omaine Félix in Saint-Bris le Vineux can trace its roots back to 1690. Not much happened the first three centuries. The landholdings remained around eleven hectares. Then Hervé Félix returned home. The domaine started to expand and soon covered 31 hectares.
This is the part of Burgundy where you find grape varieties such as sauvignon and césar alongside the big names of chardonnay and pinot noir. Saint-Bris le Vineux is a village with a thousand inhabitants nine kilometres southeast of Auxerre and 17 kilometres southwest of Chablis. The appellation Saint-Bris is the only one in Burgundy to allow sauvignon blanc.
– Of our wines the Chablis is of course the easiest to sell, says Hervé Félix. But if it had said Sancerre on the labels instead of Saint-Bris that wine would have been the easiest. The name on the label means a lot.
Both Sancerre and Saint-Bris are wines made entirely of sauvignon blanc. But it is Sancerre, some 100 kilometres southwest of Saint-Bris in the Loire, which has the fame and fortune. Tasting the Saint-Bris of Domaine Félix does however show that this wine is a serious competitor to any Sancerre, and at a much lower price.
Hervé Félix is very happy with how the 2007 harvest has turned out, especially for the whites. But it was an unusually long harvest.
– This year we spent more than three weeks harvesting, instead of the usual two, he explains.
– The white wines will be very fine this year and the reds will be very good too. But for the reds we had to sort a lot. There were many grapes that were either too ripe or not enough ripe that we had to throw away.
The wine portfolio at Domaine Félix includes several of the appellations in the Auxerrois area. Apart from the Saint-Bris there are Petit Chablis, Chablis, Bourgogne Aligoté and Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre on the white side. The reds include Irancy, made from both Pinot noir and césar, and Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre. There are two cuvées of the latter, one pure pinot noir and one pinot noir/césar. There is also a Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre rosé made from pinot noir.
– It is much diversified here, says Hervé Félix, and because of that it is quite difficult to handle; you need a lot of different equipment – tanks, labels etc.
When Hervé Félix decided to quit working for the French state in 1991 and return to the family domaine it was the start of many changes at Domaine Félix. Not only did the domaine quickly grow from eleven to 31 hectares. His return also meant bottling at the domaine and eventually a new philosophy regarding the use of chemicals.
– My father and I decided to expand, so we planted six hectares of vines. We bought three hectares and rented eleven. All this was done in 1991 and 1992. We also started to bottle ourselves. My father had only sold to négociants.
At the turn of the millennium culture raisonnée made its debut at Domaine Félix. The use of chemicals in the vineyards was brought down to a minimum; it is now only used when absolutely needed. And the change has had the desired effect.
– Eight years ago we could not find any snails or worms in they vineyards. Now they are everywhere. That means that nature is recovering.
Not much is known about the winemaking back in 1690 when Domaine Félix was founded. Hervé Félix points out that basic winemaking has not changed that much during the centuries.
– We still make the wine in the same place. My grandfather waited for maximum ripeness before he began to harvest. It is still the same. In the village we are the last to start to harvest, and the last to finish.
The big changes have been in technology, the equipment. Thanks to them the quality level is more even. Difficult vintages do not necessarily mean catastrophes any more.
Today Domaine Félix exports to Japan, the US, Great Britain, Holland, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Germany and Belgium.
– We have also begun to sell Saint-Bris to Estonia and Lithuania, says Hervé Félix. So the market is growing.
© 2007 Ola Bergman