Gigondas: The Southern Rhône Jewel Shines and Adapts


Since the end of 2022, one of the most prominently debated Gigondas topics has been centered on the appellation's introduction of the new Gigondas Blanc category, which finally makes its debut with the upcoming 2023 vintage. In contrast to neighboring Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Vacqueyras, which both secured approvals to bottle white wines from the early days of their AOC inception, Gigondas was a red-only identity, with only a minimal exception for Rosé. Who better to shed light on this significant appellation update than the AOC president, Louis Barruol—a prominent winemaker in his own right? Alongside other influential producers, such as Gigondas appellation Co-President Pierre Amadieu, Barruol has tirelessly advocated for this appellation rule change over many years. With the matter settled and the musts of the first vintage developing, both were keen to share more details about their year-long collaboration with French authorities. After a brief overview of the appellation’s latest attributes, this report addresses the new Gigondas Blanc category, covers the latest two vintages—2022 and 2021—and concludes with updated market information.

Gigondas vineyards underneath the Dentelles de Montmirail.

Gigondas at a Glance

Of the 1,224 hectares currently planted in Gigondas, Grenache Noir covers 789, up 2.5% (18 hectares) from 2016. Syrah and Mourvèdre are on the rise, too, growing by 6% and 10%, respectively, over the same period to 281 and 95 hectares. Also expanding, yet at much lower levels, are Cinsaut and Counoise. Those two varieties accumulate less sugar than Grenache Noir, making them increasingly valuable blending partners. On the white varieties, Clairette Blanche plantings have more than tripled from the 5.3 hectares planted in 2016 to 17.4 in 2023 to comply with the new Gigondas Blanc regulation of at least 70% Clairette Blanche. This highlights the increased emphasis of Gigondas winemakers on the emerging Gigondas Blanc category. Although growing, white varieties in Gigondas still constitute less than 2% of the total plantings.

Resembling Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the appellation regulations specify identical maximum yields of 35 hectolitres per hectare and a minimum natural alcohol content of 12.5%. Regarding blending requirements, AOC laws dictate that both red and Rosé wines must consist of a minimum of 50% Grenache Noir, and a potential mix of Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut must make up at least 90% of the overall blend. Notably, a rule allowing the production of single-varietal Grenache was amended concurrently with the introduction of the new Gigondas Blanc category. Today, Gigondas boasts 182 grape growers and 118 producers, with 80 domaines having their own labels. Cooperatives, including Rhônea, play a significant role, accounting for a total of five co-ops and 62 cooperators. Almost 20% of Gigondas vineyards are certified organic, a figure that is gradually on the rise.

Paul Fumoso is taking Domaine Gour de Chaulé to new heights.

In contrast to the nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, the growing environment in Gigondas differs significantly. A substantial portion of its vineyards experience morning shade cast by the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range. This unique topography results in cooler morning temperatures, effectively prolonging the grape maturation process. For aficionados of occasional hikes, it's worth noting that starting from the heart of Gigondas village, a journey up the Chemin des Dentelles de Montmirail takes just under an hour, rewarding hikers with a dazzling view of the appellation.

Another key feature of Gigondas in the Southern Rhône context is vineyard elevation. As a rule of thumb, temperature falls by roughly 0.6° degrees Celsius (1.1° Fahrenheit) for every increase in elevation of 100 meters (328 feet). Nearly half of the currently cultivated 1,224 hectares of vineyards sit between 200 and 400 meters (656 and 1,312 feet) above sea level. Additionally, approximately 80 hectares are situated at an elevation surpassing 400 meters (1,312 feet). In comparison, the highest vineyards in nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape rest at an elevation of only 120 meters (394 feet). Hence, in the present era, where cooling influences are significant in wine regions characterized by increasing warmth, Gigondas already boasts two inherent advantages. Furthermore, it's essential not to overlook the cooling effects of the Mistral wind.

Gigondas also distinguishes itself from neighboring appellations through a significant difference in soil composition, marked notably by its limestone content. Establishing a straightforward correlation between the increased limestone content and specific wine attributes, such as flavors or tannin texture, is not inherently apparent. I look forward to digging deeper into this interesting subject on my next visit to Gigondas later this year.

