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Ventoux whites look to climb new heights

Published:  27 October, 2022

The Ventoux region – home to the one of the most recognisable landmarks of the Tour de France – is leaning into its white production as it unveils its plans for growth in the UK.

The region and its hefty 5,674 ha of land – representing some 13 coops and 130 independent wineries across the Southern Rhône – has been particularly active in the UK over the last couple of years.

The focus on this export drive has been founded partly on the growth potential identified in the UK as a growing destination for fresh, lean – and often specifically white – styles.

Currently one of the top three export destinations by volume for Ventoux, the region is now looking to strengthen its foothold here in the UK as a producer of cool climate wines, with a key part of that vision growing its whites from 8% to 25% of production.

“It’s a clear part of our vision going forwards, and one that we’re looking ahead to with our strategic plan for 2023, which we will be releasing in a few months,” Frédéric Chaudière, president of the Ventoux AOC, told Harpers.

“Essential to our identity is the influence of the mountain and the later ripening, acidity and balance that comes with the higher altitude. If you look closer, there is incredible diversity that comes out, too: mainly limestone, sometimes with a bit of sand, marl and clay, across micro-terroirs spanning 50 villages and 150-500m elevation. But the real DNA is in the influence and cooling effect of the mountain.”

As it builds towards this higher focus on whites, the appellation is currently putting together a toolkit to help producers in their evolution. As times goes by, white production will probably continue to mirror that of the Northern Rhône varieties, which are also prevalent in the Ventoux AOC – Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier – alongside others such as White Grenache and Clairette. Red wines currently account for 54% of production, 38% for rosé and 8% for white.

Key to this vision is growing its sustainability objectives, too – alongside a “stronger collective” approach among producers, which is necessary for an AOC to fully emerge, Chaudière said: “Some of the coops have merged in the past few years, though they still handle 70% of production. Indie growers have grown, too. We had less than 20 in the 1980s, so there has been boom in last few decades. But the interesting thing in all of this, is that we’re growing together.

“We have more terroir-driven players and everyone is talking about freshness. We want to show our unique geographical position alongside our ability to make fresher styles.”

In his relatively new tenure as president, Chaudière has re-launched the AOC’s objective to prioritise sustainability, as well as growing its whites – both key elements of his presidential bid.

In last year’s Raison D’être sustainability report, he made reference to how the area – at first glance – looks “bare”, but is in fact “teeming with life”, and was once a pilgrimage destination for naturalists.

At yesterday’s autumn tasting, which took place at Oblix West at The Shard, the conversation swung round to the future of the appellation system, too.

Julie Coutton-Siadou, press relations manager at Inter Rhône, addressed some of the criticisms surrounding the present system, which often take aim at what is perceived to be an overly political and outdated approach.

“Some have questioned the relevance of the appellation system, today,” she said. “They have strong views on that. But we maintain that the appellation system is not just about a set of rules, but about a community of people who have the same vision. It’s still very relevant today, to getting people in the same boat and sharing best practices.”