Château de Vergisson Pouilly-Fuisse ‘Sur la Roche’ 2016
These are vines from Pierre’s end of the valley, on the slopes of the Vergisson outcrop. The vines, almost 100 years old, were planted by Pierre’s great-grandfather. And old vines on a parcel like ‘Sur la Roche’ gives a depth and concentration that is hard to believe. Elegance, tension, freshness, notes of oysters and the sea, iodine. And of course the minerality carries the finish on forever. Outstanding.
After having taken over their family vineyards, Stephanie Saumaize and Pierre Laroche created the Domaine du Chateau de Vergisson in 2012, and were soon turning heads in Pouilly-Fuisse and the Maconnais. The young couple are from two different families of grape farmers, Stephanie from Solutre and Pierre from Vergisson, villages that sit at the base of the dominant limestone outcrops that mark both the terrain and the terroir of Pouilly Fuisse.
Neither family made wine, however. Rather they sold their produce to negociant houses in the area. So when Stephanie and Pierre took over the vineyards, renovated the Chateau de Vergisson as their home and winery and started bottling under their own label, they appeared to come out of nowhere. And for us, it is a match made in Elden wine heaven!
Their first vintage was 2012, so the domain is still relatively unknown. But the quality and finesse of their production thrust them into the limelight here in Burgundy, and we are pleased to be the first to bring their wines to the US.
Le domain lays out over 10 ha (24 acres), mostly in appellation Pouilly-Fuisse, though they also produce appellation Saint Veran and Macon-Solutre.
They have three distinct ‘cuvees’ of Pouilly-Fuisse, notably an old-vine parcel of ‘Sur la Roche’ in Vergisson which was planted by Pierre’s great-grandfather nearly 100 years ago. ‘Sur la Roche’ will soon be elevated to ‘premier cru’ status, so keep this one on your radar. They also have a holding in the tiny ‘Clos en Charmont’ which produces an astoundingly explosive Pouilly-Fuisse.
While their vineyard work is organic, the couple are not ready to jump through the hoops necessary to have the official accreditation. Perhaps in the future, Pierre says. They feel that their installation is still young, so they are taking things as they develop.
Their families used to harvest by machine, but Stephanie and Pierre returned to manual harvesting in 2015. It’s an important change qualitatively. Grapes from quality vineyards in the Maconnais need to be watched closely for maturity. Their’s are wine of great depth, richness and opulence which require attention to detail.
New oak is used judiciously, and only on certain ‘cuvees’. Their Saint-Veran ‘la Cote Rotie’ and the Pouilly-Fuisse ‘Clos en Charmont’ are raised in larger-than-normal (500 liter) barrels, so that oak does not dominate wine.
Up to now, these wines were sold principally in France. But the word is out. With a bevy of gold and silver awards that they started to collect right from their first vintage, the Domaine du Chateau de Vergisson is the new kid on the block and already one of the top producers in the appellation.
BURGUNDY 2016 VINTAGE
If that first taste of the 2016 Burgundy vintage really grabs your attention, count yourself lucky. Lucky in the same way that wine makers in Burgundy consider themselves lucky.
The excellent 2016 vintage was a nightmare for them, running a gamut of emotions from depression to despair, then out the other side towards hope and something resembling jubilation. It’s no exaggeration to say that 2016 took its toll on the collective psyche of the region.
After a very mild winter, April was frigid, with early hail in Macon and (yet again) Chablis. Then, on the night of the 26th, a freak frost descended on much of the Cotes de Nuits and almost all of the Cote de Beaune. I say ‘freak’ because it was a winter frost, not an April frost; meaning that it hit higher up the slopes than a spring frost would, touching vineyards that almost never freeze, notably Musigny and Montrachet.
It got worse. May was cool and depressingly wet, with storms when it wasn’t drizzling. It’s then that the first corridors of mildew appeared. It hailed again in Chablis. The mood was like the weather: chilly and grey. And it continued like this until the solstice, by which time the estimates were for an overall 50% crop loss across the region. It was hard to coax a smile from even the most seasoned winemakers.
Flowering took place in mid-June and was a bit protracted. It forecast a late September harvest, 100 days away. And given what had come before, the small crop looked incredibly vulnerable.
But with the solstice came summer. A magnificent July and August, with heat enough to curb the mildew, brought exceptional conditions for grapes. Talk in the cellars turned from tales of woe to the benefits of low-yield vintages.
As always in Burgundy, September makes the wine. In 2016, the perfect amount of rain fell on September 14th, at the perfect time to counter the heat stress that the vines were starting to show. And the fruit then ripened quickly in impeccable dry and sunny conditions.
What in mid-June seemed like a doomed crop was suddenly being touted as the equivalent of 2015, and maybe even better! Low yield years give intensity and concentration. Cool vintages give good acidity and balance. 2016 was both. Not a lot of fruit; but from serious ‘vignerons’, what there was was beautiful.
