Viva La France! France is a place of many wonders and has many unique grape growing areas. The Rhone Valley is the oldest established winemaking region in France dating back 600 years before the Romans.
Although the Rhone is considered one wine region, it is divided into two distinct parts based on climate and grape variety. The Northern Rhone comprises less than five percent of the total production, but makes some of the area’s most amazing white and red wine. The region is 45 miles long and has the influence of the Mistral winds that are intense and cold. Grape growing is dominated by two varieties. Red wine is made with the Syrah grape most famously grown in Cornas and Cote Rotie. The Cornas region is over 130 hectares with a warm continental climate. The region is ancient; over 300 million years old, planted exclusively to Syrah. White wine made in Northern Rhone is made from the Viognier grape most famously in Condrieu.
Cote Rotie also known as the “Roasted Slope,” is a region that is over 1500 years old. The vines are grown on steep Roman Terraces. It has the lowest production per hectares and some of the highest altitude vineyards primarily given over to Syrah and Viognier. Other white varietals permitted in the north are Marsanne and Roussanne. In Cornas, the Syrah grape is grown on granite soil allowing the grape to have power rather than finesse. One notable producer in Northern Rhone is Jean Luc Colombo. Known as a visionary for the region, he was the first to use small oak barrels and vinify in stainless steel. He is the recipient of the French Legion of Honor, which is the highest civilian honor in the country of France and has achieved over 150 scores of over 90+ points from trade publications such as Robert Parker and Wine Spectator since the winery began in 1982.
The Southern Rhone is home to 95 percent of the valley’s grape production. The soil is primarily stones that are rounded pebbles called gallets with a mixture of shingle and stone clay. Twenty five grapes are grown in the south, but the dominant red grape is Grenache, often blended with Mourvedre and Cinsault. Leading producers in the area include E Guigal, Paul Jaboulet, Perrin and Chapoutier. Jean Luc Colombo also produces wines in the Southern Rhone region and has created a label called “Les Abeilles” (French for the bees) which features a Cotes du Rhone Red and White. As Jean has been known as the Syrah wizard, he is also known for helping to save the bees. A disease called Colony Collapse Disorder has mysteriously been decimating bee populations throughout the world, including the Rhone River Valley. Honeybees pollinate more than 90% of our flowering grapes, and over the years, the bees and their colonies are dying. Ten percent of sales of Jean Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone Red and White go to research at UC Davis, to help research and find ways to save the bees.
When in Rhone, do what the Rhon – ans do; drink Rhone wine. The ancient soils, the vast and diverse acreage and the centuries of viticulture make the Rhone River valley one of the very special wine growing areas in the world. Explore a region in France that can offer you so many nuances and taste what makes this area so unique.