Photo: Christine Vernay
Friday May 19, 2017, the famous Northern Rhone wine grower passed away at the age of 92. He was instrumental in reviving Condrieu when it was in danger of disappearing.
When Georges took over his father’s estate in 1953, it was home to mixed farming – with vegetables, fruits and vines – like many other properties at the time. Very soon afterwards he decided to concentrate on wine growing. He cleared land, built terraces and planted new vines, which according to his daughter Christine, showed how much faith he had in the ‘terroir’. Lack of labour – through the First World War then industrialisation across the region – had almost put paid to vineyards here. Only 8 hectares of Viognier were left in this, the only part of the world where the cultivar was grown! Who would have thought there was a future in growing vines around the village of Condrieu?
Vine growing dated back aeons, though, with vines probably planted by the Emperor Probus in the 3rd century. The wines were famous. The poet Boileau claimed that Condrieu could “delight the heart” whilst fellow author Lamartine said it “warms our brains”. Georges Vernay became chairman of the appellation, and kept the tenure for 30 years. It was due to him that Condrieu was finally restored to its rightful place, high up on the quality ladder. Here, Viognier’s hallmark aromas of peach, apricot and sometimes violet and white flowers are counterbalanced by a liveliness and a minerality that give the varietal its raison d’être. Georges Vernay’s vineyards in the heart of the appellation also have a high proportion of granite.
In 1996, Georges Vernay took a well-earned retirement. In this part of the Rhone, the hillsides are steep and the cold winter winds particularly harsh. These challenging conditions shaped the personality of a man who will be remembered for many years to come.