Copyright Rivah Vineyards at the Grove 2019. All rights reserved.
Viognier (pronounced VEE-ohn-yay) were the first vines we planted at Rivah Vineyards in 2013. Viognier is a fairly difficult grape to grow, as it is somewhat more prone to disease than other varietals. It can be unpredictable in its yield as well. It flowers and ripens early, and is usually the first varietal harvested in very early September. Because Viognier flowers so early in the season, it is susceptible to spring frosts, most notably in 2011 when its production was decimated in many regions of the country. The first years of growing this varietal at Rivah Vineyards has been somewhat of a challenge and there was talk of taking the vines out and planting another varietal in its place, however, the vines seem to have recovered significantly in 2016. We will see this year our first harvest of Viognier.
Viognier is historically grown in the Northern Rhône valley. The historical origin of the varietal is unknown, but many believe it dates back to the Roman Empire. According to one story, Emperor Probus imported Viognier into Condrieu from Dalmatia (in present-day Croatia) in 281 AD as a means of replacing the vineyards destroyed by Emperor Vespasian. Legend has it that Vespasian tore up the Condrieu vineyards after the locals revolted, a revolt which he attributed to drinking too much of the native wine.
Regardless of how the varietal originally arrived in Condrieu, historical records confirm that Viognier was grown in the area during the Roman Empire. When the Romans were forced out of Gaul in the 5th Century, the vines remained uncultivated for centuries but were revived by locals in the 9th Century. The varietal spread to neighboring Château Grillet, and from there to the papal palace at Avignon in the 14th Century.
By the 1960's, Viognier plantings had diminished dramatically, down to an estimated 15 acres in Condrieu and little more elsewhere in the Rhone Valley. But with the growth of interest in varietal wines in the late 1980's, the grape was brought to California, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand and Virginia. There are now nearly 3000 acres of Viognier in California alone, making it by far the most planted white Rhone varietal.
The grape should be picked 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. 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. It naturally ripens with relatively high sugars and low acidity, so we are looking to ferment it in stainless steel, and blend it with other varietals that have good minerality, bright acidity and low alcohol.
Viognier is a food friendly white wine that pairs well with a wide variety of foods and cuisines. Spicy Asian food pairs well due to the natural sweetness in Viognier. Viognier also works in wine and food pairings with a wide variety of seafood and shellfish, roasted or grilled chicken, veal, pork, spicy flavors and Asian cuisine. Viognier is also delicious with select vegetable and salad courses and of course hard or soft cheese.