The Mâconnais is sprawling (the largest white wine producing region in Burgundy); the Mâconnais is inclusive (red, white and rosé wines may all wear the Mâcon label); the Mâconnais is ancient (Mâcon was a major crossroads in Roman times, where Celtic grape vines already grew), and above all, the Mâconnais is a region ripe for rediscovery. Beyond a few appellations that have always stood head, tails and critic-scores above the rest—think Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran—the average Mâconnais vigneron, who had previously been content with producing fresh, crisp, inexpensive bistro wines, has spent the last couple of decades waking up to opportunity. Today, the quality bar has been raised exponentially while bottle prices still lag delightfully behind.
This week’s package includes a quartet of elite regional producers. Some of these appellations will be familiar, others may be less so, but all represent the Mâcon renaissance and its recent release of untapped potential.
Mâcon has plenty of natural advantages; south of the Côte Chalonnaise and north of Beaujolais, its picturesque landscape of little hills and valleys enjoys ample sunshine and a moderate climate above rich limestone and marl soils left in the wake of a prehistoric sea. This makes it extraordinary Chardonnay country, capable of expressing two faces of Burgundy’s workhorse white—bright acidity and abundant minerality when planted on limestone become rich and fruit-forward when the vines are planted on fertile clay. This lack of a single unifying style has made a grasp of specific locality vital in an appreciation of the Mâconnais appellation overall; there will always be a place in the price-point heart for somewhat generic, often co-op produced Chardonnay, which may end up on the wine lists of restaurants that are likewise, somewhat generic. But the true face of terroir hides beneath any mass-produced wine, including those that wear a simple ‘Mâcon’ label. For the purpose of true distinction between styles and expressions, we must dig deeper and root out producers who are doing more and more with the ground beneath their feet.
Among the flavor notes to look for in this week’s wines is a quality known as salinity. It is not exactly saltiness, but closer to a fierce minerality that puckers the mouth and whets a thirst for more. It may give an impression of seashells or pavement after a rain, and it often melds with earthy, floral and herbal flavors. It is a quality that seems to be appearing more and more in the white wines of Mâcon, especially in the 2020 and 2021 vintages.
The Mâconnais encompasses a six-mile by twenty-mile strip of vines between Sennecey-le-Grand and Saint-Vérand. The region nestles between two valleys with the Grosne to the west and the Saône to the east. This allows plenty of room for soils to undulate and change, and the region is subdivided into a number of important appellations beyond the all-inclusive ‘Mâcon’ which can be released as white, red or pink. ‘Mâcon-Villages’ is used only for white wines.
And then it gets wacky: Mâcon plus a village name, such as Mâcon-Prissé and Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine, is not the same as ‘Mâcon-Villages’—these hyphenated wines occupy a higher tier in the hierarchy and some, like Azé and Saint-Gengoux-le-National, are allowed to produce red and rosé while Serrières can only produce red and rosé.
Pouilly-Fuissé, (a white wine appellation with the junior partners Pouilly-Loché and Pouilly-Vinzelles) contains Mâcon’s only Premier and Grand Crus. Saint-Véran is a white wine appellation that covers most of the vineyards that used to make white Beaujolais.
With steadily rising temperatures and the havoc caused by increasingly severe weather patterns, a sudden new question arises: How quickly must the Mâconnaise adopt a ‘do or die’ ethos? Burgundy’s wine industry is facing tough climate-related decisions across the board, and most of the answers will require trading tradition for innovation, up to and including replacing old Chardonnay clones with newer ones, and—blasphemy to some—replacing some Chardonnay acres with frost-resistant varieties like Aligoté, whose high acidity could be a solution for retaining freshness in the region’s whites.
There is an upside to this upset grape-cart, though—mid-slope regions with good exposure and drainage have always been prized vineland. But in times of drought, drainage is not the problem: Water retention is. Now, plots that were previously deemed ‘lesser’ due to clay soils at the bottom of slopes and cooler sites on the top of slopes are beginning to produce high quality wine grapes. Drought is also putting a premium on older vines, whose root systems are deep enough to reach water reserves. Many of the Mâconnais wines featured in this week’s package make a special mention of the age of their vineyards—a nod toward a vine’s increasing natural stability as it ages, enabling it to withstand more extreme temperatures.
Five-Bottle Package $218
Christine (née Michelin) and Roger Saumaize may exemplify a new generation of Mâcon winemakers tending relative small plots of excellent terroir and engaged upon an organic quest for sustainability. With 25 acres of vines, mostly in the Vergisson area of Pouilly-Fuissé (which can come from four villages; Solutré-Pouilly, Fuissé, Vergisson and Chaintré) they produce ten Pouilly-Fuissés, two Saint-Vérans, one Viré-Clessé and two Mâcons.
The couple maintains that their first goal is ‘the optimum expression of terroir’, to which Roger adds, “Our vines average 50 years old and the philosophy of our farming is to capture the energy of the place. All the grapes are hand-harvested and, depending on the vintage and parcel, may be picked in several passes. Our work in the cellar is very straight-forward; there is a gentle and slow pressing in two pneumatic presses. After the juice has settled for a day, it’s moved right into barrel for fermentation and aging. Wines are aged on the lees with occasional stirring for twelve months.”
West of the town of Mâcon, the land rises to form a series of hills; Mont de Pouilly gives the region its name, but rocky outcrops of Solutré and Vergisson play a more prominent role in the remarkable terroir of Pouilly-Fuissé. The vines are planted all around these two hills on clay-limestone soils mixed with upslope scree. Steep-sided streams give these slopes an ideal easterly or south-easterly exposure. Granted Premier Cru designation in September 2020, there are currently 22 climats entitled to wear this label: The finest Pouilly-Fuissés easily rival the best wines of the Côte de Beaune.
A typical Pouilly-Fuissé showcases citrus and peach notes as well as some minerality; oak-barrel aging may leave an impression of smoke on the aftertaste.
Domaine Saumaize-Michelin, 2021 Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru Sur la Roche ($57)
From a four-acre parcel on the slopes of the Vergisson Rock, ‘Sur la Roche’ benefits from a southern exposure. Produced from the oldest site on the estate where the vines are nearly a century old, Sur La Roche Premier Cru has a gorgeous bouquet filled with white tea and wild peach on the nose and a creamy/crisp palate with beautifully-defined minerality.
Domaine Saumaize-Michelin, 2021 Pouilly-Fuissé ‘Pentacrine’ ($43)
The name ‘Pentacrine’ is derived from a small marine star-shaped fossil found in some soils around the Rock of Vergisson and this cuvée blends grapes from five different parcels grown on a limestone base. It is vinified in large demi-muids to enhance and preserve freshness in the wine. It works: The elegant notes of white flowers, citrus and exotic fruits balance the minerality of the exceptional terroir, softened delicately by subtle toasty notes from the oak.
Domaine Saumaize-Michelin, 2020 Pouilly-Fuissé ‘Les Ronchevats’ ($42)
‘Les Ronchevats’, grown on Triassic clay soils, has been renamed ‘Aux Charmes’ for the 2021 vintage, but the vines are the same. The 2020 expresses an airy nose of grapefruit spiked by hints of spice, wood and a slightly honeyed back note.
Saint-Véran is made in any one of four Mâconnais villages, Chasselas, Leynes, Chânes and Saint-Véran itself, forming a sort of belt around Pouilly-Fuissé. This creates two separate islands on slopes of the hill chain to which the famous Rock of Solutré belongs. This rocky backbone is made of fossiliferous limestone from the Middle Jurassic; on the Western side are older rocks covered with grey marls on which the vineyards of Chasselas and Leynes can be found. The gentler east-facing slopes are composed of marly limestones on which are found the vineyards of Prissé and Davayé. At Chânes and Prissé, on the left bank of the little river Grosne, the vines grow on fossiliferous limestones, often overlain by a layer of clay and flint. This latter terroir in particular leads to the gunsmoke notes that may appear in Saint-Véran, often over peach, pear and more exotic hints of honeysuckle and cinnamon butter.
Domaine Saumaize-Michelin, 2021 Saint-Véran ‘Les Crèches’ ($38)
Les Crèches lieu-dit, situated in Davayé, is planted on limestone-based soils that contain a quantity of soft chalk. The wine blends two parcels; one 40 years old and the other over 60. The older vines bring subtlety and depth while the younger vines bring minerality and freshness. 100% barrel fermented, then aged 12 months in 228-liter French oak barrels; bâtonnage is done once every 10 days for 9 months while the must ages on fine lees. The wine displays aromas of pear, citrus oil and white flowers girdled by bright acids.
