Exploring Pouilly-Fuissé: A Look at the Premier Cru Tour

By | 14 May 2024

Sarah Marsh MW climbs aboard growers’ union president Frédéric Marc Burrier’s Citroën DS for a detailed tour of the Mâconnais appellation’s 22 freshly minted premiers crus.


Sarah Marsh MW

It was scorching in Pouilly-Fuissé when I arrived on a June afternoon. Frédéric Marc Burrier was waiting for me outside Château de Beauregard leaning against his 1967 Citroën DS station wagon. “Do you mind if we drive in this,” he asked. “It’s almost as old as me.”

Burrier spent 17 years as President of the growers’ union (Union des Producteurs de Pouilly-Fuissé), and is largely responsible for the creation of Pouilly-Fuissé’s 22 premiers crus which were ratified in 2020. I’d asked Burrier if we might tour the premiers crus together, allowing him to fill me in on the story and tell me about the climats he was so instrumental in raising from village to premier cru.

We embarked on a journey across the rugged landscape. The ride was surprisingly smooth thanks to the hydraulic suspension crafted by Citroën for this vintage vehicle. “The system occasionally leaks,” admits Burrier, “but it’s a fantastic car for family outings. There are two extra seats in the trunk.”

A spread of 194ha (479 acres) of Pouilly-Fuissé premier cru is scattered across four townships. The region’s focal point is Fuissé, a sizeable village with a majestic church, nestled among slopes of premier cru. Fuissé holds 51.35ha (127 acres) of premier cru lands. The vineyards stretch from the northern side of the church to the neighboring hamlet of Pouilly. But, intriguingly, Pouilly aligns itself with Solutré instead of Fuissé, a decision that might not seem logical, but logicality in Burgundy is often scarce. There are 71.73ha (177 acres) of premier cru vineyards in Pouilly-Solutré.


Behind the stone of Solutré lies another rocky protrusion where the vineyards and the village of Vergisson are nestled (Vergisson comprises 36.72ha [91 acres] of premier cru). Chaintré, the southernmost commune, holds 34ha (84 acres) of premier cru and is detached from the other villages, bordering the hamlet of Vinzelles.

We embarked on our journey south towards Chaintré from where our trip would gradually take us back in the northern direction. Accompanying us on the drive, Burrier elucidated on the extensive procedure to attain the premier cru status. “In a gradual process, we initiated the talk about it from 2007 and subsequently in 2010, made an application for 24 crus. As a result, the INAO had turned down two and ten were smaller than we had anticipated.” It took an exhaustive four years to establish the parameters against which the vineyards would be assessed. These metrics were compartmentalized into three distinct categories: technical, “usage—local, loyal and constant,” and taste testing. “The regulations for these categories had to be stringent enough so that they remain unassailable.” There were other concerns too. “The decision to elevate certain vineyards bred anxiety that it might ostensibly result in downgrading others.” 

The technical parameters comprised the soil, the aspect, the inclination, and the altitude. “The soil must have its origins rooted back to the Jurassic era; stretching from Lias to Oxfordian, which is around 200 million to 150 million years old.” The altitude limit beyond which a premier cru would not be permissible, was defined as 400m (1,310ft) above the sea-level. Any slope that faces the north or north-east was automatically ruled out. In exceptional cases, a slope that faces east-north-east might be considered, provided there is a compensating factor to balance out the relatively colder aspect, such as the incline. 

We reached Chaintré and set out to inspect the east facing slope where three of Chaintré’s premier cru are situated; Chevrières (11.36 ha [28 acres] and Aux Quarts (11.22 ha [27.7 acres]), span across the upper section of the gentle slope which barely touches 270m (886ft). Le Clos Reyssier (8.68ha [21 acres]) can be found below them.

“Chaintré is well-known for its lavish wines. In fact, it produces the most robust and full-bodied wines of Pouilly-Fuissé,” shares Burrier. “Situated on an east-facing slope, it mimics a traditional Côte d’Or setup.” A river meander through the valley situated below, which, according to Burrier, moderates the temperature to a certain degree. It’s worth mentioning that part of Chevrières veers towards the west. 

