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The madness of Viognier
With the way other Rhône varieties grow in the Pacific Northwest, then Viognier seems like a sure bet, too.
Yet Viognier, a white grape variety from the Condrieu region of the Northern Rhône Valley, is a maddening grape, perhaps the white equivalent to Pinot Noir.
It’s difficult to grow because individual grapes within a cluster tend to ripen unevenly. Pick it a few days too early, and it is uninteresting. A few days too late, and it can be thick, flat and oily.
But hit that sweet spot, and you’ll see why grape growers bother.
As recently as a half-century ago, Viognier had nearly vanished from the planet. Just 8 acres of the grape were left in Condrieu, and it was in peril of slipping away into memory. No doubt, there are times each vintage that grape growers wish it had become a part of history. Today, Viognier has rebounded to about 750 acres in Condrieu.
In Washington, Viognier continues to catch on. Last year, winemakers crushed 1,900 tons of the grape, which puts it somewhere between Gewürztraminer (3,300 tons) and Semillon (1,000 tons). That makes it little more than a niche grape, something more than a novelty.
Washington isn’t the only place it’s grown in the Northwest, however. A bit is made in Oregon, as well as Idaho’s Snake River Valley.
Here are a few examples of Northwest Viognier we’ve tasted in recent weeks.