Domaine du Gringet: a jewel from Savoie
Author: Catriona Felstead MW
Today sees the launch of a range of wines from both a producer and grape variety which are new to our portfolio. Catriona Felstead MW introduces Domaine du Gringet – until now, a well-kept secret of the Savoie.
On a Friday in January this year, I found myself standing, ankle-deep in snow, in one of the most beautiful locations for vines that I have ever been in. I had been visiting producers in the Northern Rhône but, following a conversation with the brilliant Franck Balthazar of Cornas when first organising that trip, our Wine Director Mark Pardoe MW and I were now in Savoie. We relished being in the stunning foothills of the French Alps, on a beautifully clear, sunny and cold winter’s day.
The reason we had diverted nearly two hours east of Lyon to be there; a very special grape. It’s a grape that I wager 99% of even highly wine-educated people have never heard of. I am very happy to admit that I was in that 99%. That grape is Gringet.
Gringet – From grape to Domaine
Gringet is a rare, white Alpine grape variety, native to the Arve Valley in the Haute-Savoie. When I say rare, I mean rare. Only 22 hectares of this grape exist in the world, all around the village of Ayse. Of these, 10 hectares and one hectare each of two other local grapes (white Altesse and red Mondeuse) belong to the newest addition to our portfolio: Domaine du Gringet.
There is a sad story to Domaine du Gringet but one I hope will provide inspiration. This property belonged to the highly respected vigneron Dominique Belluard and was then called Domaine Belluard. Dominique almost single-handedly cultivated and transformed the old, abandoned Gringet vines within the region over many years. Tragically, he died by suicide in 2021.
Dominique turned the perception of this variety from one only considered useful in cheap, high volume, blended wines, into one capable of making superb, unique and wonderful wines, both still and sparkling. Domaine Belluard was avidly followed by those who had discovered it. The wines became highly sought-after by those in the know.
Following Dominique’s death, his wife, Valérie, knew she could not continue with the project on her own. She looked to sell, but equally was certain she wanted true vignerons to take over and respect Dominique’s legacy.
Continuing a legacy
Step forward two founders of one of Domaine Belluard’s distributors in France – Raphaël Bennour and Miguel Sarzier, who had already worked with Dominique for 15 years. They both knew and loved the wines. They contacted Vincent Ruiz, a brilliant young cellarmaster working for Franck Balthazar who, in turn, spoke to Franck. A quartet was formed. The four took over the estate as a partnership in 2021, renaming it at Valérie’s request, although she stayed on to manage the transition. They felt that it was symbolic to bring the grape that Dominique was most famous for, into the name of the new project: Domaine du Gringet.
Today, the four partners are all involved. But it was Vincent Ruiz who took the physical lead, moving from the much more well-known Cornas to the small village of Ayse. He was an outsider but told us how he was welcomed from the beginning by the locals. They were all so supportive that the partnership was continuing the work of the popular Dominique.
Vincent is the vigneron in charge day to day. He cultivates the vines with a very small team and, from 2022, makes the wines that will be the future of this estate. He and the partners have already decided to make only still wines in the future, with an absolute focus on terroir, including a single-vineyard cuvée of Dominique’s most prized vineyard: Le Feu. They have reduced the yields almost by half and are converting the whole estate to be organically certified (it was previously worked biodynamically, although uncertified).
I was so impressed by Vincent’s passion, energy and dedication to the vineyards here and to the region. This is clearly now his home and he is relishing the challenge of this new, incredibly exciting, project.
Before we can move to the future, as with any project in transition, there are still wines from the previous ownership available and we are truly delighted to bring them to you now. We have acquired a parcel of three wines which are the last vintages that Dominique Belluard harvested and vinified himself for a year in the cellar. After he died, Valérie asked their great friend, Jean-François Ganevat, a huge star in the Jura in his own right, to blend and bottle the wines. Jean-François’ involvement lends a touch of magic to this release. It is already so special, given that they represent the end of one era at this domaine before we move forward, with anticipation, to the next.
What does Gringet taste like? The 2019 sparkling, Les Perles du Gringet, is a traditional method wine, full of all the bread and brioche you could want outside of Champagne yet with a superb, refreshing finish. It is delicious. The still wines are fascinating. The 2020 Eponyme is somehow floral yet herbal with a tart tangerine palate and Riesling-èsque refreshment. The 2020 Monsieur Gringet is more serious and textural with a green tarragon and wild oregano lift. This beautifully aligns with a fine, bitter lemon note reminiscent of Godello, all with the weight and finesse of a white Burgundy. It’s mind-blowing.
It is incredible to have the opportunity to taste something that is a genuine wine discovery. These are unique and superb wines which represent a specific snapshot in time, and which are truly fascinating. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Explore the range of Domaine du Gringet wines here.