Where do you find wines of the highest quality in Burgundy? Is it the Premier or Grand Cru wines? Or maybe look for the wineries that work relentlessly to achieve the Premier Cru appellation for their dearest vineyards? Let's taste the best wines of Pouilly-Fuissé an appellation that recently earned the right to add the Premier Cru title to 22 of their climats.
In the heart of an exceptional natural site (the Solutré-Pouilly-Vergisson site received official recognition as ‘Grand Site de France’) where Chardonnay has exclusive reign, one can find the most diverse expressions of terroir brought directly from the rocks by the grapevine. Here the majority of wineries are still small and family run, and the winemaking style is always focused on non-intervention. Or at least it was my luck, that I met only terroir-obsessed people :)
In Pouilly-Fuissé I visited Domaine Thibert Pere et Fils to hear their story, understand the dedication to Chardonnay and taste the results to tireless work in the vineyards.
The Pouilly-Fuissé Appellation
In 2020 Pouilly-Fuissé was officially recognized with 22 of its' climats earning the Premier Cru titles.
With Sandrine from the Domaine Thibert & Fils we meet at the village of Fuissé, right in the middle of Pouilly-Fuissé wine region at their family house and winery.
It’s a beautiful morning with changeable weather, one of those when I take both umbrella and sunglasses with me. To reach them I walked for 40 min along the vineyards of Mâcon to finally enter the 780 ha appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé.
Pouilly-Fuissé consists of 4 villages:
Pouilly-Fuissé is a very old appellation from 1936, like Pouilly-Vinzelles or Pouilly-Loché (although they're very similar in geology and wine style, these last two villages decided not to join the Pouilly-Fuissé ‘team’).
In 2020 Pouilly-Fuissé was officially recognized with 22 of its' climats earning the Premier Cru titles. It's a very important event for the winemakers of the region. Being awarded a Premier Cru title means an official recognition of the climats of a region. It takes a lot of years of bottling single vineyard wines even though it's much more convenient to do the blending (assemblage) and sell it as a Pouilly-Fuissé AOC village.
It's also became easier for the consumers, before they were picking out of the dozens of climats of these villages, how would they know the differences in bottle? You can't know them all by heart unless you are a vigneron from Pouilly-Fuissé. Well, now there's an official recognition of the best 22 climats as Premier Cru sites so for consumers the choice became more straighforward.
It's the first time that a Bourgogne Village AOC from the MAconnais region was classified as Premier Cru. It took ten years for the local winemakers and the board of Pouilly-Fuissé to prove that their best plots should be acknowledged and as a result today 24% of the whole Pouilly-Fuissé appellation is classified as Premier Cru.
Domaine Thibert Père et Fils
As for the Thibert family, they’re winemakers for 8 generations in the Pouilly-Fuissé area. Sandrine and her brother Christophe always wanted to enlarge their portfolio by wines from villages like Vinzelles or Loché. So now they’re producing not only Pouilly-Fuissé but also Saint-Véran, Vinzelles, Loché and Mâcon-Prissé, all focused on single-vineyard bottling.
Revealing the terroir in Southern Mâconnais is quite rare. We’re used to hearing that Mâcon is a source of inexpensive Chardonnay that ‘also comes from Burgundy’, but thanks to the passion of this new generation of winegrowers, this is about to change. Lots of hard work is hidden in their wines - restless days in the vineyards to get healthy, strong, resistant vines with a focus on preserving the old grapevines. Lots of investment in top-class equipment to eliminate the need for filtration and minimize the addition of sulfites. And, of course, focus on single-vineyard bottlings, as this is the only way to express and prove the diverse terroir of Southern Mâconnais, and specifically Pouilly-Fuissé. These two siblings, led by the absence of Premier or Grand Cru titles, but the need to explain their terroirs to consumers, divided their portfolio on Classique and Exceptional wines. This way in Classique you’ll find a blend of selected vineyards, for example, Pouilly-Fuissé, and in Exceptional - Poully-Fuissé Vignes Blanches, that is a single-vineyard, candidate for a Premier Cru title.
The pros & cons of becoming a Premier Cru
people are interested in showcasing the terroir of their vineyards
When I was visiting the region in 2019 the decision wasn't yet taken but the winemakers in Pouilly-Fuissé were obviously expecting it any time soon and hoping it will be positive. After all, they worked hard for so long to achieve their Premier Cru titles. But for them it wasn't just about updating the labels.
