This is not an obvious reality for most of us who are not familiar with the topography of the Bugey and Savoie vineyards, but Franck Peillot, while standing on his steep Altesse vineyards with the village of Montagnieu in the background, can contemplate the Rhone river further down in the valley. We are here 67 km from Lyons by road (in fact much less in direct distance) and as upstream from Lyons, the Rhone flows from the east, this Bugey wine region finds itself with south-east exposition right along the famed river. The wine region is today a fraction of what it used to be one or two centuries ago, when it produced wines not only for the villages around, but for the Lyon area. There were 7000 hectares here in the 19th century while the whole surface of Bugey is today about 500 hectares. The three terroirs of Bugey are Montagnieu, Cerdon and Manicle (which grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).
There are about 15 vignerons working on the terroir of Montagnieu, Franck Peillot himself is the 5th generation to take the reins of this small family property. At the beginning, he and his father had only Altesse (also known as the Roussette de Savoie) and Mondeuse on their 1,5 hectares of vineyards. These two varieties, the first being white, the latter red, are emblematic of the region, and are hardly found anywhere else. When Franck Peillot began to work in the family vineyards, he began to plant additional varieties, first Chardonnay then Pinot Noir. Today, the vineyard surface of his estate is 6 hectares, with roughly 2 hectares of Altesse, 2 hectares of Mondeuse, 1 hectare of Chardonnay and 1 hectare of Pinot Noir. The winery sits just outside of the charming village of Montagnieu, at a very short distance from these scenic slopes planted with Altesse.
Back in 1981 : this deposit or turbidity in the natural sparkling was a bit of a problem at that time : people were not that open as they can be today when it comes to turbidity and sediments, so the vignerons tried another sparkling method. In 1982, Franck Peillot himself tried to make a first méthode Champenoise try with Altesse, to circumvent this turbidity problem, but the results were mixed, with a bitter type of sparkling typical when you champanize grapes which are too rich.
But Frank Peillot also makes a still-wine Altesse. He and his father (who is pictured on right) never added Chardonnay in it even if it was allowed in the Appellation rules. This was not as easy compared when you add the exuberant Chardonnay, which can adapt and satisfy the average consumer on whatever terroir it grows, but they considered that a 100 % Altesse would give a better expression of this terroir, so they kept it as such, and they even increased its planted surface. Let's remind that the Cru Montagnieu has a very small surface, it's about 30 hectares in total, and the Altesse gives its best on these steep slopes which get hot during the summer days. There are limestone cliffs above on the hill which store lots of heat too. The terroir of Montagnieu is the last outpost of Jura which overlooks the Rhone, it's 600 meters high but the vineyards don't go that high of course. On the two extremities of this terroir, there are thick marls laying on a rock table, whi ch give good result on white wines.
The Altesse vines go quite high, like more than 2 meters at adult age, each plant being tied to its pole, on échalas, like in Chateau Chalon or in Côte Rôtie. The goal is to ventilate correctly the foliage and the grapes. To tie the foliage, Franck Peillot uses a natural fiber (picture above).
The work in the vineyard is particularly difficult on the steep slopes, Franck says that in summer, if he compares the time needed to plow a machine-friendly flat plot with the time needed to till one of these very steep slopes like on the pictures above, there's a difference between 1 to 5, and though, he doesn't sell his wines 5 times more than the ones made from the flatland : his sparkling is sold at the estate (public price) 7,1 € and his Altesse (still white wine) only 8,3 €. I didn't take notes during my tasting here in the cellar (there are times you just want to enjoy...) but this Altesse really stood up, it was a beautiful silky mouth with at the same time a deep range aromas and a solid minerality.
The other interesting wine for me was his Mondeuse 2009, this local Bugey grape variety has similarities with Syrah, he says. The nose was of a beautiful Gamay type, with lots of fruit. In the mouth, it's was still tannic, but with tight grains. I'd love to have one of these bottles in, say, a year from now.
To finish with the rates here, the Pinot Noir (we didn't taste, alas) and the Chardonnay cost 6,1 €, then as said above, the sparkling Montagnieu cost 7,1 €, then the Mondeuse cost 7,5 €. there's also the sparkling Reserve Chardonnay which costs 8,1 €.
You often taste bottles from other vignerons when you visit open-minded vintners, and here, after tasting his own sparklings, we were treated with some Sélosse and a very nice bottle of Crozes-Hermitage 2007 by Alain Graillot, a Syrah with inky aromas and incense. I think these bottles may have been brought by two cavistes from Lyons who were visiting him right when we dropped. These guys seem to know wines like crazy, be sure to visit their wine shop in Lyons : La Cave D'Alienor.
For the vinification, he tries to use as much as possible the indigenous yeasts, which is the case on 90 % of the cases. On the red wines, he works differently, he makes a pied de cuve, that is he and his aides go in the vineyard to pick, say, 6 hundred-liter containers of grapes that they will stomp with the feet. He will have this pied de cuve start to ferment with the adding of lab yeasts so that when the real harvest begins two days later he can have his vats ferment without delay. It helps him avoid the use of SO2 at the arrival of the grapes. The rapid start of the fermentation helps avoid the aromas deviations or the volatile bursts, and also at the same time the use of SO2. The only SO2 he'll add for the reds will be at the end for bottling, and it'll be about 25 mg total, which will make some 15 free.
For the whites, he adds some SO2 at the press, like 5 grams, and he waits that the fermentation starts by itself
Franck Peillot sells most of his wine at the estate or to local restaurants (75 %) and 10 % is exported to the United States (Dressner Selections) and 5 % to other countries (Canada - British Columbia - Racine Wine Imports; Holland - Vijnvriend, Belgium - Mostade Hennebert and Germany).
About 2010, Franck says that it will be a very nice vintage. 2009 was very round and very pleasant while the wines of 2010 will be very aromatic and will give plerasure during a longer time as they will age better probably, thanks to a very nice complexity and its particular acidity.