Chaintré premier cru Aux Quarts borders the Vinzelles vineyards of Longeays and Les Quarts. These vineyards are set to become part of the premier cru family in 2024. This inclusion seems logical as these vineyards are positioned at the same altitude along the ridge, with very similar soil compositions. In contrast, it’s intriguing that Le Clos Reyssier, which is located downhill on heavier soils, especially on the lower parts, is also part of the premier cru selection.

It appears that Le Clos Reyssier was given the premier cru title because it fulfilled the “usage” criterion. This stipulates that a vineyard’s constant operation must be demonstrated for it to gain premier cru status. Various methods can be used to prove this, such as sales records, production declarations, press reviews, and old labels. Burrier suggested that the lower section of the Le Clos Reyssier climat was arguably too deep for premier cru status, but the “usage” argument was persuasive.

On the other hand, the vineyard of Le Clos de Monsieur Noly in Chaintré didn’t fare as well. Out of the 8 hectares proposed for premier cru status, only 2.74 hectares were approved. The uneven west-facing slope rendered some parts non-compliant with the strict orientation rules. This might have displeased some vineyard owners, as it lowered the perceived quality of their land. However, in Pouilly-Fuissé, unlike in Côte d’Or, a climat can’t be divided into village and premier cru level and both use the climat name. Those that didn’t make the cut lost the right to use their climat name, and the wine produced there can only be named Pouilly-Fuissé.

After leaving Chaintré, we drove north towards Fuissé, passing by a wooded area. Earlier that day, I had taken this same route with the charming Jean-Philippe Bret who had also guided me around the region. But unlike on that trip, this time we didn’t turn left to visit Château de Rontets, which produces three cuvées from the vast Les Rontets vineyard.

This vineyard is perched on a steep, windy plateau that benefits from all-day sunlight and meets soil requirements. However, its lofty position excludes it from ‘premier cru’ recognition. As Bret points out, one shouldn’t overlook village-level vineyards, as they too can produce good wines. I’m inclined to agree. The husband-and-wife duo Fabio Montrasi and Claire Gazeau, both former architects, make some wonderful wines in Les Rontets.

Facing south from Rontets treats you to a direct view of Beaujolais; therefore, the presence of granite outcrops in Pouilly-Fuissé isn’t surprising. The surrounding landscape, save from an isolated pocket of limestone, is entirely granite.

During the ‘premier cru’ project, countless holes were dug and soil samples taken for geological study of Pouilly-Fuissé. This initiative was entirely self-funded. According to Burrier, Jurassic soils were the primary factor in terrain classification; despite varying topsoil amounts, the crucial combination of Bajocian limestone and clay was consistent. Hard Bajocian limestone, identical to the one in Mont-Rachet, forms the two cliffs. There are, however, a number of older or younger soils throughout the appellation.

As our journey continued, we passed a forest and found ourselves gazing towards the east-facing slope on either side of Fuissé village, previously mentioned. Behind us, the vineyards have volcanic soils and are classified as Mâcon. According to Burrier, “Chardonnay grown on these granite/schistous soils tends to be lighter and less aromatic than wine produced from limestone and clay.”

“The necessity was to ensure that the 799ha (1,974 acres) of Pouilly-Fuissé, defined in 1922 and validated by the INAO in 1937, did not extend due to the premier cru process. This was not an initiative to upgrade regional classifications to Pouilly-Fuissé.” (Currently, 760ha [1,878 acres]) of the total 799ha is in production, attributable to crop rotation.)

Our discussion paused as we surveyed the vineyards stretching down the slope. “Fuissé is the focal point of Pouilly-Fuissé. If there are future grand crus, this is where they will come from,” opined Burrier, noting that the premier crus from the Fuissé commune are “not as expansive as Chaintré nor as mineral-rich as Vergisson, but absolutely the most profound.”

To the left (or south) of the Fuissé village lies the premier cru Perrières (5.79ha [14.3 acres]). “Perrières yields wines which are strict and precise.” Concurring with this assertion, I would point you to JA Ferret who cultivate a bracing, saline wine from this climat. Within Perrières, the slope forms a central fold, where the wines do not meet the same standard, and this area is classified as Mâcon-Fuissé. This exemplifies Burrier’s assertion that regional wines should retain their status, not being promoted in lieu of premier cru. It remains classified at the regional level.