These hyphenated cousins form a triangle just to the west of the village of Pouilly Fuissé and share some characteristics: The wine they produce shows sophisticated aromas of lemon and citrus blossom and the palate is often hedonistic, with candied stone fruit braced by acidity. The palate often resolves itself with a subtle salinity.
Vergisson is found at the heart of the escarpments of the southern Mâconnais atop the rounded hilltop of the Rock of Vergisson, at the edge of the village of Prissé and the Saint-Véran appellation.
The limestone terraces of Solutré are built up from fossilized coral reefs laid down by a shallow, warm sea in a tropical climate some 170 million years ago. As well as Pouilly-Fuissé, Solutré-Pouilly also falls under the Saint-Véran appellation which runs from Solutré-Pouilly to the commune of Saint-Véran further south.
The terroir of Davayé is limited to the east by the Petite Grosne river; the Mâcon-Davayé appellation is located close by the river alongside the vines of Saint-Véran.
Domaine Saumaize-Michelin, 2021 Mâcon-Vergisson ‘Sur la Roche’ ($38)
From 25-year-old vines on the northeast side of the Roche de Vergisson grown in three distinct parcels—two with a limestone base and the third on clay. It displays a perfumed nose of acacia and peach skin and nice acid-sharp, lemony palate with a touch of ginger offering spice on the finish.
Three-Bottle Package $208
Domaine du Roc des Boutires is named in part for the iconic limestone escarpment five miles west of Mâcon that overlooks the commune of Solutré-Pouilly and also for the superb ‘Aux Bouthières’ vineyard. The estate draws from 14 terroirs spread over Pouilly hillsides and was purchased in 2017 by the Parinet family, best known for Château du Moulin-à-Vent.
Winemaker/viticulturist Brice Laffond came along from Beaujolais for the new experiment, bringing with him the techniques he favors: “Harvest, done entirely by hand, usually lasts four days and grapes are taken to the fermentation tanks in 40-liter cases—vinification follows a single-vineyard approach. The berries are driven to the pressoir by gravity, immediately pressed with the whole bunch in order to filtrate the best and most natural way possible. Once the ‘pressurage’ is done, the juices are cooled down to 8°C for two days to make the particles fall in the tank. The cold débourbage enables us to preserve the best quality and primary aromas. Malolactic fermentation is allowed to happen naturally; bâtonnages are few and aging is in barrels or tanks depending on the profile of the vintage.”
Domaine du Roc des Boutires, 2020 Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru Aux Bouthières ($89)
From 75-year-old vines grown at 900 feet, the domain tends 1.6 acres of the ‘Aux Bouthières’ climat where soils are deep clay interlaced with shale. The vineyard was officially classified as Premier Cru in 2020. A classic Pouilly-Fuissé profile blending lemon and peach flavors shored by subtle, oak-driven honey behind layers of salinity.
Domaine du Roc des Boutires, 2020 Pouilly-Fuissé ‘en Bertilionne’ ($73)
The grapes originate in the lieu-dit ‘Bertilionne’, a small plot of east-facing, 35-year-old vines directly in front of the Roche de Solutré. The wine is crisp and rich, leaning toward tropical fruit hints with pineapple and vanilla notes behind a silken stone-fruit palate.
Domaine du Roc des Boutires, 2020 Mâcon-Solutré ($46)
From the lieux-dits ‘Au Mont’ and ‘Aux Combes’, where the domain has an acre and a half of vineyards with a south/southeast exposure. At around 1400 feet, these 40-year-old vines grow at the highest elevation in the AOP. The grapes are whole-bunch pressed and allowed a cold maceration to extract essence; the wine then ages for a year on fine lees. It shows peach, apricot, lemon cream and vanilla.
Three-Bottle Package $85
De la Croix Senaillet takes its name from a cross donated by an old village mayor, Benoit Senaillet. Brothers Richard and Stéphane Martin both own and work 60 plots as part of the ‘Grand Site de France’ vineyards of Solutré , Pouilly and Vergisson, although the bulk of their land is in Saint-Véran. The vines, entirely Chardonnay, average 40 years old and face the rising sun on gentle slopes extending from the eastern faces of Solutré and Vergisson.
“Our soil is marly chalk from the middle and upper Jurassic period,” says Stéphane, who oversees the vineyard. “With this comes a slight alteration of clay silt that can be carried along the slopes by rainwater. When this happens the soil is quite shallow and mainly chalky at the top of the slope and deeper with more clay at the bottom.”
Richard, in charge of sales and winemaking, adds, “We farm along strict organic principals, but also with an eye to growth. Since take over from our father Martin, we’ve grown our family holdings from 6 to 25 hectares (15 to 62 acres), with the majority of expansion in the Davayé commune. We like to think our wines offer tremendous value from a region that is seeing prices escalate.”
Domaine de la Croix Senaillet, 2020 Pouilly-Fuissé ($37)
Very low yielding 70-year-old vines from the villages of Solutré and Fuissé, planted on a south and northeast-facing parcel of Jurassic-era limestone mixed with platy marl. Harvest is done at full maturity followed by destemming and slow pneumatic pressing. Fermentation takes places in demi-muids; the wine is aged on the lees for 10 months. It is entirely unoaked and shows chamomile on the nose with litchi and citrus with hints of spice.
Domaine de la Croix Senaillet, 2020 Saint-Véran ($26)
Produced from a selection of 40 parcels spread over 42 acres, including Maillettes, Bergades, Poncétys, Terres Noires, Pommards, Chênes, Surigny, Prâgnes, Bruyère, Chailloux, all with southeastern exposures. The wine shows pear, licorice and thyme on the nose, with a plate of citrus, orchard fruit, melon, and sweet peach with underlying salinity.
Domaine de la Croix Senaillet, 2020 Mâcon Davayé ($22)
Produced from eight different parcels that spread over 13 acres; the vines are middle-aged at 30 years. Minimal intervention is employed—destemming, slow press, slow fermentation, natural malolactic and aging on the lees, yielding notes of litchi and citrus up front, with lemon mint and apple providing an appealing crunchiness and a persistence in the mouth.
Three-Bottle Package $149 (recent arrival included)
After studying viticulture and oenology, Pierrette Michel and her husband Marc Guillemot returned to the estate of Pierrette’s parents, who ran a small domain located in Quintaine, between the villages of Viré and Clessé in the heart of the Viré-Clessé appellation—one of the three Mâconnais crus. In 1985, the couple bottled their first vintage under the name ‘Guillemot-Michel.’
Guillemot-Michel vines were farmed organically from the beginning, Demeter certified from 1991 to 2017 and in 2018 obtained Biodyvin certification.
In 2012, Pierrette and Marc’s daughter Sophie, along with her husband Gautier, joined the team and are currently in the process of a gradual takeover of the estate’s management. Together, they care for 16 acres of old-vine Chardonnay between 55 and 60 years old.
According to Pierrette Michel, “Our work in biodynamics aims first of all to maintain a living soil, by mechanical and non-chemical maintenance, and by the refusal of any synthetic phytosanitary product during treatments, in favor of mineral substances and herbal preparations. These preparations are made at the estate or in groups with other winegrowers. We grow some of the plants used (yarrow, horsetail, nettle, alfalfa, valerian, comfrey, thyme, oregano, savory, etc.) or collect wild plants.”
Marc adds, “In the cellar, we limit our interventions to what is strictly necessary, thanks to an optimal quality of harvest. When ripe, the grapes are picked by hand and then gently pressed. The musts are decanted cold overnight to separate the clear juices from the lees. The alcoholic and malolactic fermentations take place naturally in concrete vats thanks to indigenous yeasts and bacteria. After fermentation, the wine is kept on the lees until bottling, in early summer.”
The appellation Viré-Clessé only received official recognition in 1998 and was the first appellation village to be formed from outstanding terroirs within the AOP Mâcon-Villages. Viré and Clessé are two communes in southern Burgundy lying between Tournus and Mâcon. Because the wines of the two villages closely resemble each other in typicity, it was decided to form them into a single appellation, although the terroirs included in it were subjected to a rigorous selection process. Viré and Clessé also produce wines of the appellations Mâcon, Bourgogne and Mâcon-Villages. The names Mâcon-Viré and Mâcon-Clessé have been in disuse since 2002.
Sophie et Gautier Guillemot-Michel ”Retour à la Terre’, 2020 Viré-Clessé ($62)
2020 was an early vintage with near-perfect growing conditions, although with little rainfall. The clay-rich terroir of Retour à la Terre retains water, perfectly withstanding such dry vintages. From 64-year-old vines grown on rootstock that yields tiny, flavor-packed berries, this 100% Chardonnay is fermented and matured solely in 800-litre terracotta amphorae. Citrus, stone fruit, hay and white flowers lead to bright acidity and brine on the finish.
