All About Viognier

The fruity white wine brings a taste of France to the Mitten
Domaine Berrien Cellars’ 2022 Viognier. Photo courtesy of Amy Birk

Originally grown in the Rhône Valley of France, the Viognier grape has found a home away from home here in Michigan.

Viognier, which can have aromas of peach, tangerine, and melon, reacts well to Michigan’s climate, says Amy Birk, winemaker at Domaine Berrien Cellars in Berrien Springs.

“Viognier does best in an environment with a long, warm (but not hot) growing season,” Birk says. “The longer, warmer season allows for gentle ripening and development of flavors without overripening. When Viognier is produced in a cooler climate, it produces a wine that is richly aromatic. When it is produced at a higher Brix, and therefore a higher alcohol, the mouthfeel can become oily and flabby and lose most of the delicate aromatics.”

While Domaine Berrien’s 2022 Viognier is described as a “fruit salad in a glass,” this wine cannot be created with the same freedom and ease of a real fruit salad.

“Viognier is one of those varieties that we take extra care of in the vineyard,” Birk says. “It doesn’t like machine-assisted vineyard processes, like our tractor-mounted hedger or leaf remover, so all vineyard work must be done by hand on that variety.”

Domaine Berrien founders Tom and Abigail Fricke first tasted Viognier in its birthplace, the Rhône Valley region of France. “They fell in love with Rhône and truly felt that we could grow grapes similar to the ones in France, and then they brought that love back to Michigan,” Birk says. The team planted its first batch of Viognier in 1994, making Domaine Berrien’s vineyard one of the first in the state to grow it.

Viognier is now one of the winery’s best-selling white wines, but this wasn’t always the case. Birk says it took many years of exposure and education and Viognier’s popularization on the international market for it to begin trending at the vineyard.

In addition to the 2022 estate-grown Viognier, the team at Domaine Berrien has also experimented with blends featuring the grape. “We’ve done it in the past, and we always find that it gives the wine a lot of peach flavor and a more rounded mouthfeel,” Birk says.

Other Michigan wineries use this grape as well. Cody Kresta Vineyard and Winery in Mattawan released its 2020 Roussanne Viognier, a dry barrel-aged blend featuring 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier. The result? Exotic flavors of apricot, orange blossom, honey, and tropical fruit. In nearby Paw Paw, St. Julian Winery produces its own Braganini Reserve Viognier with notes of peach, blossom, and pear.

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