Next to Perrières lies the ample 19.13ha (47.3 acres) premier cru Les Vignes-Blanches. Burrier characterises this terrain as extremely marly. “The wines it produces are elegant, though not particularly structured.” The slope here measures between 20 to 25 degrees. Standing in the vineyard, it felt more precipitous than it looked from across the valley. Personally, I find the character of Vignes-Blanches to be subtly refined. It can quickly become overoaked, risking a loss of elegance.

Adjacent to Le Clos is a monopole owned by Château Fuissé. According to Burrier, it’s debatable whether the lower section, where the soil composition alters, should be classified as premier cru. Nonetheless, this area represents less than 15% of the climat, so it was included. This enclosed clos generates rich, rounded wine which, in a warm vintage, can be opulent, but with a desirable firmness to the structure and a savory finish.

The diminutive 0.83ha (2.03 acres) Les Brûlés faces more towards the south. Burrier observed, as we passed, that it becomes fairly hot and has a predominantly limestone soil. Château Fuissé owns this monopole.

Les Ménétrières, at 5.22 ha (12.9 acres), has the highest fraction of clay among the Fuissé premier cru. Burrier notes, “It has wealthy, deep clay, and the slope shifts from east to slightly more southeast. The wine it produces is the most structured”. My experience with Ménétrières is that it’s full-bodied and robust, with a detectable iron-like feel.

Close by is the Les Reisses premier cru (4.13 ha [10.2 acres]), also once referred to as Vers Pouilly. However, the original name prevailed during the premier cru process. Burrier comments, “It leans a bit towards the northeast, yielding more elegant wines.”

Directly over the commune boundary into Solutré-Pouilly lie the premier cru vineyards of Aux Chailloux (6.74 ha [16.65 acres] and Aux Bouthières (4.86 ha [12 acres]). It’s clear from the terroir map and from the name “Chailloux” that the soil changes here to a non-calcareous clay with trace elements of chailles. Chailles originates from limestone and is composed of crystalline siliceous elements, mainly quartz. “Chailles are pure siliceous stones,” remarks Burrier. “Originally, they were a sort of cement between the layers of limestone, but the limestone slowly disappeared, dissolved into the water in the soil. Only the chailles remained, which are not soluble in water.”

There is no limestone in these vineyards and the orientation changes to become more south-facing. When I passed them earlier in the day with Jean-Philippe Bret, he told me that these are good places in dry summers as the vines never stress in the deep soils.

Burrier describes the wines as “Rich and opulent, but not lacking in elegance because the drainage is excellent due to the quantity of chailles.”

The BIVB have published a useful Carte de l‘Appellation for Pouilly-Fuisseé which defines the different soil types. Consulting this map later there appear to be outcrops of chailles within the premier crus of Les Vignes Blanches and Perrières. I followed up with Burrier who responded “Some lieux-dits in Les Vignes Blanches like Les Châtaigniers are made with chailles. Les Perrières has a few chailles areas too.”

The sprawling premier cru vineyard of Pouilly spans across 19.37 hectares (47.9 acres). It has a layer of stony scree, akin to that of Les Perrières and Les Vignes Blanches. Burrier, the co-owner and the sole farmer of Château du Clos in Pouilly, maintains a three-hectare-closed vineyard inclusive of two hectares of premier cru Pouilly. Since 2009, the culture here has been organic and the winemaking follows the same procedure as Beauregard. Pouilly, according to Burrier, is the core of the appellation where Chardonnay took root in the 18th century. The soils with brown clay and scree on the calcareous marls yield remarkable white Burgundies.

Vers Cras is stationed between the communes of Fuissé and Solutré-Pouilly. It’s an unexpectedly flat spot and lies slightly toward the east with the Château de Beauregard stationed at the heart. Burrier describes it as a “massive plate of Jurassic limestone with a substantial percentage of active limestone.” It consists of Oxfordian superior limestone (coralian), which signifies the younger Jurassic soil of the AOP. Owing to the thin and poor stony calcareous soils which are sometimes only 50cm deep, Vers Cras retains an austere style which contradicts the expected image of rich and solar Pouilly-Fuissé.