Sophie et Gautier Guillemot-Michel, 2020 Viré-Clessé ‘Quintaine’ ($40)
100% Chardonnay, the 2020 Viré-Clessé ‘Quintaine’ has a balanced edge of sweet and saltiness, showing citrus zest, white flowers and crisp melon above a layered fruit/mineral palate. A beautifully balanced and vibrant wine from a warm vintage that will richly reward the allowance of some bottle age.
The main difference between a Crémant and a Champagne is the origin of its region of production; both benefit from an Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) and their techniques are highly regulated—among the requirements for both is an adherence to the traditional method (called ‘Champenoise’ in Champagne and ‘Traditionelle’ elsewhere), which requires the addition of sugar and dosage. For their vintage cuvée ‘Une Bulle’ (‘a bubble’), Sophie and Gautier have opted to use Ancestral Method, where only the natural grape sugars are used. As such, it is not allowed to call itself Crémant and is labeled ‘VdF Vin Mousseux’.
Sophie et Gautier Guillemot-Michel ‘Une Bulle’, 2019 VdF Vin Mousseux Brut ‘Méthode Ancestrale’ ($49)
Sophie offers details: “In order to be able to harvest grapes at maturity and not to add exogenous sugars, our Une Bulle cuvée is produced by us according to the ‘Ancestral Method.’ In this method, only the natural sugars of the grape are used, so we harvest grapes that are around 2% more mature that we would use for Crémant, making them less acidic and more aromatic. The grapes are brought in on the first day of the harvest at a potential degree of around 12.5. They are pressed, settled and begin their fermentation in vats. After a few days of fermentation, when there is just enough sugar left to produce the quantity of gas expected in the bottle, leaving a slight residual sugar for gluttony, the must is bottled.”
Gautier picks up the story from there: “The prize ‘de mousse’ then takes place; the gas produced by the fermentation is locked in the bottle, producing bubbles. We have chosen to let ‘Une Bulle’ age on slats for at least 15 months (like a Champagne) before disgorging. During this period, the wine evolves and is enriched in contact with the yeasts locked in the bottle. After 15 to 24 months of aging on slats, ‘Une Bulle’ is stirred and then disgorged: We do not use dosage liqueur since the natural sugars of the grapes serve as this. As a general rule, batches disgorged at 16-19 months present a little more tension and fresher notes (pear), while batches disgorged late present more fullness and riper notes (quince).”
Subscribe to our bimonthly Champagne Club. Please, call us at 248-398-0030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
As a member of The Champagne Society, you’re in a select community of like-minded folks who appreciate the exceptional in life and recognize that sparkling wine is a superlative among man’s culinary creations. A bottle of Champagne is selected for you bimonthly. You will be drinking some of the best Champagne ever produced.
All selected wines are from passionate grower-producers or small houses deeply connected to the subtleties of each of their vine parcels and who believe that wine is made in the vineyard. Many of these wines are highly allocated, many bought directly, and we quite often only have access to a few cases of a particular cuvée.
As a member of The Champagne Society expect the following benefits:
• The selected Champagne quite often is not available in any other wine shop in Michigan and only in a few places, if any, in the country. We compete with savvy wine buyers in the European and the Far East markets to secure some of the allocations from these sought-after makers.
• The selection is released every other month and ready for pickup by the 10th of that month, or shipped if you prefer. Expect a new bottle in February, April, June, August, October and December.
• The price is always less than $100 and reflects 15% discount of the store price when we have additional quantities to sell to non-members. Champagne available, members may purchase any number of additional bottles at the same discounted price.
• We notify you via email when the installment selection is released in a newsletter that profiles the producer and the cuvée chosen. The newsletter is also posted on www.eliewine.com . Only then your credit card is charged and you are sent a separate purchase receipt.
• You can pause or cancel your membership at any time.
The Coteaux Sud d’Épernay
Premier Cru Pierry In Two Bottles ($97)
Champagne Pascal Lejeune ‘N°4 – OXYMORE’ Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir) Brut
Champagne Pascal Lejeune ‘N°2 – ANAPHORE’ Premier Cru Pierry Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) Extra-Brut
The soul of Champagne has always been finesse, and a Cellar Master’s decision to balance blends (in a search for complementary aromas and personalities) or to bottle a single variety is intended to be a statement. Listening to the winemaker’s voice in different incarnations of the same art form is to enjoy an ever-changing dialogue between man and grape.
It’s our normal practice to send out a single bottle as a bimonthly presentation, but this month, it will be two—one Blanc de Blanc and one Blanc de Noir—from Champagne Pascal Lejeune. Taste them individually or side-by-side; each is a unique reflection of Pascal and Sandrine Lejeune’s commitment to terroir expression through organic cultivation.
Listen to the conversation with your nose and palate and decide which one resonates best with your personality. Club members receive an additional 10% discount of the already discounted prices, so make sure your Labor Day get-together is well fueled with ice-breakers.
The permutations of Champagne are as varied as its terroir, but in the exploration, facts keep popping up in triads: In the favored grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Meunier), in styles (Blanc de Noirs, Blanc de Blancs, Rosé) and in varying level, in dosage (Brut, Sec and Doux). There are strata in each of these categories, of course, but you get the picture.
Now the trio of Pascal, Sandrine and Thibaut Lejeune (a dad, mom and son team) from the Coteaux Sud d’Épernay, are excelling in the production wines from three categories: Village level, lieu-dit (monoparcellaire) level and a cépage made of grapes from the three villages where they grow fruit, Épernay, Moussy and Vinay.
A new addition to our Champagne portfolio, Champagne Pascal Lejeune is a small grower/bottler whose reputation is as solid as the output is small. These wines represent both a spirit of renewability in an age-old product and some of the most terroir-reflective Champagnes we’ve tasted.
The Reims-based Union de Maisons de Champagne names 17 ‘terroirs’ in Champagne; among them, on the left bank of the Marne river, is Côteaux Sud d’Épernay. As the name suggests, it occupies the slopes (côteaux) south of Épernay. These slopes are formed by three streams (another triad), Le Cubry, Le Darcy, and Le Mancy. Le Cubry empties into the Marne at Épernay, and forms the valley that runs to the southwest and further west to Saint-Martin-d’Ablois. Le Darcy is a tributary of Le Cubry that empties into the latter at Pierry and Le Mancy is a tributary of Le Darcy that empties into it in the northern part of the Mancy commune.
Enough geography? On to grapes! The Coteaux Sud d’Épernay is fairly evenly balanced between Meunier at 46.7% and Chardonnay at 40.9%, with Pinot Noir making up the remainder. Somewhat simplified, it can be said that Chardonnay is most common in Épernay and in the valleys of Le Mancy and Le Darcy in the north and east, while Meunier prevails in the valley of Le Cubry (excluding Épernay) in the center and west.
Sandwiched between two powerhouse wine regions (Côte des Blancs and Vallée de la Marne), the Coteaux has an identity removed from either one. Its terroir is different from the clay-heavy soils of the Marne and it lacks the pure chalk that puts the ‘blanc’ in the Côte des Blancs.
In short, these Champagnes are uniquely situated to offer the best of both worlds. As a result, the Coteaux Sud d’Épernay has long fought for recognition as entity unto itself, not necessarily a sub-region of its big brothers on either side.
The current vineyard surface in the Coteaux Sud d’Épernay is a little over 3000 acres distributed among 878 vineyard owners in 11 communes.
Beating swords into ploughshares is a Biblical injection that Pascal Lejeune takes literally—he left his career in the military and gave himself to the vine. It didn’t hurt that he fell in love with a Champagne grower’s daughter: Pascal’s wife Sandrine hails from a family that has been growing grapevines in Moussy (where more than half of the vineyard’s grapevines are located) on the south-facing slopes of Épernay since 1910. Originally a side operation, not an essential part of the family’s activities, Sandrine’s great grandfather Edmond played an active part in creating the Moussy cooperative.
In 1995, when Pascal and Sandrine took the reins, their aim was to usher in a new era by enlarging the vineyard area into nearby terroirs, and by enriching the range of offerings via new cuvées: As a brand, Champagne Pascal Lejeune was born.
Says Pascal, “I believe I have a responsibility and commit myself collectively to our business and our terroir in order to perpetuate and monitor developments for our children and future generations. This requires a sincere respect for people, nature, our vines, our soils, and careful work in order to obtain quality grapes. To offer you the best that nature offers us, our vintages are very different, there is something for every occasion and taste… Nature does things well!”
