Up: Mâconnais 2021 & 2022
BY NEAL MARTIN | AUGUST 17, 2023
by the insult, the winemaker stands motionless, mouth agape, lost for words…
the 1990s and the day of the pre-auction tasting of barrel samples due to be
auctioned by the Hospice de Beaune. Anticipation is rife as tasters congregate and
exchange views on the wines. Among the number is winemaker Dominique Cornin. Under
his aegis are five parcels of 35- to 90-year-old vines around the village of Chaintré,
the source for the Hospice’s sole representation from Mâconnais, a Pouilly-Fuissé
gifted by Françoise Poisard in 1994 (and again in 2012).
the reds are poured before the whites.
matters further, attendees are given a single glass, which begs the question:
how will the glasses be cleaned after those tannic reds?
advice given by organizers is to rinse them not with water but with the
slur against Pouilly-Fuissé and Mâconnais, an attack against the dignity of Cornin
and his fellow vignerons. It testifies to the low esteem towards the Mâconnais,
indicative of how cognoscenti viewed the region at that time. This anecdote,
related by Cornin’s son Romain during my visit, elucidates the region’s strides
since then. The quality of Pouilly-Fuissé, Mâcon, Saint-Véran and Viré-Clessé is
being recognized by increasing numbers of oenophiles, not least legions priced
out of the Côte d’Or. The long-fought for and ultimately successful application
for Premier Cru status apropos Pouilly-Fuissé validates its status as a region
whose wines can rank amongst the best in Burgundy. If you are yet to discover
the joys of Mâconnais, you’re missing out.
Looking up towards the mesmerizing Roc de Vergisson from the titular village.
report focuses on the 2021 and 2022 vintages, the latter comprising early
bottled cuvées or barrel samples tasted during visits.
summarised the 2021 vintage in last
year’s report, which I replicate below.
much of France, the Mâconnais had a rather turbulent, cool growing season. An
unseasonably warm February was misleading as temperatures struggled in the
ensuing months: 10.3°C in April, 13.1°C in May, June was normal at around
20.3°C but July was cooler at 19.9°C and August cooler still at 19.4°C.
Meanwhile, it was decidedly wet, with 144mm, 92mm and a torrential 150mm in
May, June and July. Compare that figure to Beaune, which received just under
82mm that month – we are looking at almost double the amount of rain. August
brought some relief as it was dry, with 36mm of rain, though September saw the
taps turn on again with 83mm. The hail episode that struck the region was on 21
June, if I recall correctly, around 2:30pm. It was the first time I had
witnessed the destructive force of hail. I learned how you might well be in the
eye of a storm. Yet, just a kilometer away, conditions may be completely
benign, vines untouched, as was the case that day when Pouilly-Fuissé bore the
brunt. At the same time, nearby appellations such as Pouilly-Vinzelles were
almost completely spared. Though hail wrought destruction in some localized areas,
several winemakers explained that they actually lost more due to frost earlier
in the season.
hours were average in June, but there was a shortfall in July, 207 hours in
total, around 20% below average. August was also below normal. Fortunately,
September saw more sunshine with 214 hours – more than in July despite shorter
daylight hours. Unsurprisingly mildew and oidium were a constant threat, and teams
had to be constantly vigilant, entering the vineyards during dry interludes,
sometimes in a futile effort to keep on top of things. I remember visiting
Jean-Marie Guffens in early June and finding the normally indefatigable
winemaker already knackered and ruing the remainder of the growing season.
There was so much saturated ground that tractors were often impossible to
operate, mandating arduous and costlier manual spraying, not knowing the reward
for the effort come harvest.
Frédéric Burrier and his son Baptiste at Château de Beauregard following an extensive tasting of their latest wines.
break in 2020 was on 28 March, still four days earlier than usual, while mi-fleuraison (the
middle of flowering that winemakers use as a measure) took place on 13 June 2021,
six days later than usual, mi-véraison not until 20 August 2021. In
2021, sugar accretion languished below that of vintages on either side, only
reaching 180g/L by the time the inclement weather from 10 September stifled
accumulation altogether. Malic levels remained comparatively high against other
vintages, often over 4g/L. Most pickers went out into the vineyard much later
than in recent years, around 21 September, nearly a month later than the
previous year. This can make recruiting pickers trickier since many students
are commencing the new academic year around this time.
dealt winemakers a completely different set of playing cards in 2022,
one that draws comparisons with 2020. It was an unprecedented hot vintage with
unseasonably warm temperatures in February and March that enticed vines out of
winter dormancy. April was cooler at 11.5° Celsius followed by summer weather
in May when the mercury averaged 18.5°C, some 5.4°C warmer than the previous
year. Conditions remained balmy with temperatures in June, July and August,
21.5°C, 23.7°C and 23.9°C, respectively. As rapper Nelly once claimed: It’s
Getting Hot in Here. BIVB figures show that during the 12 months of 2022, there
were 105 and 48 days when the mercury tipped 25°C and 30°C, respectively, compared
to 83 and 40 days in 2020., which was also slightly more than in the Côte d’Or.
would expect, drought conditions prevailed throughout almost the entire year,
just 13mm in May and 8mm in July – 142mm less than the previous July! The
anomalous month of June saw 145mm of rain, perversely much more than the
previous year. However, the figures do not tell the entire story since
precipitation was concentrated in storms between June 21 and 25, whereas what vines
really need is steady, earth-saturating rain. Sunlight hours were also way
above average: 390 hours in July alone, almost double that of 2021, and a
further 298 sunlight hours in August. The result is that 2022 was the warmest year
since the beginning of the 20th century, not to mention drier than 2020
2019 and even 2003.
