Domaine Jean Vullien Pinot Noir 2018
Classic Pinot Noir with rose, sour cherry, licorice supported by firm tannins and spice.
While this alpine area of eastern France may be better known for skiing than viticulture, a cadre of Savoyard vignerons are producing excellent wines. The region’s best come from a boomerang-shaped string of hillside villages between Grenoble and Albertville (site of the 1992 Winter Olympics) called the Combe de Savoie (Combe is a word of Celtic origin meaning a sharp, deep valley). Jean Vullien and his two sons, David and Olivier, tend 69 acres on the Combe in the villages of Chignin, Montmélian, Arbin, St-Jean de la Porte, and their hometown of Fréterive.
The domaine’s holdings include all of the region’s indigenous grape varieties, as well as strategically-placed parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the boys both graduated from La Lycée Viticole in Beaune). The wines range from a crisp, lemon and mineral Jacquère-based white that British wine author Andrew Jefford would categorize as “Muscadet of the Alps” to complex floral and spiced reds made from Mondeuse. In recent years, David and Olivier have also earned a reputation for their excellent Méthode Traditionelle sparkling wines.
Though the Vulliens have been making wine for 40 years, the family is perhaps best known as a leader in another segment of the wine industry. Since 1890, Vullien Pépinière Viticole (vine nursery) has been supplying young vines to growers throughout France. In fact, they were the source for about 25% of the Chardonnay planted in Chablis after the ravages of phylloxera.
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.
Thin-skinned, finicky and temperamental, Pinot Noir is also one of the most rewarding grapes to grow and remains a labor of love for some of the greatest vignerons in Burgundy. Fairly adaptable but highly reflective of the environment in which it is grown, Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate and requires low yields to achieve high quality. Outside of France, outstanding examples come from in Oregon, California and throughout specific locations in wine-producing world. Somm Secret—André Tchelistcheff, California’s most influential post-Prohibition winemaker decidedly stayed away from the grape, claiming “God made Cabernet. The Devil made Pinot Noir.”