This commitment to nature has been proven out over the past 17 years; Lejeune was one of the first producers in Champagne to plant specially-selected grass species between vine rows. Manual techniques are used for pruning, trellising and debudding. “The benefits of this special care can be observed,” says Sandrine. “Biodiversity is maintained, the soils are protected, the erosion is limited, and as the grapevine roots develop, the phytosanitary products have been significantly reduced.
Pascal adds: “Our aim is to give our soils the utmost respect in order to express the organoleptic qualities with authenticity and reveal the subtlety of our champagne. The culmination of these special treatments is, strictly speaking, the grape harvest, which is carried out entirely by hand, reflecting an entire year’s labor of love.”
Pascal and Sandrine are happy with the latest addition to their team, their son Thibaut, now a fifth-generation wine-grower, who joined the family business in 2015. Having completed his oenology and BAC qualification, he shares his father’s passion for grapevines and brings a fresh perspective to the family adventure, and offers a perspective on what he has taken on:
“Our three grape varieties spread out across a mosaic of 42 plots, 64% of our vines are Meunier. Otherwise, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir represent respectively 25% and 11% of the whole vineyard.”
The Premier Cru village of Pierry is located immediately to the south of Épernay at the foot of southeast-facing slopes where the vineyards are located. The stream Le Cubry, which forms the valley runs just below the village and continues to the west, emptying into the Marne River at Épernay. Within Pierry, single vineyard sites include Cantuel, Les Chevernets, Les Gayères, Les Gouttes d’Or, Les Noues, Les Porgeons, Les Rouges Fosses, and Les Tartières.
In the now-defunct ‘échelles des crus’ system, Pierry’s former rating of 90% makes it a Premier Cru village, the only commune in the Coteaux Sud d’Épernay to be so classified. (Its three neighbouring communes in the same area were rated 88%.) The terroir explains it, and a local saying is, “Pierry est Pierreux…” Pierry is stony, dominated by flint and chalk, and this minerality carries through to the wine.
Pierry’s current vineyard surface is 270 acres; half Meunier, 32% Chardonnay and 18% Pinot Noir. There are 125 vineyard owners in the commune.
nv Champagne Pascal Lejeune ‘Figure de Style N°4 – OXYMORE’ Brut ($52)
100% Meunier, 40% from the 2019 harvest, 60% reserve wine from 2018; the wine undergoes partial malolactic and 30% barrel ages with regular lees stirring. Dosage is to Brut level; 8g/l. The wine is plump and bold with rich notes of raspberry and stone fruit underlined by cassia and clove, all characteristics of the Meunier grape. 1255 bottles made. Disgorged February 2023.
Less than 30% of Champagne’s 84,000 low, densely-planted acres are Chardonnay, the grape that lords of Burgundian white wine. In cool climates north of Burgundy, however, Chardonnay demands well-favored sites and thrives best on the south- and east-facing chalky slopes of the Côte des Blancs south of Épernay.
nv Champagne Pascal Lejeune ‘Figure de Style N°2 – ANAPHORE’ Blanc de Blancs Extra-Brut ($56)
100% Chardonnay, all from the 2019 harvest; the wine ages in 30% oak barrels for ten months with regular stirring of lees. Dosage is to the level of Extra Brut, 4g/l, using homemade liquor distilled from the three grape varieties used in Champagne. The wine displays complex aromas of lime, sweet Meyer lemon and golden apple. 1235 bottles made. Disgorged February 2023.
The vineyards of Vinay in the Vallée de la Marne, are located both on the slope southwest of Épernay formed by the valley of the stream Le Cubry, and also, in part, below the slope. The vineyards face south-south east, and Meunier is the most common grape variety found. The vineyards are continuous with those in Moussy and Saint-Martin-d’Ablois. The 365 acres are owned by 102 individual ‘exploitants.’
A ‘parcel’ is site-specific, synonymous with ‘lieu-dit’ as used in Burgundy—a named group of exceptionally emblematic vine. It is estimated that there are 84,000 of these named parcels throughout Champagne. ‘Les Longs Martins’ is one.
nv Champagne Pascal Lejeune ‘Figure de Style N°6 – ANALOGIE’ Rosé de Saignée Zéro Dosage ($74)
From the organic lieu-dit ‘Les Longs Martins’, this saignée is 100% Pinot Noir from vines that average 25 years old grown in clay, silt, sand and marne limestone. Maceration lasted ten hours, and no malolactic fermentation occurred, leaving the crisp acids intact along with notes of brioche, sweet pastry, vanilla, ripe forest berries and raspberry coulis. Only 638 bottles made. Disgorged December 2022.
Of the 18 communes in the canton ‘Épernay-2’, the triad that produces grapes for Style N°1 each brings its own special spice to the party.
nv Champagne Pascal Lejeune ‘Figure de Style N°1 – METONYMIE’ Extra-Brut ($44)
59% Pinot Meunier, 32% Chardonnay, 9% Pinot noir from vines that average thirty years old and grown on a south-southeast exposure. 39% of the harvest in this wine came from 2019, the rest from 2018; malolactic only touches the 2018. These grapes originate in the three communes of Vinay, Moussy and Épernay and provide beautifully focused aromas of apple, caramel, stones and minerals. 13,785 bottles made. Disgorged December 2022.
In France, under Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) rules, vintage Champagnes must be aged for three years—more than twice the required aging time for NV Champagne. The additional years on the yeast is said to add complexity and texture to the finished wine, and the price commanded by Vintage Champagne may in part be accounted for by the cellar space the wine takes up while aging.
On the other hand, a Champagne maker might prefer to release wine from a single vintage without the aging requirement; the freshness inherent in non-vintage Champagnes is one of its effervescent highlights. In this case, the wine label may announce the year, but the Champagne itself is referred to as ‘Single Harvest’ rather than ‘Vintage’.
To be Champagne is to be an aristocrat. Your origins may be humble and your feet may be in the dirt; your hands are scarred from pruning and your back aches from moving barrels. But your head is always in the stars.
As such, the struggle to preserve its identity has been at the heart of Champagne’s self-confidence. Although the Champagne controlled designation of origin (AOC) wasn’t recognized until 1936, defense of the designation by its producers goes back much further. Since the first bubble burst in the first glass of sparkling wine in Hautvillers Abbey, producers in Champagne have maintained that their terroirs are unique to the region and any other wine that bears the name is a pretender to their effervescent throne.
The INAO defines the concept like this: “An AOP area is born of an alliance between the natural environment and human ingenuity. From that alliance comes an AOP product with unique, inimitable characteristics, a product so different that it complements rather than competes with other products, possessing a particular identity that adds further value.”
In 1927, the viticultural boundaries of Champagne were legally defined and split into five wine-producing districts: The Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne. The CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne), formed in 1941, decreed that everyone who wanted to plant vines and grow grapes to be used in the creation of Champagne had to be registered, and if you didn’t register back then, there is no out, even now. Originally, grape growing was not a profitable business and was an afterthought meant to utilize chalky slopes where grain would not grow. As a result, many farmers at that time did not register, and today, a tour along the Route Touristique de Champagne, you’ll come across unregistered fields that lie fallow between two registered vineyards.
… Yet another reason why this tiny slice of northern France, a mere 132 square miles, remains both elite and precious.
Come as you are; come any time that’s convenient for you during our business hours to sample selection from this week’s selections. Our staff will be on hand to discuss nuances of the wines, the terroirs reflected, and the producers.
In the past, Côte du Rhône was a fairly predictable commodity—a light, spicy, quaffable wine suited for bistros and patios. They were carafe wines, generally without pretentions to greater heights of sophistication.
These days, with warming weather and a new generation of quality-savvy winemakers on site, it is increasingly possible to track down wines from Southern Rhône that have found the balance between superb terroir expression and user-friendly accessibility. Lirac (Châteauneuf-du-Pape bumpkin cousin from across the Rhône) is ground zero for these improvements.
This week’s package contains examples of grower/producers who have maintained a love for what Lirac has represented in the past, with a sharp focus on sustainability so that the future will be even more lustrous.
Grenache, the mainstay of Southern Rhône, is a gregarious and seductive grape. Imbued with a bright disposition and a sunny profile, Grenache thrives in warm climates where it spreads its wings in a panoply of fruit and floral expressions.
And Southern Rhône is not only warm, it is growing more so with climate change (along with the rest of the world). This steady annual increase in temperature has expanded the possibilities for Rhône viticulture into the diversity of hillside terroirs rimming the Rhône valley, while growers in the traditional confines must contend with shorter ripening cycles that must be monitored carefully to avoid blowsy wines with lower acidity levels. Acid, of course, provides the balance to the sweet fruit-bombs for which Southern Rhône is known, from mighty Châteauneuf-du-Pape to generic Côte du Rhône.
