I wrote here that I thought (and hoped) that we'd see more of the Savoie this year. True to my words, I can't get enough of Mondeuse, nor Jacquère and Altesse (aka Roussette).
I was introduced to the region back in 2016, when I was in Gascony for the journées ampélographiques initative founded by Plaimont Producteurs, whose press and trade activity I handle in the UK.
Plaimont has been working tirelessly for decades now to reintroduce the long-lost grape varieties of South West France post-phylloxera, to save plant heritage and reintroduce varieties that could have been lost for the wrong reasons. A startling statistic tells us that the 20 most prominent grape varieties in France accounted for 91% of vineyard area in 2012, compared with 53% in 1958. WHAT. ARGH. This shocks me to the core.
The aforementioned ampelographic days were introduced to take place every four years both as a form of research get-together but also as a very important means of battling the erosion of vine genetics that has been occurring over the past fifty years (for many sad reasons - phylloxera, lower yields, the globalisation of taste and "safety" in international grape varieties, difficulties with foreign pronunciation and so on).
In 2016, Plaimont welcomed the Savoie and Charentes to take part for the first time. Regarding the Savoie, representatives from the Pierre Galet, the Alpine ampelographic centre, spoke about their indigenous grape varieties. Similarly to Plaimont, the centre is carrying out important work to bring back lesser-known Savoyard grape varieties. They have, like Plaimont, also created vine conservation vineyards and are carrying out microvinifications. They have a particular success story with Persan, which represented 500 planted hectares in the 1950s, but which almost disappeared in the 1980s. Today, it represents circa 20 hectares, and with its lifted aromatics, acidity and potential for ageing this figure is growing. Yay.
At the tasting part of the journées, we tasted all sorts of lesser-known grape varieties of the Savoie such as Verdesse, Mondeuse Grise (mutation thought to have disappeared but reintroduced to Vassal collection by Pierre Galet in 1950*), Mondeuse Blanche, Persan, Dureza (from the Arras-sur-Rhône representing just one hectare of plantings), and of course, our slightly more well-known, Mondeuse. Back vintages of Domaine Prieuré Saint Christophe were available to taste (1997 was in particular, truly incredible). As such, my love for this grape variety was born.
Mondeuse, as written in Wine Grapes, is an old grape variety, first documented under its current name in the Dauphiné, but likely dates back as far as 1731 in the Jura under the name Maldoux (see the book for further details). It is possible it is much older than this. According to José Vouillamoz, DNA parentage analysis has shown that Mondeuse is either a progeny or parent of Mondeuse Blanche, which means that the grape is either a half-sibling or grandparent of Syrah*. Wow.
The grape variety also saw a sharp decline in the 1970s. In 2009, there was approx. 300 hectares* and the number is now steadily increasing. There are also small plantings in Switzerland, and in California, with Carole Meredith having led the way. I have yet to taste hers, but I was fortunate enough to taste Jaimee Motley's example from barrel last year in Sebastopol. Jaimee is assistant winemaker at Wind Gap wines, both for Pax Mahle and Scott Schultz's own label, Jolie Laide, and has recently begun her own label under Jaimee Motley Wines, seeking out Mondeuse, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Also according to Wine Grapes, there are plantings of Mondeuse in Australia, with Buller and Brown Brothers, but this is cofermented with at brown Brothers with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
So, to continue to one of my many obsessions du jour...
MONDEUSE 2014, DOMAINE BELLUARD (Les Caves de Pyrene, purchased at Soif) - Vin de Savoie, Terroir du Mont-Blanc
I first drank this in the park on a not-so-balmy summer's day (we hoped, the weather was fickle) with Doug and some of the Les Caves team last year and it has stuck in my mind since, hence the spontaneous trip on my lunch break to pick up a bottle. Belluard is a biodynamic producer on the Mont Blanc terroir, and is particularly well-known for its whites and work with Gringet. Dominique Belluard also has 0.5ha of Mondeuse on glacial soils with moraines and layered limestone.
The 2014 vintage was the last time he has made it in amphora, after which he switched to concrete eggs. Zero sulphur is added.
The wine has a lifted inky nose of white pepper, fresh moss and blackcurrants. Beautifully silky and so fresh, with an almost cooling effect in the mouth.
In addition to La Deuse of Gilles Berlioz (Dynamic Vines), this is a truly pure and intricate expression of the grape variety.
MONDEUSE 1991, GENOUX ALEXIS, ARBIN (Brought back from Cafe Brunet in Annecy by Rajat Parr who has just been travelling in the region, - Raj, eternally grateful for this. Thank you.)
... A wine that seems to have defied time. This was one of those wines that in a rare whirlwind moment entirely surpasses anything you could have ever imagined it to be. Special times like these still take me entirely by surprise, take my breath away for a minute, and leave me pondering for many days. I just wish I had more. One day I shall return to it; I am determined to rediscover its wonders.
The future of Mondeuse
José Vouillamoz, co-author with Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding of Wine Grapes, together with Frank Merloz has founded the International Trophy of Mondeuse. It took place in Geneva in 2014 and in Chambéry in 2016. The next edition will be announced soon. A huge thank you to them for shining the light on this grape variety, and let's hope we see continued success with plantings not just in France, but worldwide. See French notes on the 2014 edition here.
* Wine Grapes