Savoy Chignin and Chignin-Bergeron, neighbours cut from a different cloth
By Jean-Paul Burias – Photographs: courtesy of the estates, posted on 24 April 2023
The Savoy wine region has fostered two genuinely complementary appellations with virtually identical names, but flavours that bear little resemblance. Although Chignin and Chignin-Bergeron are grown in neighbouring vineyards, they showcase the qualities and unique characteristics of two different grape varieties and mountain sites that are almost one-of-a-kind in France…
Harvesting at the Cave de Cruet
An introductory tasting of these two geographical designations within the Savoy wine appellation area may feel like a subtle equation, but in reality, the style of Chignin and Chignin-Bergeron wines is governed by unique features that showcase their differences. Both of them originate near the snow-capped peaks of the Alps, amidst a constellation of valleys and hills, but Chignin is made from Jacquère and Chignin-Bergeron from Roussanne. The rustic variety Jacquère has cornered a 50% share of Savoy vineyards and is very resistant to the fungal diseases that are powdery and downy mildew, making it easier to grow due to fewer passes. Producing drier, mineral wines, it resonates perfectly with the clay-limestone soils. Roussanne, on the other hand, is grown on a more boutique scale – it accounts for just 5% of volumes across the region. It is more fragile and also produces rounder, fruity wines from vines with a leafier canopy. During the growing season, it grows very quickly with a lot more branches. Therefore, it requires more leaf thinning and crown-suckering to aerate the canopy and the clusters and also avert disease. The resultant wines offer more fat and fruitier aromas of apricots, quince and honey. These unique features are bolstered by the terroir factor, which adds another dimension to the appellations’ differences, although its influence is more marginal. The two grape varieties inherently display different styles and flavours, and yet they successfully produce very on-trend wines that dovetail with new consumer patterns favouring freshness and minerality, adding depth and density. This provides Savoy wines with a real treasure trove of possibilities.
Vignoble Perceval: scaling the heights
Just a few kilometres away from Mount Granier, whose peak at 1,933 metres above sea level towers over Grésivaudan valley and the Combe de Savoie, the Pierre Hâchée rock face seems to be tasked with protecting Domaine Perceval’s vines. This huge crag, stemming from a rockslide in 1248, is situated in the very heart of this family-run estate founded in 1910. Since 2020 it has been certified High Environmental Value level 3. Pascal Perceval follows on from four generations of winegrowers and he and his wife Gwenaëlle produce forty different wines from their 54-hectare vineyard, including Chignin and Chignin-Bergeron.
Pascal and Guy Perceval
Pascal Perceval tasting wines by the namesake estate
“In addition to the grape varieties, and even though they are grown on the same hillside sites on the Savoyarde mountain, there is a major difference between the two wines due to the winemaking process”, explains Pascal Perceval. “Chignin-Bergeron is better known than Chignin. The difference in price is also justified by its yield of just 30 hectolitres per hectare, compared with 50 hectolitres for Chignin. Both of them are enjoyed by two different consumer audiences”.
Vignoble de la Pierre: varietal influence
It is difficult to find a closer bond between an estate and its vineyard sites. For several generations, Vignoble de la Pierre has been the nexus for the expertise and craftsmanship of passionate winegrowers in Chignin, in the heart of Savoy. Since Antiquity, the evocatively-named village located in the south-western foothills of the Bauges mountains, has been growing vines. The history of this benchmark estate dates back to 1960. René Girard-Madoux, who at the time owned four hectares of vines and some dairy cows, decided to replant fallow land on Torméry hill, over the slopes of the Savoyarde mountain which peaks at 1,135 metres above sea level. Although it was a mammoth task on land that had long been abandoned after phylloxera, where labour came at a premium due to rural exodus, the work was rewarded by the sites with gradients ranging from 20 to 60% and exposure to the setting sun.
Harvesting comes to an end at Vignoble de la Pierre
In 1988, Yves Girard-Madoux took over from his father René. He planted other blocks and increased area under vine to eleven hectares, planted to five white grape varieties that account for 80% of production – Jacquère, Roussanne, Altesse, Velteliner and Verdesse – with a balance of the red varieties Mondeuse and Pinot noir. “With Jacquère, Chignin produces a lower alcohol wine that rarely exceeds 11.5%”, comments Yves Girard-Madoux. “Initially lesser known, Chignin-Bergeron offers up greater weight and roundness. In some ways, it took ownership of Chignin’s reputation”. Vignoble de la Pierre, which has been certified High Environmental Value level 3 since 2019, produces an extensive range of Savoy wines where some of the flagship labels are Chignin and Chignin-Bergeron.
Harvesting at Vignoble de la Pierre
Maison Philippe Viallet and Les Fils de René Quenard: the major duo
Switching from flowers to grapes was only a small step to take for Yvonne and Marcel Viallet and they made the transition effortlessly. In 1966, the nursery operators bought 2.5 hectares of vines at Domaine Clos Réservé in the Apremont appellation area, just ten kilometres away from Chambéry. Over half a century later, Maison Viallet has successfully transitioned and now offers one of the finest portfolios of Savoy wines. In 1982, Pierre Viallet, their eldest son, took over the reins of the estate, joined in 1985 by his brother Philippe. A Beaune wine college graduate, he also established a trading company focusing on wines not only from Savoy but also from Jura and Bugey – Maison Philippe Viallet.
