I´m often asked what is my favourite wine region and I always refuse to answer. Every wine trip is a new love story with wine being the main guy. Santenay is not a celebrity wine region, have you heard of it at all? Do you often find it at a local wine store? Well, I'd highly recommend you to find this little village on the map of Burgundy, go there and understand why was I so much enchanted.
Santenay - a great value just a step away from the Route des Grand Crus
Santenay is a Village & Premier Cru appellation within the terroir-diverse Burgundy. It's the southernmost part of Côte de Beaune. Harvest here is the earliest and this is one of the rare places where you find dominance of red wines in the Côte.*
Being after all a typical Burgundian village, you'll find here a castle, a windmill, lots of vineyards on the hills and ... thermal waters. Yes, Santenay is home to two favourite liquids of mine - wine and water. And while I was there, the construction of the new thermal spa was in process, so see you in the pools of Santenay next year! There are 12 Premier Cru climats in Santenay. The label will therefore show Santenay Premier Cru + name of the climat (if it's a single vineyard wine):
Clos de Tavannes
Clos des Mouches
Grand Clos Rousseau
Les Gravières-Clos de Tavannes
I tasted some of these climats (I wish I could stay longer and taste all of them). See my Santenay tasting notes below, after we talk a bit about soil and winemaking in this village.
the origin of the soils dates back 60 million years to the Jurassic period
The origin of soils in Santenay. Geoology & Terroir Talks
As I mentioned, Santenay is not the most famous appellation from Burgundy. That makes it an exceptional value for money, but also makes it more difficult to find information about the wine region. One of the reasons I chose to visit Domaine Louis Lequin is that they describe very precisely the geology behind their terroirs. So the origin of the soils dates back 60 million years to the Jurassic period when 500 m of sediment settled on the seabed. So clay, limestone and their mixture - marl was formed. Some 20 million years later tectonic movements created the slopes and faults, the terrain which today is covered by vineyards. When you walk in the vineyards you start paying attention to what's under your feet. I had a couple of hours before my visit to the winery to have a look at the soils. In Santenay it's marl with lots of clay and as you move closer to Chassagne-Montrachet, marl and limestone become more dominant. This is what makes Santenay wines more rustic and powerful, and Chassagne - more finesse. I found my favourite somewhere in the middle at the boarder of two appellations. What's even more interesting is to taste a red wine grown in white soils of Chassagne. And we did it with Antoine Lequin :)
How do they ensure their precious terroir is expressed in wine? Winegrowing and winemaking techniques below
Below some basic techniques that from the winery I've visited in Santenay - Domaine Louis Lequin.
Pruning - helps to control the yield and achieve perfect maturity, Only exceptional berries can show the typicity of the region. Pinot Noir is pruned in Cordon de Royat, while Chardonnay - in Guyot Somple. Ploughing - to force the vine roots down to the rocks in order to seek their nutrition, which will eventually let us taste the local character in wine. Microbes - in the soil, not in the wine! Grass sowing is practiced to bring microbial biodiversity to the soil, to basically 'feed' the vines with nutrients.
Obviously, hand harvested grapes and very gentle oak ageing. For Chardonnay they use a 1/3 of new oak, 1/3 of 1 y.o. oak and 1/3 of 2 y.o. oak barrels. Santenay Blanc is fermented in oak and goes through malolactic fermentation with frequent lees stirring. Only slight filtration is used here before bottling - not more than necessary, as it's important not to 'filter' the terroir. Pinot Noir goes through a gentle cold-maceration before fermentation - this gives roundness and fruitiness to the wine. During fermentation they punch down and pump over to break the cap. This is important to extract aromas, flavours, tannins and colour. Santenay Noir is aged in 25% new oak barrels for 16 to 18 months.
There is no rush with selling the wine - both red and white will age in the underground cellar as long as needed for it to be a fully open and ready to drink wine. Consumers are impatient with keeping bottles all around the world :)
Curious to find out more about the Louis Lequin winery? They've been doing it for more then 400 years! Head over to my next article for details and tasting notes! Are you a fan of family run and sustainable wineries just like me? Join me on my upcoming wine tours to the European wine regions. I promise only outstanding and off-the-radar wineries :)