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Yesterday’s Grapes for Today’s Wine

The challenge of the Mollard and Espanenc varieties, two Ark of Taste passengers

Yann de Agostini, a professional vintner with extensive experience in the world of wine, works independently in the Domaine du Petit Août in the Theus commune of the Hautes-Alpes. In 2013, he made the transition to organic viticulture and has now developed even further, working with traditional grape varieties; it is in tradition that Yann has decided to invest his time and energy.


The Mollard and Espanenc (also known as Plant Droit) grapes are two traditional varieties from the Hautes-Alpes area of France. This territory is mostly untouched by disease, thanks to the wind that often blows through the region. Although the indigenous grapes are less sensitive to diseases like oidium (a fungal disease), this area is primarily home to more productive grape varieties like Chardonnay and Merlot. In the past, villagers would cultivate Mollard for personal consumption. Thus, the grapes could be found on parts of the land not even belonging to vintners. This grape’s productivity and resistance have allowed it to survive on its own in this region throughout the years.




Although some people claim that the Espanenc variety is indigenous to Vaucluse or Languedoc, its origins can be traced back to the Upper Durance Valley, where Yann’s land is found. Whatever the case, Espanenc is never vinified on its own, but always blended with other varieties. The only uniform plot of land containing the old surviving vines can be found in Remollon, a town close to Yann’s property. This plot of land produces grapes that are taken to the wine co-op where they are blended.


Vinified in this way, the wine is not very profitable. Therefore, it risks being replaced by other varieties. Yann’s interest in Mollard and Espanenc is due to their association with the terroir, which is evident in the final result: there is a direct relationship between Mollard and the terroir which gives the wine hints of morels and fresh pepper. In 1863, in the Bulletin de la Société d’études des Hautes-Alpes, Jules Guyot placed this variety somewhere between Gamay and Mandeuse varieties from the Savoie area.


In order to save this close association between the grape and the terroir, and also to develop the potential of these two varieties, Yann hopes to plant new parcels of Mollard and Plant Droit. However, in order to do so he has to deforest the mountain. This is why he has launched a crowdfunding campaign on the website Fundovino, where the donations will allow him to develop the project in two steps: clearing and planting of 0.5 acres of Mollard in May, 2016; and clearing and planting of 0.2 acres of Espanenc in May, 2017.


The terrain that must be cleared in order to replant these historical varieties was cultivated about 30 years ago. In fact, after a dam was built in the 1950s, fruit growing developed in the plains and the vines have survived along the coasts of the Durance River. In the 1950s, there were four co-ops that preferred quantity over quality, as the grapes were bought by the pound. The wines were thus sold in tanks and then mixed. But this overproduction led the state to agree to premiums for uprooting in the 1970s, and this parcel was therefore abandoned.


Helping Yann means helping to preserve the local agricultural biodiversity. Mollard and Espanenc grapes create light and fine wines (with a low alcohol content, ranging between 11 and 12 percent). The wine is quite fruity and low in tannins with notes of red berries and just a hint of pepper. These wines are easy to drink and pair perfectly with meat dishes, with the hints of pepper and acidity helping to lighten the food. They can also accompany lamb, depending on how it is prepared: a perfect dish is lamb stew with eggplant and prunes. Yann also makes a rosé wine with the Mollard grapes.


The Ark of Taste

Mollard and Espanenc are two traditional grape varieties found on the Ark of Taste, thanks to the Slow Food de Gap Convivium. The Ark of Taste is a Slow Food project that allows us to identify high-quality products in danger of disappearing. They can be plant species, animal breeds or artisanal foods that are tied to the cultures, histories and traditions of the communities of the world. This common heritage also builds up biodiversity and must be preserved. Today in France, the Ark has identified about 100 products, while there are more than 2,800 products from all over the world. Everyone can contribute to this project by nominating a product!


Updates from the Ark can be followed on Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity and Slow Food in France websites.

By supporting Yann’s project with a donation, you too can help us contribute to the preservation of a small part of the biodiversity in the Hautes-Alpes region of France!