Vers Cras spans 9.63 hectares and basks in ample sunlight. However, a tiny portion leaning towards the north was excluded from the premier cru. Towards the end stages of the premier cru process, a public consultation was held, enabling people to challenge the INAO’s proposed demarcation. “After having studied each case in the field for two months, INAO has made a final decision,” recalls Burrier which led to an increase in the premier cru area from 183 to 194 hectares. In the end, just three out of 365 producers disagreed with the INAO’s decision.

Driving through Pouilly and taking turns towards Solutré in the Citroën resulted in a bout of car sickness for me as I attempted to jot down every detail that Burrier was sharing. However, reaching the base of the rock provided an opportunity to halt and chat about the premier cru of Au Vignerais and the taste testing part of the premier cru “stress test”.

The decision was made to collect bottles of the 2013 vintage for tasting, being the most accessible vintage at the time. The tasting was conducted in a blind manner by enologists, producers, and brokers not from the region. Surprisingly, it was a challenge to locate wine from Au Vignerais, despite its substantial size of 18.6 hectares. As Burrier elaborated, most of the production was traditionally sold as juice to négociants and subsequently disappeared into blends. This created a difficulty in sourcing bottled and labeled “Au Vignerais” wine and cast doubts on the vineyard’s reputation as “loyal and constant” due to the lack of sales records or press reviews. However, it fulfilled the technical criteria and this fact was impossible to overlook. Consequently, common sense was the order of the day and Au Vignerais was recognized as a premier cru.

The vineyard is draped against a south-facing slope. Jean-Phillippe Bret, a parcel holder here, mentions, “I adore Au Vignerais in 2021, but when it’s too ripe it’s oversized because it’s south-facing. It then becomes a caricature.” From my tasting, I am inclined to concur. In a warm vintage like 2022, it’s rather rich and lacks the sturdy structure to support this. Nonetheless, in a cooler vintage, it is tasty and balanced. Domaine La Soufrandière Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru Au Vignerais 2021 is ripe, juicy, and lively with tantalizing sweetness and ample acidity for finish. 

I requested Burrier to provide a summary of the premiers crus from the Solutré slopes, including En Servy, La Frérie, and Le Clos de Solutré. “They are extremely harmonious. The wines are not as severe as Vergisson or Chaintré, but they do not lack anything.” 

Our journey continued past the rock of Solutré leading us to the most picturesque of valleys. Vergisson is nestled between two rocks and includes the charming village. It has the feel of being hidden, rural, and timeless. Away from the bustle of the city and the business of the river, the connection with medieval Burgundy is the strongest here. In stark contrast to Chaintré where the city sprawl of Mâcon is visible; and sadly in Loché, large industrial plots, factory structures, and warehouses are beginning to encroach on the village. 

Vergisson, known for the coldest climate within Pouilly-Fuissé, had the reputation of being the least interesting commune until recently. The shift of market preference towards the mineral, straighter style of Pouilly-Fuissé and the warmer summers significantly benefited Vergisson.

The commune of Vergisson also boasts the highest diurnal shift and the coldest nights, enabling the preservation of the bright acidity and vibrant energy in its wine. “Most of the land is owned by the village and rented to the producers, making it the most extreme place, but Chardonnay thrives here,,” says Burrier.

Consistency in quality was a challenge in the past. However, today the wines of Vergisson, known for their precision and mineral quality, are in high demand. There are dedicated producers such as Domaine Gilles Morat and Domaine Saumaize Michelin, who succeed in capturing the unique terroir of Vergisson in their wines.

Vergisson hill houses vineyards on numerous slopes and aspects. The premier cru vineyards are secluded to the warmest slope. The crucial vineyards include Les Crays, La Maréchaude, and Sur La Roche, which continue up the hill, with Sur La Roche positioned at the top.

Small and isolated parcels known as En France (1.87 ha [4.6 acres]) stand out. They’re anomalies. “Only a tiny portion of En France was approved, which is located on Jurassic soils,” Burrier notes. “The majority of En France, together with Aux Charmes and Ronchevat, is on Trias soil and was turned down. Aux Charmes, also an initial candidate, was rejected for the same reasons.”

