Condrieu is a distinctive and fashionable white wine made in minuscule quantities in the northern Rhône. It is made exclusively from the Viognier grape, whose successful wines manage the unusual combination of a pronounced yet elusive perfume with substantial body. The recent wave of Viognier planting all over the world was originally inspired by enthusiasm for Condrieu.
This small appellation encompasses seven right-bank communes just south of the red wine appellation Côte Rôtie where the river turns a bend and the best vineyards are exposed to the south. The vine has probably been cultivated here for two millennia, since nearby Vienne was an important Roman city, although the total Condrieu vine plantings fell to fewer than 25 acres in the 1960s, when the wine was virtually unknown outside local restaurants, and when other fruit crops were much more profitable.
Since the 1970s, however, Condrieu’s fame and price have risen steadily, and an increasing number of growers have been prepared to reconstruct small patches of vineyard on the steep slopes, often granitic in the south around the village of Chavanay, the best of which are traditionally said to have a topsoil of arzelle, or decomposed mica. The best sites should also be sheltered from the north wind, which can decimate the potential crop at flowering, but little can be done to combat the inevitable soil erosion. Average yields here are notoriously low (and very much lower than for Viognier planted further south), which is one reason why Condrieu is relatively expensive for a wine that is best drunk young, at between two and four years in general.In 1990, there were 40 ha/100 acres of vineyard old enough to produce aoc wine, but the total area under vine grew rapidly in the early 1990s so that by 2013 168 ha/415 acres were in production, but further expansion is difficult on these steep, indented slopes and many growers have had to content themselves with extending into a Viognier-based local Vin de Pays.