Guide to the Loire regions

Côtes du Forez

Grower Profiles

Cave des Vignerons Foréziens
The Cave des Vignerons Foréziens was founded in 1959, following a meeting of like-minded growers, on the 18th December that year in the old Central Hotel in Boën. It was not until the 1962 harvest, however, that its members delivered their first crop (of 1,850hl), having first needing to build their winery. From that point on, the co-operative has dominated the production of the region, at one stage holding a virtual monopoly on the wines of the Côtes du Forez appellation as well as absorbing growers from the Roannaise when the Renaison co-op folded in the early 1980s. Today, only one grower continues to deliver his grapes from the north of the département, trucking his Vin de Pays grapes down from Pouilly-les-Nonains on the Roannaise plain.

The co-operative controls a total of 123 hectares of vines, of which 110ha are dedicated for the production of Côtes du Forez, with 10ha of Gamay being diverted for the production of a Vin de Pays Demi-Sec Rosé. A total of 85% of these vines are situated north of Montbrison, with a nominal five coopérateurs from the south of the region delivering the balance. In addition to Gamay, there are 3.5 hectares of Chardonnay planted on 600 metre high slopes between Boën and Marcilly-le-Châtel.

Situated on the main road out of Boën on towards Montbrison, the cellar vinifies around 6,500hl of wine each vintage, or around 75% of the wines of the appellation. Of this, around 65% of their production is dedicated to Côtes du Forez rouge (five different ways with Gamay) and 20% as Vin de Pays d’Urfé. From its origins as a classic piece of French co-operative architecture, the cellar has been expanded, with one building added each decade since 1962. Whilst some of the original 150hl cement tanks still exist, these have mainly been replaced by stainless steel vessels.

There are a total of 65 coopérateurs (there were 260 members in the mid 1990s), of which 25 vignerons represent 95% of the production. This is very much a community of mixed farming and winegrowers can also be expected to have other agricultural interests such as dairy or meat herds, pigs, or work the land as arborists. Around half of the vineyards are still harvested by hand, illustrating the fractioned nature of its members and their individual vineyard holdings.

Winemaker Pierre Rolle is a Forézien, but doesn’t come from a family of vignerons. He studied at Montpellier and worked stages in Bordeaux and Australia before returning to take on the responsibility of production (at the age of 28) in 2008.

As with most co-operatives who are forced to chase the market, there is a large range of wines produced, especially when one considers the limitations of working with a single grape variety – other than a little Vin de Pays Chardonnay. This perfectly clean but rather ordinary tank fermented Vin de Pays d’Urfé Chardonnay is bottled early for immediate consumption. It may undergo malolactic fermentation depending on the conditions of the vintage. This wine accounts for about 3% of the total cellar production. Their other Vin de Pays d’Urfé release is a Rosé Demi-Sec which has between 25 and 30g/l residual sugar and is produced without malolactic fermentation which helps out the sugar/acid balance. Production of this wine hovers around 15% of the cellars capacity each vintage, but increases in the less good years.

Their Côtes du Forez Rosé accounts for around 600hl of wine (15% of total production) each vintage. and has around 3g/l residual sugar and undergoes malolactic fermentation. Both Rosés here are produced by pressurage direct only and are clean, if undistinguished.

The reds have always traditionally been produced using the carbonic maceration method in the classic Beaujolais style, although young Rolle is experimenting with pre-fermentation maceration on wines grown on the volcanic soils and with thermovinification on some of the other cuvées. There are currently five different red wines sold under the Côtes du Forez appellation :

Tradition is the mainstay of the cellars production and comes from vines grown mostly on granite soils and is very much designed for early drinking.

Les Loges is a little more serious and comes from selected parcels, with the blend made up of wines grown on around 70% granitic and 30% volcanic soils.

Domaine du Montabourg is offered as a single vineyard wine and takes its name from a volcano situated just north of the village of Marcoux . These are south facing terraces of 25 year old vines planted on volcanic soils. The vineyard belongs Thierry Barre whose grandfather one was of the original founders of the co-operative. 

Pierre Dellenbach is named after the first President of the co-operative and is derived from parcels sited on volcanic soils.

L’Astrée conforms to the Pierre Dellenbach cuvée, but raised for 6 months in second hand barrels sourced from Bordeaux and Burgundy . It is the obligatory oak-aged wine in the cellar and lends nothing worthwhile to the range.

Finally, Moussette d’Astrée is a sparkling release, the second fermentation process being handled by a firm in the Beaujolais . It is available as either Brut or Demi-Sec.

Wine Overview:
The reputation of the Cave des Vignerons Foréziens, both within the region and beyond, is mixed to say the least. Certainly during the mid 1990s when the co-operative controlled some 98% of the appellations wines, there was much criticism, with Clive Coates MW writing in 1998: ‘I find Côtes du Forez one of the least inspiring of France’s VDQS wines and its promotion to AC in 1999 unjustified. The wine from the co-op is light, dull and an example of maceration carbonique at its worst… Their scruffy premises and rather cavalier attitude towards the possibility of bacterial contamination of wine do not engender much enthusiasm for the appellations future’. So how much of this is still true ten years later? Bearing in mind my visit coincided with the 2008 vintage in bottle and a recent change in winemaker, I have elected not to be too damning on wines for what lies in tank from the excellent 2009 vintage is clearly superior, and one must have confidence in the young Pierre Rolle going forward.  

The Clive Coates view of the co-operative..

Nicolas Osio
Cave des Vignerons Foréziens
Route de Montbrison
T: + 33 4 77 24 00 12
P: + 33 6 22 22 78 14
F: + 33 4 77 24 01 76

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