The Savoie is a picture of fairy-tale perfection: snow-capped peaks, green rolling hills, wildflowers, and cold, sparkling mountain streams. This idyllic region hugs the western Alps, where Michel Quenard farms twenty-two hectares of vineyards along the steep, terraced slopes of the Coteau de Torméry around Chignin. The limestone scree that dominates this vineyard land has brought great diversity to the soils, and consequently, the wines. His grandfather started the domaine in the 1930s. Though he slowly increased the vineyard holdings, he also sold off most of his wine in bulk. It was not until 1960 that Michel’s father, André, began bottling under their own label. Michel joined the domaine in 1976. Today, his son, Guillaume, joins him. While they are far from the only Quenards in Chignin, they are certainly the most well-known—perhaps this is due to the severity of their terrain and the quality of wines it produces. Andrew Jefford writes in his contemporary classic, The New France, “Michel Quenard and his father André are masters of the Bergeron grape, known in the Rhône Valley and elsewhere as Roussanne. They argue it should be limited to the best and steepest local sites where it can ripen fully, like the Coteau de Torméry, giving wines of real texture and perfume as it does so.” (p 122). We think it is one of the most unique and beautiful renditions of Roussanne in the world.
Despite the domaine’s proximity to the Alps, the vineyards enjoy a surprisingly warm microclimate with southern sun exposure. Fig and olive trees are also found among the vines, unusual for such a snowy region. There are sixteen crus in the Vin de Savoie designation, and each commune is known for a different grape varietal. Michel’s vineyards are planted to some of the region’s best known: Bergeron, Jacquère, Mondeuse, Altesse, and Pinot Noir. Michel bottles eight different cuvées, seven of which are still, and the other a sparkling Vin de Savoie Brut, which is made in the méthode champenoise. The minerality of Michel’s vineyards expresses an alpine freshness and liveliness in his wines. His cuvées go beyond the simple “eclectic” that categorizes wines from the region; whether they are quaffed or savored, they are all unique revelations that reflect the complexity of their terroir and the fine artistry of this master vigneron.
Tucked up into the sheltered foothills of the Alps where conditions vary considerably from one spot to the next, the vineyards of Savoie are widely dispersed within three main growing districts. These are Seyssel, Bugey and general Savoie. Within these are 16 different cru vineyard areas.
The region boasts a large number of unique indigenous grapes, incidentally unrelated to any nearby regions’ varieties. The styles here tend toward organic and traditional. In the past, the dynamic summer and winter tourist population consumed most Savoie wine before it could leave the area but the recent interest in esoteric varieties and natural, artisan wine has brought a renewed interest to Savoie.
In Savoie's most northern vineyards near Lake Geneva, the Chasselas grape dominates. Moving south, the white grape known as Altesse (also sometimes called Roussette) is responsible for Roussette de Savoie as well as Roussette de Seyssel.
Just north of Chambéry the white, Jacquère grows in the cru of Jongieux, along with Altesse, and Chardonnay. In the cru of Chautagne, the red grapes Gamay, Pinot Noir, and, especially, the local Mondeuse do well.
Chambéry, once famous for its vermouth, contains the crus of Abymes, Apremont, Arbin, Chignin and Cruet.
Full and silky in body but also charmingly crisp, Roussanne is native to the Rhône Valley of France. It is responsible for some of the finest Northern Rhône white wines. Roussanne adds richness and acidity to Marsanne’s soft, fruitiness, making age worthy and highly respected whites. Somm Secret—Roussanne takes its name from the French word, roux, meaning rouge or red because of the berry’s pink glow. In California, virtually all of the 339 acres of Roussanne come from true clones brought over by Tablas Creek and John Alban.