The region of Bonnencontre, Broin and Auvillars in the Saone valley, east of Beaune, is usually not known by wine amateurs. Of course, it is at a distance from the famed Côte where the prestigious wines of Burgundy are made, but the slopes along the Saone river near this string of villages have been in ancient times the craddle of the famed Melon de Bourgogne, a grape variety which has been since then estranged to the distant western Loire where it makes up the single variety behind the Muscadet. There was a time when Melon de Bourgogne was very widespread in Burgundy, and particularly near these 3 villages. When you look at the Treaty of Ampelography directed by P. Viala & V Vermorel in 1905, you find pages on the Melon written by E. Durand and P Pacottet which states that Melon de Bourgogne was indeed very widespread in the past, to such an extent that on december 1st 1567, Philippe II, King of Spain and Count of Burgundy, signed an edict to forbid further plantings of Gamez (Gamay) and Melons in the region. You read in this scientific treaty that the monks of the area feared that the overproduction of Melon in the area could theaten the sale of their Pinot wines, and they lobbied to limit its plantings and sale, in addition to checking that no Pinot Noir or Chardonnay was grown on these vulgar lands. The parliaments of Burgundy and Franche-Comté ordered the destruction of Melon vines from the year 1700 to 1731, and smart vignerons just changed the name of the variety growing in their plot to avoid uprooting. Regognizing a variety is already hard for a man of the trade, and the bureaucracy henchmen didn't see the trick.
But Guy Bussière says that the fact that centuries ago, the clergy and the rulers forbad local people to grow "noble" varieties like Pinot Noir & Chardonnay and further obliged them to destruct Melon, this all let deep scars in the local psyche, and people around here still deny the possibility to make good wine on their own slopes, without realizing that this mindset was sowed long before they express this opinion.
The Treaty of Ampelography of 1905 says that the Melon made up a total of 40 000 hectares (of which 15 000 in the Western Loire), scattered in different regions at about the same latitude from Dijon to Angers : First in the Saone valley and the Dheune basin, in Chagny, but also in the Yonne and the Aube, in the Doubs (Besançon, Montbéliard, Misserey, Haute-Saone (Gy and Gray), Lons-le-Saulnier, in the Bourbonnais, the Allier, the Lyonnais, the Lorraine, near Paris (Argenteuil, Villeneuve-Saint-Georges), and the Anjou (where it's named Muscadet) and Touraine (Cholet, Champtoceaux, Saint-Florent-le-vieil, Montevrault, Ancenis, Beaugeois, with Issoudun beings its southern-most implantation.
Follows a comparative ampelography where you read that it's in the Saone valley, from Ecuelle to Glanon that the Melon finds its best expression. Melon was viewed as a thirst wine, compared to more prestigious varieties. The Melon is a productive variety, that's why there were some fears about overproduction, the old books tell of yields of 1 to 2 barrels per ouvrée, which translates into 50 to 100 hectoliters/hectare. When Melon was worth 50 to 100 Francs per 228-liter barrel, the Chardonnay reached 500 to 1000 Francs, which helps visualize the status gap at the time.
His father had begun planting vineyards around here when he himself settled here, in 1940. (Guy Bussière is born in 1942). He would sell his wine in bottles, but all to people he knew in the vicinity, without labels on the bottles, as it was still allowed at this time for small-scale production.
Guy Bussière drives me in his Renault 4L along the Saone slopes (satellite view of the 1st block we visited)c, and says that there were 10 kilometers of vineyards along the river in the past, say in the 19th century. At a time when the railways hadn't yet services cities like Beaune, the main, reliable way of transportation was the river and the canals. The Saone which flows maybe 500 meters from the slope was an ideal freeway to have the wines delivered to major destinations, and if these Saone coteaux weren't prestigious, they still produces lots of Melon wines which were the everyday drink of many people in the area. The cadastral names also prove the old roots of the vineyards here, as one parcel is named les Vignottes. In the peak era, there were some 500 hectares of vineyards in the Val de Saone.