What if the family across the street decided to tear down their bungalow and erect a fifty room castle in its place? That may well describe the sensation of being Lirac.
Just across the Rhône from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, about six miles north of Avignon, Lirac is equally well-endowed with high sunshine levels during the summer (and into the harvest months) and, as a hedge against overheating, the same legendary Mistral wind from the north blows through Lirac as it does through CdP, on average 180 days in the year, significantly reducing mildew threats. With such advantages, it is no wonder that Lirac is emerging from the shadow cast by its famous neighbor and becoming a unique appellation with a voice all its own.
Lirac terroir is largely built around elevation; vineyards on the upper terraces of the appellation are made up of red clay and the large pebbles known as ‘terrasses villafranchiennes’, with the soil of the lower vineyards gradually showing more loess and/or clay-limestone. All are prone to summer drought and, under certain strictures, irrigation is allowed.
“Lirac is experiencing a Renaissance,” explains Rodolphe de Pins of Château de Montfaucon, “Few people know about Lirac wines, but that is changing. Our wines are transportive—Rhône power with Burgundy finesse.” To say that the wines of Lirac are lyrical is not just a pun; the noted combination of elegant perfume and savory grace softens the might.
Although often singled out for rosé (said to resemble Tavel pink), 87% of what Lirac produces is red, built around the usual suspects—Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. Grenache must make up a minimum of 40% of the blend while Syrah and Mourvèdre must be over or equal to 25%. The region boasts just over 90 viticulturists and 50 producers (six of which are cooperatives) and the wines, though frequently styled after CdP, are more approachable in their youth.
Lirac wines are also considerably cheaper than those of Châteauneuf du Pape, even when similarly weighty. It stands to reason that land in Lirac is also more reasonably priced, and many (perhaps most) CdP producers also own vineyards across the river.
One such domain is Roger Sabon, founded in 1952 and currently run by Roger’s sons Denis and Gilbert. Sabon’s son-in-law Didier Négron is the current winemaker; Denis and his son Julien oversee the farming while Gilbert and his niece, Delphine, run the office.
Although most of the Sabon holdings are in northeastern Châteauneuf-du-Pape where the soils are sandy with a high concentration of limestone, they also own 20 acres in Lirac. About these wines, Didier Négron says, “Lirac’s relatively more ethereal and delicate expression means that it often remains in the shadows of Châteauneuf, and we work for a fine and subtle wine in Lirac. In fact, we plant on gravelly clay-limestone soils quite similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. So rather than make a blockbuster wine from this material, we allow Lirac to be Lirac in all its delicate and floral aromatics and earthy fruit flavors.”
Domaine Roger Sabon ‘Lirac by Roger Sabon’, 2021 Lirac ($23)
A Grenache-dominant blend augmented by spicy accents of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, the grapes are hand-harvested from vines (with an average age of fifty years) grown on red clay, limestone and galets. In the cellar, the grapes spend a 30-day maceration period with daily rémontage, followed by nine months in foudres and neutral French oak demi-muids. The wine shows enticing aromas of ripe cherries, fresh raspberries and especially garrigue, the savory wild herbs of Provençal hillsides. In the mouth, ripe berry flavors are predominant, infused with hints of chocolate, exotic spices, fennel and wood smoke.
Terroir as defined by Le Petit Larousse: “The combination of the soil of a circumscribed area of vines and its corresponding climate, which gives a specific character to the wine produced by it.”
This is the philosophy on which Domaine de Marcoux operates. In 1995, at a time when it was still not straightforward for women to work in a winery, Sophie and Catherine Armenier took over running Domaine de Marcoux, with Catherine chiefly managing the vines, while Sophie was the winemaker. In 2014, Sophie’s son Vincent Estevenin took his place alongside his mother and aunt, bringing youth, passion and skills to the winery. Today the domain encompasses 67 acres split into over 20 parcels, most lying in the heart of prime Châteauneuf-du-Pape terroir on the La Crau plateau. The remainder is in Lirac and other Côtes du Rhône villages.
Certified by Ecocert in 1991, this year marks four decades of rigorous organic and biodynamic principles.
Domaine de Marcoux ‘La Lorentine’, 2020 Lirac ($32)
Clustered in the comb of Balouvière near the village of Saint Laurent des Arbres and owned solely by Domaine de Marcoux, the vineyard covers nearly 20 acres of soils rich in sands, gravels and limestone scree. Vinification is virtually identical to that used with their Châteauneuf-du-Pape cuvées: no yeast addition, temperature-controlled alcoholic fermentation, and daily pumping-over. The wine is matured in concrete vats and foudres and then bottled 15 months after the harvest; it shows sweet, ripe raspberries and blackberries up front, underscored by a mineral freshness and top notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
The estate may be considered the love-child of Pierre and Mireille Giraud, the union of two venerable wine families. Pierre Giraud can trace his winemaking roots back six centuries while Mireille Buou’s family owned a village distillery for several generations. In 1974, the couple began to cultivate ten acres as sharecroppers, and over the course of a dozen years, acquired local land. In 1981, they transformed the Buou distillery into a winemaking operation, and first released a bottling under the name Domaine Giraud.
Among their plots, Pierre and Mireille inherited twenty acres of century-old vines located on the plateau of La Crau, Les Galimardes and on the sandy soils of the Pignan area near the Le Rayas district. In 1998, the couple turned the everyday administration of the domain to their children, Marie and François, both with degrees in viticulture and oenology. The work of plot selection as well as a transition to organic farming is now tasked to the new generation.
Domaine Giraud ‘Les Sables d’Arène’, 2020 Lirac ($27)
Once made entirely from Grenache vines planted in 1950 in a sandy part of Lirac, ‘Les Sables d’Arène’ had to get with the program: Mono-varietal wines are not permitted under AOP rules. Beginning with the 2018 vintage, Les Sables d’Arène is now officially a Lirac since a neighbor leased his old vines of Syrah and Mourvèdre to Domaine Giraud. Depending on yields, Sables d’Arène is about 2/3 Grenache with the remainder equal parts Syrah and Mourvèdre. It retains its characteristic bright floral and bright cherry aromas with touches of bay laurel and peppery tannins.
A decade before World War II began, Italian Francis Usseglio left Italy and went to work for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and in 1948, shortly after the war ended, he bought his own vineyards. Later, his son Pierre took over the domain and gradually increased the size to 96 acres, mostly in CdP.
The quintessence of Usseglio art is the conviction that the sum of parts is greater than the whole. As such, Domaine Pierre Usseglio maintains 60 acres in 17 individual lieux-dits with one plot set aside for the production of white wine. The red-wine holdings are planted to 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault; vine age ranges from 30 to 75 years. A sizeable portion of the CdP vineyard sits within La Crau, at the ancient confluence of the Durance and Rhône rivers; the rest climbs the hill across the road from the actual ruins of the castle from which Châteauneuf-du-Pape gets its name.
The estate also owns acres in Lirac. Says Jean-Pierre: “We work our vineyard manually, and with respect throughout the seasons. We let nature express itself freely. It is thanks to this difference in terroir that we can offer complex, silky and balanced wines; our vines are spread across multiple sites where the soils range from limestone and rolled pebbles, to sand and sandstone flecked with clay. These are the voices of the earth and we are committed to listening.”
Domaine Pierre Usseglio, 2020 Lirac ($33)
A blend of 50% Grenache and the rest an equal amount of Cinsault and Syrah. A plush, velvety wine that shows hints of vanilla and licorice to accent plummy fruit with an edge of graphite and smoke and a steely, mineral-driven undercurrent.
Established in the northern part of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (in the commune of Orange) Alain Jaume’s family has been dedicated to the art of viticulture since 1826. Founded by Mathieu Jaume, the Domaine is now run by the 5th and 6th generations of Jaumes, Alain Jaume and his children Christophe, Sébastien, and Hélène.
Today the estate now sprawls across 225 acres in four appellations, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-du-Rhône, Vacqueyras and Lirac. The Lirac acreage is bottled under the Domaine du Clos de Sixte label; Clos de Sixte vineyards are grown in accordance with certified organic agricultural practices. Says Alain, “The soils are maintained exclusively by light plowing and fertilized with vegetal compost. The vines are only sprayed when there are justified risks to the health of the vines, and only organic-permitted treatments are used. Yields are low or kept under control by green-harvesting. This method, carried out by hand in summer, provides optimum sun exposure for the best clusters and enables the winery to be selective on both quantity and quality of the grapes. Harvesting is by hand, from pruning the leaves to aerate the clusters to picking and sorting grapes and selecting only the best to press.”
