Discovering the climats of Pouilly-Fuissé at Domaine Thibert
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Where do you find wines of the highest quality in Burgundy? In Premier or Grand Cru wines? Or maybe at the wineries that work relentlessly to achieve the Premier Cru appellation for their dearest vineyards?
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.
With Sandrine 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:
It's a very old appellation from 1936, like Pouilly-Vinzelles or Pouilly-Loché (although very similar in geology and wine style, these two villages decided not to join the Pouilly-Fuissé ‘team’).
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 defining the terroir of the vineyards
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.
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 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. During the last 10 years, Louis Jadot bought 40 ha here. It’s huge for this small appellation! This purchase interest naturally increases the land price already now, before even becoming a Premier Cru.
Which is not a problem for large merchants, but a serious issue for small producers like Domaine Thibert. While some plots are owned, many are rented - that was the only way to enrich their wine portfolio without a significant investment in land.
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, has 200 recognized 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.
Wine tasting with Sandrine at Domaine Thibert
During my trip to Burgundy, tasting wine at 10 am became my everyday morning routine (except Sundays, of course :)
So we start with a Mâcon-Verzé from 2016.
This wine is part of the Classique collection - so usually, a blend of grapes coming from a specific village, Verzé in our case. As for an entry-level wine, it’s quite ‘aged’, I mean wouldn’t you be surprised that the youngest wine you taste at a Chardonnay focused winery in June 2019 is from 16’?
they had to ensure the bottle is opened when the wine is ready to express itself.
Sandrine said that they used to work like other wineries before - fermenting, bottling fast and selling, but not anymore. As they invest so much effort to grow exceptional grapes on their vineyards and then produce exceptional wine in the cellar, it doesn’t make sense selling it, before it can really be enjoyed. You know, most of the customers are buying wine to drink now, not in two years. So as a winery they had to ensure the bottle is opened when the wine is ready to express itself.
Verzé is a little village nearby with a fantastic terroir. Mâcon is a 3000 ha appellation, so in order to highlight the differences of terroir, producers started to bottle some selected vineyards under Mâcon + village name appellations. That’s how you get a Mâcon-Verzé wine.
A lot of limestone and clay there, located right in the middle of the slope, has a very rich expression. But in order to uncover the aromas we need to avoid any residual sugar. Aromas are bound by sugar, so for freedom of expression, you need a bone-dry wine. That’s perfectly achieved in this bottle!
feel free to keep this wine for up to 4 days, no vacuum or coravin, just with the cork in the fridge.
As for the ageing, Mâcon-Verze comes from 90% stainless steel and 10% used oak.
And 16’ is still very young, it’s very well balanced, a very good vintage, but we can still wait for a year or two with drinking it.
This bottle was opened the day before, and you can feel free to keep this wine for up to 4 days. No vacuum or coravin, just with the cork in the fridge. Actually, Sandrine recommends opening a bottle of their wine hours or even a day before drinking, the more serious the wine is, the longer you should let it ‘breathe’.
We move on to the next terroir, Saint-Véran Bois de Fée 2015 - this time from the Exceptional wines of Domaine Thibert.
2015 was a very hot year so they decided to harvest early, in order to keep the natural balance of acidity. Therefore, the wine has very ripe aromas, but it’s not overwhelmed by sugar or alcohol. It is a single vineyard wine from Saint-Véran, that is actually on the border of Chasselas and the Pouilly-Fuissé vineyards. Remember, Véran wines are not from the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation, but due to geographical proximity and similar soil, they do taste more like Pouilly-Fuissé, than Chasselas.
This wine will drive your nose crazy. A very flowery, fruity, ripe wine. But no presence of sugar, just as I love!
Saint-Véran is a very complex combination of geological formations.
As it’s from the Exceptional wine portfolio, Bois de Fée comes from long ageing - so the first 10 months it ages in barrel (5% of new oak and the rest is max. 5 years old), then 10 more months it rests in stainless steel before bottling.
Saint-Véran is a very complex combination of geological formations, and we don’t even have a proper map of it yet. There are only two producers that do single-vineyard bottling there, one of them is Domaine Thibert.
Avoiding filtration helps to produce richer wines.
Besides long ageing for the Exceptional wines, they also aim for no or very little filtration here. To be able to do it, the wine has to be properly fermented, not to have any risk of an unstable wine, so no yeast activity should occur once the wine is bottled. Avoiding filtration helps to produce richer wines. At Domaine Thibert they work this way since 2007.
Our next wine is a Pouilly-Loché En Chantone 2015 that comes from a single vineyard from Loché village.
The soil is neutral clay here, still with lots of limestone. You can feel the malolactic fermentation a lot in here - a creamy wine.
Although most of the producers do MLF for Chardonnay here in Burgundy, depending on the terroir, fruit aromas and vintage you may feel the creamy-buttery notes more or less. One producer even told me that MLF is mandatory for all Chardonnay in all Burgundy (couldn’t find written proof yet, but he was very convincing).
The vineyards of Loché cover only 30 ha. And for this cuvée Domaine Thibert produces max 3000 bottles. If you are looking for a ‘trilogy’ of Pouilly (maybe as a wine collector, or just an aficionado of these soils), you can find all three at this winery. Pouilly-Fuissé, Pouilly-Loché and Pouilly-Vinzelles - remember the last two decided to go each their own way, while Pouilly-Fuissé is part of the 4 village appellation.
And let’s try the third wine of this ‘trilogy’ Pouilly-Vinzelles Les Longeays 2015.
Les Longeays is only a 50 ha vineyard. At Domaine Thibert they have 2 ha there and this makes them one of the most important producers of it. This is how things work in Burgundy - 2 ha can make you the largest producer :)
It’s of the most interesting terroirs of Pouilly and, hopefully, a soon-to-be Premier Cru. The vineyard has a south-east exposure with all of the vines being around 50 years old.
