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TASTING THE WINES OF DOMAINE LA SOUFRANDIÈRE

wines of domaine la Soufrandière

The wines of Domaine la Soufrandière are among the most arresting Chardonnays Burgundy has to offer. The six hectare estate is located in Vinzelles, in the oft under-rated Mâconnais wine-producing region. It is the property of the uber-talented Bret Brothers, Jean-Philippe and Jean-Guillaume.

The Vineyards of Domaine la Soufrandière

Originally purchased by their grandfather back in 1947, Jean-Philippe and Jean-Guillaume took up the reins in the year 2000. Having followed the trajectory of their mentor, Jean-Marie Guffens, the brothers were determined to prove that high-quality, ageworthy wines could be made in their Vinzelles vineyards.

To achieve this aim, they immediately set about dissecting their vineyards into terroir-specific plots and began the conversion process to organic and biodynamic farming. At the time, these methods were little practiced in the region. The brothers therefore headed north, to study under Dominique Lafon. By 2006, the wines of Domaine de la Soufrandière were certified both AB (organic) and Demeter (biodynamics).

Today, the estate consists of four hectares (ha) of Pouilly-Vinzelles climat “Les Quarts”, just over one-half a ha of Pouilly-Vinzelles climat “Les Longeays”, and one ha of Mâcon-Vinzelles “Le Clos de Grand-Père”. In 2016, the Bret brothers also took over the management of an additional five ha of Saint-Véran and Pouilly-Fuissé vineyards.

Vineyards range from thirty-three to eighty years in age and are predominantly planted on east and south-east facing slopes.

The Wines of Domaine la Soufrandière

In recent years, the brothers have been progressively lowering sulphur levels in their wines. “We are not extremists” explained Jean-Philippe Bret, at a recent virtual tasting. “If we feel the wine requires a sulphur addition, we will do it”. It is a question of terroir and timing for the brothers.

“Certain terroirs – cooler sites, with healthy, biodiverse soils – handle low sulphur levels better than other areas” according to Jean-Philippe. The brothers wait as late as possible in the winemaking process to ensure the added sulphur remains in its free, active state. Their “Zen” cuvées see no more than 20 milligram/ litre (mg/l) of sulphur additions at bottling, while others tend to sit at a 40 – 60mg/l.

The Bret brothers use gentle, low intervention winemaking methods. The grapes are delicately pressed and allowed to clarify naturally. Wild yeasts are used for fermentation and ageing occurs in seasoned oak barrels. The wines of Domaine la Soufrandière are often categorized as natural wine; a concept the brothers quietly espouse, with reasoned adherence.

What’s next for the wines of Domaine la Soufrandière and Bret Brothers? This question made Jean-Philippe smile. The brothers have a wealth of exciting projects on the go. In the vineyards they are experimenting with different green manures. They are also exploring the use of milk and whey to replace sulphur sprays.

In the cellars, new wine styles are in development. Watch out for an extra-brut, delicately sparkling “Bret Nat” coming soon. Another potential newcomer is a skin contact white, macerated six to eight days before pressing.

The 2018 Vintage of Domaine La Soufrandière

While our discussion was a fascinating one, the goal of the meeting was to taste a trio of top 2018 wines of Domaine la Soufrandière. The vintage was “very hot and dry” explained Jean-Philippe. This led to worries of heavy, overly rich wines reminiscent of 2009. Thankfully this is not the case. The 2018s, while ripe and generously proportioned, retain a fresh, wonderfully vibrant character.

La Soufrandière Saint Véran “Cuvée La Combe Desroches” 2018 – 93pts. PW

The La Combe Desroches plot is located near Vergisson, exposed north, giving a very fresh, mineral-driven style of Chardonnay. Two-thirds of the blend are fermented and aged in tank, while the remaining one-third is matured in seasoned barrels.

Initially discreet. Reveals aromas of ripe lemon, pear, and white blossoms, with underlying hints of wet stone and honeycomb, upon aeration. The palate is zesty and taut, deepening on the mid-palate with  juicy citrus and orchard fruit flavours. The finish is electric, with an attractive hint of grapefruit pith bitterness.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($47.50)

La Soufrandière Pouilly-Fuissé Climat « En Chatenay » 2018 – 96pts. LW

This east-facing vineyard at the foot of the Roche de Vergisson planted on red soils of Jurassic limestone that  bring “tension and texture” to the wines, according to Jean-Philippe.

Intense, highly complex aromas of yellow apple, brioche, and white blossoms, laced with flinty nuances, leap from the glass. The palate is intially nervy, with mouthwatering acidity bringing lovely balance to the full-bodied, textural palate. Flavours of tart citrus, buttered brioche, and savoury undertones linger on the vibrant, ultra-long finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($70.25; also available in magnums)

La Soufrandière Pouilly-Vinzelles Climat « Les Quarts » 2018 – 94pts. LW

This is one of the historic sites for the wines of Domaine la Soufrandière. The Les Quarts vineyard is located at the top of a south-east facing slope of active limestone and clay soils. The vines are among the oldest of the estate, at forty-five to eighty years in age.

