Vienne, a vineyard rescued from oblivion

© T. Joly
A group of winemakers have brought the Northernmost Rhone valley vineyard back to life. Situated in Isere department, near Vienne and Seyssuel, it produces great full bodied and spicy wines.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
495 km from Paris to Vienne on autoroute A6
- By train
TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon to Lyon Part Dieu, then TER train from Lyon Part Dieu to Vienne. The journey takes approximately 2 h 45 mn.
La Pyramide
Ibis Saint Louis
Domaine des 7 Fontaines in Seyssuel
La Pyramide
Domaine des 7 Fontaines in Seyssuel
Le Restique
Le Bistrot d’Auguste
- Vitis Vienna and wineries
- Vienne Tourist Office
Tel : 0474537010
Don’t believe you are a wine ignorant if you don’t know about the wines of Vienne, the town located some 30 km south of Lyon, not the Austrian capital. Nowadays very few people do. Yet, during the Roman times authors like Plutarch and Pliny the Elder praised these wines mainly produced near the little town of Seyssuel, 7 km away, but known from Vienne as the town was one of the most important in Gaul. Several monuments recall these heydays, including a theatre hosting a yearly jazz festival, a forum and a gorgeous temple dedicated to Augustus and Livia.

Temple of Augustus and Livia © T. Joly
 Rediscovered in the 90s
In the early 17th century, famous French agronomist Olivier de Serre said this vineyard of the left bank of the Rhone was far older than those of the other side of the river, Saint-Joseph, Condrieu and Côte Rôtie. Indeed, according to some historians first vines were planted around 125 BC. In the mid-19th century there were still some 100 ha of hillside vineyards in the area. But, in 1883, the phylloxera arrived and within a few years they were decimated. Some replanting was done, but First World War, industrialization and cheaper wines from Southern France led to the disappearance of this vineyard.
Rediscovery came in the 1990s thanks to three winemakers from the Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie appellations. Having heard of Vienne and Seyssuel wines through Olivier de Serres’ writings, Pierre Gaillard convinced fellow producers Yves Cuilleron and François Villard to pay a visit to the schist hillsides surrounding the two towns.

© T. Joly
 30 ha of hillsides vines
Having found traces of viticulture, especially abandoned and destroyed terraces, they created the Vins de Vienne company, bought plots of land, clear it of trees and bushes, rebuilt retaining walls, new terraces and, in 1996, planted Syrah and Viognier grape varieties.
As the first harvests confirmed the exceptional quality and potential of the terroir, later they were joined by other winemakers from the Rhone Valley and in the space of 20 years, Seyssuel’s vineyards have recovered from nothing to over 30 ha cultivated by 13 estates. Mainly situated around Seyssuel, but also near Chasse-sur-Rhône and Vienne, it is one of France’s most beautiful vineyards. Facing south and southwest, looking out over the river, planted on hillsides with slopes up to 60°, the vines are sometimes grown up crossed poles like in Roman times, especially on small terraces.
They are not always easy to find as the plots are small and quite often not visible from the roads. However, during the tourist season, one Saturday per month the Vienne Tourist Office organizes a vineyard tour by little train.

Yves Cuilleron © T. Joly
 Meeting the winemakers
As to the wineries, only one is located in Vienne, Les Serines d’Or. The others are situated in villages of the right bank of the Rhône where the winemakers originate from such as Chavanay and Ampuis. But, it’s only 7 to 20 km away and the good side of going there is you will not only be able to taste Seyssuel wines but highly sought after Saint Joseph, Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie ones as well.
Another option is to go to Vienne when take place some of the events organized in partnership by the tourist office and Vitis Vienna, the association grouping the 13 wineries. The main one is “Les Pressailles” held early November and featuring guided tour of the vines, wine tasting and buffet diner with the winemakers. Besides, on the first Tuesday of every month, one of the winemakers presents his wines at the BarCarOlle wine bar and the second Thursday a Vitis Vienna’s wine tasting is held after a jazz concert. Late November, there is also a wine fair in Seyssuel.

© T. Joly
 Expected AOC
Most of the production is made up of red wines but there are a few whites as well and as a reminder of the origin of the vineyard, many winemakers give Roman names to their bottles such as Asiaticus, Sixtus, Saxeolum, Taburnum, Sotanum, Héluicum, Lucidus. They are marketed under the Collines Rhodaniennes IGP banner but are more expensive than you would expect for IGP wines.
Due to the slopes and the small size of the plots mechanisation is indeed almost impossible, meaning labour costs are high. In addition, the Vitis Vienna winemakers have chosen to go all out for quality, working with very low yields. So prices usually start around 20 € a bottle but they are worth the money and the winemakers expect to get the AOC status soon, initially as a part of the Côtes du Rhône family with the intention of being granted “Cru” status later on.

August 29, 2016
Thierry Joly