COTE CHALONNAISE WINE REGION: APPLICATIONS, VINEYARDS, AND WINEMAKING
Situated beautifully in the east of France, the historic Burgundy wine region is the home of renowned appellations and varietals ranging from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir. Other varietals that are common in the area include the Gamay and Aligote. This beautiful wine region is particularly well-known for its amazing red wines and thrilling whites; one of its most important areas is Côte Chalonnaise.
The Côte Challonnaise area has played a significant role in winemaking in France, so much so that the history of French winemaking would be incomplete without a mention of this beautiful region in Burgundy. However, despite its grand status as a major wine-producing area, none of its vineyards have attained Grand Cru status. That being said, wines produced in Côte Chalonnaise still have much to offer.
Vineyards in the area stretch over an area of about 175 square kilometers, with orchards and other forms of farming dotting the landscape. Wine production is more pronounced in the Northern communes of Bouzeron, Rully, and Mercurey. While Bouzeron is renowned as the only AOC specifically made from the Aligote grape, Rully takes pride in its Premiere Cru vineyards and globally sought-after white wines — it also boasts the hub of Crémant sparkling wines.
In contrast, Mercurey houses 30 Premiere Cru vineyards, making it the largest (red) wine producer by volume in the region. By percentage, the Côte Chalonnaise produces roughly 45% red wines and 55% white wines. Other communes include Givry, with 17 Premier cru vineyards, and Montagny, with 49 premier cru vineyards, both of which primarily produce white wines.
The area was named after the Chalon-sur-Saone, a booming trading Center for the Celts. Later, it was designated by the Romans as an area of commerce and used to ship wines and other local commodities via the River Saone. At least 20,000 amphorae carrying ancient Roman stamps have been discovered in a grave found in Côte Challonaise. The region also served as a key route via the famous Canal du Centre, connecting France’s southern wine regions with the Northern markets during the 18th century.
Around the late 1900s, the wine region of Côte Challonaise experienced a landmark shift in the quality of wine production. While the price of Burgundy wine was surging, Côte Chalonnaise maintained a lower price compared to other villages in Burgundy. This helped Chalonaise create an unshakeable reputation of high-quality wines for a low cost — a reputation that attracted investments. By the start of the 21st century, Côte Chalonnaise had become a major wine force to reckon with.
Côte Chalonaise Terroir
The terroir of the Côte Chalonnaise can be likened to that of Côte d’Or. However, distinct characteristics include the amount of rainfall and the farming system. The Côte d’Or experiences significantly more rainfall and the vineyards of Côte Chalonnaise are situated on the slopes of a single encampment. They differ markedly from Côte Chalonnaise’s three isolated vineyards situated on patches of limestone.
The first patch of vineyards can be found in the Northwest of Chalon-sur-Saone. The villages in this area include Mercurey Bouzeron and Rully. The second patch of vineyards is situated only a few kilometers away around the village of Givry (to the west of Saint-Remy and southwest of Chalon-sur-Saone), 5 km away from the third patch in the Montagny region.
Dramatic hills with gentle slopes climb to an altitude of between 230 to 320 meters, forming a natural barrier that protects the vineyards from hail damage and frost. The soil constitutes of a unique blend of limestone, clay, sand, and traces of iron, with limestone forming the largest constituent. The amazing nature of the slopes and the soil aid in creating grape-conducive micro-climates that positively influence the quality of wines from Côte Chalonnaise and make them stand out among other premier Cru vineyards worldwide.
Winemaking and viticulture in Côte Chalonnaise
This region adopts the same winemaking practices as Côte d’Or, with production capabilities reaching 10.5 gallons per 120 square yards (equivalent to 40 liters per 100 square meters). Grapes are mostly harvested from the end of September to early October. Fermentation of the wine is usually done in oak barrels, where the wine is allowed to age for up to 10 months.
While the grapes being cultivated in Côte Chalonnaise are the same as those found across Burgundy (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), other varieties of grapes planted in smaller quantities include Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc. Aligote is also cultivated in small quantities around the Bouzeron area, while Gamay is sometimes blended with Pinot Noir to create Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains. Last but not least, a significant amount of Sparkling wines are also produced. Because of the oak barrel fermentation practices, the wines from this winemaking region exhibit smokey and toasty notes.
Thanks to the expert and unique winemaking practices of the region, Côte Chalonnaise’s wines have been described as “better quality Māconais” by wine expert Tom Stevenson while Mary Ewing-Mulligan praised them for their affordability.
On this day in history
August 14, 2012 — Mary Ewing-Mulligan became the first woman to be named Master of Wine in North America. This feat earned her a place on the list of 57 Masters of wine in the United States and 417 worldwide. She was nominated for a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and named a wine leader by the prestigious Italian Wine and Food Institute. Her book Wine for Dummies was also published on this day.
April 10, 1573 — Gabrielle d’Estrees, the Duchess de Besufort, regarded the red wines of Mercurey as her favorites. She was the mistress of King Henry IV of France. She was born in 1573 and died at the age of 26 in April 1599.