So You Think You Know Rhone?

Karl at the Chapoutier vineyards in Hermitage 2

Karl at the Chapoutier vineyards in Hermitage

I’ve traveled to France twice for vacation, and both times I made sure to stop in the Rhone Valley.  I love the Syrahs from the northern Rhone, as well as the famous Chateauneuf du Pape blend from the south.  I also have to note that the Rhone has very aromatic and flavourful white wines, coming from the Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne grapes.

But not all of us have had the luxury to travel to France.  I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Laure Vaissermann from Inter-Rhône while I am here in Vancouver to help tell you about this fascinating wine region.

Rhone Valley Wine Statistics

Rhone Valley map

Rhone Valley map

How much do you know Rhone?  Let’s start with a few statistics that I found online, and follow that up with my interview.  First these impressive stats (from http://www.rhone-wines.com/planet-rhone/article/rhone-fast-facts).

  • 400 million bottles of Rhône Valley AOC wines sold around the world in 2012-2013.
  • 159 countries around the world consumed Rhône Valley wines in 2013.
  • Every 13 seconds, a bottle of Rhône Valley AOC wine is enjoyed somewhere in the world.
  • 2013 was the first year that Rhône Valley AOC wine exports exceeded the 1-million hectoliter level
  • In the US, Rhône Valley wines increased by 66% in 5 years in volume.
  • The U.S. is the No.1 export market for Rhône Valley AOC wines, a value of 85.7 million euros (19%).
  • Rhône Valley wines represent 20% market share within French AOC.

The Interview

MyWinePal: 2013 was a low volume harvest and 2014 was much better.  What was the 2015 harvest like in the Rhone Valley?

Laure: Whilst production volumes were back to normal, the 2015 harvest has proved to be one of the best in professional memory, yielding a range of red wines with enormous potential. Indeed, in the Rhône Valley, the 2015 season will be remembered for its warm, wet spring and dry summer. Temperatures rose to heatwave proportions at the beginning of July, making this one of the hottest seasons of the last few decades. Luckily, winter and spring rainfall was enough to recharge the water table and the vines had access to enough water to offset the hot, dry summer. They suffered no symptoms of drought and the harvest was superb from a health and quality point of view. In terms of volume, after 2013’s historically low harvests and 2014’s sharp upturn, in 2015 the Rhône Valley’s harvests returned to levels consistent with the 5-year average (ie 3 million hectoliters).

MyWinePal: What is new in the Rhone Valley?

Laure: The Rhone Valley is a very dynamic region. Having said that, there are a bunch of changes on different scales and levels.

If we are to talk about appellations, one of the former Côtes du Rhône Villages, became a cru this year. This is a real nice change in our landscape. First of all, this is a pure recognition of the quality of the wines from Cairanne already critically acclaimed; It’s also another cru in the Côtes du Rhône family, with now 8 crus in the north and 9 crus in the South.

On a completely different level, Rhone is now more communicative about the quality of its Rosé and white wines. The Rhone Valley is still a red dominated region (80%) but one can now talk of diversification with 6% of whites and 14% of rosés. Rhone Rosé are mostly wines for gastronomy. Usually more tannic and dark colored than Provence Rosé, they offer a nice variety of pairings. The fact is, more Rosé is now produced in the region but also, more rosé is exported (Rhone rosé are very popular in the US and in UK) but also not as seasonal as it used to be.

MyWinePal: Are you noticing any changes in climate due to global warming?

Laure: Climate change is a reality. Nobody would deny it in the Rhone Valley. However, up to now, we do not really suffer from these changes since our grape varietals are pretty resistant to heat.

Our wine growers keep this in mind when they have to renew their plots or replant some grapes. It’s also something that comes into account in the vinification.

MyWinePal: Where is Canada in ranking for Rhone purchases?

Laure: Rhone Valley is the second most exported French wine region in Canada. In 10 years, the volume of Rhone Valley wines has increased by 41%.

Canada is the fourth market for Rhone in value (36 million € – 52,2 M can $) and the fifth in volume with 54 333 HL. It’s also one of the most developing countries together with USA if we look back at the last couple of years and on a prospective aspect.

MyWinePal: Is there a movement in the Rhone Valley for Natural Wines?  If so, can you provide me with a few names of wineries?

Laure: We do have some natural wines but it’s hard to speak of a real movement. Organic wines stand for 46% of Côtes du Rhône wines. We definitely work in that direction more than on natural wines. The climate is characterized by exceptional amounts of sunshine and the Mistral wind that blows through the valley. This wind prevents the vines from diseases and enables the wineries to practice sustainable viticulture by cleansing the air, as well as being beneficial for the ripening of the grapes during harvest.

MyWinePal: Is there anything else that you would like me and my readers to know about the Rhone Valley?

Laure: Let’s say that Rhone Valley AOC Wines, which represent the second largest AOC region in France, is a very qualitative and dynamic vineyard. For many reasons, we are not a very traditional French region although our region roots back to the Romans. We like to think that wine should make any one happy, no matter how knowledgeable you are in this field. In our opinion, one can find simple occasion to enjoy good wine. Many of our appellations produce easy drinking, food friendly wines. Critically acclaimed for their quality, the Rhone Valley wines are versatile and affordable. They are a good choice for informal occasions although we also have ageing wines that might be more appropriate for special events.

Thank you to Laure for sharing with us all and making us a bit more knowledgeable about Rhone wines.  If you would like to learn more about Rhone wines, I invite you to read my article, Have You Ever Made a Rhone Blend Wine?  Enjoy!

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Some people prefer red wines. Some only like Cabernet Sauvignon.MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I met many great wine makers. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.