International Viognier Day
Viognier (vee-ohn-yay) has a range of rather disreputable origin stories, however what remains true in each is that the first significant plantings were in its native Rhône Valley, France.
Its name is also thought to be derived from a Roman word that translates to ‘Road to the Valley of Hell’, which is apt due to Viognier’s nature to be low yielding, susceptible to disease and very particular about climate.
This varietal needs sunny days for optimal ripening tempered by cool nights to retain acidity, which makes several Australian wine regions perfect for this temperamental fruit.
Viognier was first planted in Australia in the 1970s and there are now around 765 hectares of vineyards around the country.
Viognier ripening on the vine at Millbrook.
Wine critic James Halliday describes Viognier as "the cornerstone variety at Millbrook" and with two single varietal expressions on offer – the Regional Viognier and the Estate Viognier – as well as the Estate blend of Shiraz Viognier, his comments couldn’t be more true.
Viognier is a varietal that is wholly celebrated at Millbrook; from the vine to your glass and even down to the food pairings at the award-winning estate restaurant, led by highly acclaimed Head Chef Guy Jeffreys.
Guy said, "Our annual Millbrook tradition is in spring when the Viognier is being blended, the days are warming, our first asparagus is coming up and our chickens and ducks start laying. We have a tradition to sit on the grass and dip blanched asparagus into coddled eggs and sip the new [Viognier] blend. Winter is over and spring has sprung!”
Viticulturist John Fogarty helped father Peter Fogarty plant the first Viognier vines at Millbrook in 1996, some of the first Viognier vines in Western Australia.
Peter Fogarty describes his decision to pave the way for premium Viognier in Western Australia after a trip to France in the 1990s when he tasted a Viognier from Condrieu in the Rhône Valley. He said, “I started hunting for Viognier vines to take cuttings from. I eventually found some vines growing in Chittering and John Fogarty and I went and took cuttings from them and planted the block adjacent to the cottage at Millbrook.”
The next few years were a total immersion in all things Viognier. Peter said, "I went back to Condrieu about four years later to visit all the top producers in the region, learning their tricks and understanding how they make Viognier."
His passion and determination paid off and Peter was elated when the Millbrook wines were reviewed highly by renowned wine critic Robert Parker. He also described further success in 2012 and said, "Millbrook entered a World Viognier Challenge and the 2010 Estate Viognier was chosen as Best New World Viognier, also finishing second in the final taste off against other French wines."
Reflecting on his incredible accomplishment of establishing world-class Viognier in Western Australia Peter said, “I dare everyone to be brave and try one of the world’s great wines.”
Whole-bunch Millbrook Estate Viognier being loaded into the press.
The Millbrook Regional Viognier combines fruit from two distinct regions of Western Australia, the warmer Perth Hills and cooler climate Great Southern.
Winemaker Emma described looking for versatility with this wine, allowing it to be enjoyed whatever the occasion, achieved with combining fruit from different regions, as well as how the wine is made in the winery. She aimed to enhance the beautiful Viognier characteristics with wine being left on lees for three months to create a deliciously crunchy texture.
This is a real food wine and Emma’s excitement for this is evident when she exclaims: “Who doesn’t love a wine that goes so well with a wide array of dishes such as roast pork, master stock chicken, hard goats cheese, and mushroom risotto?”
The Millbrook Estate Viognier is produced solely from estate vineyards, which Head Chef Guy Jeffreys believes imparts a real sense of time and place. When he thinks of this wine he said, "I picture standing at the top of heartbreak hill looking over the vines and down the valley towards the Millbrook winery."
In his highly-rated review for this wine, James Halliday said, “Sweet spiced apple, ginger, pepper, mandarin pith, summer apricot and jasmine tea. The palate is fat, slippery and oily, with apricot marmalade and cloudy apple juice in equal measure…it is delicious.”
When Peter and John Fogarty planted the first Viognier vines in 1996 at Millbrook Peter said, “I knew I wanted to produce a Côte Rotie style of red, usually about 95% Shiraz and 5% Viognier, as Millbrook was very similar to the Northern Rhône in altitude and soils, with a cooling breeze on hot days from the river valley.”
Head Chef Guy Jeffreys has even produced two exquisite dishes on the menu at the Millbrook Restaurant to showcase this flagship wine; an autumn vegetable caponata with confit duck leg and sage oil or BBQ peppers and tomato jam with roast beef rump cap and ricotta.