Sophie Woillez at Domaine La Croix Montjoie

n the heart of Burgundy, southeast of Chablis and northwest of Beaune, is Vézelay. Well-known thanks to the magnificent Basilica of St Magdelene at the top of the the hill this little village receives one million tourists every year. But it is not all about architectural attractions. We are dealing with Burgundy here, so there is of course some wine involved as well. At the moment some 30 producers are producing white wine under the regional Bourgogne Vézelay appellation. In a few years time the plan is to have it upgraded to a village appellation.

– The village is very well-known. Not the wine. There is still some more work needed for the future AOC Vézelay. The surface area will probably be smaller than for the present appellation. It takes time. 2015 will probably be the first vintage for the new appellation, says Sophie Woillez at Domaine La Croix Montjoie.

View from Vézelay.Domaine La Croix Montjoie is the most recent addition to the area. Created in 2009 by Sophie Woillez and her husband Matthieu this domaine covers a total of ten hectares in the village of Tharoiseau.

– Before the phylloxera at the end of the 19th century there were vines everywhere around here, says Sophie Woillez. More than in Chablis. There were 5000 hectares of vines around Vézelay. Today there are 100 hectares.

The Bourgogne Vézelay appellation stretches across four villiages – Vézelay, Asquins, Saint-Père and Tharoiseau. It is only available for for white wine, made from chardonnay grapes. For red wine the only appellation around Vézelay is the generic Bourgogne rouge.

Basilica of St Magdelene, Vézelay.– From the end of the phylloxera to the 1980’s there wasn’t any production of wine around here, says Sophie Woillez. Then a group of winegrowers started planting vines. That was the was the beginning of the local cooperative, Cave Henry de Vézelay in Saint-Père. Today, about half of the growers work for the cooperative. The rest bottle themselves.

Sophie Woillez’ grandparents were winegrowers in Beaujolais. After agriculture and œnology studies Sophie and Matthieu Woillez worked in Sauternes and the Rhône valley, but soon realised they wanted something of their own.

– At first we looked for something to buy in Beaujolais, explains Sophie Woillez. We did not find anything. The vineyards for sale were not in very good shape. They were too old, or had vines missing. So we began looking elsewhere. Of course, in Chablis or around Beaune there wasn’t anything for sale.

– Then we found an ad for the vineyard here in Tharoiseau. Well-planted vines on a nice hill, with lovely exposure. Everything was right. The only problem was that the owner was located in Avallon and he was selling all his grapes to the négociants. So there wasn’t a winery, which meant we had to find suitable facilities in Tharoiseau. We found this, the old farm that belonged to the chateau in Tharoiseau.

Domaine La Croix Montjoie, Tharoiseau.When it comes to vineyards Domaine La Croix Montjoie is unique by Burgundian standards. They are among the very few to have all their vines in one single parcel. Up behind the winery, just 400 metres away, is what looks like miniature version of the Corton hill. The ten hectares are exposed south and southeast. The soil is limestone and clay. More clay than limestone.

From this parcel they produce four wines – three cuvées of Bourgogne Vézelay and a Crémant de Bourgogne. In 2010 they planted a few pinot noir vines, just 0.17 hectare, for a future Bourgogne rouge.

La Croix Montjoie, Tharoiseau.– We decided not to make just one wine, because it is such a huge plot, says Sophie Woillez. At the same time, since we are in Vézelay, we didn’t want to talk about different climats. Instead we taste the juice from the different parts. The character decides which cuvée it goes into.

– At harvest we separate everything, depending on maturity, age of vines, harvest method etc. Then we taste and blend.

– L’impatiente is the fruity wine, the impatient. Vinified in tanks, no wood, in order to keep the fruit and the freshness. It’s a wine for early drinking.

L’élégante is more complex in character. Vinified partly in old barrels, partly in tanks.

– It is not woody, says Sophie Woillez. There is just a hint of oak. Round and less fruity than L’impatiente. It’s a wine made to be kept for three to five years.

Sophie and Matthieu Woillez at Domaine La Croix Montjoie.– La Voluptueuse, our third Bourgogne Vézelay, is quite different. It comes from a special plot which is very low-yielding because of the poor soil. It produces smaller, much more concentrated, grapes. Vinification and ageing are done in 25 per cent new barrels and 75 per cent five to seven year old barrels. The old barrels are not used for adding oaky aromas to the wine, but to let small quantities of air in. It’s a different way of vinification. The aim is to get a balance between the wood aromas and the fruit.

Compared with Chablis the area around Vézelay has a slightly different climate, mainly thanks to the Morvan, a mountainous massif lying just to the south. It is the northerly extension of the Massif Central.

– The large forests have a cooling influence on the climate and increases humidity. Because of this we harvest a week later than in Chablis.

For the Crémant de Bourgogne the base wine is made at Domaine La Croix Montjoie. It is then turned into a sparkling wine by Maison Louis Picamelot in Rully.

In addition to their own vineyard there is also a small négociant activity where they buy grapes from Irancy.

© 2012 Ola Bergman