Domaine du Clos de Sixte, 2019 Lirac ($23)
50% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre grown on limestone and alluvial soils with quartz, sand and rock. Jaume employs traditional wine-making techniques, hand sorting and destemming whole bunces and allowing 18 days of vatting with pigéage, then aging in concrete vats and French oak barrels (30% new) for 16 months. A creamy and supple Lirac with floral notes beside rich flavors of raspberry and apricot and steadily building tannins that shore up the wine’s lengthy finish.
‘Corne Loup’ (Wolf Horn) was the name given to a certain part of Tavel in days gone by, a wolf sighting was announced by a blast from the horn. This tradition had largely gone out of fashion by 1966 (wolves were hunted to extinction in France by the 1930s), the year the Lafond family purchased a few vine acres in Tavel and initially sold the grapes to a cooperative. Shortly, they saw the sense in bottling under their own label, and today, Jacques Lafond runs the winery with help from his daughter and winemaker, Géraldine Saunier.
Domaine Corne-Loup, 2020 Lirac ($18)
50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre grown on sandy marl, with vines averaging forty years old (and the oldest over eighty). The wine is luscious with mulled berry and wild herbs, showing peppery dark cocoa on the back end.
Maintaining healthy vines and high quality grapes, the key to producing great wine, is a veritable obsession at Domaine Maby. Richard Maby maintains, “The work carried out at the vineyard goes on throughout the year to ensure this essential, requiring skill and consistency. We engage in sustainable winemaking, favoring natural vineyard maintenance techniques; use of plant care products is limited to a minimum and vineyard work is fully manual.”
The history of the estate mirrors many in Rhône. When the Maby family first settled in Tavel in the 19th century, their wine production was mainly intended for home consumption and a local clientele. Auguste Maby was the first to actually make a living from it. Initially produced in the family home, the wine was sold throughout the region under the name of Clos du Palai—a reference to the location of the vineyards. After the Second World War, Domaine Maby was officially launched by Armand Maby, who developed a modern, functional winery and acquired new plots of vines. In the 1960s, Armand was joined by his son Roger and his sons-in-law. The estate was further extended into the magnificent pebbled terroir of Lirac. In 2005, Roger’s son Richard Maby joined the estate. After fifteen years spent in finance, and driven by his love of wine and the very special potential of Lirac and Tavel, he brought new energy to the estate and a modern style to his wines.
Domaine Maby ‘Bel Canto’, 2018 Lirac ($39)
100% Grenache from vines that average 55 years old; aged in demi-muids for eight months. Rich waves of blackberry and plum are sharpened with mineral notes and softened with cedar. A beautiful wine today that should improve steadily with several more years of maturing.
Domaine Maby ‘La Fermade’, 2020 Lirac ($21)
55% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 25% Mourvèdre, with the remaining five percent a field blend. ‘La Fermade’ refers to a previously-wooded plot that was cleared and replanted with Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Piquepoul in the 1970s; those vines are now fully mature and produce low yields of intense fruit with balancing acidity. The wine shows a rich nose of baking spice and blackberry syrup; on the palate there is cassis, black cherry, garrigue and an undercurrent of wet stone.
Domaine Maby ‘La Fermade’, 2021 Lirac Rosé ($20)
90% Cinsault, 10% Grenache. Light-bodied and bone dry, ‘La Fermade’ offers cutting berry and cherry flavors that linger on a softly tannic, peppery finish.
Domaine Maby ‘La Fermade’, 2021 Lirac Blanc ($20)
A blend of Clairette, Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, the wine bursts with plump, juicy melon and white peach, creating a honeyed richness that is offset by an herbal and mineral edge.
GSM represents the Big Three in Southern Rhône, but at Domaine de la Mordorée, the most significant trio is Christophe and Fabrice Delorme along with their father Francis. In 1986, they purchased an estate in Tavel with the intention of producing world-class wine while remaining dedicated to an ecologically-sound stewardship of their land. The success of the venture may be measured by the glowing praised heaped upon them by Robert Parker Jr. in 2007: “With 135 acres spread throughout some of the most impressive appellations of the Southern Rhône, Christophe Delorme and his brother have produced one exquisite wine after another. Of course, the top cuvées of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are rare and expensive, but this is a place to find terrific Côtes du Rhônes and Liracs as well. Delorme is equally adept at dry whites as well as reds, and turns out some stunning rosés both under the Côtes du Rhône and Tavel appellations.”
With the untimely passing of Christophe in 2015, his daughter Ambre has stepped in; also invaluable to the current team is winemaker Rémy Chauvet, who worked as Christophe’s cellar manager. The 135 acres mentioned by Parker Jr. cover 38 parcels in Tavel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac, Côtes-du-Rhone and Condrieu; the variety of terroirs thus explored make trellising a vital consideration. Says Fabrice, “Goblet training is used for older, untrellised vineyards, with the canopy remaining free, a traditional pruning method provides better resistance to wind and drought and lesser sensitivity to trunk diseases. Cordon de Royat training is used for newer, trellised vineyards. The newer method allows for higher vines, leaving a larger leaf surface exposed to the sun, which yield colorful grapes that are richer in tannins and in sugar. Exposure to sunlight also produces healthier grapes and allows a greater development of aromas.”
Domaine de la Mordorée ‘La Reine des Bois’, 2019 Lirac ($37)
40% Syrah and 30% each of Grenache and Mourvèdre grown on 40-year-old vines among the famous ‘galets roulés’—large stone pebbles—that mark this part of the Rhône’s sand and clay soils. While 10% is fermented in older casks, 90% of the wine goes into stainless steel; the wine shows juicy forest berry behind crushed-stone minerality livened up with sizzling black spice. It’s lush and velvety with violet notes and a touch of mocha.
Domaine de la Mordorée ‘La Dame Rousse’, 2019 Lirac ($25)
The ‘Redheaded Lady’ is a blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah grown on 50 acres of 40-year-old vines. It’s loaded with smoky black cherries, licorice, scorched terra cotta and a richly expressed minerality that is characteristic of this pebble-littered terroir.
One does not simply walk into Mordor, and one does not simply ignore new arrivals from Mordorée. From the vintage that Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate calls ‘the year where balance came naturally.’
These latest addition to our Mordorée portfolio are examples of exactly that quality:
Domaine de la Mordorée ‘La Dame Voyageuse’, 2020 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($69)
A fragrant and spicy Châteauneuf that marries richness and structure with finesse. The fine tannins build beautifully toward a beautifully dry finish, where spicy and chalky elements mingle with just a hint of milk chocolate.
Domaine de la Mordorée ‘La Reine des Bois’, 2020 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($99)
A blend of 75% old vine Grenache with Mourvedre, Syrah, Vaccarèse and Counoise. On the nose is an inviting bouquet of dark forest berry fruit, some nougat and tobacco spice, delicately underpinned by savory herbs. The juicy palate is powerful and sweet, with ripe, round tannins, ripe cherry and wild berry fruit, mineral and delicately saline on the finish.
While the steady onslaught of climate change is transforming previously unsuitable land into vine country, reliable AOPs in Southern Rhône have to contend with these changes as part of their new normal. Some are responding better than others, adopting practices to mitigate drought (longer maceration times for nearly dry grapes and cover-crop maintenance) and adjusting to new harvest times. Others are a bit slower on the uptake. Never before has the mark of the winemaker been more important in knowing what you’ll find inside the bottle.
The sad irony of climate change is that it comes at a time when Southern Rhône winemakers are enjoying a renaissance in style, leaving behind their candied fruit-bomb bistro wines of lore, and evolving into a more terroir-focused product with considerably more ambition.
That said, the finest in any crop of vigneron will rise to the top like grape skins under ferment. It will be a pleasure to watch them evolve with the challenges.
A mild winter was followed by a warm early spring and a hard frost, then intermittent rainfall and generally cooler conditions throughout the season, except for a hot June and July. There is an overall bright feel to the wines, and at alcohols that are more or less a degree down on last year.
A mild winter followed by a hot, dry summer with slightly cooler nights led to wines with good freshness and balance. Ideal harvest conditions resulted in a stress-free vintage with solid yields. With generous, supple fruit profiles and accessible tannins, the wines stand out for their immediate drinkability, though quality is more heterogeneous.
A wet winter set the table for the region’s vineyards to get through the hot, dry growing season, with Grenache and Mourvèdre excelling as harvest lingered into early October. Reds are rich, ripe and expressive, with refined textures. A gorgeous vintage that just lacks the spine to be among the truly elite years.
