Domaine Berthenet

BACKGROUND

François Berthenet and his dad Jean-Pierre run this domaine in Montagny-les-Buxy, the principal town in the Montagny appellation, roughly 50 kms north of Macon. Although the Berthenets can trace their history in the region for more than four centuries (during which time grapes were inevitably cultivated), the domaine was created in 1974 when Jean Berthenet purchased his first hectares planted with Chardonnay and Aligoté along with another parcel of Pinot Noir.
All the Berthenet grapes were originally sold to the cooperative in Buxy. Even though he was not making wine himself, Jean sought to raise the quality of his grapes by selecting vines from his own vineyard to graft onto newly acquired parcels. In 1991 the torch was passed to Jean-Pierre, who continued to acquire more parcels of vines while selling the entire production to the co-op.

In 2001, with his vineyards in place and producing excellent grapes, Jean-Pierre decided to leave the cooperative and set out on his own. The next year he built a new winery above the village with temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks and some oak barrels. A bladder press was purchased to further enhance quality.

Since 2003 Jean-Pierre’s son François is fully part of the domaine, working the vineyards, assisting with the winemaking and selling wine through the independent growers group. They now farm 18 hectares of vines (90% planted with white grapes), spread over a score of parcels throughout the commune. The domaine annually produces about 100,000 bottles and the production’s focus is on the Chardonnay varietal with Pinot Noir and Aligotè completing the range.

The Berthenets own 2 hectares of Aligoté, including half a hectare Vieilles Vignes parcel planted in 1950. Yields average 70 hl/ha. The Vieilles Vignes cuvée is grown on clay and granite soils and aged in stainless-steel. Grass is allowed to grow between the rows of vines. This is plowed during the vegetal season and soil is decompacted by turning it over in the winter. In 2014, Jon Bonnè, at the time working at the San Francisco Chronicle, ranked the Berthenet Aligoté among the top 100 wines list for 20 dollars.

Montagny is a commune in the south of the Cote Chalonnaise sub-region of Burgundy. The Montagny appellation was introduced in 1936 and covers the communes of Montagny-les-Buxy, Jully-les-Buxy, Buxy and Saint-Vallerin. Its surface covers 440 hectares with 255 of them ranked as Premier Crus (no Grand Crus). The amazement grows when you learn that it could have stayed a 100% first-class appellation – this extremely rare status was granted to Montagny in 1943 – if the producers themselves did not decide in the early 1990’s to leave the prestigious rank solely to the best climats (today it is 49 vineyards).

Montagny is the only one of the five Chalonnaise communal appellations devoted exclusively to white wines produced from the Chardonnay grape variety, to the exclusion of Pinot Noir. These white wines are often fermented or matured in oak barrels to add depth and complexity.                                                                                                                          Talking about terroir, facing East and South-East these hillsides of Bajocien limestone are planted with vines at altitudes of 250-400 metres. Marls and marly limestones of the Jurassic lias and older trias (200 million years BC approx.) make an ideal terroir. The gravelly lower Triassic which surfaces at Buxy is in contact here with the Kimmeridgian limestone which dominates in the geology of Chablis.

The Berthenets were the first producers in the village to work sustainably, and for years have successfully attempted to limit their chemical interventions in their vineyards. François firmly believes that if one pays close attention to the vineyard during the growing cycle, there is less necessity to sort grapes during the harvest. In order to improve biodiversity and the soil’s health, grass is let in the middle of the vines rows.  All the plots are planted from selected graft in the estate’s nursery and, almost useless to say, every single plot presents a unique different complexity. Copper and sulfur are used in the vineyard when possible, but certain contact products are used when the weather causes dangerous risks to the fruit.

Harvest is done partially manually and partially with a lighter model machine, which is much more gentle with the soils and the fruit compared to older models.

The use of machines could be seen as old school. The truth is that the climate conditions in this area are so unpredictable and difficult to manage and machine-harvested fruit allows the Berthenets to react quickly to critical conditions. This was particularly useful in 2013 when wet weather caused rot but they could pick quickly to obtain healthy fruit, and 2015 when maturity arrived suddenly and fruit had to be picked quickly to preserve freshness.

Even so, not every grape harvested is allowed to pass into the press. Two employees are on hand to sort any unhealthy fruit. Indigenous yeasts only are used, and the wines are fermented in stainless steel or barrel, depending on the cuvée. Grapes are pressed to must in a modern pneumatic press and vinified in temp-controlled stainless for quality and freshness. All the whites undergo malolactic fermentation. In the cellar many additives are basically avoided and sulfur at bottling time has diminished over the past few years.

Jean-Pierre and his son François have risen admirably to the challenges of their vision, designing and building a professionally-equipped cellar in 2002 and even today consistently elevating their commitments to the environment so integral to the quality of their products and thus their very livelihood.

Currently the Berthenet famly produces 7 Montagny wines (6 of them Premier Cru), one Bourgogne Aligoté Vielles Vignes, two Pinot Noir (One entry level and one labeled as Givry 1er Cru), plus two Cremants. Steep Hill imports the Aligoté Vielles Vignes, the Montagny 1er Cru Les Saint Morilles and the Bourgogne Pinot Noir.

Aligoté Vielles Vignes Bourgogne 2017: The Berthenets own 2 hectares of Aligoté, including half a hectare Vieilles Vignes parcel planted in 1950. Yields average 70 hl/ha. Grass is allowed to grow between the rows of vines. The Vieilles Vignes cuvée is grown on clay and granite soils and aged in stainless-steel with some lees stirring. Malolactic fermentation occurs naturally. This is a wine for a good chat with a friend or of conviviality. Fresh notes of fruit and a touch of lemon wrapped around a core of minerality. It makes an awesome apertif. Fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks.

Montagny 1er Cru Les Saint Morilles 2016: The east facing Les Saint Morilles is a tiny vineyard comprising only 1,19 hectares whose soil are rich in limestone. Vines are 35 years old. The estate respects nature with its policy of “lutte raisonnée” (sustainable viticulture). Grass is planted every two rows in order to avoid erosion. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks around 18°C. A pneumatic press is used in order to respect the berries and enhance the aromas of the “terroir”.  The wine is aged during eleven months in stainless steel tanks in order to keep its’ freshness. This is the only Berthenet’s Premier Cru totally missing any oak  treatment. Elegant and fresh fragrance, a delicate toasted note provides a charming burgundy nose. On the palate, it has a medium weight, a nice density and a perfect balance with everything in the right place. A very nice burgundy for moderate money.

Pinot Noir Bourgogne 2017: This wine comes from 1.5 hectares planted on clay and mixed granite in the Côte Chalonnaise, Southern Burgundy. Berries macerate at a cool temperature during 4 days before the beginning of the alcoholic fermentation which took place in the following 12 days. It spends 15 months, 50% in stainless steel tanks and 50% in oak casks with 15% new oak. The yearly production is round 5,000 bottles. Light but with definite Pinot flavor (bing cherry, red fruits) that finishes with tender tannins. It tastes great with a light chill as well.

In a nutshell

  • Who: Domaine Berthenet
  • Where: Burgundy, Montagny-les-Buxy
  • What: Chardonnay, Aligoté and Pinot Noir
  • Hectares: 18
  • Quantity: 100,000 bottles
  • Plus: sustainable winegrowing and a bunch of distinctive Premier Cru vineyards

Wines

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domaine berthenet

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