The Mâconnais – Bourgogne with a southern accent

Bourgogne is world renowned for its wines from 84 Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée (AOCs) and diverse Climats (plots). One of the Regionale AOCs is Mâcon, Bourgogne’s southern, lesser-known appellation of quality and value wines.
Producers in the Mâconnais grow and make primarily Chardonnay, and a little Gamay and rosé where allowed, within its 27 geographical designations. During a November 2021 trip to Bourgogne, I visited four producers spanning the Mâconnais: Domaine Jean-Pierre Michel in Clessé, Cave Vignerons des Terres Secrètes in Prissé, Le Château de Fuissé, and Bret Brothers’ Domaine de la Soufrandière in Vinzelles.

Domaine Jean-Pierre Michel

Jean-Pierre Michel is from a multi-generational family of producers, Domaine Michel Clessé. In 2003, after three decades of making wine at the family domaine, he and his wife, Sylvie, launched their own domaine in Quintaine in the Saône Valley, the center of the Viré-Clessé. His son Quentin and their dog Orca complete Michel’s family team.
Michel makes four Chardonnays from his 22-acre (nine-hectare), sustainably farmed estate: M de Quintaine, Terroirs de Quintaine, Sur le Calcaire, and a Mâcon-Villages named Terre Blanche. During a normal year, he makes 5,000 to 6,000 cases of wine, although in 2021, he produced only 30% due to Bourgogne’s challenging weather during the growing season.
He ferments his wines naturally with native yeast, then ages them in neutral oak barrels except for the unoaked Terre Blanche. The latter, the 2018 Terre Blanche, was fresh, juicy and lively on the palate. The 2018 M de Quintaine showed elegance, finesse, and purity, while the 2018 Sur la Calcaire revealed more minerality from the rockiest soil of Michel’s estate. When asked why he decided to strike out on his own, he replied, “I want to make wine my own special way — and Quintaine my way, too.”

Cave Vignerons des Terres Secrètes

Cave Vignerons des Terres Secrètes is a wine-growing and winemaking cooperative in Prissé that works with 120 growers and their 2,348 acres (950 hectares) to make a broad portfolio of wines from the Mâconnais’s many designations. It is the result of a merger between the cellars of Prissé, Sologny, and Verzé.
Its winemakers were instrumental in helping to establish the Saint-Véran AOC, and today the co-op owns one-third of the surface area of the appellation.
The production facility is a state-of-the art, sustainability pioneer utilizing 1,700 square meters of solar panels to generate 45% of its own electricity. During my visit, I tasted a variety of Chardonnays from Mâcon-Prissé, Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine, Mâcon-La Roche-VineuseMâcon-Verzé, Saint-Véran, and a Gamay from Mâcon-Pierreclos, all lovely representations of the appelations at price points beginning at around per bottle.

Terres Secrètes also makes exclusive store label wines for the U.S. retail market. In 2021, La Revue du vin de France named the co-op “groupement de vignerons de l’année” (winegrower group of the year).
“We received this wonderful recognition, but we always have room for improvement,” said export manager Fabrice Roelandt. Future plans include an opening to the public for tours and tastings.

Le Château de Fuissé

The home estate of Le Château de Fuissé dates back to the 15th century, and five generations of the Vincent Family have owned it since 1862.
General manager, oenologist, and winemaker Antoine Vincent make wines “from vineyard to bottle” from the estate’s more than 100 acres (40 hectares) across five appellations: Pouilly-Fuissé, Saint-Véran, Mâcon-Villages, Mâcon-Fuissé, Bourgogne Blanc, and Juliénas (Beaujolais), as well as an introductory portfolio called Signature, whose grapes come from other esteemed family vineyards.
Vincent’s goal is to “respect what the vintage offers” and make what he calls “wines with identity.” He does so by adapting his oak regime annually and stopping malolactic fermentation to retain freshness and acidity.
His showstopper is the Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru Le Clos Monopole, whose grapes come from walled vineyards surrounding the château. Vincent describes this parcel as “exceptional terroir” due to its 6.8 acres (2.7 hectares) of old Chardonnay vines and harmonious marriage of three soil types (clay, marl, and limestone). The finished wine is balanced, pure, and opulent.
In response to Chardonnay's naysayers, Vincent said, “To not like Chardonnay is to not like wine.”

Bret Brothers’ Domaine La Soufrandière

Domaine La Soufrandière includes about 10 acres (four hectares) in Pouilly-Vinzelles, les Quarts, and an acre (.55 hectares) in Pouilly-Vinzelles, les Longeays. The Chardonnay vines are older, between 33 and 80 years old, and ideally situated on a southeast-facing hillside with clay and limestone soils.
Brothers Jean-Phillipe, Jean-Guillaum, and Marc-Antoine Bret vinified their first vintage at La Soufrandière in 2000, and in 2001, they founded their business, Bret Brothers. Four years later, their maternal grandmother gave them La Soufrandière with two and a half acres (one hectare) from which they produce their famed Mâcon-Vinzelles “Clos de Grand-Père.”
During the past 22 years, they have implemented vineyard plowing (4.2 acres/1.7 hectares by horse), hand-harvesting, certified organic and biodynamic farming, indigenous yeast fermentation, no chaptalization or acidification, neutral oak aging, and use of unwashed cork closures topped with wax to reduce oxidation.
La Soufrandière has grown to include estate vineyards in Saint-Véran, Pouilly-Fuissé, and some Aligoté, with total production of around 5,000 cases.
“Our vision as winegrowers and winemakers is to honor living things, embrace terroir, and highlight the differences between appellations,” said Marc-Antoine Bret. “A single grape variety, Chardonnay, a host of terroirs of Jurassic clay/limestone, 40 to 180 million years old. Without life, the terroir is nothing — and vice-versa.”
For more information about the Mâconnais, visit bourgogne-wines.com.