The growing season was marred by spring rains that led to severe mildew pressure, severely hampering Grenache yields. Summer was hot and dry, with nights not as cool as usual, but there were no heat spikes. Reds are supple and velvety, low in acid, offering flattering, forward fruit.
Come as you are; come any time that’s convenient for you during our business hours to sample selection from this week’s selections. Our staff will be on hand to discuss nuances of the wines, the terroirs reflected, and the producers.
Traveling south from Chassagne-Montrachet, you crest a hill and suddenly think you’re in Beaujolais—there, silhouetted against the sky, is a picturebook windmill as iconic as Moulin-à-Vent. But it’s the Sorine Mill, the only windmill in Côte de Beaune, built in the early 19th century. It signals that you’ve made your way to Santenay—specifically, to the Premier Cru Santenay-Beauregard.
The most southerly wine-producing commune of the Côte de Beaune, Santenay sits on the extremity of the limestone ridge that is home to Burgundy’s best Pinot Noir sites; as such, Santenay’s output is mostly red. And not merely red, but often descibed as a rustic and wild red that occasionally resembles a Côte du Rhône. Santenay has been likened to the raucous cousin who shows up at a family reunion and introduces you to the dark side.
The six young growers featured in this week’s Santenay package are all permutations of that wild country cousin; some have hauled the reputation of their appellation toward elegance and finesse. All have left their mark on the Santenay family to prove that, not only do they belong, they may well represent the future.
Jean-Marc Vincent, president of the Santenay producers association, maintains that the appellation has gotten an undeserved bad rap. It’s a stereotype, he believes, that might be rooted in the fact that Santenay has no Grand Cru vineyards: “And yet, so far in the 21st century, Santenay has produced more than 50 wines rated 90 points or higher in ‘Wine Spectator‘ blind tastings, with retail prices from $30 to well below three figures for our top Crus.”
Although the wines are often referred to as ‘rustic’ rather than ‘elegant’, this is not to say that the wines of Santenay do not capture the poetry of Pinot Noir; Santenay has the soul of Volnay and the body of Pommard. To those who love such earthy, complex Burgundies, Santenay is a marvelously affordable discovery.
Santenay soils contain less limestone than many of its northerly neighbors, and more marlstone, although proportions vary based on where the vineyard is located—grey limestone can be found up to a height of 1700 feet, while at a thousand feet, oolitic limestone lies over a layer of marl. The ideal exposure for these vineyards is east to southeast.
Jean-Marc Vincent explains: “Santenay has 17 different types of terroirs. You can find terroirs that resemble the Côte de Nuits and others that resemble Meursault or Volnay. Most of the time we prefer to have the perfect balance for Pinot Noir—middle slope with middle-depth soils. We have twelve Premier Crus, 140 hectares over eleven climats.”
There are actually two villages of Santenay, Santenay-le-Haut and Santenay-le-Bas—the high and the low. The Santenay twins punctuate the vineyards and divide them into three distinct parcels, each with its share of Premier Crus: Like the most famous Chardonnay villages in the northern part of the Côte de Beaune, Santenay’s top third is quite marly, overlaid with a layer of gravel. In the middle third, the limestone changes from Argovian—the kind most common in Côte de Beaune—to Bajocian, which is what you find in the Côte de Nuit. In the southern third the limestone is still Bajocian, though here it is richer soil and browner in color.
With the Côte-de-Nuit-like soil, it is logical that Santenay vineyards mostly planted to Pinot Noir, and as you might also assume, Santenay’s best whites come from the area bordering Chassagne-Montrachet where Argovian soil reigns supreme.
Domaine Bachey-Legros attributes its vinous success to low-yielding old vines with deeply-anchored roots that concentrate juice in the grapes. “Power is matched with elegance and the voice of their terroir is loud and clear,” says Bachey-Legros owner Christiane Legros. “Balance is the key.”
The estate includes sites in Santenay, Chassagne-Montrachet, and ‘Les Maranges’ where the vines were planted between 1935 and 1955 and carefully tended by successive generations. Christiane today operates the estate with her sons Lénaïc and Samuel.
Samuel speaks further on the magic of older fruit: “Gentle extraction is de rigueur, of course, otherwise the tannins in the naturally powerful fruit is overwhelming. An old vine must be constantly monitored and maintained, nurtured and supported. Compared to a young and vigorous vine that needs keeping under control, an old vine gracefully produces berries of extraordinary concentration, imbued with the ‘goût du terroir’ which its roots have extracted from the very depths of the soil. The fruit is itself small, rich in sugars and highly concentrated.”
Despite the heat spike that made 2020 the earliest harvest on record, Côte de Beaune wound up producing a classic vintage. Part of the reason was a wet winter and spring, which built up water tables sufficiently to push through drought. 2020 styles are fresh and energetic, serious wines of the type referred to as ‘keepers’, meaning that they are pleasant now but are eager to evolve and improve over several years.
Domaine Bachey-Legros ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2020 Santenay ‘Les Champs Claudes’ ($45)
‘Les Champs Claudes’ is a five-acre climat in Remigny, a commune in the Saône-et-Loire department that produces fantastic wine, but lacks its own appellation. Vines here were planted in 1970. The palate is broad and enveloping, with bright spicy notes and a savory richness that runs through the finish.
Domaine Bachey-Legros ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2020 Santenay ‘Clos des Hâtes’ ($49)
Love the Hâtes, a 40-acre climat with vines planted 1935; it is considered one of the best parcels in Santenay. Says Christiane Legros: “The fact that the ‘des Hâtes’ vines grow in an enclosed place (a ‘clos’) gives this unique wine all its particularity and specificity. The vines are protected and the soil subjected very little to erosion on well-drained, rather calcareous land on a gentle slope. The terroir has therefore kept all its integrity, and the old vines are perfect in getting the best from it. On the nose, this wine does a balancing act between the depth of fully ripe black fruits and the freshness of red fruits, with lovely hints of spice.”
“In my family,” Sophie Morey declares with a smile, “the vines pass from mother to daughter.” Then, Vincent and Sophie Morey, who treat their vineyards as if they were gardens, declare in unison: “Fine wines start with good grapes.”
When wine stars collide, the result is often a synergy of explosive quality. Sophie and Vincent Morey both come from families of winegrowers in Santenay and Chassagne-Montrachet respectively. In 1986, after studies at Beaune’s Lycée Viticole and work experience in St-Emilion in the Bordeaux region, Vincent rejoined the domain led by his father Bernard Morey. That same year Sophie was vinifying her first vintage for the Ménager-Belland domain in Santenay, where she had inherited the tradition of winemaking from her mother.
In 2006, the couple set up their own domain, and harvested their first vintage the following year. They reckon that adaptability is key for continued success in the changing climates of central France.
2019 represented a learning curve for Côte-de-Beaune, as the effects of climate change were so undeniable that everyone, from growers to winemakers to marketers, saw that the future would belong to those who could adapt. The winter was extremely mild but moved into a chilly spring, with April bringing biting frosts that cut deeply into yields. Flowering was uneven due to a cooler than average June and some bunches suffered from millerandage, which again decimated yields. Temperatures warmed up rapidly, and to such an extent that by July and August many of the vines were suffering from heat and drought stress.
The silver lining was that the grapes that survived were concentrated and ripe. The reds in particular are complex, richly fruit-forward and refined, with the best examples likely to cellar well. Winemakers in the Côte-de-Beaune proved their resilience by snatching victory from the jaws of defeat … and de weather.
Domaine Vincent & Sophie Morey, 2019 Santenay ‘Les Hâtes’ ($44)
The Moreys control 1.4 acres of this south-facing lieu-dit; the wine is 100% fermented in barrel (45% new wood) and it shows ripe red berries up front followed by powdered chocolate, mocha latte, smoke, honey and caramel on the finish.
Domaine Vincent & Sophie Morey, 2019 Santenay Premier Cru Beaurepaire ($56)
Beaurepaire is located above Santenay village and according to local tradition, it was a lover’s lane rendezvous point for young people; hence the name. The 36-acre Premier Cru vineyard lies along the steep slope of Bajocian limestone, just before the hill starts to flatten out around Maranges. It is a fairly isolated plot in terms of Premier Crus, sharing the hillside with La Maladiere. The ruby-hued wine shows notes of cherry, raspberry and undergrowth opening to aromas of mocha and licorice.
