The wines of Côte Rôtie, Condrieu and Saint Joseph
By John Wheeldon
This Guide was last updated on 08 August 2011
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To prevent soil erosion and assist with working them, many of the very steep vineyards of Côte Rôtie are terraced.
© Mick Rock/Cephas.
This is the northern section of the so-called Northern Rhône (locally known as the Côtes du Rhône Septentrionales). Home to a variety of wines from the floral and opulent Condrieu whites to the elegant Côte Rôtie reds, it is really only since the 1990s that this area has come to the fore as new plantings and new wine producers have developed the region. Back in 1982 there were only 14ha of vineyards in Condrieu, but today this has reached around 140ha and is still growing slowly. Côte Rôtie has seen similar growth up to 230ha and this highlights the need for visitors to find good producers with mature vines. It is an area of small hands-on producers with only one major négociant, Guigal who has long been the standard bearer. There are a fair number of growers geared up for visitors here but they are often the ones to avoid, selling fruit as well as wines to passers by.
The vineyards all face the Rhône and are incredibly steep and impressive – if you take a drive, take time to imagine working on these hills. The views leave much to be desired as the river is dominated by industry and power stations (remember that 80% of France’s electricity is nuclear), but this all changes in the hinterland which quickly becomes hilly and picturesque within the Pilat regional park.
South of Vienne are some of the steepest slopes in the Rhône Valley with vineyards that cling to the slopes overlooking the right bank of the River Rhône. The vineyard terraces are mainly south and southeast facing and the soils are schist with granite bedrock, and some clay and sand. The Côte Rôtie has granite terraces with a layer of sand-lime on the Côte Blonde, and a layer of clay and iron-oxide on the Côte Brune. Condrieu too has granite slopes. All the best vineyards are too steep for mechanisation. Some more recently planted vineyards in both Côte Rôtie and Condrieu appellations are on flatter lands on the plateau behind these slopes and here higher yields are obtained with lesser quality wines as a result.
In general, there is a moderate continental climate with hot dry summers and regular rainfall over the rest of the year. However it can be very cold in winter with -8°C and snow during my December 2008 visit. The more exposed vineyards can be affected by the Mistral wind, but the steeper vineyards especially in Côte Rôtie, where the vines are often trained on a single post, are protected from this at-times fierce wind.
This micro-region is situated mainly on the right bank of the Rhône river stretching from just south of Vienne to Le Péage du Roussillon. To reach the area by road from Paris, take the A6 and then the A7 to Vienne. Heading south from Vienne follow directions for Ampuis and cross the river by the barrage, then continue south along the N86. By train, the TGV takes just over two hours direct from Paris to Lyon, where connections can be taken to Vienne and Les Roches de Condrieu. By plane, the nearest international airport is at Lyon Saint Exupéry, or for European flights, Grenoble/Saint-Etienne-Saint-Geoirs.
6 Rue des 3 Faucons, 84000 Avignon
Côte Rôtie Information
Condrieu Tourist Office,
Route Nationale, 69420 Condrieu
Vienne Tourist Office,
Cours Brillier, 38200 Vienne
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