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Copyright © 2018
Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for April 19, 2000


Problems, Problems...

The Hex on Grape X


The problems with grape X according to Master of Wine Clive Coates in his new Wines of France:

  • Frequently the flowers do not change into grapes.
  • Even if the grapes are formed, they often remain shrivelled and underdeveloped.
  • As a result, the volume of grapes per acre is low.
  • The quality of the grapes does not reach its peak for at least 15 years.

So why bother to grow it? Well, the wine from grape X...

  • Has heft and elegance. (Wall St. Journal)
  • The wine is exotic, delicate, aromatic, yet with an underlying power. (Remington Norman)
  • The wine is rare and wonderful. (Coates)

The grape is the Rhone's Viognier (vee-oh-NYAY). It's origin? For the answer we turn to...

McDowell Winery  


The Roman galley was making its way up the Rhone destined for Beaujolais when it was captured and looted by bandits...Viognier vines had landed on the Rhone.

Due to the above difficulties, it barely survived. As recently as 1968 there were but 35 acres in France, zero in California.

Just about that time I recall importer Julius Wile telling me to be sure not to miss Viognier's Condrieu as I was leaving for the Rhone. So, the word was leaking out. Two decades later French nurserymen were selling half a million cuttings a year.

California Here I Come

It was 1982 when the first of those cuttings reached California. By 1990 there still were only 19 acres. Then...

Year     Acres
1995        489
1996        645
1997     1,101

Notice those 19 acres in 1990. They produced our...

La Pyramide

La Pyramide

Wine of the Day

1998 McDowell Viognier, Mendocino County
Vines—19 acres, planted in 1989
Review—"A poised, beautiful bouquet of flowers greets the nose, while flowers and apricots harmonize on the palate. The unique but elusive personality of Viognier could not be clearer." (Wine & Spirits on an earlier vintage)
Our Rating—Highly recommended.
Alcohol Content—Generally, the best Viognier has alcohol in the high 13 to 15% range.
This 1998 has 13.8%.
Further Accolade—My class voted it Best White of Tasting
Contact—Office of President William
Crawford, (707) 744-1053, FAX (707) 744-1826
Price—$16 range

Postscript—Been There, Done That

Clive Coates again: I first encountered these exceptional Viognier wines in the early 1960s. With the food at the restaurant La Pyramide in Vienne on the Rhone, critics pronounced them fabulous. No argument here; the photo is of my wife during our feast at the Pyramide in the 1960s. Some said it was the greatest restaurant in the world at the time. As for food with the McDowell 1998, pour it with rich fish dishes.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


This page created April 2000