From Vins De Mauves To Saint-Joseph

  • By Jacky Blisson MW
  • 06 Jan 2021
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 201
Made possible by
St Joseph Vineyards - Credit : AOC Saint Joseph

The vineyards of Saint-Joseph are perched on the right bank of the Rhône River. With their ideal south and southeast exposure, granite-rich soils, and temperate continental climate at the 45th parallel, the best Saint-Joseph wines can rival the best of the Northern Rhône.

From Vins De Mauves To Saint-Joseph

Throughout much of its history, the wines of Saint-Joseph were referred to as Les Vins de Mauve. This small village just outside Tournon-sur-Rhône is the historic heartland of Saint-Joseph wine production. 

The wines of Mauves were highly regarded throughout the centuries; Charlemagne is said to have been an admirer. Louis XII owned a vineyard in the area, and regularly served the wines at court. Victor Hugo spoke of “ce bon vin de Mauves” (the good wine from Mauves) in his masterpiece, Les Misérables. 

The transition, from Mauves to Saint-Joseph, came in the 17th century. At that time, Jesuit monks owned a large vineyard between Tournon and Mauves. They called their vineyard Saint-Joseph and kept official records using this name. 

The Expansion Of Saint-Joseph 

Saint-Joseph achieved AOC status in 1956. At the time, the appellation consisted of 90 ha of vineyards covering a 10 km radius of six communes around Mauves and Tournon-sur-Rhône. The vines in this area are planted on steep, terraced slopes with shallow soils of hard, acidic granite. 

In the late 1960s to early 1970s, the size of the Saint-Joseph AOC was significantly increased. A further restructuration in 1994 defined the current boundaries of the appellation. Now, Saint-Joseph AOP stretches 60 km, from Condrieu and Côte Rôtie in the north, to Cornas and Saint Péray in the south. 

The northern expanse has a more varied topography with flatter stretches as well as steep slopes. Diverse soils, with areas of hard granite, clay, limestone, and rich, soft gneiss concentrations to the north, give a wide range of wine styles. The flatter lands tend to have richer, more fertile soils yielding lighter, more supple wines.

Many Saint-Joseph producers and experts maintain that the traditional, southern Saint-Joseph growing area, as defined in 1956, holds the region’s best terroirs. Highly acclaimed Saint-Joseph producers like Domaine Pierre Gonon, Domaine Coursodon, and Domaine Bernard and Fabrice Gripa are all based here. 

Saint-Joseph Today

The AOP of Saint-Joseph counts 1,330 ha of vineyards spread across 23 communes in the Ardèche department and three communes in the Loire. 190 growers and wine producers call Saint-Joseph home. 

The region produces 87% red wine, from the Syrah grape. Up to 10% Marsanne and Roussanne are permitted as blending components in reds, but this practice is rare. White wines made from Marsanne or blends of Marsanne and Roussanne make up the other 13% of production. The average yield is quite low, at just 38 hl / ha. 

While quality and style can vary markedly depending on the vineyard site and producer, Saint-Joseph can offer some impressive wines, often for a fraction of the price of more acclaimed vineyards like Côte Rôtie or Hermitage.

The best Saint-Joseph red wines are said to have signature white pepper and violet aromas. The ideal south to south-east exposure of top vineyards gives ripe dark fruit flavours and elegant tannins.

Saint-Joseph Producers To Seek Out

M.CHAPOUTIER, Domaine Pierre Gonon, Domaine Coursodon, Domaine Bernard Gripa, Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Domaine Faury, Cave Yves Cuilleron, Domaine Monier Pérreol, Domaine André Perret, and Domaine Courbis.

St Joseph Vineyards - Credit : AOC Saint Joseph