Dégustation des vignerons cavistes de la Maison Philippe Viallet, Clemence Badoux, Cloe Desolme, Alexis Cote et Christian Cheze
In 2008, Philippe Viallet bought the prestigious estate Les Fils de René Quenard, located primarily in the village of Chignin. It farms eighteen hectares of vines and produces mostly Chignin-Bergeron from the Roussanne variety, which covers half the estate’s acreage. Roussanne produces the flagship La Bergeronnelle label, a rich, full, complex wine with yellow-fleshed fruit aromas of apricot and quince. Jacquère is also grown on the estate and can be found in the La Maréchale label, a Chignin displaying hallmark minerality, freshness and floral aromas. “At Les Fils de René Quenard, the Chignin-Bergeron wines are blended from several blocks spread across the entire appellation area, lending them complexity and unique finesse”, explains Alexis Cote, head viticulturist. “Despite this, they do not compete with the Chignin wines. In fact, if they didn’t have similar names, nobody would even attempt to compare them. Describing them simplistically, you could say that Chignin wines are more affordable and approachable, not just from a price perspective but also in terms of flavour. Chignin-Bergeron boasts a more complex aromatic profile”.
Alexis Cote, head viticulturist at Maison Philippe Viallet
The vines belonging to the prestigious estate Les Fils de René Quenard in Chignin
Maison Cavaillé: the star of Savoy wines
Under the watchful eye of lake Le Bourget, a bastion of Alpine tourism near the spa town of Aix-les-Bains, Maison Cavaillé has become an institution for Savoy wines, running the gamut in terms of appellations, including Chignin and Chignin-Bergeron. “The terroir factor is a prime element”, comments Laurent Cavaillé. “Although Chignin-Bergeron is located at a higher altitude, the grape variety is the major differentiator between the two growths. Our Chignins are mineral and they mirror the features of Jacquère. The Chignin-Bergeron wines are more complex, mouth-filling and aromatic. Some of our ranges include more tense wines that align perfectly with consumer demand”.
Laurent Cavaillé in his vineyards
Wines from Maison Cavaillé stem from meticulous sourcing, selections and compliance with a strict set of specifications defined by brothers Laurent and Jean-Christophe Cavaillé and Savoy winegrowers. “Chignin-Bergeron is the star of Savoy wines. It is the most prestigious and best known”, adds Jean-Christophe Cavaillé. “Chignin, conversely, suffers from a lack of notoriety. In fact, the Jacquère grape variety is more often associated with Apremont. Fortunately, this is less and less the case due to the communications efforts by the Savoy wine marketing board (CIVS) which handles promotion of our region in France and internationally. There is no competition between the two wines because they are completely different”.
Laurent and Jean-Christophe Cavaillé
The cellar door facilities in Aix-les-Bains
Cave des Vins Fins de Cruet: expert winemaking
The endearing story of this co-operative winery began in 1939. Just before the Second World War, winegrowers from three villages in the Combe de Savoie – an unspoilt area 40-kilometres long – grouped their vineyards and their skills to create the Cave des Vins Fins de Cruet. Fast forward over eighty years and the winery now boasts 240 hectares of vines, 70 member winegrowers and a staff of 12. It produces 15,000 hectolitres of wines a year, equating to 20% of Savoy wines, which are regularly awarded in national and international competitions. The vines are harvested by hand, with each variety picked separately to ensure they reach peak ripeness.
Harvesting at the Cave de Cruet
From the broad range of white and red Savoy grape varieties, Jacquère and Roussanne are among the co-operative’s staples. The Chignin is an earlier-drinking wine where Jacquère delivers dry and very fruity offerings with minerality, citrus aromas and flowery notes. The Roussanne-based Chignin-Bergeron develops notes of hazelnuts and apricots encapsulated in wines that are very rounded with a beautiful golden colour. “Despite the fact that they are grown very close to each other, the grape variety is mostly what differentiates them, with very different aromatic profiles”, stresses Yvan Bouvet, chairman of the winery’s board. “The two appellations also have different reputations – Chignin-Bergeron is the most renowned. It is considered as the high-end Savoy wine proposition, which explains the difference in price between the two. Saying this, they do not really compete with each other. The drinking occasions are different and Roussette-de-Savoie sits comfortably between the two”. For consumers, that can only be good news.
Harvesting kicks off with executives from the Cave de Cruet, David Riondy, Rodolphe Perrier, David Henriquet and Yvan Bouvet
Harvesting lets up for a tasting of the wines with, from left to right, Rodolphe Perrier, David Henriquet, Yvan Bouvet and David Riondy
Neighbours but not rivals
Ultimately, the situation seems virtually ideal. Chignin and Chignin-Bergeron make the perfect neighbours and seem to reside comfortably together as companions rather than cutthroat enemies. These two white wines invite consumers to set aside their preconceived ideas and discover supple, generous, appetising wines. The major aspect that divides the two appellations is the grape variety. Jacquère, the local variety, produces fresh, mineral wines with beading that display genuine Savoy typicity. Roussanne lends itself more to oak maturation. Known by wine enthusiasts due to its strong connection with the Rhone Valley, it yields more complex, aromatic and fruity wines. Above and beyond these differences, the two appellations cannot be considered as rivals such is their difference in style and price points. Chignin-Bergeron is produced on a smaller scale with more complex winemaking techniques than for Chignin. These constraints promote its scarcity which is reflected in its higher prices. The market for Savoy wines is evolving and becoming increasingly successful due to its climate and rare mountain vineyard sites in the galaxy of fine wines. Not only do the two appellations not indulge in pointless rivalry, they in fact enhance the greatness of the region’s wines. For most of the winegrowers we spoke to, these two Savoy flagships have met with genuine marketing success, with both their qualities and their differences erasing any competition between the two. And at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.
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