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Monday Manifestos
The Viognier Buzz

By Stephen Eliot

There was a time when Viognier was generating a good deal of buzz in the California wine scene, but these days it is a little talked-about wine and seems, with a few notable exceptions, to have settled into a state benign neglect hereabouts. At its best, it produces wines of extraordinary richness, wines that are simply brimming with layer upon layer of downright opulent fruit and can, in the hands of its masters, reveal real complexity, but its head-turning successes are few, and even they win nothing more than polite and fairly muted applause.

We all thought that Viognier might be the Next Big Thing. Its early local successes in the 1980s and 1990s were sufficient to justify the claim that California had saved the grape from oblivion and was instrumental in the revitalization of Viognier in Southern France. In subsequent years, however, it has somewhat sadly joined Sangiovese as a varietal that struggled and locally and has failed to find a following in its new home. It never managed to catch on with the average wine drinker, and was, after an all-too-brief love affair, abandoned by the elite arbiters of taste for whom scarcity and searing acidity have more recently become a wine’s most important attributes. It was curiously enough declared the official state grape of Virginia by the Virginia Wine Board a couple of years back, so it is not wholly unloved, but that fact remains that its west coast champions are few.

True, it is at best a fickle friend in the vineyard with a precariously narrow window for picking between when it is still green and the time that it lapses into dull overripeness, but winemakers with a real sense for the grape have produced serious and satisfying Viogniers of both richness and nuance. They simply have not done it enough or with the kind of consistency to generate the broad-based following that ultimately defines success. And, while there were a few years in which R. H. Phillips managed to produce a significant quantity of good Viognier at a very affordable price, the better bottlings from wineries like Gregory Graham, Pride, DuMol, Eberle, Pride, Calera and Cold Heaven have been either expensive or sadly short in supply…and too often both.

Now it may be that the fortunes of Viognier will not change, but it has not been nor likely will be wholly abandoned. It is not yet time to write its epitaph. Those who chose to make it -- and make it well – no doubt feel the pains of Sisyphus, but whereas the deceitful king was punished with a life of meaningless repetition, they should know that there are at least a few of us left who believe they may yet reach the top of the hill.


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by TomHill
Posted on:2/11/2013 7:16:06 PM

Yup, pretty much got the right take on Viognier...a grape I've followed from the very start.

  Back in the '60's, Viognier was down to something like 21 acres (or was it hectares?) in Condrieu...where it made some positively spectacular wines. But there was a solid core of believers in the grape amongst the Calif Rhone believers. Aided and abetted by MatGarretson down in Atlanta, and JohnAlban, and the establishing of the (now defunct) ViognierGuild, the grape experienced a quiet but sustained growth in Calif and pretty much rescued the grape from oblivion. By and large, most of those early believers  still pretty much still believe there's a place in the market for the grape.

   I attended the first Viognier seminar held for consumers (the first four ViognierGuild get-togethers forbade mere consumers such as myself) at the Taste of Vail about '94. JohnAlban/JoshJensen/BruceMcGrath/BillSmith/BobLindquist were the presentors. This was when the term "DollyParton Viognier" entered the lexicon. Many of those first Viogniers were merely made like a Chard, which didn't help much show the beautiful aromatics of the grape.   

   The growth of Viognier in Calif (Virginia is another story) has pretty much stagnated. But the quality of the current Viogniers has never been better, I think. That fact, however, doesn't necessarily imply the doom of the grape. Maybe it's just reached its natural and foreordained level in the marketplace?? Way back then, I never expected Viognier to be the next Merlot-craze, to never be anything more than a niche-wine in the market. And it shall always be.



Viognier Today
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/11/2013 7:31:24 PM


Love the historical perspective. It adds to my belief that we cannot let this grape go.

And when you get your copy of our March Issue, you will see that the high achievers are doing quite well with the grape. In fact, so well that it is time to start adding some to the cellar.

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