Ayse, Savoie, French Alps. 100% Gringet from vines 450M above sea level rooted in red clay, iron-rich soils. All fermentations use native yeasts and élevage typically occurs in cement eggs. Unfined, unfiltered, no SO2.
The A40 Autoroute Blanche that stretches between the Geneva airport & the historically favored haunt of Aprés Enthusiasts, Chamonix, sees a regular flow of tourists speeding from tarmac to ski slope at the basement of the alpine Arve River Valley. About halfway along this journey, some of the rarest, most-hard-won grapes on the planet are grown – even though the traffic below has its sights set elsewhere, here is where the gem of this corner of Savoie is to be found. This would be the ~20 hectares of Gringet (pr.: “Grahn-Jeh”) today in existence, more than half of which belonging to Domaine Belluard. Gringet is an ancient grape variety whose DNA parentage has proven so stubbornly mysterious, it would seem it materialized from the soil and air and… sheer essence of this place beneath the southernmost reaches of the Chablais Prealps in the Haute-Savoie. Spread across sites in the Savoie Cru “Ayse” (alternately spelled “Ayze”), which is organized around the peaceable mountain town of Bonneville thru which the ancient glacial-melt River Arve flows, Gringet has its home. For centuries Gringet flirted with extinction full-stop; but the grape not only survived, it found its greatest ever expression thanks to the hands of its savior: Dominique Belluard.
The Belluard family first came to the Alpine town Ayse (for which the Cru is named) in 1947 from Menthon-St-Bernard (often called, simply, Menthon), found on the eastern shores of the idyllic glacial Lake Annecy. Dominique’s grandparents and his father Albert quickly established a small polycultural farm on their land in Ayse, with pasture for a handsome drove of cattle, several hectares of orchards dedicated to fruit trees such as native apple & pear varieties, in addition to a neat vineyard mainly planted to the village’s specialty, Gringet. Plots for the vineyard had several distinct sites, some in a field at the feet of the dramatic Môle Mountain, some with a gently sloping view down and over the Arve River Valley and thereby the autoroute below. Over the decades, the farm saw a shrinking of activities aside from viticulture. The market for alpine arboriculture declined throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, and a change was sought: Domaine Belluard would become one of the first & only professional, fully-fledged wineries in the Ayse.
Fast-forward to the mid-80s, and Dominique was fresh out of viti-oenological school in Beaune (Burgundy), returning to his family winery convinced of the unrealized potential of the spectacular terroir of Ayse: its soils the uplifted result of millions of years of ancient seabeds replete with fossilized microorganisms in slow-collision with the Jura mountains. This created a remarkable combination of soil variety: limestone scree, clay-limestone-yellow-marl-molasse, & red-streaked-glacially-deposited-iron-rich-soil, wealthy with the rare bauxite-heavy-red-clay. It’s remarkable earth! Combine this with the grape made from and for this place, of this place, & this was an enormous part of what Dominique sought to express and bring to the world in his many vintages: the sleeping-giant that is Gringet, grown in this otherworldly here.
From 1995 on, Dominique – convinced of biodynamics by his friend Michel Grisard, and the biodynamics consultants François Bouchet & Pierre Masson – sought the painstaking biodynamic cultivation of his beloved Gringet in increasingly difficult natural/climatic conditions. The result was world-beating wine, some of the most highly-sought-after bottles of inimitable character, mountain majesty that resurrected and brought this one grape’s most golden moment into the ice-blue sunlight of an alpine sky, our shops, restaurants, homes, this waiting world – our hearts.
Dominique passed away last June at the age of 55 – a tragedy for his family, friends, and the wider wine world. His wines are testament to a kind of pure love that will live forever.
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Serving natural wine lovers since 2006