Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2009-06-02
The old Savoy vineyards are not well known to us. The majority of their wines are burdened with a reputation of being ‘piquettes’ (low quality wine) for fondues.
A small number of enthusiastic winemakers have been able to restore the standing of these wines. One such man is Chignin’s Gilles Berlioz.
Ten miles south of Chambéry, Chignin nestles at the foot of the high limestone escarpments of the Bauges massif. This pretty Savoyard village of fewer than 800 inhabitants can be spotted from a distance due to its c.19th chapel dedicated to Saint-Anthelme and its c.14th tower that overhangs the valley. At an altitude of 372m Chignin offers a fantastic panorama of one of the most beautiful summits of the Chartreuse National Park, Mont Granier, a large part of which fell away in 1248 after torrential rains. Here the local memory has been marked by this geological catastrophe which crushed and buried 5000 inhabitants at the foot of the mountain. The mass of crumbled rocks from this event has formed a rocky chaos named “Abymes de Myans” where the iron-rich soils have, over the centuries, given birth to Savoy’s two crus of repute: Abymes and Apremont. Regrettably though, these first class terrains have not been utilised to their full potential.
Secret Wines, yet to be discovered!
With its chalky scree-covered, south facing slopes that are protected from cold winds, Chignin today is the dignified ambassador of Savoy wines, thanks in particular to its highly perfumed Chignin-Bergeron. This is a powerful, dry white wine, for long term storage, originating from a noble and aromatic grape variety of the Rhône valley known as la Roussanne. With white flowers, plum and peach on the nose, a fresh and silky palate and a finish evoking apricot and almond, Gilles Berlioz’s Chignin-Bergeron wines possess a truly enthralling richness. They appear on the menu of all of the region's starred restaurants and they also belong to the rare Savoy wines that have gained international appreciation on a par with La Mondeuse from the Brothers Trosset at Arbin and Noël Dupasquier’s La Roussette at Jongieux.
It has to be said, Gilles Berlioz is a character. In 1990 this son of a labourer inherited a small family vineyard of 2 acres. At the time he was working as a landscape designer in a local firm. Then becoming gradually more involved in an enthusiasm for wine, he acquired further plots of land at Chignin and preferring to confine himself to 3.5 hectares he decided to drop conventional cultivation methods in favour of 100% organic agriculture.
“Over the course of the years, I’ve been able to observe the changes this kind of cultivation has made: The soil is more fertile, the roots have penetrated much more deeply and the vines have become stronger and more resistant. The end result of all this is found in the wines I produce!”
It is an amazingly hard job that he carries out alone, the whole year long. It seems Gilles only trusts himself for ploughing his vineyards, weeding them by hand, pruning them, disbudding them, thinning out their leaves, and treating them with plant based solutions.
With only 30 hectolitres of wine produced per hectare (which amounts to 4 or 5 grape-bunches per vine stock), Gilles Berlioz produces the lowest yields in Savoy; the average being around 70 hl/ha. The grape harvests are, of course, done by hand, the pressing is slow (between 4 and 6 hours) and the wine making is completely natural (free of extra added yeast, sugar or acid.)
For the maturing of his wines, which lasts 9 months, Gilles has to make do with fibre-glass vats, as at the moment he cannot afford new oak barrels. Bottling takes place in the beginning of summer, following the prescriptions of the lunar calendar, and the bottles are stored for one year in a cool place before being sold.
Gilles Berlioz also produces lively, clear white wines made with Jacquère grapes, and other spicier wines, with aromas of beeswax, made with Altesse grapes that enjoy the “Roussette de Savoie” appellation.
As far as red wine is concerned, the Mondeuse vines that Gilles has planted only started producing in 2008. Even though these wines have not yet developed their complexity, they are already remarkably concentrated, with a frank and natural nose of black fruits, a very fresh palate and an incredible capacity for quenching thirst.
Le Viviers 73 800 Chignin
Tel: +33 (0)4 79 28 00 51.
Jacquères at9 € for a bottle. Perfect as an aperitif, good with goats cheese, oysters and river trout.
Chignin-Bergeron between 18 and 25 € for a bottle, according to the vintage year. Goes well with grilled lobster, pike quenelles, langoustine salad and mountain pasture Beaufort cheese.
Roussette at12 €. With Fish Terrine or Lake Geneva Fried Fish
Mondeuse at 15 €. Good accompaniment for a Leg of Lamb.