Many winemakers in the area prefer selecting single vineyard cuvées. More and more people are interested in defining the terroir of the vineyards, even though it requires more work than blending everything in a generic Pouilly-Fuissé. So it’s an exceptional opportunity to get the Premier Cru appellation for this precious, already recognized as a Grand Site de France area - I mean the rock of Solutré. One can find Grand and Premier Cru wines from all around Burgundy, but none from Mâcon. Meanwhile, the terroir is booming here, and every glass of Pouilly-Fuissé tells you something different from the area it came from. That’s why currently it’s a fantastic value for money as not everyone knows about this newly made Premier Cru appellation.
As a result, the appellation gets more and more exposure both locally and internationally, but obviously, there is a downside to it as well. Lots of wine merchants buying land in this area, because they know it will grow in price, and with the 22 climats becoming Premier Cru it already did grow. During the last 10 years, Louis Jadot - one of the biggest wine merchants worldwide - bought 40 ha here. It’s huge for this small appellation!
Such purchases naturally increases the land price which means it will be very difficult for the locals to keep their vineyards, some of which are rented not owned. So it’s even more important to keep going, work even harder, focus on terroir and exceptional quality because otherwise, one day it will be only wine merchants buying and owning everything here in Pouilly-Fuissé and Burgundy in general. How about it being another reason to support small producers and forget about large négociant wines? Domaine Thibert produces 150 000 bottles a year, solely of their own grapes, grown on their land.
The terroirs of Pouilly-Fuissé
Pouilly-Fuissé, a 780 ha appellation, 200 recognized climats, 22 Premier Cru climats.
There is too much to say about the diversity of soils and exposures to fit in this article … Pouilly-Fuissé, a 780 ha appellation, has 200 recognized climats. A climat in Burgundy is a place in the countryside that bears a traditional name and designates a topographical or historical particularity (said not me, but Le Petit Robert dictionary).
These 200 climats are expressed on 15 different types of soil - volcanic, mudstone, sandstone, clay soils with or without limestone, then limestone, marl, calcareous etc. And all these can be deep or shallow soils, of any given age. If you have the time, just a few extra hours, besides visiting the wineries, spend it on walking from Mâcon, through a cute forest towards Fuissé, and then going up to the Roman church in the village, and taking the route to all other villages in the appellation. Get off-road to the vineyards, check out how frequently you see dramatic changes in the soil.
learn to detect decent producers that care for the land and environment and those who prefer producing highly technical wines
Even if you are not a geology expert (neither I am), you’ll notice the different colour and composition - how stony it is, how sandy, what type of stones are there, are they hard or soft stones. All this on the surface, I’m not even talking about the diversity on a 2 m depth... You can also learn to detect decent producers that care for the land and environment and those who prefer producing highly technical wines - weed-killers, anti-fungal treatments, heavy tractors. The way a vineyard looks tells you a lot about what happens next in the cellar. As they use anti-fungal treatments there won’t be any active natural yeast, so selected yeasts will be used. Usually, it leads to adding bacteria for the malolactic fermentation, as if you don’t care about the land, why would you waste time on doing it slower, naturally?
the way a vineyard looks says a lot more about the producer, than the organic or bio-dynamic logo on the label
Clean soils without any grass cover speak about extensive weed-killers in use. This means, that the vine has no competitors around to encourage growing deep roots for finding water, so it grows only superficial roots and will not be able to express the terroir of the land even a meter underneath it. The soil is poor if you use pesticides and weed-killers, has no nutrients to feed the vine, so artificial fertilizers must be used. And a never-ending circle starts.
they don't inherit the land from their ancestors, but borrow it from their children.
I always say that the way a vineyard looks says a lot more about the producer, than the organic or biodynamic logo on the label. In fact, at Domaine Thibert they tried both but decided to stay away from committing to any of these systems. Their own way can be defined very simply:
Think about the long-term well-being of the grapevines, as only berries of exceptional quality can express the terroir.
No or very little filtration.
Minimum sulfites, achieved by nitrogen-led technology in the winery.
Commitment to the land, where their family has been residing for at least 8 generations.
They don't inherit the land from their ancestors, but borrow it from their children.
Now you must have only one question unanswered. What wines did I taste in Pouilly-Fuissé? Keep reading to learn more about my visit to Domaine Thibert and the so diverse Chardonnay we tasted with Sandrine.
Or join me on my upcoming wine trips to Burgundy. You'll meet lots of wonderful winemakers that take care of their land and make outstanding wine for many generations.