The Condrieu, a unique aromatic white full of freshness, and the Côte-Rôtie, with a deep garnet, silky and powerful on the palate, whose name comes from the sunny hillsides where the Syrah grains flourish, are celebrating their 80th birthday this year.
The 80 estates of these top-of-the-range appellations, located on the borders of the Loire, the Rhône and the Isère, 30 kilometers south of Lyon, are doing very well today.
And this despite a rugged topography making it expensive to harvest the meager 540 hectares of Syrah and Viognier, which constitute less than 5% of the total production of the Rhône Valley.
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As in other vineyards in France, this dynamism is fueled by the arrival of a new generation.
For 5 years, around 20% of the estates have passed into the hands of thirty-something, says Florian Marcelin, in charge of wine tourism at the local tourist office. “This brings diversity, a different approach to work, to customers“, he greets.
“At three years old, I was already walking in the vineyards and I liked playing in the cellar“, tells AFP the passionate Michaël Gerin, 33, who has managed the Jean-Michel Gerin estate in Ampuis for 10 years with his brother Alexis, 31.
“I think the times are changing, we can sense an interest from young people. Our profession seduces“, notes Mr. Gerin, whose family farm has 13.5 hectares in the Côte-Rôtie appellation and 2 hectares in Condrieu.
– Preserve the earth –
The two previous generations have rebuilt these vineyards, decimated by phylloxera and two world wars. In 1960 there were barely 40 hectares of Côte-Rôtie left, and in 2020 it is 328 hectares, recalls the winegrower, president of the appellation union.
Even today, between Mount Pilat and the Rhône, these very steep hillsides have to be cultivated with care, channeled water and erosion control.
In these AOCs – decreed 16 years before the famous neighboring Saint Joseph (1,250 ha) – we now see plows pulled by winches, tillers, chasers, but when the rows are too steep or blocked by the essential stone walls, we still rely on the pickax to preserve the earth and keep it up, constantly.
Guardian of traditions, the new generation – heirs but also some newcomers – also wants to use new technologies and move towards organic.
Maxime Gourdain, 28, owner of the Rosiers estate in Ampuis (8 ha of Côte-Rôtie, 0.5 ha in Condrieu), is proud of his High Environmental Value (HVE) certification obtained this summer, but the organic level remains for him delicate and perilous.
“We do grass and green manure trials“, but the total renunciation of chemicals is not yet considered, because”no one is immune to the appearance of a fungus“destructive, he says.
– Tradition / modernity –
“There are methods, gestures that we can never do without“, underlines Michaël Gerin.
But modernity also brings its benefits. “Côte-Rôtie is today more meshed with about fifteen weather stations measuring wind, rain and humidity by sector. It is valuable to limit treatments as much as possible and be effectiveAlso because the cost of labor here is high, usually with one person per hectare.
“We had more training in the wine and oenological part while the previous generation was trained with oral and practical transmission. We merge“, continues Mr. Gourdain, holder of a BTS”Wine and oenology“.
“These young people bring a new vision. They speak English, most have spent six months or a year in vineyards abroad. And they are more open to wine tourism, to the use of social networks“, congratulates Mr. Marcelin.
As everywhere, the current challenge is the Covid, which affects winegrowers’ fairs and orders from professionals, with a 15 to 20% drop in turnover to be expected in 2021.
“We are a little worried but we are lucky to have wines to keep that will interest at some point. The problem is mainly the storage part“, admits Mr. Gourdain. The guard is less obvious for the Condrieu, but its rarity puts it out of danger.
For the 80th anniversary of the appellations, a relatively discreet open-door weekend was held in several localities in several localities, due to the epidemic. But in these areas where the most recent vintage is sold between 30 and 80 euros, the crisis is not for tomorrow.
Ralbeit the nuance