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Tuesday 13 December 2016

How Yalumba helped save a grape variety that was dying

Just 35 years ago, the white grape variety viognier was in danger of extinction. There were just 14 acres planted in the Northern Rhône and a distinct lack of interest from producers and consumers. 

Today, viognier production is booming around the world, with family-owned Australian winery Yalumba a global flag bearer. 

Yalumba now releases no fewer than six different varietals labelled as viognier and also uses the grape in several red blends, using tiny co-fermented amounts to add colour and aromas to shiraz grapes, as was traditional in the Côte-Rôtie. 

Chief winemaker Louisa Rose has championed the variety in Australia, saying: "Of all the grape varieties I deal with, viognier has relatively no flavour until it is ripe. You've got to be patient and then one day you'll taste apricots and honeysuckle. Gorgeous." 

Yalumba planted 1.2 hectares in 1980 and today has close to 60 hectares in the Eden Valley. It is regarded as the most influential producer of viognier, a tricky grape to vinify, in the world. 

The company's flagship white wine, ahead of riesling and chardonnay, the Virgilius Viognier, was first released in 1998. 

Surprisingly little is known of viognier's history. It is the only permitted grape for the Condrieu appellation the Rhône, where is generally is used in sweeter wines, but its renaissance now sees it grown in North and South America as well as Australia, New Zealand and the Cape. 

Aromatic, with stone fruit character, particularly apricots, it produces full-bodied whites across a range of sugar levels. It is believed to have originated in Dalmatia, part of Croatia. and to have been brought to Rhône by the Romans. 

Yalumba has pioneered the growing and making of viognier in Australia since 1980 and now has 35 years of viticultural and winemaking experience working with what Rose calls "this alluring variety". 

"Viognier is a wine like no other," she says. "It offers a wonderful sensory experience full of vast nuances of flavour. Viognier is seductive, luscious and unctuous. A veritable flavour bomb of exotic musk, rose petal, apricot, white peach, ginger, citrus blossoms and a rich and unctuous, silky texture."

The current releases are: 

Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2016 $15

Yalumba Organic Viognier 2016 $19

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2015 $24

Yalumba The Virgilius Viognier 2015 $45

Yalumba FSW8B Botrytis Viognier 2015 $29

Yalumba NV Vie de V $63 

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