Strolling through the vineyards at Domaine des Bosquets with proprietor and winemaker Julien Bréchet, accompanied by his lovely wife, Justine.

Let There Be White Wine

As of the 2023 vintage, Gigondas Blanc can now be officially bottled instead of being labeled as a generic Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc. Years of dedicated effort culminated in this modification, primarily led by the president of the appellation, Louis Barroul, and other influential figures, like appellation co-president and winemaker Pierre Amadieu. I had the opportunity to delve into this subject through discussions with both.

I questioned Amadieu about the historical context, and he responded: “In 1954, our predecessors applied for the appellation Locale Cru Gigondas, of which 15% was white at the time. A few years later, in 1971, we obtained AOC Gigondas appellation status for reds and Rosés, yet neglecting whites.” Naturally, this exclusion led to a decline in white grape plantings. “But despite the resulting low percentage of surface area dedicated to whites, some production was maintained,” Amadieu adds. Still, no further attempts were made to get white wines back under the AOC umbrella, probably also due to a lack of demand for Southern Rhône whites at the time.

Forty years later, the Gigondas producers' organization established a working party of winegrowers and negociants. Their mission: re-exploring the potential of white grapes grown in various parts of the appellation area. In 2018, when it was time to analyze the results of the studies, the quality of the wines prompted the board to approve plans to change production specifications. Four years later, on September 8, 2022, the National Institute for Origin and Quality (INAO) finally approved the extension of the AOC Gigondas appellation to include white wines.

Winemaker and proprietor Benjamin Gras, alongside his father Yves, at Domaine Santa Duc.

This transformation saw Clairette Blanche emerge as the principal variety, constituting at least 70% in a final blend, either fermented on its own or mixed with traditional white Rhône Valley grape varieties grown in Gigondas. This includes Bourboulenc Blanc, Clairette Rose, Grenache Blanc and Gris, Marsanne Blanche, Piquepoul Blanc and Roussanne. Viognier and Ugni Blanc can also be incorporated, but not exceeding 5% of the final blend.

Clairette Blanche was chosen as the principal variety with the aim of letting the Gigondas terroir be most visible in the resulting wines. Breaking down the attributes of Clairette Blanche in more detail, Barruol points out its structure, “With good acidity and salinity singularly expressed on the limestone soils of Gigondas, its good adaptation to the warm Mediterranean climate and its suitability to thrive in the cooler areas of the appellation.” In the discussions leading up to the decision, there was a debate over whether to solely produce a single varietal Clairette Blanche or allow blending. The reached compromise aimed to foster the production of individual cuvées, yet without dismissing the Clairette base.

Gigondas' west and north-west orientation, along with its elevated altitudes, results in a later ripening period than neighboring appellations such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Vacqueyras. In theory, these cooling effects, in combination with the limestone-rich soils, should be able to provide a promising foundation to produce crisp whites, which is what many consumers are looking for these days. I’m looking forward to tasting Gigondas Blanc of the inaugural 2023 vintage later this year and reporting to what extent the theory was put into practice. 

Tasting an older vintage at Domaine Les Pallières.


After the 2021 harvest, October witnessed abundant rainfall, but subsequent months experienced a notable deficiency in precipitation. Consequently, winter rains failed to fully prepare the soils for the upcoming growing season. In fact, aggregated rainfall in Gigondas was only 100mm from January 1 to August 15, compared to the average of 400mm for the same period, resulting in drought. Budburst occurred around April 10, slightly later than in the preceding year. The prolonged dry spell, paired with insufficient soil moisture, led to water stress from early on. Elevated temperatures, consistently exceeding seasonal averages, further intensified the dry conditions. On the other hand, despite moderate powdery mildew pressure in spring, the absence of excessive moisture preserved the fruit's health. Warm temperatures aided vegetative growth, and flowering unfolded under favorable conditions at the end of May.

