Wines by Region / Hautes Alpes
The Hautes-Alpes is a picturesque wine region, located on the eastern side of France between Savoie and Provence, whose wines are rarely seen in the United States. It is an IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée—formerly Vin de Pays) and also the name of the French department whose capital and nearest large city is Gap. The region sits next to the Drome department, home of both Clairette de Die and Crozes Hermitage—although both are well over an hour away. With the Alps in the distance, this is a visually spectacular region. The valleys are lined with apple and pear trees, and brightly painted houses precariously stand along the steep sloped hills. The Hautes-Alpes is well known for its cycling climbs, and the Tour de France passes through the mountains of the department nearly every year.
The vines here are some of the highest in France at 600-700 meters altitude. The weather is not as hot as in Provence and is drier than in Savoie. Near harvest time, there is a huge difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. The soil is composed of well-draining clay and limestone. Other vineyards contain more stones and sand, helping to give the wines a nice streak of acidity. But what really sets apart the Hautes-Alpes from other regions in France is the wacky and wonderful Mollard grape, grown exclusively in this region. Mollard is a red grape that probably takes its name from the French mol or soft. (Oddly, it is also French slang for lugey, as in “hock a lugey”). Mollard reaches just 12.5% alcohol in hot years, but its tannins are often ripe at only 11%. The wine normally has good ruby color, with aromas of dark fruit, spice and pepper. If you envision a light Mondeuse from Bugey crossed with Gamay from the Roannaise, you start to get the idea.
In the early 1990’s this grape (like many others of its kind) was on the precipice of dying off, when traditional local winemaker Marc Allemand decided someone had to do something to preserve it (and biodiversity of wine regions in general). Together with scientists from the Institut Français de la Vigne, he chose two plants that would reproduce and be responsible for the salvation of the almost-extinct Mollard grape. It was a victory on behalf of neglected indigenous grapes around the world, and in 2005 Mollard was once again listed in the catalog of certified French grape varieties. To this day Allemand remains a champion for the grape, as well as the owner of these plantings from which all other plantings are to be taken.
Our very special producer from the Hautes-Alpes, Domaine du Petit Août, in fact received his original parcels of Mollard from these Allemand plantings. Using those and some of his own parcels, he brings us three wines: a white called Sur le Fil (made from Roussanne and Clairette), a rosé of 100% Mollard, a red called La Memoire Neuve and made from 100% Mollard, and a red blend called La Vie Est Pleine des Surprises.