Guy Bussière has been replanting some Melon de Bourgogne last april (pic above) in order to augment his production with this variety. This new planting makes up about 30 ares. This was 100 % Melon country here before the phyloxera, all around, except for the nearby village of Auvillard where there was some Chardonnay too. The Melon was still wine. The soil here is clay only, there's no limestone says Guy Bussière, so it's very different from the Côte. This had a consequence for the replanting after the phylloxera, because you need to choose the proper (American) rootstock, suited for the type of soil, and the experience of the Côte couldn't help here because the soil was so different. They found the right American rootstock, the Riparia, to grow their vines again, but it's still a mystery how they made their selection and choice. The region had less support than the Côte and was poorer and it's hard to guess who pointed to the right rootstock at that time.
The pic above was shot in the second block of vineyards owned by Guy Bussière. It's a bit further from the first ones, and these ones are quite surrounded by woods, most being former vineyards turned back to wilderness. View the satellite view of these vineyards, which are divided in two parts separated by fallow land.
The work on the ground consists in two plowings to cut off the grass and a second plow to move back the earth (décavaillonage).
The vineyard is managed organicly, using only sulphur and copper (Bordeaux mixture).Were in the midst of this second block when Guy tells me about the sprayings this year. 2011 has been very dry and healthy, and these old vines here got only 2 sprayings, the last being in july, when "normal" years he does 6 or 7 sprayings in total. 2010 was very rainy and he had to make many preventive sprayings against mildew. He uses a back sprayer and does it on foot. Guy Bussière has also turned his vineyard on Biodynamy since 1999.
An interesting thing said by Guy Bussière sheds light on the way people made their wines in the 19th century or in the early 20th : He has old vines in the block pictures at the top of this story, where Aligoté and Melon-de-Bourgogne are complanted, alternating 2 rows of Aligoté with 1 row of Melon, and this for a reason : it is because they liked this proportion in the wine, so they just planted according to this proportion and harvested the whole thing together, to be sure that in a given vat you'd get roughly the 2 for 1 ratio.... Quite smart, that a blend made in the rows.... Now, he says, as he wants to vinify these varieties separately, he has to make sure that he harvests the rows in the right order.
The vines are 40 to 45 years old on average. Some being 10 years old, some 40, and some 90 years like the ones on both sides, in a plot split between Aligoté and Gamay (I think that the ones here are Aligoté). Usually, the white varieties are planted on the upper side of the slope because the soil is more acidic and it suits more to the whites.
The chai is a former cowshed, but it has turned into a winery without a problem, and you can still see the metal rings along the wall to tie the cows at their spot. The yeast ambiance came with the various tools and containers which he bought from around here. He just had a concrete slab poured on the ground because the bricks of the ground were soaked with cow pee, which was not the best environment for winemaking.
Guy Bussière's casks are 5 to 20 years old. He isn't looking for wood imprint, especially that as he vinifies whole-clustered, he doesn't want to add more tannins with wine...
When the open-top wooden tronconic vat is filled, he leaves the grapes untouched for 4 days (without plastic because there's CO2) after which he begins to stomp with the feet. Depending of the outside temp, he stomps either slowly or faster to balance the work of the yeasts. He works without cooling system in the vat. The fermentation lasts some 15 days. At the end, he puts a plastic sheet when CO2 gets rarer, to prevent insects to pullulate. He used to put some SO2 at this stage, but he stopped as he noticed that by abstaining it changed for the best the way the tannins were expressing themselves. He was very surprised in that regard, the tannins are way more supple without SO2 adding. He knew that for the aromas it would be good, but he didn't expect this result on the tannins.
For the whites, he brings the horizontal press (non-pneumatic) in the chai (in the past he would have brought the two vertical presses) and presses the whole-clustered grapes in there. He doesnt make rebêchage (untighting and tighting again the press) so as to prevent bad things to come in the wine, the few liters he would get by going through it being not worth the risk. The Aligoté goes into a stainless-steel vat (because he has a shortage of wooden containers). The Chardonnay is stored in a few casks (2nd pic above) in the vatroom, thus in the surface room, not in the cellar like the red. Since a few years he changed the way he works on the Chard. After 2003 he had had problems with reduction in whites and it appeared that it came from the fact that after 2003 Oïdium affected all the vineyards, obliging him to spray more sulphur on the vines. To prevent any remaining sumphur to stay with the wine, he lets the Chard ferment in stainless-steel and puts it in the casks afterward, leaving the gross lees apart because that's where traces of sulphur can be found. THese traces are responsible for these reduction problems.
