Guide to the Loire regions

Saint-Pourçain

Grower Profiles



Les Vignerons de Saint-Pourçain
The opening discussions for establishing a co-operative for the growers of St-Pourçain were in 1932 when plans were drawn up for a 10,000hl facility to be built in Venteuil-en-Bourbonnais, but the work on the cellar were halted at the last minute. It was not until 18 years later that Marcel Edier, a vigneron based in the hamlet of Breux, had the vision to table the idea again as a response to the economic crisis of the post-war years. In 1950 he was the driving force behind the creation of the Association de la Cave Coopérative de Saint Pourçain.

The first stone was laid on the 12th January 1952 on a site alongside the Sioule on the edge of the town, and the first vintage was delivered to the new facility the same year. The cellar started with 243 members. By 1961 the cooperative was vinifying 15,000 hectolitres of wine and had 659 adhérents, for the most part in polyculture. For the first few years harvest brought traffic jams along the route de Chantille as farmers queued up to deliver their crop. But during the difficult years of the 1960s and 1970s, many consolidated their agricultural efforts and abandoned viticulture altogether, moving towards mixed crop farming and electing to raise beef cattle instead. 

In 1964, Jean Baudier, an œnologue from the Aude, was bought in for his technical abilities and he became greatly influencial in determining the quality of the planting material and viticultural methods throughout the appellation. Although clearly an outsider, Baudier became a well respected member of the Saint-Pourçain community, and was instrumental in 1984 in preparing the first dossier that was submitted to the I.N.A.O. that set out the path towards creditation to Appellation Contrôlée status 25 years later. Baudier was also the curator of the wine museum in the centre of Saint-Pourçain in 1970 and, together with ex-president of the Union des Vignerons, Jean Berthon, behind the conception of the Conservatoire des Anciens Cépages at the Château de Chareil in 1995. He died the same year.

Baudier and Berthon must have been a formidable team, as it was Berthon who, during his reign as President in the late 1970s and early 1980s, instigated a consolidation of the members highly fractioned vineyards and began the process of identifying and replanting the best 250 hectares within the appellation. The hard work and vision of these two men ensured that current the president, Jean-Marc Josselin, was in a position to secure the final stages towards Saint-Pourcain’s elevation to Appellation Contrôlée in May 2009.

Today, members are responsible for delivering grapes from over 420 hectares of vineyards which equates to around two-thirds of the entire appellation. From the 600 plus members in the early 1960s, there are now just 60, and of these only five are dedicated solely to the vine (the largest single holding is 34 hectares, with just 15 of the 60 growers owning more than 10 hecatres). The balance are vineyards owned by either polycuturalists or part-time vignerons.

The major replanting programme of the 1980s and 1990s means that 80% of vineyards are under 20 years old with all but 5% being harvested by one of seven mechanical harvesters owned by the members. The hand harvested fruit comes from parcels of vines that are either too small or too steep to accommodate the machinery.

Winemaker, Sylvain Miniot, joined as œnologue and Technical Director in 1990 and had previously worked in Sancerre. During his time, there has been a € 5 million investment in the cellar and a determined drive towards quality with Miniot taking charge of viticultural decisions rather than just being the receiver of grapes. This investment forward thinking has ensured that the Cave des Vignerons has a sound business and a bright future. Out of the 16-20,000 hectolitres vinified each year (broken down to 5,000hl white, 12,000hl red and 4,000hl rosé) nearly 95% leaves as a bottled product (about 2.2 million bottles) with an admirable 15% of sales from the cellar door. The balance of the sales are broken down to 35% restaurants and cavistes, 45% in grande distribution and a modest 5% in exports.

WINES :
Like with most co-operatives, the range at the Union des Vignerons is extensive, a legacy of satisfying the demands of customers and making different wines for various sectors of the market. There is also the aspect of satisfying the winemakers desire to come up with something different, especially at the top end. 

The range starts with an early release white, Blanc Premier, which is a 70/30% blend of Chardonnay and Tressallier. It is bottled and released in conjunction with La Ficelle (see below) on the first weekend in December. The Réserve Spéciale comes in a red, white and pink version. The white is based on Tressallier with Chardonnay as the secondary grape, the rosé is produced by pressurage direct and needs to be consumed well within a year of the vintage to maintain the freshness, and the red is a 75/25% Gamay, Pinot Noir blend. Cuvée Printanière is essentially the same wine as the Premier, but has longer lees contact before it is bottled the following spring.