Let’s examine the three major premiers crus. La Maréchaude (9.34 ha [23.1 acres]) sits at the bottom part of the slope, nestled in the valley and hidden by village houses when viewed from across the valley. It has the deepest soils and the wine it generates is the roundest, “Maréchaude offers the most solar expression of Vergisson,” Burrier notes. 

Les Crays (10.75 ha [26.6 acres]) is a sharp and sunny incline where the upper vineyards seem to blend into the cliff face. The soil is rich in stones. This slope is sunlight-drenched, with wines that are ripe and fruity, yet intensely mineral. “This place is filled with scree. The vines stretch up to 400m [1,310ft] and the wines carry a very mineral profile,” comments Burrier, who owns a tiny parcel of Les Crays sufficient only for two barrels.

Earlier, as I journeyed with Jean-Philippe Bret, we paused to chat with a winemaker working on a slope so steep it seemed almost impossible to climb, let alone cultivate a vineyard. This man was manually spraying his vines using a hefty wheeled contraption. Reflect for a moment on the extensive and challenging manual work involved in caring for the vineyards in Les Crays, much tougher than a vineyard on a mild slope or, like Vers Cras, virtually flat. In view of this, a bottle from Les Crays, and some other equally steep slopes, is priced quite reasonably considering the balance of labor and quality. This is an ideal time to mention that from 2027, premier cru Pouilly-Fuissé has to be hand-harvested, and herbicides will no longer be allowed.

The premier cru of Sur La Roche (14.76 ha [36.5 acres]) is higher, yet further around the slope with an east-to-south exposure. This area is incredibly stony with minimal topsoil, resulting in wines that are notably straight and marked by minerals. These wines are tastefully stylized and savory.

Interesting to note, the topmost 5 hectares (or 12.4 acres), situated from 400-450 meters (or 1,410–1,480) were precluded from the premier cru designation. It was felt that these areas were too lofty, and lacked a compensating aspect due to their flat composition. Nevertheless, the winemakers of this climat had a bit of a better experience than others, as these 5 hectares can be declared as Pouilly-Fuissé, Haut de La Roche. In the warm 2022 vintages, La Roche turns out flavorful, racy, and salty wines.

In conversation with Burrier, I questioned if climate change had been considered when outlining the technical criteria. Barring the fact that the process surged past a decade. Regions often difficult to ripen due to high altitude or a marginally colder aspect are now reaping the benefits of longer, warmer seasons. Apparently not. The idea was dismissed as too challenging, and it was proposed that these regions would still produce inferior wines in cooler vintages. Personally, I find it unfortunate that such an all-encompassing research could not entwine a far-sighted vision when curating the premier cru. So, make sure not to overlook some of the rejected parts of climats.

Be on the lookout for vineyards that qualify for soil conditions but weren’t even suggested based on topography and microclimate. These can furnish substantial value and an edgy flair. Earlier, I had the opportunity to visit En Chatenay. This region is situated under a forest on the less-appreciated side of the Vergission rock where Bret and Dominique Lafon own neighboring vineyards on the calcareous clay. In Bret’s words, “This shouldn’t be a premier cru, but it’s a great spot in hotter summers. Working here, surrounded by nature – the woods and the birds, it carries a natural energy.” Even in the adversities posed by the 2021 vintage, I found a fondness for Soufrandière Pouilly-Fuisse En Chatenay; a right, light wine marked by a fennel character. It is tart, sappy, zestful, and probably turbo-boosted by Bret’s superior biodynamic viticulture.

The classification of premier cru has greatly increased the demand for the improved Pouilly-Fuissé climats. We can only hope that the prices do not escalate as well. As always in Burgundy, it’s the terroir that gets classified, not the wine itself. Burrier mentions that his 2021s were completely sold out upon release, a first in his experience.

The acknowledgement of superior quality terroir within the appellation system is a justified act, albeit a herculean one to be approved by the INAO. Burrier has accomplished an impressive task in rallying the Pouilly-Fuissé producers for cooperation. He should take pride in knowing that most of the best terroir is now demarcated. Admission comes from Burrier that the classification is not without its flaws, yet as summarized by Jean-Philippe Bret, “It’s a job 80% well done.” It appears probable that there will be a second wave of premier cru applications. However, Burrier has moved past this. His focus is now on Pinot Noir.

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