Still white wines, from the aptly named Rhône-Alps region, dynamically represent their parent climates: Rhône-like with their warm, sun-kissed expression of stone fruits, and Alp-like with their crystalline purity and cooling limestone minerality. Les Abymes, 100% Jacquère, is the most weightless and delicate expression of this combination I’ve ever tasted. They say “what grows together goes together,” but I paired Les Abymes with a very un-Savoyard and rather Italian spaghetti al limone, which felt as simple and celestial as pairings come.
—Jane Berg for Kermit Lynch
Savoie is a picture of fairy-tale perfection: snow-capped peaks, green rolling hills, wildflowers, and cold, sparkling mountain streams. This idyllic region hugs the western Alps, where Michel Quenard and his family farm twenty-two hectares of vineyards along the steep, rocky slopes of the Coteau de Torméry around Chignin. The limestone scree that makes up this vineyard land, resulting from millions of years of erosion of the majestic peaks of the Massif des Bauges, lends great character to the wines produced here.
Michel’s grandfather started the domaine in the 1930s. Though he slowly increased the vineyard holdings, he also sold off most of his wine in bulk. It was not until 1960 that Michel’s father, André, began bottling under their own label. Armed with a degree in viticulture and enology from Beaune, Michel joined the domaine in 1976, expanding vineyard holdings and making improvements to the cellar. Today, he is joined by his son Guillaume. While they are far from the only Quenards in Chignin, they are certainly the most well-known—perhaps this is due to the severity of their terrain and the quality of wines it produces. Andrew Jefford writes in his contemporary classic, The New France, “Michel Quenard and his father André are masters of the Bergeron grape, known in the Rhône Valley and elsewhere as Roussanne. They argue it should be limited to the best and steepest local sites where it can ripen fully, like the Coteau de Torméry, giving wines of real texture and perfume as it does so” (p 122). We think it is one of the most unique and beautiful renditions of Roussanne in the world.
Despite the domaine’s proximity to the Alps, the vineyards enjoy a surprisingly warm microclimate with southern sun exposure. Fig and olive trees are also found among the vines, unusual for such a snowy region. There are twenty-one crus in the Savoie appellation, encompassing more than twenty permitted cépages—including several endemic varieties exclusive to Savoie. The Quenards’ vineyards are planted to some of the region’s best known, with a focus on Bergeron, Jacquère, Mondeuse, and Altesse. Michel and Guillaume bottle multiple cuvées, highlighting the region’s diversity of grape varieties and the different terroirs they farm. The stoniness of their vineyards expresses an alpine freshness and lively minerality in their wines. Their cuvées go beyond the simple “eclectic” that categorizes wines from the region; whether they are quaffed or savored, they are all unique revelations that reflect the complexity of their terroir and the fine artistry of these master vignerons.