The descent from the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard into the Valle d’Aosta is as precipitous as the climb. One starts at 2470m (about 8,000ft) and in two days you end up in the city of Aosta at 580m (1900ft) in elevation, and if you are walking, some amazingly stiff thigh andcalf muscles that make for a good opportunity to take a rest and drink some wine. The Aosta Valley has ancient Roman connections dating back to the 1st century, in modern history was traded back and forth between France and Italy, and has deep connections to Switzerland, along it’s northern border.
Wine in the Valle d’Aosta is thus a mix of wines that are French and Italian, and also an amazing mix of local and “international” varietals. Today, the Valle d’Aosta is made up of a grand total of 400 hectares of vineyards, or about 1,000 acres, down from a Medieval Era high of 4000ha or Just under 10,000 acres. Phylloxera in the late 19th century, along with shifting economies, two world wars, and new agricultural enterprises have led to that decline, but what remains is a vigorous emphasis on making wines of high quality. This includes using grapes of the international varieties, but most importantly, refocusing on local varietals and bringing back older styles of making wine.
At Grosjean Vins, high above the Aosta Valley floor, the vineyards total about 18 hectares, which make them one of the largest producers of wine in the region. We walked through the Rovettaz vineyard of Petite Arvine, which is nearing harvest time. Petite Arvine comes from Switzerland, but grows incredibly well in the lower compacted and well-draining soils of the south-facing slopes of the Grosjeans holdings (like most vineyards in the region, at high elevation, vineyards are planted on south-facing slopes, and looking across the valley, there are virtually none planted). The Petite Arvine grown here is a high acid, age-worthy wine.
Another favorite was a local blend called Torrette, which is a sub-region of the area that makes a red wine blend. Torrette must contain a minimum of 70 percent Petit Rouge, and then additional varieties of grapes. The Grosjean contained 75 percent Petit Rouge, and then included local varietals of Cornalin (10%), Fumin (10%), and Prëmeta (5%). It is harvested as a field blend, spends some time in oak, and has some pretty amazing leathery notes on the palate.
Lastly, we tried a their Clairet 2019, which is made of Nebbiolo (locally called Pico Tendro). This is an attempt by Grosjean Vins to re-stablish a wine-making style that was described in the medieval period. The wine style was lost for nearly 200 years, and thus has no appellation for it, but they hope to get that designation in the next couple of years. The wine-making uses a style similar to the drying done with Valpolicella, only rather than picking it first, the grapes are left on the vine for a period of time. It was, according to our hostess, Jessica, a style developed because of the sensitive tastes of royalty traveling back and forth through the Valle d’Aosta, who could not quite take the more rustic local styles that were then available. It spends 24 months in oak, has amazing structure, and uses grapes from their vineyard of Pico Tendro at 500-600 meters.
Tomorrow, the walk through the Valle d’Aosta continues!