Julien Barraud in the barrel cellar. The domaine’s portfolio benefitted from promoted Pouilly-Fuissé, though they have been making superb wines for many years.
A Next Crop of Premier Crus
two reports have detailed the promotion of Pouilly-Fuissé’s top climats,
spearheaded by the Frédéric Burrier of Château de Beauregard. “Without him, it
would not have been possible,” remarked one grateful winemaker who benefitted
from Burrier’s diplomacy, perseverance and assertiveness. Burrier had recently hosted
a dinner with some of Burgundy’s finest bottles that he had set aside for those
that had helped him along the way, and I averred to him directly that it should
be the other way around.
to growers such as Olivier Merlin, the introduction of Premier Cru vineyards
has had an immediate effect. There is a feeling that finally, there is some
kind of parity with the Côte de Beaune, Burrier opining that consumers now see the
Premier Crus as viable alternatives conferred with equal status as top Côte Chalonnaise
and some appellations within the Côte de Beaune. Consumers are willing to pay
higher premiums for Premier Crus, and in turn, this has encouraged some winemakers
to upgrade their viticulture. They can see the potential returns. For sure,
grumblings rumble regarding the criteria used to make the final selection, inevitable
given by its very nature you cannot please everyone. For there to be winners,
there must be losers. One thing to point out is that this is not the end of the
story. The Premier Crus could legally be expanded in the future. But for the
time being, several winemakers told me that the strictness of the selection and
the fact that, in the end, they wisely resisted lowering the bar to appease all
sides, strengthened the category.
Burrier about the impact that promotions have had on the region. “The first effect
was among growers’ minds. Looking at the vineyards, you can see real changes in
the techniques used. Nowadays, no herbicides are allowed, so even the most
conventional growers have had to change. Consumers’ perceptions have also altered,
choosing Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru instead of an Auxey-Duresses, for example.
More than half the appellation’s wine is sold in bulk to the négociants, and as
25% less is now available, the average price of the Pouilly-Fuissé Village is
constant [one would imagine that had this scenario played out in the Côte de
Beaune, it would have resulted in far more escalated prices]. The main market
for Pouilly-Fuissé is the United States which is a more sophisticated market in
terms of restaurants and retailers. That is where we have seen the most change.
Prices have doubled in five years. Here, Jadot and Louis Latour represent 30%
of the market.”
Out in the vines with Edouard Parinet and winemaker Brice Laffond just over the road from the winery at Domaine Roc de Boutires.
will be the effect on land prices? Olivier Merlin told me that a parcel in
Meursault had recently sold for an equivalent of an astronomical 24 million Euros
per hectare. By contrast, there has only been one transaction amongst the newly
promoted Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Crus, simply because everyone is cautious. There
is no precedent upon which to base the selling price. At the moment, it is
around the equivalent of €500,000 per hectare, of course, far less than up in
the Côte d’Or.
that tempt some of the monied domaines and négociants to invest in Mâconnais?
Well, both Domaine Leflaive and Louis Jadot have already expanded into the
region. In June 2023, Drouhin announced they had acquired Château de Chasselas which
includes 7.5 hectares of vineyard, as well as historical buildings with the
potential to be converted into a hotel. Perhaps a sign of things to come? A few
locals expressed disdain towards a prospective influx of winemakers from other
regions. “They just want to make wines like a Chassagne or Meursault,” one
vigneron told me. “They are not interested in making true Mâconnais.” If
winemakers start buying vineyards, and I think it is inevitable, it will place pressure
on land prices with the same consequences as seen in the Côte d’Or. Whether it
reaches such extremes is another matter. Olivier Merlin pointed out that in the
Mâconnais, SAFER, the organization responsible for vetting vineyard sales to ensure
that younger and less pocketed winemakers get a foothold, has more muscle here
than the Côte d’Or, where winemakers are more inclined to accept free land
transactions without governmental interference. Time will tell what will
not the end of the story. The INAO is considering similar promotions for both
Pouilly-Vinzelles and Pouilly-Loché. Nobody would dispute that they don’t quite
possess the reclamé of Pouilly-Fuissé, one winemaker jibing that the
best notional Pouilly-Vinzelles Premier Cru can only match the least
Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru! That’s not a view I concur with. Those
appellations' wines can achieve high-quality levels in the hands of its finest
exponents, such as Jean-Philippe Bret. At the time of this writing, if everything
goes ahead, we should see the first Premier Crus appearing with the 2024
vintage. Watch this space. One intriguing difference is that unlike
Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Crus, where I suspect to the disapproval of some
winemakers, mechanical harvesting is permitted, the INAO has decreed that both
Pouilly-Vinzelles and Pouilly-Loché Premiers Crus must be picked by hand -
essentially raising the bar. When you think about it, that means the most lax regulations
would apply to the Côte d’Or that, which lest we forget, permits the use of
herbicides and pesticides, both prohibited under the Mâconnais Premier Crus
suggest to winemaker Caroline Gon at Domaine Frantz Chagnoleau the prospect of
Premier Crus for Saint-Véran or even Viré-Clessé, swayed at that moment by the
quality of her 2022s. But as she pointed out, co-operatives retain power and
influence in both regions. To maintain low prices, the idea of promotion is not
necessarily in their favor. That’s a pity because, in the right hands, these
sites can both produce wonderful wines, contentiously better than most Montagny
Premier Crus that made the fatal mistake of being too generous when dishing out
Premier Cru status.