Initally restrained, with a mounting symphony of yellow fruits, raw honey, buttered popcorn, and earthy, white mushroom notes developing within minutes of pouring. Racy acidity gives way to an expansive, concentrated mid-palate bursting with bright fruit and savoury flavours. Finishes on a slightly oxidative note, with subtle nutty, crab apple nuances underlying flinty nuances.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($77.25)

What does VW, PW, LW mean in my scores for the wines of Domaine la Soufrandière? Check out my wine scoring system.

Education Reviews Wines

THE TROUBLE WITH NATURAL WINE FANATICS…

natural wine fanatics

I live in a city awash with natural wine fanatics. I am a little less ardent in my appreciation. That is not to say there aren’t scores of natural wines that I like. There are. I found a whole lot to love at the Raw Wine show in Montréal last week.

The natural wine movement has done a lot for the world of wine. It has encouraged wineries of all sizes and doctrines to re-think their winemaking methods and decrease the quantity of potentially unnecessary additives. It has pushed the boundaries of experimentation in the vineyards and cellar. It has created new wine styles, offering consumers greater vinous choice. And it has yielded some fabulous, passionate advocates that do a great job educating wine lovers.

Unfortunately, it has also spawned a generation of natural wine fanatics; a breed of super fans that range from tiresomely vocal enthusiasts to closed minded zealots.

…the judgmental attitude of die-hard natural wine fanatics is doing a disservice to the entire natural wine movement.

Psychologist Jeremy Sherman, PhD describes fanatics as “…people who indulge in a heady, intoxicating and toxic concoction of self-affirming, know-it-all confidence that they have unique access to absolute truths, truths so perfect that they have to impose them on everyone.” It is exactly this mentality that makes me wary each time I enter a natural wine heavy establishment.

In my opinion, the judgmental attitude of die-hard natural wine fanatics is doing a disservice to the entire natural wine movement – alienating, rather than welcoming, potential new consumers.  In some quarters, there is almost a school yard mentality at play. Drinkers of anything other than natural wines are looked down on like kids on a playground wearing unfashionable clothes.

I remember being in a Parisian wine bar eight years ago politely listening to the sommelier expounding his theories on the superiority of natural wines. He insisted on choosing our wines  for us all night long. We made the appropriate noises, nodded, smiled, and on our way out, understanding that we were in the wine trade, he asked where we worked. We named the winery. His look of disgust was almost farcical. And he said, his words dripping with disdain, “Oh, I’ve heard of them. They’re conventional“.

…drinkers of anything other than natural wines are looked down on like kids on a playground wearing unfashionable clothes.

The urge natural wine fanatics feel to evangelize is frankly just irritating. If I dare to admit not liking a certain natural wine, I don’t want to listen to a super fan arguing with me, or rhapsodizing about the winemaker’s vision. This will not change my mind, or make the wine taste better.

Of course I prefer to drink wines that are made in an ethical, sustainable manner. A winemaker who sees themselves as a custodian of their vineyards for future generations is one I can get behind. Especially if said winemaker’s values extent to how they treat their staff, and their community. If that wine also happens to be made using only natural yeasts, with no additives, or maybe just a drop of sulphur at bottling, so much the better.

However, I will not suffer through a skin contact white with tannins so bitter they make my taste buds weep. I won’t marvel over a murky, gamey rosé. And, I refuse to drink a wine that tastes more like beer or cider. If I wanted beer or cider, I’d order it. Sure, the producer might have a compelling winemaking philosophy…but you can’t drink ideology. Or at least I can’t.

Sure, the producer might have a compelling winemaking philosophy…but you can’t drink ideology. 

To me, the world of wine is so marvellous because of its diversity of styles and flavour profiles. There is truly a wine out there for every budget and every palate. Opinion formers in the wine trade – sommeliers, wine merchants, wine writers, educators, etc. – have a vital role to play today in teaching consumers about the importance of supporting wineries working sustainably in their vineyards and cellars. However, we are there to act as guides, not dictators.

Why can’t we just drink and let drink?

Speaking of which…let’s get to the wines. A handful of the producers that really impressed me at Raw Wine Montréal and various other recent tastings of natural or low interventionist winemakers include:

Bret Brothers & La Soufrandière, biodynamic producers from the Maconnais region of Burgundy. Incredibly precise, mineral, textured whites.

Pearl Morissette, minimal interventionist winemakers from  the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario. Beautifully nuanced Chardonnay, Riesling & Cabernet Franc.

Domaine Frédéric Brouca, passionate producer of old vine wines on the Schist soils of Faugères. Lovely, pure Cinsault and bold, yet balanced Mourvèdre-Syrah blends.

Domaine aux Moines, organic producers currently undergoing biodynamic conversion. Racy, elegant Savennières.

Château Maris, a biodynamic, sulpher-avoiding producer  in Minervois-la-Livinière (who doesn’t choose to label himself a natural wine maker). Textured, expansive Grenache Gris and bold, fragrant Syrah.

Domaine Mann, an organic producer from Alsace. Lovely crémant, aromatic, layered Pinot Gris, and long-lived Riesling.

Reyneke, producer of organic and biodynamic wines from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Vibrant Chenin Blanc and rich, concentrated Syrah.