Château de Vergisson Pouilly-Fuisse 2020
These are vines from Stephanie’s part of the valley, assembled from several parcels from the base of the rock at Solutré. This is classic Pouilly-Fuisse. Pure gold, with lemon-drop fruit, a touch of tannin to give it structure, and lovely acidity. So round and balanced, you want to chew it.
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.
With so many winemakers finishing their 2020 harvest before the end of August, everyone here in Burgundy expected that this hot, sunny vintage would produce atypical wines, overripe, fat and flabby. Why it did not is a mystery to this day.
In fact, 2020 Burgundy, both red and white, is being lauded by the Press and professionals alike as an exceptional vintage, brilliantly fresh, pure, elegant and focused. Yes, the wines are ripe and concentrated, but there is good acidity that more than brings things into balance. This, in fact, defines the Burgundy 2020 style: high acidity and high concentration.
So let’s look, as we do every year, at how the growing season developed, to try to get some idea of what shaped these unexpectedly energetic wines.
In a word, from start to finish, 2020 was precocious. After a mild and humid winter, the vegetative cycle started a month early under sunny skies, with bud burst in mid-April and the first Chardonnay flowers in early May. Then the weather deteriorated. Pinot Noir flowered in cool, damp conditions, and was less successful than Chardonnay, explaining the smaller Pinot crop.
From that point on, there is not much to report weatherwise. It was hot and dry from June through to the end, the driest year since 1945. The grapes started to change color in mid-July, and harvest in August seemed likely.
Now you may think that an August harvest lets everyone get their jobs done and go home early. But remember that there is a big difference between the heat and luminosity of an August afternoon and the cooler, shorter days of September. When maturity comes galloping at you in August, you have to react quickly; a day or two can mean considerable differences in acid and sugar levels.
Indeed, there may have been more stress on the winemakers than there was on the vines. 2020 was in fact an easy growing season, dry, with little risk of fungal problems. The tough part was deciding when to harvest. Do you put off harvesting to try to get to phenolic maturity, or do you pick sooner to keep acid levels up and to avoid higher alcohol levels?
Many opted to pick early. And for the most part, it proved to be the right decision…though we still do not understand why!
Many 2020 wines have alcohol levels of 13%-14%, but many are higher. Delaying picking increased the potential alcohol levels by as much as a degree a week.
At the same time, good levels of phenolic maturity gave ripe, but not overripe tannins. Some call the 2020s ‘crunchy’, which is a tannin level riper than ‘green’ but less than ‘fine’.
Total acidity was generally high, but most of that was tartaric acid. Malic acid, which would normally make up a big percentage of the total acidity, was low. In fact, the wines changed very little during malolactic fermentation, as there was little malic acid to transform into lactic acid.
So, again, we have a vintage that is characterized by high acidity and concentrated fruit. Some are saying that there has never before been a vintage where ripeness and acidity combined to give such brilliant wines with great aging potential. And this is true for both red and white. Freshness, balance, moderate alcohol.
The whites are rich and ripe, but with a crystalline, almost razor-sharp edge. That little touch of lactic acid makes them complex without adding weight.
The reds might bear a resemblance to past vintages. 2005, maybe. But they made wine differently in 2005. Back then, extraction was the goal: get as much out of the ripeness as you could. Today, Pinot is not so much ‘extracted’ as ‘infused’, like tea. This gives wines that are fresher and more energetic, with no less intensity and maybe more spice.
Drink them now, both red and white. There is astounding vitality in the youthful 2020s. But stick to the regional appellations for now because this is above all a vintage for aging, again both red and white. Keep the premier and grand crus for 10-15 years; longer for the best wines. They have the balance to age, and will reveal little by little the complexity that we just get hints of today. These are wines that may shut down for a few years in a few years, that’s to be expected. But be patient; you will be overjoyed to pull 2020 Burgundy from your cellar down the line.
But even just that little touch of lactic acid made the complexity of the whites.
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