__ Guy Bussière Phénix, Melon 2010. Just arriving on the market, bottled in the last days of august. Very aromatic on the nose, even a striking minerality feel, I would say, even though there aren't stones of any sort in this terroir. Surprising. Made with the whole Melon-de-Bourgogne found on his vineyards. There something like candy, either English candy or caramel in the aromas. Guy Bussière says that it's not yet in its full expression, even though it's getting better every day. Costs 6,7 € tax included at the winery.
Speaking of the Melon-de-Bourgogne 2011, everything went smoothly and rapidly, so it could be ready for the market earlier. This seems to be a very easy vintage.
__ Guy Bussière Aligoté old vines (Cuvée Vieilles Vignes) 2009. Vin de France (table wine). Fresh wine, nice one. The mouth is rounder compared with the Melon, good balance between the vividness and the gliding feel in the mouth and throat. It's a small-volume wine, only one cask (300 bottles). Costs 6,35 €. Great value, why don't we drink more Aligoté. What saved this old vineyard of Aligoté is that he found a good market for these wines in Japan a few years ago, and the demand encouraged him to keep making a separate cuvée for these old vines. At the time, 20 % of all his wines were exported to Japan (Oeno-Connexion).
__ Guy Bussière Gamay rosé "La Vie en Rosé" Vieilles Vignes 2008, Vin de Pays. A very pleasant rosé, with rose petals aromas and roundness, a gastronomy rosé obviously but which goes well also alone. Atypical rosé wine, with good length in the mouth. Costs 7,8 €, a bargain. He says that earlier, in summer, it wasn't that pleasant and it's now finding its own way and expression.
__ Guy Bussière Pinot Noir 2009. Vin de Pays. This is the 1st year where he made in parallel a vat with a bit of SO2 and another one without any, considering that the added amount is so small that 15 days after it if he makes an analysis, there will be no trace of it. The grapes were exactly the same, everything was otherwise the same, but the result was so different, particularly on the aromas and the tannins feel, that it's obvious that even if it disappears after a while, the SO2 has a negatiove impact on the quality of the wine. So next year he'll abstain from using any. As a result, the Pinot Noir 2009 without SO2 is already sold out, and he put on the market the one which saw some adding a bit later, but the harsher tannins rebuked the people until this summer when it finally turned better.
Nose of small red fruits, with pepper in the foreground. Pleasant wine with walnut notes. He makes lower yields since a few years, like 30 hectoliters/hectare.
__ Guy Bussière Pinot Noir 2007 Vin de Pays de Sainte Marie de la Blanche. The administration imposed him this Vin-de-Pays sector where most wines are awful, when he would have liked Vin de Pays du Val de Saone. And the fonctionnaire didn't even want to accept his demand for a Vin de Pays label, they wanted him to have his Pinot Noir labelled as Table Wine. He had to sue and hire a lawyer to force the administration to accept the Vin de Pays labelling (he could use some existing Appellation laws which proved that he was in his own right).
__ Guy Bussière Pinot Noir 2008, Vin de Pays. Not on the market yet, the tannins are only beginning to step down. The tannins while still noticeable, are OK, especially that we're tasting it at a cool temp. Aromas of faded flowers. He barely begins to mùarket it, it will be really proposed openly next spring, when the aromaticrange will be wider. This is a long-laying wine, for sure, he noticed this from the start.
At one point in the cellar Guy Bussière showed me a bottle of German natural wine that he discovered by coincidence : the village of Bonnencontre is connected with a twin village in Germany and it happens that it's where one of the rare natural-wine vintners works. The wine is amazingly fresh and pleasant, Guy Bussière says, and it's one of the rare German wines he can stand, the others being usually high on SO2. The wine is a Mosel Riesling 2009 by Hofgut Falkenstein. I really need to know the German wines.
Guy Bussière exports 40 % of his wines. In Paris he sells mostly through Le Vin En Tête, a major player in the natural wine retail in the Capital. He also sells through other cavistes in Paris but he isn't trying hard to find new customers, they come by themselves.
Export : United States (Andrew Bishop OZ Wine - Massachusetts), Denmark (Hvirvel Vin), Japan with eno-connexion, but he didn't sell much there lately, and also Hideaki Kito, a caviste in Nagoya. There's also All Wine in Luxemburg