Through his depth of knowledge and regular visits to the region, Matt Walls is well placed to highlight three key trends likely to emerge in the Rhône in 2023.
A return to polyculture Before the 1960s, domaines across the Rhône Valley commonly practised mixed farming; they didn’t just grow grapes, as many do today, but a multitude of crops. But as quality has gradually risen, so has the value of their wines. This has made farming exclusively vineyards increasingly profitable – not to mention prestigious.
Today, many domaines are seeing polyculture in a more positive light, particularly since it helps to promote biodiversity, which supports the natural balance of the vineyard. Rather than planting exclusively vines, Jérôme Malet has divided Domaine de Fontbonau into three equal parts: one third natural woodland, one third vineyard and one third polyculture. Now they produce not just wine, but also olive oil, lavender, honey and truffles. The sloping terrain of the northern Rhône is less accommodating to this approach, but producers such as Laure Colombo of Domaine de Lorient in St-Péray are also embracing mixed farming. Colombo produces not just wine but also honey, apple juice and olive oil, a rarity north of Montélimar. Rebalancing What these trends all have in common is a sense of rebalancing, driven by a greater diversity of grape varieties and other fauna and flora in the vineyards. Let’s hope this leads to greater balance and complexity in the resulting wines – something we can all look forward to in 2023 and beyond