hen Jean-Luc Houblin first began his career as a winegrower the vines around his village only covered a hectare and a half. Today, close to a quarter of a century later, the area under vines in Migé has increased by well over 2000 per cent.
– In 1988 Migé didn't have many vines at all, says Jean-Luc Houblin. Today there are 35 hectares. Five of these are vines still too young for wine production.
Migé is part of the unknown Burgundy, at least from an international perspective. It is in the northwestern part of the region, in Yonne, just a 40-minute drive southwest of Chablis. Together with their colleagues in the neighbouring villages the winegrowers in Migé share the relatively young appellation Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse, named after the largest village.
For a long time the only available appellation for the winegrowers was the regional catch-all appellation Bourgogne. In 1990 the name Coulanges-la-Vineuse began appearing on the label, and it was tolerated by the authorities. In 1993 they received their own appellation – Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse. It is mainly a red wine appellation, but there is some white and rosé produced as well.
– Chablis is well-known for being on calcareous soil, says Jean-Luc Houblin. But they are in another valley than we are. The Serein valley, where Chablis is, has more of mineral character. Here we have the freshness of Chablis, but not the minerality of Chablis.
Over the years Domaine Jean-Luc Houblin has been growing steadily. Part of it has been dedicated to cereal production, but the coming years will see an end to that.
– Unlike other producers here I bottle and sell everything myself, says Jean-Luc Houblin. Some of my colleagues bottle some of their wine themselves and sell the rest to Les Caves Bailly Lapierre (the local négociant specialising in crémant de Bourgogne).
– In the beginning my production was 50-50 for white and red wine, but now it is more red than white. I only have 0,60 hectare of aligoté. The chardonnay vines cover 2,85 hectares. The rest is pinot noir, except for a tiny parcel of gamay, only 0,24 hectare. I use the gamay for some rosé crémant and Bourgogne Passetoutgrain. The gamay in Yonne becomes very hard. It is not the terroir for this grape variety. It is much better in the Beaujolais.
The focus at Domaine Jean-Luc Houblin is on the Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse wines. There are five in total; one rosé, two white cuvées and two red. Simply put, the difference between the cuvées is oak or no oak.
– In the past barrels were used just for storing the wine. Today we use barrels to make the wine more full-bodied and longer on the palate, to give it more character. It allows us to make a cuvée which has more of a personal touch.
– My traditional cuvée never sees any wood. For my Cuvée Prestige it is barrels only, for a year. But in order to avoid having too much impact from the wood I use my barrels for seven or eight years.
– In a good year red Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse can be kept for ten years.
When it comes to white wine and chardonnay Jean-Luc Houblin believes that the commune of Migé offers the best terroir within the Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse appellation. The appellation runs from Jussy close to the river Yonne, then continues through Escolives-Sainte-Camille and Coulanges-la-Vineuse, and comes to a halt in Migé and Mouffy. In Jussy and Escolives-Sainte-Camille, the lowest parts of the appellation, the altitude of the vineyards is around 200 metres. In Migé you are close to 300 metres.
– The soil in Migé is a bit deeper and contains more clay, explains Jean-Luc Houblin. But you still have many stones. There are of course similarities across the appellation, but from my experience, when ageing the wines, the wines from Migé tend to be more mineral. The mineral side of the wines is more pronounced both for the reds and the whites, but more so for the whites.
– I started making the white Coulanges Cuvée Prestige in 1998. Just a small quantity, more for my own pleasure than anything else. Since I was happy with the result I continued in 1999 and put the first bottles on the market in 2000. It was well received, so since then I have continued to increase the volume. I haven't found the same flavours and structure in any of my colleagues' wines and I believe this due to the Migé terroir.
Today the Coulangeois area is far from its former glory. Like many of the wine-producing villages around Auxerre it suffered badly from the phylloxera at the end of the 19th century, and with two world wars during the first half of the 20th century it was not until recently it had a chance to start to recover.
– In 1829 Migé had as many vines as Coulanges-la-Vineuse, says Jean-Luc Houblin. Then because of what happened people gave up on wine-production. It was not until the 1980's, when Domaine Jean-Marc Bon and I started, that people began making wine again.
– Previously most of the wine from the appellation was sold to the neighbouring villages. Today the market has grown to include the departements close to Yonne and the Paris region. The size of the appellation is a problem. We are just 15 small winegrowers with 135 hectares of vines. Chablis covers 5000 hectares. But we work together within the appellation; the winegrowers don't regard each-other as competitors. Our goal is to be known outside Yonne.
Even though it says Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse on the labels it is still a regional appellation. The rules are slightly stricter than for the Bourgogne appellation, like they are for Bourgogne Hautes-Côte de Beaune. 15 years ago work began to have Coulanges-la-Vineuse promoted to village appellation. In terms of yields the move from Bourgogne to Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse meant two hectolitres per hectare less. If they in a few years time manage to secure a village appellation that means the limit will decrease another five hectolitres per hectare.
– Not all winegrowers agree on this, says Jean-Luc Houblin. When we started winegrowers representing 40 per cent of the surface area of the appellation were for it. Now it is 70 per cent, much because there is a younger generation taking over the domaines. But before we go ahead we want everybody to agree.
– Five hectolitres less per hectares means 6000 to 7000 bottles less for a domaine of my size. Some people are afraid they will be losing money, even though you will be able to increase the price thanks to the village appellation.
© 2012 Ola Bergman