Château de Vergisson Pouilly-Fuisse ‘Sur la Roche’ 2017
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 2017 VINTAGE
If 2016 tested the faith and resolve of wine makers in Burgundy, 2017 has to be seen as recompense, and as a miracle of sorts. While the rest of wine-growing Europe suffered crippling late-spring frosts in 2017, Burgundy for the most part (for once!) survived.
A mild winter and an accelerated spring left the Burgundy vineyards in a vulnerable position when, in the second half of April, temperatures across France barely rose above freezing for two weeks.
Three hard-frost nights pretty much did in Right Bank Chablis once again. But as the rest of Burgundy survived the first week, the growers found the will to fight back. And on the night of April 27th, a year and a day after the 2016 frost that took 80% of the 2016 harvest, a severe frost was forecast for the length of the Cote d’Or.
It’s now a part of local legend how, on the following morning, we awoke in a thick cloud of smoke. In the early hours, from north to south, the vignerons had mobilized to set alight dampened bales of hay, sending up a cloud cover to filter the first burning rays of dawn. And it worked.
The air was thick, and driving was tricky. A customer at the butcher shop in Meursault jokingly asked for a smoked chicken. And, of course, the authorities were up in arms over the pollution risks. But the crop was saved, and there has been ever since a spirit of cooperation and solidarity not often seen in farming communities.
After the freeze, May brought in an extended period of warm dry weather. No mildew or oidium to speak of, no thunderstorms or hail. Sunny periods, but no lack of rain. And the vines went in to flower at a very-normal first week of June. Pretty much ideal.
July had a couple of heat spikes, and a hailstorm hit the fancy vineyards in Morey St Denis on the 10th. But nothing worse. August was warm; the lead up to the harvest at the end of the month, hot and dry.
The first grapes were picked in the Cote de Beaune in the last few days of August. And most everyone was out picking in the first week of September.
There was (as there often is in Burgundy) serious disagreement in 2017 about when to pick. Do you pick early to preserve the acid-sugar balance and freshness? Or do you hang in there and wait for a little rain to kick-start a stalled photosynthesis, and thereby achieve the holy grail of phenolic maturity?
It’s hard to say who was right. There are very good wines coming from both camps. But there are iffy wines too. And that’s the key to understanding 2017.
Picked early, the best wines, both red and white, are fresh, fruit-driven and floral with long minerality. The iffy wines seem not have adjusted for the solid levels of tartaric acid which left them tart rather than bright, dry and tannic rather than juicy.
Picking late did not seem to have an effect on the balance between alcohol and acidity. But then, there was no ‘over maturity’ in 2017. The extra phenolic maturity seems to mean more density and riper tannins, with no sign of flabbiness.
The whites shine, particularly in hard-done Chablis (where there is better balance even than the marvelous 2014s). In the rest of Burgundy, the whites have the tension of 2014 but the open flattery of 2015.
The reds are juicy and crisp and open, and the regional appellations will be ready to drink soon. More serious appellations will be considered ‘typical’, in the best sense of the word: classic wines from a vintage that Burgundians will love. They are likely to be lost in the hub-bub that the 2018s will bring. But the yields were good in 2017, so you will be able to find them for a while. And you’ll do well to seek them out.
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