Gigondas, the book

Gigondas (zhee-gōn-dass) is a small village in the southern Rhône valley located on the western slopes of the hill called the Dentelles de Montmirail.  This hill is distinct in appearance with limestone outcroppings which run a good part of the length.  The jagged edges of the outcroppings look like jagged teeth or the spiny back of a Stegosaurus. Like the more dominant Mont Ventoux, the profile of the Dentelles is seen from far and wide across the plain in this part of the Rhône Valley

This is an ancient place with history that pre-dates Roman times and with a name that probably originates in the Latin jocunditas, meaning  joyful or happy.

Wine lovers know Gigondas for its wine, a cru of the Southern Rhône, which many believe to be a more interesting wine than that of its more famed neighbour, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  For me there is a place for both wines in one’s cellar: they are different and both have character that reflects their origins and traditions.

The wines of Gigondas are not produced in volume.  In 2007 a total of some 42000 hl (450,000 cases) was produced, compared with 106,000 hl of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Winemaking in this small appellation region is largely traditional with winemakers seeking to preserve the character of the fruit in the bottle.  As the world of wine consumers moves to wines that reflect their place, these traditionally-centred wines of Gigondas will grow in profile, and price.

All of this is preamble to my comments on a recent book that celebrates the 40th anniversary of the elevation of the wines of Gigondas from Côtes du Rhône Villages to Cru status.  The book is a collaboration published by the syndicate of Gigondas winemakers entitled Gigondas: Its Wine, Its Land, Its People. The collaborators who contributed to this fine publication were led by John Livingstone Learmonth, the foremost writer and advocate on everything Rhône and Louis Barroul the winegrower at Chateau de Saint-Cosme in Gigondas, a property considered the oldest in the appellation, with Barroul ancestral ownership dating from the late 16th century.

The book is structured as a series of dissertations covering four areas: the social and political history of the commune; the wines, winemaking and history of the vintages from the late 1960’s to the present; the terroirs, geology, climate and botany of the appellation and, a profile of each of the 80-some winegrowers in the Gigondas appellation. This format works, as each chapter stands on its own but contributes to a deep and factual portrait of an appellation that is unique in its culture, its wines and its prospects.

The book was written in French – except for JLL’s chapter on the wines – and has been translated into English for distribution in the rest of the world, outside France.  This multi-language approach generally works with the exception of the history chapter which is clumsily written to begin with and which seems to have been translated using Google Language Tools – meaning the literal French to English translation loses all elements of colloquial expression – making for tough word-by-word sledding.  This is too bad as the history of the place called Gigondas is rich and varied across the centuries.

With the exception of this quibble, the rest of the book represents a landmark in coverage of a wine zone.  For a celebratory book this is a matter of fact coverage of all the aspects that make Gigondas, Gigondas.  No stone is left unturned, so to speak – witness the chapter on terroir.  Detailed maps of the topography and geology show the evolution of the Dentelles over the eons.  I have not read such carefully-documented and illustrated history of the geology of a wine region anywhere.  Well done!

John Livinstone-Learmonth in an unusually pensive moment - the crown has absolutely nothing to do with his honorary citizenship in the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pae

The material assembled by JLL is a highlight of the book and is typical of his approach and style.  John has been writing about the wines of the Rhône Valley since 1973 and since that time he has personally lived through the evolution of the region, year-by-year.  It is always a delight to taste with John because of his ability to place the wine’s origins and where it sits in the stylistic evolution of the appellation – also, John uses language to describe wines that is unparalled in its metaphor and imagery – with great verve and twinkle-in-the-eye humour. These are the words to describe John’s chapter. My wife says she only hears laughter when John and I taste together. She’s right.

This book is probably not for the general reader. Rather I recommend Gigondas to someone who might wish to visit the place, Gigondas: it is an exceptional reference source for trip planning.  Similarly this is the type of book every WSET Diploma student or MW candidate will want to use as a study resource.

The packaging of Gigondas is stunning in its execution.  The book is printed on heavy paper stock and it is laden with colourful, detailed maps and diagrams and the photography throughout the book is beautiful and evocative of this stunning place. This is a fabulous aide-memoire for those who love to travel in this part of France. Even general readers will enjoy Gigondas simply for its heft and beauty.

To purchase a copy of this fine edition in English visit JLL’s web site and scroll to the Gigondas book link on the toolbar on the left hand side of the home page. The book is shipped directly from Gigondas and costs ₤35.00 including postage.

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2012.