Imagine slopes so steep you're afraid to disturb the topsoil for fear of having the ground literally erode beneath your feet. Now imagine that same slope, what would otherwise be crumbling scree, planted with rows of pole-trained grape vines each six feet high. This is the property of Franck Peillot, a rugged, fifth-generation vigneron from Bugey-Montagnieu. Very few people in the world make a still wine that is 100% Altesse. I mean very few, like a handful. And those who do are all clustered in the Savoie (pronounced SAH-vwa), a little part of France near Switzerland, high in the shadow of the Alps. The grape, like the people of this region, has a distinct character not amenable to lower, warmer climates. Exposure to small amounts of humidity or any prolonged warmth and the fruit will rot on the vine.
Not so in the hands of Franck Peillot, who has made this grape his calling card. His white, known as Roussette du Bugey, is technically allowed to contain, well... anything really. But Franck is proud of this little grape, believes it's a part of his heritage and a signature for the region. Which is why the word Altesse is blazoned so prominently on the bottle. And why he goes to great lengths to produce a varietal wine where nearly no one else will.
But neither is Altesse the only strange beauty coming out of the cellars of M. Peillot. Where his Altesse is abstract and aloof, his Mondeuse (pronounced mon-DOES) is solid material. They're complimentary pairs. Two angles of a straight line. Together they make up the character of Savoie wine, especially in this corner of Bugey-Montagnieu, the village in which Peillot works. Both are rustic, both indigenous to the area, but differentiated too. The Mondeuse is a near-relative of Syrah, sturdy and textural, only lighter and later ripening than Syrah and better adapted to the altitude.
See, this is the core beauty of the wine world as I see it: beneath all the points ratings and million-dollar ad campaigns, the men and women who farm their land with pride and self-possession, who aren't afraid to take risks because they believe in the mechanics of the tradition. Farm some grapes that are naturally adapted to the land you're farming, make sure the weather doesn't get in the way too much, dump the ripened grapes in a tank, keep it clean and let the juice rest for a while. Voilà!
It's not exactly magic, but with Franck Peillot, it's pretty damn close.