Of-course, the most astute and detail-conscious of you will note an issue with the ‘title’ for this page – there is no ‘village’ of Saint-Véran, but for the sake of consistency with the other AOC profiles on this site…
Right, Saint-Véran ‘En Pommards’ – the photo taken from the commune of Davayé
It is said that the name of the appellation comes from Saint Véran, a 6th-century hermit who became the bishop of Cavaillon and is the patron of shepherds and protector of the flocks. The commune of Saint-Vérand actually carried the name of Saint-Véran before the French Revolution and was already well-known for its wines in the 17th century.
The white wine AOC of Saint-Véran was granted in January 1971 – celebrated at the Château de la Balmondière in Saint Vérand – though, for the first 10 years of the AOC, just about all the production was declassified back to Mâcon Blanc, as the new label was unknown, so difficult to market. It wasn’t easy to get the AOC at all, as the INAO were reluctant to rubber-stamp a tiny appellation, so there were probably a number of accommodations so that enough communes and vines available. Interestingly, Davayé was originally invited to part of the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation when that was founded in 1936 but declined at the time because of the high proportion of their wines that were once red.
Today, 844 hectares are classified for the AOC of Saint-Véran, but currently, it is more like 720-730 hectares that are actually planted. The vast majority of production in Saint-Véran is harvested by machine – approaching 90% of the production.
There are very many small owners of Saint-Véran – ownership by the large négociants is on a low order – about two-thirds of the appellation’s wine is sold by those small owners, the cooperatives accounting for most of the other one-third. Some records go back as far as 1606, and the recorded names of the vignerons often corresponded to names of climats of the same time – today there are 187 climats!
Approximately 250 producers declare a harvest volume, and 25% of that total volume is sold in bulk – presumably to the négoce. Perhaps less than 20% of Saint-Véran sees any wood during elevage, and whilst that proportion is increasing, it seems (generally) to be increasing in a ‘sympathetic’ way, with a significant proportion of 500 and 600-litre barrels being used for ageing…
The appellation of Saint-Véran lies at the southern end of the Mâconnais, to the west of the town of Mâcon, bordering Beaujolais. The appellation forms something of a belt around the appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé and includes vines in the communes of Chânes, Chasselas, Davayé, Leynes, Prissé, (in theory) Saint-Amour-Bellevue, Saint-Vérand and Solutré-Pouilly – all in the department of Saône et Loire. You will note that whilst there are Saint-Véran vines in the commune of Saint-Vérand, that final ‘d’ is lost for the wine. The TGV slices through the vines here – 1h40 to Paris…
The vines can be roughly separated into two zones, separated to the north by the appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé on the slopes of the rock of Solutré, in the communes of Davayé, Prissé and Solutré-Pouilly. To the south are the communes of Chânes, Chasselas, Leynes, Saint-Amour-Bellevue and Saint-Vérand. Returning to Saint-Amour, it is technically possible to produce Saint-Véran here, as there is a limestone bedrock in one part of the appellation, but in practice, the rock is so deep (over 3 metres down) that it has almost no influence, plus it is more commercially interesting to sell Saint-Amour than Saint-Véran…
The rather typical argilo-calcaire (clay and chalk/Jurassic limestone) soils – with fossilised mussels above – some gray marls in the north, limestone marls in the south – cover altitudes between 200 and 450 metres – all well-suited to chardonnay, so the appellation of Saint-Véran is applicable only to white wines. There are small pockets of aligoté, pinot and gamay grapes, but they all take Mâcon or Bourgogne labels. Chasselas is the one commune with a rather consistent geology, though like everywhere else, there are lots of valleys and lots of different orientations to the sun and altitudes. Still, there is also quite a high proportion of land used for the Charolais cows, or crops or sometimes small woods too – the first two are usually found at the bottom of slopes, the slopes themselves are more regularly planted with vines, but the pockets of woodland can be just about anywhere. One grower told me that 30 years ago it was mainly cows near his family home – now it is mainly vines.
There are appreciable differences in maturity between the north and south, this year (2017) for instance, saw up to 10 days difference in picking times – the commune of Davayé is typically a little warmer than the other communes.
Saint-Véran Premier crus?
Saint-Véran is a village appellation, and there are no currently premier crus. A project with Saint-Véran 1er Crus in mind started in 2010 – the same process in Pouilly-Fuissé will have taken about 12 years. But the criteria for attributing particular climats as premier crus is not yet fully defined. Perhaps 150-200 hectares are planned to be considered for inclusion, covering 42 named climats. Additional issues revolve around what to do with climats with names such as En Pommards and Côte Rôti – should the growers’ syndicate fight to keep the names and history? – probably increasing the length of the project – or find new names, but then lose some of their history? There is only a maximum of 9,000 bottles of Côte Rôti though…
The ‘climat’ is already allowed to be on the label of a Saint-Véran, but instinctively I feel that ’42’ 1er cru climats sounds far too many for anyone to remember, but at last count, there are 187 differentiated climats – so that’s about 3.7 hectares per climat! Given how many climat names there are, I choose not to list them all (see here). This, I think, is the perfect example of how such a process can be self-defeating if there are so many 1ers that in the end nobody remember any of them – maybe they should take a Chablis-style model where they also have over 40 potential 1er crus but they can be included in 7 or-so better known ‘umbrella’ names.
Here, a tasting of almost 90 wines – many potential premier crus included.