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Domaine Sainte Madeleine

Vézelay, in many ways, is much like hundreds of small rural villages in France. Built on a hill overlooking hedge-lined […]

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Domaine Sainte Madeleine

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 multiple skeletons from all the bones purporting to be the Magdelene’s 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 significant was this shrine that Bernard of Clairvaux, a staunch opponent of the religious practices of Cluny, preached the second crusade from this Basilica.

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. Wine being an essential part of the daily eucharist, the unbroken history of wine growing in Vézelay can be traced back over a millennium. 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 newest 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 as a teenager, he instantly knew he wanted to become a viticulturalist. While working in Provence and Bandol while raising a young family with Blandine, he decided to start his own project and be closer to family. Since Blandine was born and raised in Burgundy, they searched for a suitable place to settle, and a chance posting about a parcel for sale in Vézelay led to the creation of Domaine Sainte Madeleine.

In 2016, Alexandre and Blandine purchased a 4-hectare, south-eastern facing coteau from the Diocese of Sens-Auxerre. Named Côte de Chauffour, Alexandre and Blandine began replanting Chardonnay soon after moving nearby. By the end of 2016, they acquired an additional 1.20 hectares of 30-year-old Chardonnay in Asquins, followed by the purchase of 1.07 hectares of Chardonnay in Les Saulniers in the village of Sainte-Père. With an additional 5.1 hectares of land in the process of being planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and the remaining 3 hectares of fallow land in Côte de Chaffour, Domaine Sainte Madeleine will gradually increase to 12 hectares of vineyards over subsequent vintages. For his Chardonnay plantings, Alexandre uses 50% clones and 50% selection massale from a grower in Savoie, who was recommended to him by Domaine Raveneau. By the end of 2023, the entire estate will be certified organic.

Alexandre makes a village Vélelay and small releases of Vézelay Les Saulniers, Bourgogne Blanc Côte Chauffour, and two wines from Le Clos – a Vézelay Blanc and Bourgogne Rouge. While the vines in Côte Chauffour remain young, and there has been a century-long gap since wine was last made from this site, it is widely recognized as one of Vélelay’s top terroirs, but for now, it is labeled Bourgogne Blanc while it awaits its recognition first as a Vézelay Village designation. Eventually, Alexandre expects both Côte Chauffour and Les Saulniers to be granted 1er crus status alongside other exceptional lieux-dits in Vézelay. Alexandre oversees all aspects of the work at Domaine Sainte Madeleine, from planting to bottling. 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 aging for part of his wines with a preference for larger, more neutral French barrels.

His first releases were uncanny in their uniquely expressive sense of place while conversing with the rest of Burgundy. They have a sense of a classically ripe Chablis but a density of fruit of a Maranges made by top-flight Chassagne or Puligny-based property. They have the easy charm of a Mâcon but with much more drive and focus. Over the span of a few years, Alexandre and Blandine have accomplished something that takes others a lifetime to achieve – capturing everything thrilling about Burgundy in each of their wines.

Burgundy, France
  • Location
    Burgundy, France
  • Primary Appellation
  • Proprietor
    Alexandre & Blandine Le Corguillé
  • Winemaker
    Alexandre Le Corguillé
  • Size / Elevation
    7 hectares / 225-280 meters
  • Age of Vines
    5-45+ years
  • Farming
    In conversion
  • Varieties
    Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
  • Cellar
    Hand harvested, whole cluster pressing, natural yeast fermentation in tank, aged in tank with malo occurring in Spring