Tasted in Saint-Jean-d’Ardières with Philippe Marx, 07 February 2018.
131 Route Henri Fessy
Tel: +33 4 74 06 16 05
It’s more than possible that you have never heard of Vinescence (pronounced vin-essence) despite it being one of the largest producers of wine in Beaujolais.
Vinescence was created in 2017, by ‘fusing’ the identities – the cuveries remain separate – of three caves cooperatives: The Cellier des Saint-Etienne in St.Etienne des Oullières (founded in 1955), the Cave des Vignerons de Bel Air in St.Jean d’Ardières (founded in 1929) and finally the Maison des Vignerons of Chiroubles (also founded in 1929). In total, this new entity makes wine on 3 sites, from the produce of 310 vignerons, who together bring a combined vineyard area of 1,200 hectares – the largest quantities of grapes coming from Régnié, Brouilly, Chiroubles and Morgon. Vinescence operate commercial outlets (shops!) at two of their locations.
A mix of generic (cooperative ‘brands’) and domaine cuvées – up to 70 of them – are made. Nouveau is included in that, accounting for about 15% of the production. Another 10% is white and about 5% is rosé – the base for cremant is also made here, though it’s sold as must. Up to 30% of the production is retained for commercialising in bottle – that’s about 1.3 million bottles per year – the remaining 70% is sold in bulk to négociants. About 25% of Vinescence’s production is exported. Interestingly, members may also elect to take a proportion of the production from their grapes for their own sales. Some of the cuvées are also labelled with the name of the domaine that supplied the grapes – there is full traceability of the grape raw materials from grape delivery to labelling.
Whilst one might assume that the model of a cave cooperative has less resonance for domaines today, that’s not always the case in the Beaujolais. But it’s less easy than you might expect to enter the coop; for instance Vinescence would be interested in new members from St.Amour – as they don’t have many vines there – but they would be less interested in new members with hectares of Brouilly – as they already have a strong presence there – so it depends.
Of the three sites, I visited only the the largest – the former Vignerons de Belair cuverie. This site was built into the hillside here, facilitating the reception of grapes at the top of the hill so that all the operations can be done by gravity – and a big day during harvest could mean receiving 300 tonnes of grapes in a single day at this one cuverie. There are plenty old-style concrete tanks, but they have been ‘skinned’ inside with stainless steel to aid clean-up. The newer tanks are all temperature regulated stainless-steel. It is a good blend of the old and functional plus an obvious investment in new facilities too. One of tank areas was described to me as the Place de Europe with each of the tanks bearing the name of a European country – and for the moment, at least, there is no Brexit in Saint-Jean-d’Ardières!
The fermentations are mainly tradition with whole clusters, though some cuvées are partially destemmed – for instance some Morgon, Brouilly and Moulin à Vent – typically those that will see some percentage of barrel elevage. Finally there is the bottling; available in multiple closure types – domaine labelled wines are usually natural cork and some screwcaps are used for US sales – though please note my comment on closures in the wines section below.
How the receipt of grapes works:
Of-course, even with the best winemaker in the world, you can’t make good wine from poor produce. The process for the cave starts with a visual inspection of the grape delivery: Are the grapes mature? Have the leaves been removed? Has there been some triage? Each delivery is assigned a ‘score’ from A to B to C to D. D entails automatic rejection of the delivery. A gets 5% higher payment for the vigneron(ne) and C gets 5% lower payment than the standard B. This visual assessment is headed by a professor of Lycée Viticole of Belair. The next level of inspection comes from the analytics – again graded from A to C, here the level of yield can be assessed – a vigneron(ne) with ‘straight As’ would achieve 20% higher payment when compared to ‘standard.’
I would avoid the basic wines with synthetic closures – the aromas are powdery and uninteresting – perhaps it’s ‘merely’ a reductive problem in youth. The other wines, however, are quite attractive – and particularly so when you take into account their pricing!
The first bottlings began in March, the ‘biggest’ crus with some oak components to the elevage start in June – there are a maximum two bottlings for the crus:
2016 Vignerons de Belair, Beaujolais Villages
St.Etienne des Oullières is that largest contributor to this wine.
Rather a powdery but deep aroma. Decent volume in the mouth and rather good flavour, though with some tannin to resolve. Very tasty finish.
2016 Vignerons de Belair, Régnié Les Clochers
Deeper, darker-fruited nose, still a little powdery. Much finer structure with a nice line of flavour – tasty as the last wine was, this has much more mouth-watering class. Delicate and complex in the agreeable finish.
2016 Domaine des Poutoux, Brouilly
A 12 hectare domaine.
A more concentrated and more compact dark fruit – again a little powdery impression to the nose. Wider, silkier again – very fine texture – layered flavour. The tannin says wait 12-36 months but the depth of flavour is attractive and has a little more depth of attractive herby aspects, turning floral in the finish. Complex and to wait for.
2016 Château de Prieuré, Côte de Brouilly
The first wine that doesn’t show the powdery aspect – and it’s the first wine without a ‘plastic cork’ – though typically its quite tight but darker fruited. A suggestion of gas here, lots of energy, more red-fruited in the flavours – mouth-watering and very tasty. Intense in the finish. This is very good!
2016 Vignerons de Belair, Chiroubles ‘Les Clochers’
No ‘domaine’ wines here in 16 or 17 due to the hail.
Also quite a compact nose, but some depth. A little extra fresh density, plenty of mouth-filling volume, more structure in the finish. A little astringence from the tannins in this one – so wait a couple of years. There’s a good complexity here.
2016 Vignerons de Belair, Julienas ‘Hiver Festive’
Smallest appellation at the coop.
Also a relatively tight nose but with some focus to the dark red fruit. Structured but with a fine intensity of fresh fruit behind – this is not for drinking now but I find it quite exciting and refreshing – long too. Super!
2016 Vignerons de Belair, Saint Amour ‘Printemps Intense’
Two new vignerons from St.Amour became members of the coop in the last 12 months.
Some dark depth here, but the deep almost cheesy aspect of the nose is not the best angle for this wine. In the mouth there’s good volume and a roundness of presentation – adding depth and density to the flavour. The finish is pretty good, but this isn’t the best wine of the line-up…
2016 Vignerons de Belair, Morgon ‘Hiver Gourmand’
An altogether more open nose that’s fresh, dark fruited and has some interest. Lots of flavour width, some slight dryness of tannin but very fine-grained tannin – mouth-watering flavour – complex and tasty wine. Yum – and super in the finish too!
2016 Vignerons de Belair, Morgon Côte de Py
From 6 different vignerons. In the brasseries of Paris Brouilly has been the most bought wine for a number of years, slowly Morgon is starting to catch up.
Here the nose has a modest accent of oak to add to some floral notes – about 30% destemmed and about 30% barrel elevage, virtually no new barrels – they are used for the whites! This is bigger in the mouth but it’s fresh and complex too – the previous wine is a little more focused today but this has more energy and complexity. There’s a little facile sweetness from the oak in the finish which I would look to avoid – so wait 2-3 years…
2016 Vignerons de Belair, Moulin à Vent – Domaine des Ailes
Freshness up top but a more overt oak at the aromatic base. Suave textured – a wine of concentration and velvet. I would say quite luxurious with some floral aspects too – there’s no escaping the oak flavour in the middle and finish though – again wait 2-3 years before returning – unless of-course you enjoy the vanilla – in which case it’s ready for you!