Last September, vintners in Pouilly-Fuissé celebrated the long-awaited French National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO) approval of 22 premier cru vineyards in the region, the first premier cru designations for the Mâconnais as a whole. In total, 194 hectares of vineyards were elevated to premier cru status, comprising 24 percent of Pouilly-Fuissé’s total vineyard area.
As some of the first Pouilly-Fuissé premier cru wines begin to arrive in the U.S., here is what you need to know about what the new quality designation means for the region, and what to expect from the individual wines themselves.
A Decade-Long Journey
When Frédéric-Marc Burrier, who runs Maison Joseph Burrier/Château de Beauregard in Pouilly-Fuissé, was reelected as president of the Union des Producteurs de Pouilly-Fuissé in 2007, he urged fellow growers to undertake a comprehensive study of the region, and subsequently apply for premier cru recognition in 2010.
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“We realized that it was unfair for the Mâconnais to be the only subregion in Bourgogne without a classification of the best climats,” says Burrier.
According to him, Pouilly-Fuissé’s lack of premier crus stems from German occupation in World War II. In the 1940s, Germans could requisition ordinary wines, but they were forced to pay for classified ones, spurring Burgundy’s appellations in occupied France to submit a list of climats that could be classified as premier cru (therefore requiring payment for these wines). Because Mâconnais was further south in non-occupied France, they did not submit any climats to be considered for premier cru status. In fact, this is the first addition of premier cru vineyards in Burgundy since 1943.
The region drafted a shortlist of vineyards that could potentially be elevated to premier cru status and then worked with the INAO to determine the specific criteria that would qualify a vineyard as premier cru, including historical use by growers, reputation in the market and media, price and quality level of the wines, and physical conditions like altitude, slope, exposure, and soil. Vineyards were then evaluated again with this criteria in mind.
Though Burrier initially expected approval in 2018 (after the Union des Producteurs de Pouilly-Fuissé voted to approve the final climats in September 2017), the final legal processes took time to execute and confirm.
“The new designation adds prestige to Pouilly-Fuissé in general because now, with premier cru vineyards, it has the same hierarchy as the rest of Bourgogne,” says Burrier, who believes that this marks a new chapter for Mâconnais as a whole. “Bourgogne wine consumers are used to hierarchy and the Côte d’Or premier cru and Grand Cru wines have [established] the prestige of the region around the world.”
What to Expect in the Market
As in other Burgundy appellations, Pouilly-Fuissé’s regulations for its premier cru wines are stricter: Yields are limited to 56 hectoliters per hectare, no chemical herbicides are allowed, and wines must be aged until July 1 of the following year. Within the Pouilly-Fuissé region, the villages of Chaintré and Vergisson each have four premier cru vineyards, while Fuissé and Solutré-Pouilly each have eight (one, Vers Cras, is shared by Fuissé and Solutré-Pouilly).
Burrier, who will produce six Pouilly-Fuissé premier crus, estimates that more than 100 producers will release a Pouilly-Fuissé premier cru wine for the inaugural 2020 vintage; some of these are already being sold as pre-arrivals in the U.S. Others will wait longer, like Aurélie Cheveau, co-owner of Domaine Cheveau with her husband Nicolas and the current president of the Union des Producteurs de Pouilly-Fuissé as of December; she will age Domaine Cheveau’s premier cru wines for 22 months before release.
Many of these wines are not new, though they newly carry the premier cru designation; part of the reason why these 22 climats were elevated to premier cru is because vintners had already recognized their elevated quality and highlighted them in single-vineyard wines. “But we estimate that the new classification will help to increase the number of producers involved in premier cru,” adds Burrier, who notes that many of Château de Beauregard’s premier cru wines have been made for generations.
“There won’t be huge changes speaking about the way we consider and present our wines,” says Audrey Braccini, the winemaker of Domaine Ferret, who notes that Jeanne Ferret, who initiated estate bottling at the winery, began to bottle single-vineyard wines more than 40 years ago. “For the domaine, it will be a kind of assertion of our practices and of Mme. Ferret’s mind.” Some of the cuvée names may change, however; Domaine Ferret’s Tournant de Pouilly wine, for example, now falls under the Les Reisses premier cru designation.
It remains to be seen which premier crus will have more of a presence in the U.S. market, though larger climats have a leg up because of their size; these include Pouilly (19.37 hectares; located in the historic heart of Pouilly-Fuissé), Les Vignes Blanches (19.13 hectares; tends to create perfumed wines), Au Vignerais (18.67 hectares), Sur La Roche (14.76 hectares; with a name referring to its location “on the rock” of Vergisson), Ver Cras (13.56 hectares; makes minerally, salty wines from thin soils over chalky limestone), and Les Chevrières (11.22 hectares). Burrier, Cheveau, and Braccini will all make wines from the Les Ménétrières (5.22 hectares) as well, which yields powerful, long-aging wines with depth.
Buyers should expect a range of premier cru wines at different prices to come to the market—which is part of what will make Pouilly-Fuissé premier cru wines so intriguing to explore. “The diversity of the terroirs is part of the Burgundian culture, and Pouilly-Fuissé has real treasures to be discovered,” says Cheveau.
Courtney Schiessl Magrini is a Brooklyn-based wine journalist, educator, and consultant who has held sommelier positions at some of New York’s top restaurants, including Marta, Dirty French, and Terroir. She is currently the senior editor for SevenFifty Daily, and her work has appeared in Wine Enthusiast, GuildSomm, Forbes.com, VinePair, EatingWell Magazine, and more. She holds the WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits. Follow her Champagne-fueled adventures on Instagram at @takeittocourt.