Domaine Vincent & Sophie Morey, 2019 Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières ($56)
Les Gravières is perhaps the most respected and well-known Premier Cru site in Santenay. Located at the northern end of the village (on the border with Chassagne-Montrachet), the 60-acre vineyard is planted to both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is named for its gravelly soils, which are based on the classic Burgundian limestone-clay and marl. The wine shows ripe red and dark cherry fruit and lots of front-end concentration back by brushing tannins.
Domaine Vincent & Sophie Morey, 2019 Santenay Premier Cru Passetemps ($56)
Passetemps is essentially a continuation of Gravières, planted on white marl, and is considered one of the more underrated Premier Cru vineyards in Santenay. Passetemps wines tend to bend towards crisp red fruit flavors wreathed in velvety tannins. In this textbook Passetemps, cranberry and pie cherries stand out behind rose hips, peonies and white pepper.
Wine is evolution from vine to cellar and from bottle to glass and the maturation process is a complicated one. The science—involving the ratio of sugars, acids and phenolics and the slow polymerization of tannins—is as dry as a dusty old flagon of Gevrey-Chambertin. But even the most carefully-kept bottles of the most age-friendly wine have an apex, a window of optimal drinkability wherein the all the magic that is likely to happen has already happened. For a red Burgundy from a solid (but not great) vintage, that window hovers at around a decade.
The wines from this package represent various mature and maturing vintages from four top producers.
Overlooking one of Givry’s historic Premier Crus, the Cellier aux Moines was magnificently restored by Catherine and Philippe Pascal and their three children. Pascal is the former CEO of Veuve Clicquot and the Moët Hennessey Group, and after retiring from the company, he began a search throughout Burgundy for a restoration project, ultimately settling on overgrown vineyard slopes of Givry’s ancient monastery, La Ferté Abbey, which had produced wine in the region going back nine centuries.
In 2015, Guillaume Marko joined the Domaine as head of vineyards and winemaking operations. Holding a DNO (Diplôme National d’œnologie) from Dijon University, Guillaume trained during few years in famous wine estates of Côte de Nuits, including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Domaine du Cellier aux Moines, 2017 Santenay Premier Cru Beauregard Blanc ($62)
This 100% Chardonnay comes from a 0.6-acre parcel of one of the top Santenay vineyards. With its generous, warm character, the wine is rich, with vanilla highlights acting as a reminder that it was wood-aged while the palate flexes with lemon oil, hazelnut and baked apples.
Based in Meursault, Vincent Girardin (the domain’s founder) originally farmed around 50 acres while acting as a négociant, buying fruit from growers who adhered to a code of practice upon which he insisted, including higher trellising for better photosynthesis and avoiding the use of herbicides and insecticides. When Vincent Girardin sold the business in 2012, Éric Germain—his winemaker since the early 2000s—along with a team of nine, ensured that Girardin’s winemaking philosophy and purity of expression would continue.
For much of the Côte de Beaune, 2017 represented a ‘return to normal’ with volumes nudging on generous. This was a boon to vignerons who saw their crops damaged by frosts and hailstorms in the previous four vintages. Grapes were healthy and free from rot for most of a dry, rather humid season, and the timely harvest led to a consistent and delicious vintage overall, especially for whites. They have no inherent fragility and possess the fundamental structure to age.
Vincent Girardin, 2017 Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières ($51)
The gravelly marl for which Les Gravières is known creates a wine that Éric Germain describes as ‘well-built and developing a floral bouquet. The mouth is often very large with bold tannins. This wine reminds us of the Grand Crus from the Cote de Nuits.’
We’ll add the following tasting notes: A fruit-driven palate of sour cherry, forest floor and mushrooms.
It’s a familiar story among a newer generation raised among stalwarts: The Clair family had owned parcels in the area for generations but sold most of their production to négociants. Denis Clair created the domain in 1986 and set out to bottle his own wine as well as grow grapes.
Although the winery is in Saint-Aubin (where Denis owns a few parcels of Chardonnay) he farms 23 acres of Santenay Pinot Noir. These wines, with nearly full destemming and an extended cold maceration, show characteristic richness while retaining a sense of elegance. In part, it’s cellar technique and in part, it’s terroir—the soil here is ‘terre blanche’ (crushed limestone along with some clay) but deeper, and with a higher percentage of clay than those of Saint-Aubin.
In 2000, Denis’ son Jean-Baptiste joined the family business to work the vines and today is responsible for making the white wines. Under his guidance, the domain has embraced a more holistic approach to viticulture. He says, “No herbicides or pesticides are employed. The soils are worked with a plow so that we can limit or eliminate any weed killers. An effort is made to work as organically as possible, although in very rainy years like 2012 and 2013, some synthetic sprays are employed. We ferment on indigenous yeasts; the reds are punched down and pumped over. All of our wines go through malolactic fermentation. The whites are fined and lightly filtered and the reds are lightly filtered if necessary. Only one bottling is done per year at the domain, normally 15 to 18 months after the harvest. And the sulfur dose is low: 20-25 mg/l for the reds and 30-35 mg/l for the whites.”
The 2015 vintage was extraordinary throughout the Côte d’Or, and the reds are truly great: rich, powerful and statuesque but almost universally underpinned by juicy acidity.
The growing season was carefree, with no frost and only a single hail storm. The summer was dry and extraordinarily hot, but the previous winter had replenished the water tables and welcome August rains relieved the drought enough that an orderly and timely harvest occurred, resulting in a vintage that some consider legendary.
Domaine Françoise & Denis Clair, 2015 Santenay Premier Cru Clos de la Comme ($68)
At 53 acres, the vineyard La Comme is quite large, but it does not all qualify as Premier Cru; the upper part is classified at the Village level. The ‘Clos’ is the core of the site, and is directly adjacent to Chassagne-Montrachet. To make this wine, the grapes are harvested by hand and fermented with 10-20% of their stems intact. Aging takes place in oak barrels (25% new) and the wine is bottled after 12 months. It shows an intriguing and mature nose of mushrooms, forest floor and red berries. On the palate, the flavors remain fresh and subtle, cherry and strawberry complemented by lingering acidity.
After wine school in Beaune and Dijon and internships at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Hubert Lamy in Burgundy, Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Neudorf Vineyards in New Zealand, David Moreau took over the family domain, and produced the 2009 vintage as his own.
The lessons he learned are as fundamental as they are vital: “My only aim is to explain each terroir, to get the best out of each plot.”
The winemaking passion skipped a generation; David’s father did not want to run the estate, so David’s grandfather, who was 80 years old when David took over, hung on and waited. By then, the younger Moreau had already staked his claim, choosing twelve acres to bottle under his own name, producing seven wines. He also makes the wine from the remaining vineyards but under the Domaine Jean Moreau label where he adheres to the guidelines of his grandfather.
Why the split? “I have a personal vision,” he says. “I learned a lot from working at these other estates opened my mind and eventually I understood what I wanted to do myself, which is not necessarily the same things my grandfather wants. He is ancien régime. In New Zealand I saw a very different way of making wine. It was a bit more scientific. Not as much feeling. In Burgundy you feel what you are doing. It is not the analysis results that tell you what to do.”
A somewhat spotty vintage, so it pays to know your producer. The spring was warm, and flowering was early, at the end of May, promising an early harvest. Then the climate started playing its usual tricks with a cool early summer with temperatures soaring in late June causing sunburn on exposed bunches. July was actually cooler than April, and hail on July 12 smashed into the southern Côte de Beaune. In late July the weather improved and it stayed warm into August, but storms and more very hot weather later in the month both slowed the maturation and caused some dilution within the grapes. Mildew followed. Growers wrestled with the crucial decision on when to harvest and the ones who bet correctly (like David Moreau) produced some amazing wines.
Domaine David Moreau, 2011 Santenay Premier Cru Clos des Mouches ($78)
The Clos des Mouches is the smallest Santenay Premier Cru, a quarter-acre squeezed in between Passetemps, Beauregard and Clos Faubard. Most of it belongs to Domaine David Moreau. Vines were planted in the 1960s, and compared to Moreau’s Rousseau, this is an exposition of grace and finesse with the initial strawberry notes morphing elegantly into sweet dried fruit and fragrant leather.
Domaine David Moreau, 2011 Santenay Premier Cru Clos Rousseau ($68)
Clos Rousseau is a Premier Cru umbrella covering three neighbouring vineyards at the western end of Santenay. Rousseau soils are heavier and slightly richer than elsewhere, and based on Bajocian limestone closer to the terroirs of the Côte de Nuits, 20 miles to the north. Moreau’s Rousseau shows like a mature stallion, a graceful florality and luminous glow remaining, but allowing the animal hide and sous bois that mark the evolution of a delicately crafted Pinot Noir to shine through.