In this dry and warm environment, the vines struggled to ripen their fruit. By the end of July and early August, many went into survival mode, blocking the maturation process entirely. Luckily, a rainstorm on August 14 delivered 25mm of rain, and subsequent episodes a few days later contributed an additional 45mm. These crucial water supplies revitalized the vine cycle, allowing the vines to resume gradual fruit ripening. Harvesting for white varieties commenced in the latter part of August, just preceding rains on September 3, which delivered 35mm of precipitation. At that point, most black varieties weren’t yet ready for picking. Eventually, thunderstorms on September 6 and 7 added an additional 110mm of rain that reinvigorated the vines. One week later, the harvesting of the red varieties was in full swing, with the last vineyards picked ahead of October 10, a fortnight before the last grapes were picked in the preceding 2021 vintage.

Warm and dry conditions delivered relatively small berries, resulting in a high skin-to-juice ratio and elevated polyphenol potential. This required careful consideration of extraction length, temperature, method and frequency in the cellar. While many of the tasted samples exhibited acceptable tannin quality, a number displayed remarkably astringent tannins. On a positive note, the wines showcased delightful fruit intensity, freshness and increased flavor concentration compared to the 2021 vintage. Alcohol levels generally hover between 14 and 15.5 percent, similar to or slightly above those from the preceding vintage. Average yields reached 30.46hL/ha, a 10% increase from 2021, yet still below the 35hL/ha maximum set by AOC rules. While surpassing the flavor concentration of 2021, the wines of 2022 seem to fall slightly short of the more consistent 2020 vintage.

At this early stage, it looks like the wines of the following producers are going to be at the upper end of the quality pyramid: Château de Saint Cosme, Château la Croix des Pins, Domaine Brunely, Domaine Brusset, Domaine des Bosquets, Domaine du Gour de Chaulé, Domaine du Grapillon d'Or, Domaine La Bouïssiere, Domaine Les Pallières, Domaine Montirius, Domaine Saint-Damien, Domaine Santa Duc, Pierre Amadieu and Xavier Vignon. I look forward to tasting all these and other wines from bottle during my next visit.

Winemaker, proprietor and Gigondas AOC president Louis Barruol pouring a sample at Château de Saint Cosme.


In his previous report, The Deep Bench of Gigondas, our late colleague Josh Raynolds wrote a brief summary of the climatic conditions of the 2021 vintage. Similar to other Rhône Valley appellations, both in the north and south, 2021 is marked by inconsistency. Despite a relatively modest yield of 27.71hL/ha, numerous wines are characterized by a deficiency in flavor concentration, structure and complexity. However, there are instances where wines have displayed exceptional quality. Vintages like 2021 undoubtedly present severe challenges for winemakers, yet they serve as a clear indicator of which producers can deliver not only in more favorable growing conditions, such as in 2020, but also under more demanding circumstances. After my assessment, Château de Saint Cosme, Domaine des Bosquets, Domaine du Gour de Chaulé, Domaine Les Pallières, Domaine Saint-Damien and Domaine Santa Duc form the group of wineries that were capable of delivering very good to even stunning results in this demanding vintage. Apart from those top producers, several promising wines are up for grabs, such as from Crous St. Martin, Domaine du Grand Bourjassot, Domaine La Soumade, Domaine Paillère et Pied-Gu, Lavau and Réserve Saint Dominique. Compared to the two surrounding vintages, the reds of 2021 generally lack extended maturation potential.

Looking at the Markets

Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift in the proportion of imports and exports in regard to Gigondas wines, along with changes in the distribution among various export markets. In 2010, 65% of the wines found their home in France; however, by 2021, that figure had decreased to 53%. The export landscape has also witnessed substantial transformations. In 2010, Belgium held the lead at 27%, followed by the US at 15%. By 2021, the US emerged as the primary destination for Gigondas imports, commanding a whopping 25% share, surpassing Belgium at 15%. Switzerland maintained its third position in export volumes over time, trailed by the UK and Denmark. Under AOC Gigondas laws, 99% of wines currently produced in the region are red, with the tiny remainder being Rosé. The introduction of the new Gigondas Blanc category will likely alter this dynamic over time, although the focus will undoubtedly continue to be on the reds. In my latest pieces on Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Vacqueyras, I highlighted a gradual change in consumer preferences within key markets such as the United States and Europe. Wine enthusiasts are increasingly gravitating towards wines featuring more modest alcohol levels. This shift poses a notable challenge for the sales of Southern Rhône wines, Gigondas included.

I tasted all the wines from this report in Gigondas during August and September 2023.

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