years is a long time. But for experimenting it is short.
Christophe Thibert has spent the past two decades of his winemaking career at Domaine Thibert in Fuissé. During that time the domaine has gone from selling the whole production in bulk to bottling everything themselves. It has gone from just a few hectares to 22 hectares of vines. And in 2007 they slowly began moving towards organic winegrowing.
– It is difficult, so you have to be careful, Christophe Thibert says about organic winegrowing. I prefer to have a mix, with both traditional and organic winegrowing.
– Part of the domaine is organic, explains Sandrine Thibert-Needham, the sister of Christophe Thibert. But with the current economic situation it's difficult because you need to employ more people and buy more equipment. So we must be careful, but it's still in our mind. Westart the season with classic spray, then the second part of the season it's with organic spray, and we are still ploughing.
There have been winegrowers in the family for seven generations, but it wasn't until 1967 when Domaine Thibert saw the light of day. With only two and a half hectares of vines the parents of Christophe and Sandrine, Andrée and René Thibert, set up their own business.
– Our grandfather had twelve children and only about two hectares, so there wasn't much to share, smiles Christophe Thibert. Our mother and father had to develop their domaine over time. They would rent parcels and sometimes they would buy some.
– I joined them in 1990 and my sister arrived in 1998. Our parents didn't bottle their wine, but when I arrived we began to do it. I told my parents that if we produce very nice grapes I don't want to sell in bulk, because it is frustrating. If we have good quality grapes I want to control how we work all the way.
You'll find Domaine Thibert next to the village square in Fuissé, a village with some 300 inhabitants right in the heart of the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation in the south of the Mâconnais area. Pouilly-Fussié is one of Burgundy's largest village appellations, covering 757 hectares with an average annual production of 49 930 hectolitres.
The domaine is mainly a white domaine; 95 per cent of the production comes from chardonnay; the remaining five per cent is gamay. When they first began bottling themselves the annual output was 2000 bottles. Today it is 140 000. Much of the production is centred on Pouilly-Fuissé. They produce seven different Pouilly-Fuissé cuvées, including lieux-dits such as Vignes Blanches, Les Champs and Les Ménétrières.
– For the Mâcon-Prissé, En Chailloux, the whole fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. For the standard cuvée of Pouilly-Vinzelles I use hundred per cent small oak barrels, but only four per cent is new oak. I want to produce wines where I can smell the fruit, the terroir and the minerality, so I am careful with new oak.
– In the past we have used too much new oak. Now we have returned to making genuine chardonnay, wines that reflect the terroir. It is not easy to find a good balance between the elements of the wine. We make terroir wines (as opposed to wines made more industrially), so we work in a special way in the vineyards. I control the maturity of the grapes two times a week during August and up until the harvest.
Domaine Thibert also produces wines from the neighbouring village appellations of Saint-Véran and Pouilly-Vinzelles. Saint-Véran is a relatively recent appellation – 1971 – and Pouilly-Vinzelles is, together with Pouilly-Loché, Pouilly-Fuissé's tiny neighbours to the east.
– A Pouilly-Loché is in general more supple, while a Pouilly-Vinzelles have a more marked minerality, says Christophe Thibert. My opinion is that you can drink a Pouilly-Loché earlier than a Pouilly-Vinzelles. In terms of minerality a Pouilly-Vinzelles has a character that is closer to a Pouilly-Fuissé. But a Pouilly-Fuissé has more depth and concentration.
– A Saint-Véran is generally a fresh wine that is a little less rich than a Pouilly-Fuissé, but still very pleasant, he continues. Sometimes you'll have great cuvées. Champ Rond is OK, but I think Bois de Fée is superior. It is broader in character than a Pouilly-Fuissé.
Harvest at Domaine Thibert is a mix of harvest by hand and harvest by machine. The higher up the hierarchy you go the more is done by hand.
– About half of the domaine is harvested by hand, the rest by machine. All Pouilly-Fuissé is done by hand. Pouilly-Vinzelles is part by hand and part by machine. Same for Saint-Véran. Mâcon-Fuissé is done 90 per cent by machine. I try to work with the machine late in the evening or early in the evening when the temperature is lower.
– When harvesting by hand that's a bit difficult, he adds with a smile.
When discussing the Mâconnais as a whole Christophe Thibert feels that the past two decades have meant a lot of improvement in this part of Burgundy.
– I think the most important thing is that the winegrowers in the Mâconnais now know that with our terroir here we have a real potential to make great wines with our chardonnay. In the past that wasn't their aim. The wines were good, but we have a great potential here. That is why we are now in the process of trying to have some parts upgraded to premier cru.
– But in order to produce great terroir wines you must be passionate. If you are not passionate you will not have the same wine.
© 2010 Ola Bergman