The wines, both red and white, are fresh, chiseled, with balanced acidity and concentration. The whites are definitely better than the 2015s, which lacked a touch of acidity. They are cool and energetic. Maybe not to the level of the fabulous 14s, but there are many similarities.
As to the comparisons between 2015 and 2016, many commentators cite 1990 and 1991. Both 1990 and 2015 are considered among the finest red vintages in living memory. And the vintages that followed them were both low-yield vintages that suffered early frost damage. Both 1990 and 2015 were hot years; both 1991 and 2016 were relatively cool. Both 1990 and 2015 were media darlings, and still are. 1991 got lost in the blare; maybe 2016 as well. But both 1991 and 2016 are arguably much more typically Burgundian than their world-stage predecessors. Classy and classic, ‘typical’ (in the best sense of the word), the greatest fault of the 2016 vintage could be its irregularity.
Remember, this was a tough one for Burgundy. For some producers, it was the fourth consecutive year that their vineyards were damaged and their yields were low. There had not been a ‘normal’ crop since 2009, so their cellars were empty. And when we talk of 50% crop loss, that’s an average across the region. Some areas had zero crop.
So when we get excited about the quality of the 2016s, we need a little restraint as well. Not everyone did the meticulous vineyard work that was necessary to get through the horrible start. As always, if you want to find the best wines, you need to know the best producers. Another important consideration in a low-yield vintage is the shortage of grapes, which means that the big negociant houses can have trouble sourcing fruit. Be careful with negociant wines in 2016. Buy from tried-and-true producers.
The rocky outcrops of Solutré and Vergisson, emblematic of these vineyards, remind us 20,000 years ago one of the most fully evolved prehistoric cultures flourished here. The region is a magnificent landscape, and the wine villages are charming tourist destinations. Pouilly and Fuisse are two distinct villages in the production zone, but their wines and those from the villages of Vergisson and Chaintre are sold under the Pouilly-Fuisse appellation.
Produced in the communes of Fuissé, Solutré-Pouilly, Vergisson and Chaintré.
Pouilly-Fuisse should be elegant and full of charm, with its distinctive minerality to the fore. It ranges in color from pale to golden, and the nose, often dominated by flinty smoke can be nutty, floral, citric, biscuity, grassy and honeyed, making this one of the most varied of the white Burgundies. Terroir plays heavily in the wines from this appellation, and accounts for the enormous number of named vineyards being bottled separately. An experienced taster can distinguish zones and even individual vineyards. Pouilly-Fuisse, well made, is a noble wine, opulent and structured.
Lying on a foundation of fossiliferous limestone identical to those found further north in the Côte-d'Or, the bajocien escarpments of Solutré and Vergisson owe their dramatic profile to the presence of hard fossil corals which have resisted erosion. The vines are planted on the slopes and at the foot of these two hills on clay-limestone soils of jurassic origin mixed with scree from the upper slopes and, in one spot, schist. The hillsides are cut into by little steep-sided streams which give the slopes an easterly or south-easterly exposure. Altitudes are 200 to 300 meters.
White wines only - Chardonnay
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2,4 acres
Rich and complex, Pouilly-Fuisse has a characteristic hint of minerality which makes it work with some noble ingredients like crustaceans (king prawns, lobster, crayfish) and foie gras. When acidity and minerality are in balance, it goes well with white meats such as veal or poultry in cream sauce, as well with the goat's cheese that the region is famous for. Its aromatic power means it can also match spicy and perfumed dishes such as couscous, tajines, or sweet-and-sour oriental dishes.
On the label, the appellation 'Pouilly-Fuisse' may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat.
The following climats are village wines from a single vineyard, known as a lieu-dit:
A la Chaneau
A la Cotonne
A la Croix Bonne
Au Bois Billon
Au Gros Bois
Aux Grands Champs
Aux Vignes Dessus
Bois de Lacroix
Bois des Fousses
Bois du Molard
Clos de la Maison
Derrière la Maison
En Champ Roux
La Croix Pardon
La Gorge au Loup
La Grange Murger
La Petite Bruyère
La Teppe Charpy
La Terre Jeanduc
La Vigne des Verchères
Le Bois des Taches
Le Champ Rocher
Le Clos de Monsieur Noly
Le Clos Reyssier
Le Grand Pré
Le Haut de Savy
Le Sang Clos
Les Bois Denis
Les Grandes Terres
Les Longues Raies
Les Prés Hauts
Les Terres du Perret
Les Verchères de Savy
Les Vieilles Plantes
Les Vignes Blanches
Les Vignes des Taches
Maison du Villard
Plan de Bourdon
Pré de Vaux
Pré des Aires
Sous le Four
Sur la Roche
Sur la Rochette
Sur les Moulins
Vers la Croix
Vers la Roche
Vers Saint Léger
Vignes de la Fontaine
Vignes de la Hys
Vignes de la l'Eau
Vignes de la Roche
Vignes des Champs
Vignes du Riat
Vignes sur la Fontaine