The wine is very pure, it’s very salty and gastronomic. Sandrine says they really like to look for this taste because it makes the wine fresh, gives a nice contrast with the fruity aromas, and it’s really easy to empty the glass and even finish the bottle.
Again 16’ is still not ready yet, a bit too young, so we stick to 15’. This is what Sandrine says about a wine's readiness:
It’s not orange juice, we work very hard in the vineyard and cellar to get top quality wines, so you know it’s a lot of work, and then people will open the bottle and drink the wine when it’s not mature, it’s hours and hours and hours of work...
At Domaine Thibert they’re still selling 2014’s of some wines, the goal is to sell wines only when they’re really ready to drink. There are not so many wineries, even in Burgundy, doing this. Some consider their job is done once the wine is bottled, but others, like Domaine Thibert, want to have control over when their wine is drunk. It’s end of June, 2019 and they’re still finishing with bottling their 2017. A philosophy that deserves respect.
Next on the list is Pouilly-Fuissé 2015 Vignes de la Côte - so it’s a single vineyard, on the top of the hill, right after the Roman church in Fuissé. I loved the freshness of this wine. Here their focus is on elegance, not powerful wines. That’s why oak is used for most of the wines of this domaine, but they’re very careful with new oak.
In Vignes de la Côte it’s around 10% new oak.
Using only one cooper with only French oak, at Domaine Thibert they ensure that oak is there only to facilitate the expression of the fruit and terroir, not to overwhelm them.
A 10-15 min walk from the winery will take you to the Vignes de la Côte vineyard to see lots of marl and calcareous formations on top of this very shallow limestone soil.
The same very hot 2015 when the harvest was very early. It was a difficult year, especially for Chardonnay producers, to preserve the acidity. But with all the hard work invested in this vintage, now we can enjoy ripe, but not cooked, fruits, with balanced acidity and alcohol in a bone-dry wine.
The Thibert family has been doing wine for many generations, and Sandrine explains how different it’s now, from what it used to be. Their parents and grandparents used to have difficulties with ripening, weather was colder, the production higher, vines full of bunches, plenty of grapes to harvest. It’s normal that it used to take longer to ripen, and many winegrowers were adding sugar to increase the alcohol level. Now it’s not the case anymore, the problem is to keep the right acidity.
Although still many people think of sugar level being the main criteria for harvesting, in fact, it’s a complex combination of acidity, pH, sugar and many other things. For high-class wines balance is crucial.
Pouilly-Fuissé Les Cras 2015 - this is a blend of three tiny vineyards on the top of the plateau on a high altitude, a future Premier Cru. The soil is very shallow, rocky, a pure calcareous soil and their vines are above 65 years old here.
Again an outstanding gastronomic wine, but it’s a good practice to drink wine on its’ own, to see what the grapevine and winemaker wanted to express, the purity of fruits, flowers, soil, without any changes by food. I love drinking wines without food :)
This you could easily guess from my articles.
Sandrine says they aim to use less sulfites. To do it, they use a machine that replaces oxygen in barrels and tanks with nitrogen. Less oxygen means less risk for faulty wine, so sulfite usage can be reduced.
Another way of sulfite reduction is a specific way of doing bâtonnage. They just use a system that turns tanks, so they don’t have to open the top, therefore oxygen can’t enter at this stage either.
The most recent acquisition was a new bottling machine, so that now Christophe and the team has full control over the process and there is no need to invite a company for bottling (very common practice for small domaines). Again, this bottling machine works under nitrogen, so no oxygen can enter the wine during the process.
Pouilly-Fuissé Vignes Blanches 2015 - one of the most famous vineyards in the village, it will be a future Premier Cru. And again, Domaine Thibert is one of the main producers with their 1 ha vineyard of Vignes Blanches ;)
It has a south-east exposure, right in the middle of the slope It’s the most mineral wine in their portfolio and a perfect choice to age. Although we were tasting the 15’s vintage, Sandrine said it’s still closed, it needs more time in bottle.
This wine is fine and elegant, with so much stones, it’s sharp with a complex long finish.
Sandrine wanted me to understand the development of this wine in bottle, so she brought a magnum of Vignes Blanches 2010.
2010 was one of the best vintages in the last decades and the wine we tasted still felt young and fresh but compared to the 2015’s, the aromas became more concentrated, the subtle notes became more recognizable, it's very fruity but never overwhelming. A soon to be 10-year-old Pouilly-Fuissé that still has many years ahead.
Some days ago they opened a magnum of 2008, and to their surprise, it was very closed. So they left the wine in a carafe for 4 days on the table in their tasting room. And voila, the wine transformed and opened all the beauty to its’ creators.
But this impressive ageing potential is no magic or gift of nature. They work hard to preserve the grapevines healthy and harvest berries of exceptional quality.
There is a lot of work in the winery as well. Small things like the length of bottleneck or length of cork matter. Starting from 2016’s vintage they’re going to use improved bottles (with a longer neck) and a new label. The label displays a falcon on a stick with curling grapevines. This means precision of a falcon in what they do here and dedication to their land, as it’s been at least 8 generations that the Thibert family is in Fuissé.
By changing the label they wanted to show people their attitude, personality and commitment, even though the old one was also dear for them - it was their family house.
I encountered here a phenomenal ambition to become a top producer and promote Pouilly-Fuissé and Southern Mâcon as home of exceptional terroirs. Now I’m back home with a bottle of Vignes Blanches 2016 - I promised not to drink it and will keep this baby wine in my fridge for at least two more years.
If you're too far away to visit... then start by watching this not only informative, but also very emotional movie about Burgundy on Wine Masters.