Table, Donkey and Stick, a bistro in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, hosts weekly Tuesday wine tastings aptly called Terroir Tuesdays. Matt Sussman, proprietor/sommelier, brings in unique producers and wines each week. When I saw that this week, he was hosting the rare wines of Domaine Belluard, a small, biodynamic producer in a tiny town Ayze, in the Savoie, France and focused on a unique grape, Gringet, grown only there, I had to go and try it, the only better thing would have been being in Ayze itself.
So where, oh where is Ayze? First, if you look at a map of France, the Savoie is an eastern region that borders both Italy and Switzerland and is known for some of the top skiing regions in France. The wine region stretch across 4 departments, Haute-Savoie (the south shore of Lake Geneva where Ayze is located), Ain to the west, Savoie, and Isere. This area corresponds to the skiing areas including past Olympic sights, Albertville, Chamonix and Grenoble. Mont Blanc, 15,781 feet, the highest peak in Europe outside of the Caucasus range, lies right on the border of Switzerland, Italy and France. The town of Ayze, lies almost in the middle of a diagonal line from Geneva to Mont Blanc, only about 30 miles from the mountain.
I have never been to the Savoie for wine or grapes but I have always loved the mountains. So many years ago I went climbing in a neighboring area on the Swiss side and stayed in Leysin, Switzerland.
I remember getting out of a tiny train on a rainy night at the bottom of the town and walking up the hill to my hotel which was about halfway up. That trip taught me to pack lighter, you never know when you are going to have a long walk and trust me, you do not want to be carrying a heavy bag. The town was basically on the hillside. That trip, I climbed a small peak in the nearby canton of the Valais called Pigne de la Le. I had arranged a climbing guide through Jean Pavillard and Adventures to the Edge out of Creste Butte, Co.
This is an old picture but I was truly sitting on the edge of the ledge. Little did I know at the time that years later I would be writing about vineyards that were probably only 40 miles away from where I was then.
The Savoie wine region growing areas are limited by the terrain, so the vineyards are all in pockets of heat. One of the prime areas is Ayze located near Lake Geneva and in the foothills of Mont Blanc which is about 30 miles away.
The information about Dominique Belluard the producer I have culled from Selection Massale’s website his importer and whose specialty among others things, is natural, organic and small biodynamic producers.
The grape, gringet, used to be linked to savagnin but it has been found to be indigenous specifically to Ayze. More about the grape is described on Domaine Belluard’s website. From reading his website and from speaking with Nadim Audi, the rep for Selection Massale in Chicago, it sounds like the producer Dominque Belluard is a incredibly passionate and a devoted producer to biodynamics or basically taking care of the land and the grape in all aspects of wine making, the vineyard and the cellar. Here are some pictures of the wines that we tried.
Les Perles du Montblanc is a nonvintage sparkling gringet from limestone heavy clay at about 300 meters above sea level. It reminded me of a bit like a french cider with a touch more body and less appleness. It was light, fruity, dry, almost a pear, apple, melon mix. I agree with the sentiment of quaffability. This bottling is more “widely” available.
Le Feu was beautiful. It is a single vineyard, gringet. The vineyard has reddish soil, composed of clay with a lot of iron. The vineyard sits at 450 meters about 1500 feet. As Nadim explained to me, the grapes get a lot of sun in the summer and are very ripe when harvested. The wine had a medium body, a very smooth mouthfeel, with the notes of apple, white peach and pear. It was dry but there were no harsh, or rough elements at all. I guess reminding me of the freshness of mountain air compared to city air. Mountain air is just so much cleaner. The wine had a freshness, and pureness to it. It wasn’t one dimensional but it just seemed like one harmonious whole. Tiny production.
Pur Jus is a no-sulfur gringet. He does not make it every year, and when he does it is in small quantities. Fermentation takes place in concrete eggs. This was really interesting because of course I had never tasted gringet before but I really don’t think I have ever tried a wine where there was no sulfur whatsoever. I got the same mixed fruit notes, apples, white peaches, some citrus but there was also some mint notes.
It was really fun to try these beautiful wines and to think of the mountains one of my happy places, the only thing better would be to back in the mountains, hiking, climbing or skiing and then drinking his marvelous wines!