The range also incorporates the wines of two single domaines. The first, Domaine de la Croix d’Or, is from the Colas family, coopérateurs who work 18 hectares in Besson and Chemilly. The range was introduced in 1992 and consists of a white produced from 70% Chardonnay, 25% Tressallier and 5% Sauvignon, a rosé and a red from 75% Gamay. Each of the three wines carries a noticeable thread of minerality running through them which is apparently derived from the sandy soils.

The second range from a single property is from Domaine de Chinière situated on the clay and limestone soils of Saulcet. This 14 hectare property is owned by Philippe Chérillat who joined the co-operative in 1983. The white is a 75%/25% Chardonnay/Tressallier blend, the red is 70%/25% Gamay/Pinot Noir and there is a light and fairly shallow rosé too.

In total there are five different Rose’s produced each vintage, the other two being R de Rosé, a large production bottling of a maceration based wine that comes in a trendy seriagraphed bottle, and a Vin Gris, a 100hl blend of juice drawn directly off from the pressoir.

In terms of other red wines, the cooperative has had enormous commercial success on the French market with La Ficelle. First bottled in 1987, it is inspired by the legend of a 15th Century barkeeper, a man called Gaulthier, who sold wine in pitchers. When the session was finished, the barman set the price by dipping a multi-knotted piece of twine (which corresponded to measures of 25cl and 50cl) into the jug to determine how much had been consumed. The wine now represents around 10% of the cellars production and is sold in a seriagraphed bottle carrying a different cartoon, drawn by some of France’s foremost satirists, each year. The concept has also attracted its own confrérie, Les Compagnons de la Ficelle, which was created in 1988. The wine itself is based on Gamay and made in a fresh, early drinking style (but not by carbonic maceration) from vines planted on the sandy soils in the north of the appellation. It is released the first weekend of December each year, capturing the same local excitement as Beaujolais Nouveau does in the rest of the country.

Despite the success of La Ficelle, the most important wine produced in the cellar is the Cuvée Tradition rouge which accounts for 750,000 bottles a year, or around 80% of the cellars red wine volume. It is a very credible wine given the volume and surprisingly is made up of a 50%/50% blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay.

Lo Mountogno presents an interesting concept. Both red and white examples are barrel aged wines that following bottling have been transported up to the mountains of the Cantal and stored in a buron, a traditional shepherds hut, for two years. It was Sylvian who first came up with the idea having visited friends who had second homes in the Cantal who would buy and store his wines for drinking when they were on holiday. He noticed that the evolution of the wines appeared to happen much slower at 1,100 metres altitude, which is when he decided to transport a specific cuvée there for ageing. So, Lo Mountogno was created, its name coming from the old Auvergnat patois for ‘mountain.’ The white is based on 65% Chardonnay, whilst the red blend changes from vintage to vintage.

Finally, there is the obligatory oak aged red cuvée, here called Apogée. It is based on the Tradition blend of 50% each of Pinot Noir and Gamay. About half of the volume is aged in five year old barrels for one year. The first vintage was released in 2007.

In addition to the above, there is a little Vin de Pays rosé, produced from Pinot Noir and carries around 8g/l residual sugar, and all sold off from the cellar door en-vrac. A sparkling wine, made from Tressallier, is named after Anne de Bourbon.

Wine Overview :
The wines here are very clean and well made, which helps to create a very good picture of the appellation overall. What is particularly noticeable though is that it is the simplest wines that are the most impressive, with the smaller, more individual cuvées only there to add additional interest. The people of Saint-Pourçain should be justifiably proud to have such a good resource of sound, well made wine readily accessible to them.

Christian Bigot, Directeur
Mme. Christelle Laurendon
Les Vignerons de Saint-Pourçain
3 rue de la Ronde
Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
T : + 33 4 70 45 42 82
F : + 33 4 70 45 99 34
udv@udvstpourcain.com
s.miniot@udvstpourcain.com
www.vignerons-saintpourcain.com

 

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