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Grosjean Petite Arvine: 1997-2016
BY IAN D'AGATA | DECEMBER 10, 2019
Petite Arvine is a white grape that is one of Italy’s biggest success stories of the last 40 years. It was virtually unknown in the country prior to the 1990s, but there are now a bevy of outstanding wines made with this variety For example, Les Crêtes, Château Feuillet and especially the Grosjean family have had noteworthy success with it over the years.
The entrance to the Grosjean winery
The Grape Variety
In Switzerland’s Valais, an Arvine variety appears to have been documented back in 1602 under the name Arvena, believed to mean "upstart” or “new arrival." Petite Arvine is different from Grosse Arvine, which is considered to be a lesser-quality relative. In Switzerland the variety is used to produce both dry and sweet (flétri) wines; by contrast, no sweet wines are made with it in Italy. Those who champion Italian origin for the grape point to the fact that Petite Arvine’s name most likely derives from a Latin word indicating the Arve Valley of Savoy, a region that used to be Italian before it was sold to France; according to this view, the grape was imported from there into Valais by way of the Valle d'Aosta.
Barrels are found everywhere at the winery
Petite Arvine is probably a distant relative of Prié Blanc, Premetta and perhaps Chasselas. Viticulturally, it is a very resistant variety and a very late ripener (which makes it stand out among the Valle d’Aosta white grapes, as most are picked in September) and so southern exposures and sunny, warm years are best for it to achieve full physiological ripeness. However, in my opinion, Petite Arvine does not perform especially well in very hot years. The wines lose their enchanting aromatic freshness and minty white flower and orchard fruit aromas and flavors, to showcase instead slightly heavy-handed, blowsy tropical fruit notes. Furthermore, the grape’s booming popularity in the Valle d’Aosta (among both producers and consumers) has led to it being increasingly planted in less-than-ideal warmer flatland sites, where it tends to give tropical-accented, fat wines with even greater ease.
The Grosjean family
At 17 hectares (2010 data), Petite Arvine is the eighth most planted variety in the Valle d’Aosta. (The number of hectares may seem very small, but keep in mind that Petit Rouge is the region’s most planted variety, and it boasts only 74 hectares in total.)
The simple but functional interior of the winery
Grosjean’s Petite Arvine
Petite Arvine was first planted at Grosjean, in the early 1980s on highly sandy soils with a medium limestone content. The grapes have been organically farmed since 2011, and had to be irrigated for their first three years of life (drought is always a potential problem in the region). The vineyard sits at 550 meters above sea level and has a 70% slope, so the family needed to build terraces to carry out normal vineyard work and harvesting. Depending on the vintage, the grapes are normally picked in October. The wine is currently aged partly in steel and partly in oak (70% stainless steel and 30% used barriques), but vintages of the 1990s and early 2000s saw no oak aging whatsoever. In my experience, and unlike most excellent Swiss examples of Petite Arvine wines, Grosjean’s version has slightly less juicy acidity, less salinity and less obvious notes of pineapple and tropical fruit. Grosjean first made the wine in 1985 but used to call it simply “Petite Arvine” even though the grapes always came from the Rovettaz vineyard; starting with the 2004 or 2005 vintage (René Grosjean himself was not sure), the “Vigne Rovettaz” moniker was added to the wine’s full name upon the suggestion of Neil Rosenthal, the estate’s US importer. Today, Grosjean owns about two hectares of Petite Arvine and makes roughly 15,000 bottles a year.
A wonderful lineup of older and younger Petite Arvines from Grosjean
The wines in this report were tasted in May and August 2019 in Italy.
See the Wines from Youngest to Oldest
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