The turn of the new millennium was a special time for many reasons, but in particular it marked an important event in the Couchois region, just to the south of Maranges in Burgundy. For here it was that a new Appellation was born – the Bourgogne Côte du Couchois.
Viticulture in the land surrounding the town of Couches is ancient and, as is often the case here in Burgundy, was introduced by monks, as far back as the year 731. Blueprints for vat-houses and presses still exist which show the industry was present in the sixteenth century. Interestingly, Couches was also situated near an important iron ore works which sprang up in later years, and due to the heat created by the smelting activities, lucky workers were entitled to generous quantities of wine each day (though of an alcohol level of around 4%, well below today’s wines.) It nestles on the left flank of the Côte Chalonnaise, 14 kilometers west of Mercurey, the largest town and the best-known appellation of the Côte Chalonnaise.
Six communes produce Couchois wines which, although not as well-known as some of their neighbors, surely should be famous: Couches (the eponymous village with its fascinating castle); Dracy-lès-Couches; Saint-Jean-de-Trézy; St-Maurice-lès-Couches; Saint-Pierre-de-Varennes; and Saint-Sernin-du-Plain, all produce red wines in appellation Bourgogne Cotes de Couchois from the Pinot Noir grape. (White wines remain appellation Bourgogne, but an application for the Cotes de Couchois status is ongoing).
Growing on the slopes near the banks of the River Dheune, producers here have some of the best views in France to enjoy as backdrops to their farming. The climate here is continental, meaning fairly late ripening. This is strikingly similar to the southern Côte de Beaune; the village of Santenay lies only 10 kilometers to the north.
The primary soil types here are clay-sandstone and limestone, with granite coming into play as you go further west towards the Morvan. This subsoil, along with the climate, produces wines of great power, clarity and nuance. Bright cherry red with ruby hues, they offer a panoply of summer fruits on the nose – cherries and blueberries, with some spicy leatheriness, and even a little whiff of menthol.
Alongside the wines, there is lots to do in the locale too; the excellent Galerie D’Art of the acclaimed mosaic artist Elaine M Goodwin is located in Couches; and of course the Château de Couches is a very popular tourist destination. There are good reasons for this; built in the 11th century, and sometimes known as the Château of Margaret of Burgundy (and wife of Louis X), it has recently been restored and serves as an excellent example of the famous glazed Burgundy roof tiles. Visitors can see underground passages, medieval gardens and romantic park lands, before retiring to discover the local Couchois wines.