Rhône now has over 740 acres (3.0 km2) planted.
In 2004, 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.
Viognier 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.
The 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-1800s, 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 and Japan
White grape variety introduced in the Rhone Valley, France, the emperor Probus, a native of Smirnium in Croatia. Back in vogue since the early nineties, especially for the production of the characteristic Condrieu, a white expensive and rare, to be drunk young because of the acidity low and the high strength aromatic. In the past, the variety was widely grown in the south of Lyon, but the very low productivity dramatically reduced its use, up to only 14 hectares in 1968, all concentrated in the northern Rhone. Currently it is cultivated on the island of Vis under the name of Vugava or Bugava, but is expanding rapidly in warm climate regions (in Italy it is in Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Umbria, Lazio, etc...) It is preferred in assembly with other grapes, but it is rare to find wines made exclusively from this grape.
Viticulture and winemaking
Environmental and cultural characteristics and needs :
Its leaf is small or medium-orbicular, five-lobed, medium-small clusters, truncated cone, plain or winged, sometimes compact, small-berry, spherical or slightly oval, with thick yellow amber. It has a regular production but not high, it prefers warm, ideal for extracting the aroma; require long pruning, for the low fertility of basal buds, du and high plant density (no more than 5,000 vines / ha.
Diseases and adversity :
It not very sensitive to downy mildew and botrytis, powdery mildew attack and suffers a lot. It tolerates drought and is sensitive to wind.
Viognier 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.
In France, 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.
Wine 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.
The 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 old.