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French Alpine Pleaser: Domaine Giachino
This year, I have been growingly curious about this alpine region over the more popular Jura. A couple of months ago, I wrote about Michel Grisard of Prieuré Saint-Christophe, who spearheaded much of Savoie's renaissance in the 1990s. Today, I would like to introduce you to one of the vignerons directly impacted by his work: Frédéric Giachino. This was the domaine that originally drew me to the Savoie, and they remain my absolute favorite, for their incredible price point and drinkability.
Frédéric is an OG in his own right. Native to Savoie, his grandparents farmed cereals, nuts, fruits, and a small vineyard planted with Jacquère. Frédéric asked if he could take over the vines and start a domaine. In 1988, this was a risky proposition, as Jacquère still had a bad reputation. Luckily, the rest of the region quickly caught on, with vignerons like Grisard leading the charge. Abandoned vineyards planted with native varieties were revitalized, and today, Jacquère is Savoie’s most popular white grape.
Though these are technically “natural” wines, the Giachinos are more concerned with respecting nature and capturing their sense of place. In the 13th century, the north face of Mount Granier came loose and spilled 500 million cubic meters of limestone into the valley below, where Domaine Giachino is now based. Between this and Savoie’s alpine terrain, the resulting wines are brisk, mineral-driven, and extremely enjoyable in Lorch’s words. Consider drinking Giachino’s Jacquère in place of a glass of Chablis, or their Mondeuse over a glass of Northern Rhône Syrah!
Frédéric also planted Altesse, Persan, and Gamay, among other native varieties. For years, he worked under lutte raisonnée, a farming practice that allows for chemical pesticides when necessary. According to Wink Lorch, it wasn’t until the early aughts when Frédéric met a group of vignerons farming organically, who would form a cohort called Pétavins—this introduction changed everything. In 2006, the domaine became organic-certified. And in 2015, the Giachinos inherited Grisard’s estate vineyard upon his retirement (They still produce the wines under the Prieuré Saint-Christophe label). Today, Frédéric is joined by his brother, David, and his son, Clement, who have helped carry the domaine into this new era.
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Next in Savoie: Domaine des Côtes Rousses
If you’re going to explore alpine red wines, then you must have the Savoie's most popular native variety called Mondeuse. One of the best examples we’ve encountered this year comes from a younger vigneron: Nicolas Ferrand’s 2018 Coteau de la Mort.
In Wines of the French Alps (2019), Wink Lorch describes Ferrand’s Coteau de la Mort as “a devout and serious wine,” comparing its taut youthfulness to that of meditative monks. The sultry yet playful wine label may suggest that this is a natural wine—and it is, given Ferrand’s biodynamic farming practices and minimal-intervention winemaking. For Coteau de la Mort, he does a semi-carbonic fermentation without any piegeage (pressing down of the skins), fining or filtering, a minimal amount of sulfur, and aging in larger format barrels. This wine has a stature comparable to Northern Rhône Syrah, with high-toned black cherry, black pepper, and pressed rose petals, but today, this 2018 Mondeuse bottling is also juicy and sleek.
Coteau de la Mort, or hill of death, was one of many ancient hill vineyards re-planted during Savoie’s renaissance in the 1990s, thanks to early champions, like Michel Grisard of Prieuré St-Christophe. In 2013, it became a part of the 1.5 hectares that Nicolas Ferrand purchased when starting Domaine des Côtes Rousses. Based in Saint Jean de la Porte, one of Savoie’s top crus for Mondeuse, this sub-appellation has distinct red clay soils (the inspiration behind the domaine’s name) in addition to limestone and moraine. Ferrand has farmed organically from the beginning, and utilizes horses and sheep in partnership with his neighbors. Ferrand is native to the area, but his family previously farmed cattle, making him a first-generation vigneron.
In the last decade, Domaine des Côtes Rousses has steadily grown to six hectares and so has the buzz. Lorch concludes her review saying, “Nicolas’s wines should become a staple in every Savoie wine lover’s cellar,” if only he can keep his minimal-intervention winemaking in check. Ferrand has our attention with this current release. The 2018 Coteau de la Mort is a refreshing take on this sliver of Savoie history.
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