Alain Voge, the dedicated Rhône Valley vintner who helped develop the Cornas appellation, passed away yesterday at the age of 81. For more than 50 years, he made wine from Cornas and St.-Péray, helping preserve their hillside vineyards at a time when development threatened to erase them from the map.
"He was a huge talent. He found the right balance between the value of tradition and innovation," Lionel Fraisse, general manager of Voge's eponymous winery, told Wine Spectator. "He always worked toward getting the top quality through precision and details for the best expression of the terroir. He really believed in Cornas."
Voge had a humble start in the Rhône. His grandfather acquired farming land in 1905, and the family worked as fruit merchants and grapegrowers, gradually buying more land. In 1960, following military service, Alain returned to the family farm at age 21. Five years later, his father died prematurely, leaving young Alain and his mother in charge.
With his new responsibilities, his interest in winegrowing expanded. When the opportunity arose to break with the négociant who had been buying his wine in bulk, Voge took a chance and began bottling his own wine, showing an entrepreneurial spirit that would define his career.
"He was really talented in the commercialization of his wines," said Fraisse. "He developed a good balance between the domestic market and exports, and introduced his wines to the top chefs and sommeliers."
Like most winemakers at this time, Voge was self-taught, and he took the initiative to broaden his knowledge and palate, tasting alongside top sommeliers in Lyon and Paris. He was also an early and vocal defender of his terroir. In the 1970s he became known for defending Cornas against urbanization.
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At the time, Voge still had other businesses, including a plant nursery and distillery. But by 1980, he closed those down to focus entirely on wine. Cornas is not the easiest place to do so. It is famous for its steep slopes, terraced vineyards and labor-intensive faming. But in that challenging landscape, Voge saw potential. "He was looking for freshness in the wines," said Fraisse. "So he planted high, at [1,300 feet] in Cornas. Now, with climate change, we're very pleased to have that freshness."
Today the estate has 30 acres under vine and also sources grapes from 7.5 nearby acres, producing around 7,000 cases each year.
With an eye on the future, Voge took on Michel Chapoutier as an investor in 2004. At the same time, Albéric Mazoyer arrived as technical director. Mazoyer had previously worked for Chapoutier and was eager to transition the Voge estate to organic farming. By 2016, the entire estate was certified organic. Fraisse joined the company in 2012 and became general manager in 2018, taking over from Mazoyer. The estate's Cornas Les Vieilles Fontaines bottling has become a benchmark for the appellation, earning 97 points from Wine Spectator in both the 2016 and 2015 vintages.
Voge is survived by his daughter Nathalie, a teacher who became involved in the strategic management of the estate a few years ago. Today the land is owned by the Voge family, and ownership of the commercial company is split between Voge, Chapoutier and Fraisse.