Winemaking in Savoie goes back a long way. Before even the Roman conquests, the Celtic Allobroges of ancient Gaul were growing ancient vines here, as they continued to do as part of Gallia Transalpina, the first province of Rome to the north of the Alps.
Savoie is known these days for its white wines especially, which make up around 70 per cent of output. It is located in the east of France, next to Switzerland. The region is less than 2000 hectares, making up just 0.5 per cent of French wine production, and spans numerous smaller areas spread over four departments.
The region has a unique microclimate, influenced by both the Atlantic Ocean and the continental weather systems. Its vines are generally planted on south/southeastern facing mountain slopes at between 250 and 550 metres above sea level, which allows them good exposure to the sun. The local rivers and lakes moderate the temperature.
The soils of Savoie are mainly limestone and glacial material and scree, but vary quite extensively due to the gargantuan movement of land during the creation of the Alps. This means that alluvial soils, clays and molasse can also be found in various places. The terroir is also perfect for growing figs, olives, almonds and apricots.
There are around 23 varieties grown in the region, with the five main white grapes being Jacquère, which makes up around half of all vines, Altesse/Roussette, Roussanne, Chasselas and Gringet (in very small amounts). The two main red varieties are Mondeuse and Persan.
The Chautagne cru, part of the Savoie region just south of Lake Geneva in eastern France, is notable for its narrow valleys and steep mountainsides – the result of ancient glacial movements. Most of the vines here can be found on the steep west-facing slopes of the mountains, where they have excellent sun exposure. The continental climate here is moderated by Lake Bourget to the south, keeping the area cooler in summer and warmer in winter. This is also helped by the warmth provided by the limestone cliffs that surround the valley. This combination of factors leads to the vineyards of Chautagne being the first in Savoie to harvest, usually in early September.
The soils are usually made up of molasse, a limestone scree found on the lower mountain slopes. This was also the result of ancient glaciers, and keeps the soils well-drained – vital in an area of relatively high rainfall. The soil prevents the vine roots becoming too wet, therefore avoiding high yields and vigour.
Chautagne has a reputation for its Gamay and Mondeuse reds, which are deeply coloured and peppery.