Savoie | A Unique Mountainous Wine Region

Horse in foreground of snowy French Alps with vines planted up the hillside of Savoie

HISTORY

With over two millennia of history, the Savoie region (once considered part of the Elite in Europe) has again proven its ability to produce highly sought-after wines. The vineyards, planted before the Romans’ time, are nestled within the French Alps in a picturesque setting looking at the Mont-Blanc, on steep slopes similar to Côte-Rôtie.

As a territory, Savoie was initially shared between France, Italy, and Switzerland. France gained control in 1792, yet within 25 years it was returned to Italian ownership. It was the Treaty of Turin, 1860, that reaffirmed French ownership over the land, subsequently split across two departments: Savoie and Haute-Savoie. In 1973 the wine region officially gained AOC status.

During that prominent time, Savoie was a powerful wine region with 20,000 hectares planted on the complex slopes of the mountain. Since then, most of the top vineyards perished due to the tragedy of phylloxera and World War I. These devastating events pushed farmers into working overtime to keep their vineyards intact. Now drastically reduced to 3,000 hectares, those that have replanted have moved on to flat ground, where it is easier for machine use but unfortunately often compromises the grape quality.

The past twenty years has seen a revival of sort in the region, with growers re-invigorating previously neglected plots, and creating critically acclaimed wines.

Fun Fact: Savoie hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics

CLIMATE & TERROIR

Located close to a variety of different bodies of water and sitting well within the mountainous region, it has a myriad of terroirs allowing a unique array of grapes to be grown. The lakes of Bourget and Geneva help to moderate the climate along with the mountain's protection from the north-west weather patterns. With an overall continental climate there are mixtures of alpine and Mediterranean influence, along with general techniques by the Swiss to influence the eventuating wines.

Within the Alps the vines sit upon primarily south facing slopes, where there is favourable sunlight exposure and drainage. Also making it incredibly difficult for machines to make their way through the vineyards, leading to primarily hand harvesting every year. Of course, the higher the planting the lower the temperature, with the elevated appellations more susceptible to the frost but the maritime climate along with the limestone soils (which reflect the absorbed heat back onto the vines after dark) help protect against frost.

VARIETALS

Representing less than 1% of wine production in France, it makes up for it in the unique varietals used within each bottle.

White Grapes: Primary - Jacquere, Altesse, and Chasselas. Secondary - Grignet, Marsanne, Molette, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay.

Red Grapes: Primary - Mondeuse and Persan. Secondary - Pinot Noir, Gamay, Poulsard.

 

Vines planted in Savoie and bottles of wine by Ardoisieres

APPELLATIONS

Within the Savoie region there are 4 different Appellations that the AOC Classifies:

Vin de Savoie AOP: (since 1973) Consisting of 16 crus that produce all forms of wines.
Crus: Abymes, Apremont, Chignin, Crépy, Jongieux, Chautagne, Cruet, Jongieux, Montmélian, Saint-Jeoire-Prieuré, Marin, Marignan, Ripaille, Chignin-Bergeron, Ayze, Arbin, Saint-Jean-de-la-Porte, Chautagne, Chignin.

Roussette de Savoie AOP: (since 1973) Consisting of 4 crus of only white wine, all made from 100% Altesse.
Crus: Frangy, Marestel, Monthoux, Monterminod.

Seyssel AOP: All dry whites and sparkling wines, primarily produced from the Altesse and Chasselas that come from the communes of Seyssel and Corbonod.

Crémant de Savoie AOP: Classified since 2014, an appellation creating sparkling wines with a minimum of 60% local grape blend of (Jacquère and Altesse) and 40% of the final blend being Jacquère.

Winemaker Spotlight - Domaine Ardoisières

In 1998, one very special slope called "Coteau de Cevins", having been abandoned for decades, was brought back to life by the Mayor of the area, Denis Perroux, and a pioneer of biodynamic farming in Savoie, Michel Grisard. A plot that once produced some of the most exciting wines of France was back in working form.

The Coteau de Cevins was replanted in 1998 with the original, high quality vines of Persan and Mondeuse noire (red) as well as Altesse, Roussanne, Mondeuse blanche, Malvoisie and Jacquère (white). The slope reaches 60% of inclination, and the vines are planted on terraces of very old, complex mica-schists, loam and sand. With 8,000 vines planted per hectare and 25 hectolitres per hectare produced, it is the Grand Cru hill of Savoie! Out of this magnificent hill, three wines are produced, Quartz, Schiste and Améthyste. The first real crop was harvested in 2002, then in 2005, Brice Omont was appointed wine grower and director of Domaine des Ardoisières, continuing the work Michel Grisard had begun.

"All these wines have a cult following in France and abroad and I won't document here the amazing accolades the Domaine has received. But what I can say, is that you owe yourself a taste of these mountain wines. They have tremendous freshness, acidity and yet the fruit is ripe, profound and highly detailed. The grapes have been sun-kissed all day on these picturesque slopes of the Alpes."

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