Guide to the Loire regions

Côtes d'Auvergne

Grower Profiles

Cave Saint-Verny
The co-operative takes its name from Saint-Verny (also known as Saint-Werner) the 15 year old son of an Alsatian (or, depending on which story one believes, a Palatinate) wine grower who was the victim of a ritual murder by the Jews in 1287. Miracles were said to have happened in the presence of the body of the young martyr. He was canonized in 1431 and became popular during the 17th Century, after his legend had passed through folklore into the Auvergne. He was adopted as the patron saint of vignerons in 1624 and his image can be seen throughout the Auvergne in the form of a figurine depicting a young, rustic-looking farmer wielding a pruning knife in his right hand with a bousset (a small, barrel containing just a few litres, made by hollowing out a section of root wood from a walnut tree), at his feet. His Sainthood is celebrated every 20th May.

Today, the Cave Saint-Verny is the sole co-operative in the Puy-de-Dôme. Originally called Cave des Coteaux, it was founded in 1950, just outside the village of Veyre-Monton. It would be fair to say that the enterprise has suffered a chequered history, coming close to being dissolved in the late 1980s until it was rescued in 1991 by a 15 million Franc investment from Limagrain, Europe’s largest agricultural seed specialist. A new cellar with 37 temperature controlled, stainless steel tanks replaced the concrete vessels in 1993, and was the first in the region to install a de-stemming machine.

Resident oenologist, Olivier Mignard, originates from a family of vignerons close to Carcassonne. He has been at the Cave Saint-Verny since 1999 and has instigated a rigorous assessment of all the 200 hectares of vineyards under his control to ensure that all parcels have a predetermined place within the co-operative’s wide range. The cellar takes in grapes from 53 communes throughout the département, and has 115 adhérents (down from 308 in early 1990s), meaning an average holding of less than two hectares per member, although the 80-20 rule applies, with the largest member delivering 10 hectares of grapes. It is also a factor in understanding why half of the crop is still harvested by hand.

With 200 hectares of vineyard, Mignard effectively vinifies half of all commercial vineyard plantings in the département, processing 7,500 hectolitres in 2006. Given that the permitted yields for the appellation are 55hl/ha, the average yield of 45hl/ha sought is particularly modest. Approximately 80% is vinified as Côtes d’Auvergne, with the balance classified as IGP de Puy-de-Dôme.

Planting summary:
110ha Gamay
60ha Pinot Noir
0.7ha Syrah
30ha Chardonnay

Wine styles:
63% Red
12% White
25% Rosé

Given all grapes are destemmed, there is no Beaujolais-esque carbonic-maceration style wines to be found here, although Mignard has experimented with pre-fermentation maceration during the 2008 vintage. The rosés are mostly saignée but can also be produced by maceration, but all are designed for drinking within the first two years of the vintage.

Until 1980, everything produced by the co-operative was sold en-vrac. Since then, they have developed a large (too large?) selection of wines, incorporating various ranges to cover the different styles, price points and appellations. My comments on the ranges follow a tasting of the current (2007 and 2008) vintages at the cellar in June 2009.

Les Volcans Côte d’Auvergne red, white and rosé. The Rosé is 100% Gamay. This is the entry range, with the red and pink being extremely successful. They are light, soif-quenching wines, exactly what they should be. In a way, they are the most impressive wines in the whole range. 

Renaissance Côte d’Auvergne white, red and rosé (both a blend of 50% Gamay and 50% Pinot Noir) and Privilège Côte d’Auvergne white, rosé (currently 100% Pinot Noir, but will change to a 50% Gamay blend due to the new legislation from 2008 onwards) and red, which is aged in oak. Both ranges fall into the middle ground and lack the definition they need, with the use of oak starting to blur the sense of origin.

Basalte is a Côte d’Auvergne red made from small berried, 50 year old Gamay vines grown on volcanic soils that delivers low yields (30hl/ha in 2005), fermented and aged in small barrels for 12 months. This is clearly very good vineyard material, sadly over-cooked by the use of wood.

Wines from the crus of:
Corent which appears as a (100% Gamay) Rosé, Madargue Rouge is two-thirds Pinot Noir (and appeared for the first time with the 2007 vintage when retired vigneron Bernard Boulin began to deliver his grapes to the co-op), and Boudes Rouge, which is from Pinot Noir and Gamay, delivered by a single grower, M. Panel, who has 3.5 hectares of vines. All three are very worthy of their cru status. Interestingly, whilst Châteaugay is the largest of the crus, there are no co-operateurs in the appellation with all the growers making their own wine, which explains this obvious gap in their range.

Saint Roch Vin de Pays de Puy-de-Dôme white takes its name from a single parcel of Chardonnay from Chadeleuf, situated just north of Issoire, but whose village vignerons never bothered to apply for recognition as Côte d’Auvergne. A partner red is a three-way split between Syrah, Gamay and Pinot Noir, produced for the first time in 2006. The Chardonnay is raised in tank and enjoys lees contact for a year or more. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it is individual and strikingly good. Mignard clearly likes this wine a lot and it deserves a following.

Veraison is a Vin de Pays de Puy-de-Dôme made from Pinot Noir and raised in tank. This is decent, but not outstanding.

Latitude 45.30 comes from young vine Syrah (the first vintage was in 2005) and sold as Vin de Pays de Puy-de-Dôme. The grapes were vinified as rosé in 2007. The wine is raised in oak, which dominates, although one senses that the raw material shows great future promise.

Le Paillou, Vin de Paille is a blend of three different vintages (1998-2000) and made from Gamay d’Auvergne. It has 14% alcohol and took three years to ferment. Individual, unctuous and very difficult to spit…

Wine Overview:
When a co-operative, such as the Cave Saint-Verny, dominates a regions production, it is essential that the quality is of the highest possible standard in order to secure a reputation for the wines of the Auvergne as a whole. Mignard is clearly a dedicated oenologue with a diligent and pragmatic approach to his work. During my time in the region, researching this report, there were criticisms leveled at the operation by independent vignerons, but my lasting view is of wines that are very high in quality for their intended price point, especially at the entry level, which is where the wines are best. The more expensive, experimental cuvées are interesting, but also a little too ubiquitous in their style. It is important that they do not loose sight of their core business of delivering great quality, simple and honest wines that are destined to be consumed within the year of the vintage.

The Cave Saint-Verny is an excellent ambassador for the region. The fact that a total of 60% of its wines are sold within the Auvergne Region as a whole, demonstrates how parochial the market is for them, although they deserve much wider recognition. 

Jean-Paul Berthoumieu
Cave Saint Verny
Route d’Issoire
T: + 33 4 73 69 60 11
F: + 33 4 73 69 65 22


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