Leaving the tidy and compact city of Geneva, situated at the foot of Lac Léman, and traveling down the Rhône […]Keep Reading
Leaving the tidy and compact city of Geneva, situated at the foot of Lac Léman, and traveling down the Rhône river to the border of France, one quickly arrives in the bucolic village of Peissy. This village has been home to the Pellegrin family for as far back as anyone can remember. Jean-Pierre Pellegrin is just the latest scion of this well-rooted family – despite a name that means pilgrim. Even though there are ancient links between the Pellegrins and Peissy, Jean-Pierre’s project, Domaine Grand’Cour is a fairly recent endeavor, having been founded in 1994 from vineyards that have been tended by the family going all the way back to 1617.
As a young adult, Jean-Pierre Pellegrin studied archeology but he returned to Peissy to take over his family’s vineyards just a few years shy of his 30th birthday. With his return, Jean-Pierre began the transition of the property from that of a grape grower, to a full-fledged Domaine. In the process, he has expanded his family’s holdings, renovated old sites, and planted new grape varieties on the gentle slopes surrounding his hometown. Domaine Grand’Cour is located in AOC Geneva and entirely within Mandement – the largest sub-zone of the appellation located on the right (northwest) bank of the Rhône river.* The soils of AOC Geneva were formed by a repeated cycle of glaciation, lake sedimentation, and glacial flooding. The bedrock of much of the region is Jurassic limestone of a similar type and age to that found in the Jura and Côte d’Or but covered by a layer of rocky molasse and sedimentary soils.**
Now totaling 15 hectares, the oldest vines on the property date to 1945 and much of the replanting and grafting has been made using selection massale rather than clones. The two principal varieties Jean-Pierre’s father farmed, Gamay and Viognier, have been retained and he has added over twenty additional varieties as well. This may seem like a scattershot approach to defining your terroir, but AOC Geneva is centered at the crossroads of European viniculture. In the early medieval period is was politically part of a series of kingdoms, principalities, and duchies that also included at various times modern day Alsace, Burgundy and Provence. More importantly, it was situated on the Rhône – rivers being the primary form of transport for goods before the advent of the railways. In Jean-Pierre’s vineyards, you will find typically Burgundian, Rhône, Alsatian and Alpine varieties of debatable status as “indigenous” alongside a selection of more distant imports from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux.***
Farming at Domaine Grand’Cour is non-interventionist. Natural products are used to treat the vines and soils. Weeding and mowing between the rows are performed rather than disturbing the topsoils, as this encourages better root development of the vines. The vineyards are worked by hand including harvest – a lengthy process conducted in several passes for each site and variety. All these efforts ensure that only healthy and evenly ripe clusters reach the cellar.
The cellar, carefully rebuilt under the direction of Jean-Pierre to restore it to its former function and reusing much of its original fabric, is tidy and compact. Part is fitted with troconic stainless steel fermenters and enamel-lined tanks and the rest is filled with amphorae, and various sizes and ages of French oak barrels. Young wines destined for the domestic market are inoculated with organic yeasts while the top wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts. White wines ferment in tank, amphorae, and barrel while the reds go into the temperature-controlled troconic tanks. While it seems clichéd to compare a Swiss vigneron to a watchmaker, it is in fact Jean-Pierre’s nickname as he carefully selects different aging vessels for each variety and parcel.
Recognized by Gault & Millau as perennially the top estate in AOC Geneva as well as all of Switzerland, we are excited to represent the wines of Jean-Pierre Pellegrin in the United States.
*The other two sub-zones are Entre Arve et Rhône and Entre Arve et Lac – the Arve being a tributary of the Rhône that flows through the Haut Savoie and joins the Rhône within the borders of the city of Geneva. All total there are 23 regional AOCs within Geneva and so many permitted varieties that it is difficult to sort out if these are actually political or terroir-based divisions.
**A more detailed description of the similarities and differences among the soils of the Côte d’Or, the Jura, and Geneva can be found in James Wilson’s Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wine. Basically the Jurassic limestone of Burgundy is banded horizontally, that of the Jura is tipped vertically and that of Geneva is topped by alluvial soils and gravels formed by repeated glaciation and flooding.
*** Indigenous is hard to define in Switzerland. There are certain Alpine varieties that appear indigenous to the alpine cantons of Switzerland (Chasselas, Petite Arvine, Savagnin, Cornalin, etc.) along with varieties with a long history in certain appellations (Pinot Noir, Gamay, Syrah, Chardonnay, etc. in western, Francophone Switzerland), then there are the post-phylloxera imports (Bordeaux and Loire Valley varieties especially) as well as hybrid grapes. This is ignoring Graubunden and Ticino which have their own traditions as well as Geneva which has always been one of the more diverse regions for varying grape varieties.Close