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Winemaker Francois Villard has quickly come into the forefront of Rhone winemakers for his stunning examples of Viognier from Condrieu. Rich, textured and bursting with flavor, his tiny Domaine spares no expense in cutting yields and purchasing top quality barrels to create his elegant cuvee. His well known secret is to pick the grapes very late, almost developing a rot to increase the weight of the wine while capturing the essence of Condrieu in it's minerality.
The name Condrieu is derived from Coin du Ruisseau, "Corner of the Stream," or wharf. Over the centuries, Condrieu has been one of the busiest transit points on the River Rhone. In discussions about Condrieu, shepherds, boatmen and canons are sure to crop up. They all made big contributions to the birth and reputation of its wines. Around 600 BC, Greek shepherds, rather than negotiating the Massif Central with their flocks, favored the banks of the Rhone, where they planted Syrah cuttings brought from Dalmatia. Much later, the port of Condrieu was founded to utilize the river's current and banks. From the 13th to 19th centuries, the Rhone boatmen prospered, the river being the preferred communication route. As for the canons, in 1195 they had a castle built in Condrieu. A series of charters between the seventh and 18th centuries, coupled with the establishment of monasteries around Condrieu, promoted trade and the vineyards' development up to the Revolution. In the 19th century, phylloxera and the advent of the railways, followed by World War One, the 1930's crisis and industrialization, practically finished the vineyards off. When the AOC was established in 1940, there remained only 10 hectares (about 25 acres) under cultivation of the 170 mentioned in the appellation decree. Thanks to a few growers' courage and tenacity, the vineyards did not die. They converted land by clearing the hillsides, building terraces, and replacing the local hybrids with Viognier.
These famous terraces, essential for fighting erosion, made it possible to work the best soils with the best exposures. The often-dizzying slopes precluded any mechanical work: in Condrieu, it has often been said that "you need a man per hectare." In the 1950's, Condrieu, unlike the other villages in the environs, had many vineyard-owning families. They too contributed, in their own way, to the revival. The people they employed were far from exploited, and worked hard on the vines. The owners, meanwhile, were also mindful of their wine. Monsieur Comte, "at harvest time, when there was noble rot, severed the grapes with silver scissors and collected the bunches on plates. He made sweet wines." In 1967, the appellation area expanded to include other communes, reaching 387 hectares. It was only in the 1980's when the effort invested in previous decades, coupled with a new generation of dynamic growers, finally paid off; the appellation regained its vibrancy and sealed the wine's reputation for good.
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