the introduction of the 22 Premier Crus means that some familiar vineyard
designations have vanished or been renamed. For example, Les Cras becomes Vers
Cras, while Saumaize Michelin’s Les Ronchevats is now Aux Charmes. This “reorganization
of the furniture” can complicate navigating the patchwork of climats, but no
doubt we will be accustomed to new names just as we are with the Côte d’Or and
Caroline Gon at Domaine Frantz Chagnoleau, one of the finest exponents of Saint-Véran and Pouilly-Fuissé.
is a stark contrast between what is often dubbed “classical” 2021s, marked by
lower alcohol levels, racier acidities and lean physiques. Two thousand twenty-two
cannot be described as a consistent vintage since unequivocally, at the high
volume/low priced end, there exists a swathe of wine that slipped past quality
control, regrettably, one or two parading around in their new “Premier Cru”
garb. Some co-operatives make very commendable value-for-money wines that have
an important role to play - not everyone can afford to guzzle Pouilly-Fuissé
Premier Crus every day. Such wines should be applauded. However, others seem
content to coast on their name and churn out faceless wines that are either
faulty or bereft of anything to say. I wish I could wave a magic wand in their
direction and relegate them into Vin de France.
Mâconnais is a dynamic region. A youthful and arguably more enlightened
generation of winemakers are taking the helm, young guns such as Romain Cornin,
Julien Barraud, Caroline Gon and though unable to visit on this trip, Jessica
Litaud. Elsewhere, established domaines such as Domaine Thibert and
Saumaize-Michelin are handing the reins to sons and, pleasing to witness, talented
daughters. There is a feeling of newfound pride in Mâconnais as its top wines
finally garner plaudits and gain a reputation, long deserved. It is a far cry
and a far more agreeable state of affairs than the one dramatized in my
respect to the 2022s, one major difference between the Mâconnais and the Côte
d’Or is that quantities are lower in the Mâconnais because of less rain during
summer. This caused evaporation of moisture within berries that was not understood
until winemakers stood by their presses and observed a dribble of juice instead
of the plenitude of expected free-run juice. However, yields are not as dismal as
the previous year. Stylistically, there will be comparisons with the 2020s, with
one or two more candid winemakers opining that the 2022s are not entirely on
the same par. It depends on who you speak to. The class of 2022 veers back to
the more perfumed, tropical-tinged style of Mâconnais, thankfully counterbalanced
by acidity engendered by its less clayey, more limestone-rich soils compared to
much of the Côte de Beaune.
Dominique Cornin is pictured in the barrel cellar. He told me the anecdote about his father at the Hospices de Beaune auction in my opening paragraph.
it seeps through the prose, but the Mâconnais is one of my favorite assignments,
one I always look forward to, perhaps now more than ever. Apart from the
landscape, quaint villages and a clutch of stellar restaurants, this is a
region in ascendance. Conferred status by the Premier Cru classification, it
has the bit between its teeth, though I hope it doesn’t persuade wine-lovers to
focus solely on this top tier without venturing into other appellations, not
least Viré-Clessé and Saint-Véran, which both offer tremendous value-for-money.
2021 and 2022 vintages offer contrasting takes on its terroirs, though paltry
yields in the former mean that some will miss out. Thankfully, cellars have
been replenished by the more benevolent growing season, if not to the extent
winemakers envisaged during the season. Perhaps the question is whether warmer
vintages like 2020 and 2022 manifest wines with a propensity to age? My limited
experience with mature vintages has proven that a great Pouilly-Fuissé, or for
that matter Mâcon-Village (see notes for Domaine Michel), can repay those
willing to cellar bottles over 10 or 20 years. One might argue that it is a
moot point given the minority willing to cellar wines these days. Then again, kudos
appropriated towards an appellation is partly driven by longevity. Would it not
diminish the newly anointed Premier Crus if the wines failed to age more than
four or five years? Two thousand twenty-two is a vintage that will tempt consumers
to pull those corks, and one might argue that the 2021s might mature with more
aplomb. We will see. For now, plenty is waiting to be discovered in the
Mâconnais, including Premier Crus and beyond them.
I sincerely hope that the Hospices no longer encourages attendees to rinse
their stemware with Pouilly-Fuissé.
knows. Maybe they even provide a second glass?
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