Vézelay, in many ways, is much like hundreds of small rural villages in France. Built on a hill overlooking hedge-lined […]Keep Reading
Vézelay, in many ways, is much like hundreds of small rural villages in France. Built on a hill overlooking hedge-lined tidy fields mixed with dense forests, the countryside around Vézelay is timeless, comforting, and quintessentially pastoral. It would be easy to overlook Vézelay if not also home to one of Romanesque architecture’s finest monuments, the Basilica of Sainte Madeleine. The prosperity and preservation of Vézelay owe much to the shrine of Mary Magdalene. That one could assemble several complete skeletons purporting all to be the bones of Mary Magdelene was of no importance to Medieval Christianity, and the Cluniac monks who maintained the shrine for pilgrims also had a reputation for sharp dealing. So established was this shrine that Bernard of Clairvaux, a staunch opponent of the religious practices of Cluny, even preached the second crusade from this Basilica. But you’re not here to learn all about the religious history of Vézelay but of its reemergence as an essential wine growing region.
The presence of the Cluniacs in Vézelay dates back to the late 9th century when it was founded on the ruins of a Roman villa named Vercellus. Since wine is an essential part of the daily eucharist, the unbroken history of wine growing in Vézelay can be traced back over a millennium. Unfortunately, unlike other regions linked to Paris either by navigatable rivers and canals or by rail, when phylloxera struck Vézelay in the late 19th century, a vast majority of the vineyards were lost either converted to pastureland or allowed to become overgrown by the surrounding forests. From an estimated 1000 hectares of vines before phylloxera, only 10 hectares were left by the mid-1970s. The renaissance of Vézelay can largely be attributed to chef Marc Meneau who ran a three-star Michelin restaurant in the village of Saint-Père. Together with the local butcher, they began replanting Chardonnay in Vézelay. Soon they were joined by others eager to rediscover the region’s viticultural heritage, and by 1989, a small Cave Cooperative was established. In the beginning, the wines were granted Bourgogne status, becoming Bourgogne Vézelay in 1987 and Vézelay in 2017 – a remarkable ascent in the hierarchy of Burgundy and a recognition of its unique terroir.
Among the second generation of winegrowers in Vézelay are Alexandre and Blandine Corguillé. Alexandre is descended from generations of farmers in Seine-et-Marne, but when he worked a harvest in Champagne at the age of 17, he instantly knew he wanted to channel his interest in agronomy into becoming a viticulturalist. While working in Provence and Bandol and raising a young family with Blandine, they decided that they wanted to start their own project and be closer to family. Since Blandine was born and raised in Burgundy, they searched for a suitable place to create their Domaine, and a chance posting about a parcel for sale in Vézelay resulted in the creation of Domaine Sainte Madeleine.
In 2016, Alexandre and Blandine Le Corguillé purchased a 4-hectare, south-eastern facing coteau from the Diocese of Sens-Auxerre. Named Côte Chauffour, Alexandre and Blandine began planting Chardonnay here starting in 2020 with 1-hectare. At the end of 2016, they acquired 1.20-hectares of 30-year-old Chardonnay in Asquins, followed by the purchase of 1.07-hectares of Chardonnay in Les Saulniers in Sainte-Père. With an additional 3.3-hectares of fallow land waiting to be planted, an additional 1.80-hectare leased parcel waiting to be replanted, and the remaining 3-hectares of fallow land ion Côte Chaffour, Domaine Sainte Madeleine will reach close to 12 hectares of vineyards over the subsequent vintages. Alexandre uses 50% clones and 50% selection massale from a grower in Savoie, who Domaine Raveneau also uses for his Chardonnay plantings. The estate is in conversation to certified organic with Les Saulniers expected to be certified with the 2021 vintage, and the village Vézelay to follow in 2022.
Alexandre oversees all aspects of the work in the vineyard, from the planting through the bottling of the wines. Initially, the wines were made at the Cave Cooperative, but now he leases space from Domaine de la Cadette while searching for a permanent home for his cellar. Harvest is manual, and the fruit sees a rigorous selection before the whole clusters are gently pressed into stainless steel tanks. Fermentations are spontaneous, and malo occurs naturally the following Spring. Once he is in his own cellar, Alexandre intends to add French oak barrels to the aging of part of his wine with a preference for larger, more neutral French oak.Close