efore the phylloxera struck in the late 19th century Saint-Bris le Vineux, nine kilometres southeast of Auxerre, was the largest wine-producing village in the department of Yonne. Back then the vines covered 2000 hectares. The wines travelled by road to Auxerre and could then easily be shipped to Paris by boat or by barge. But the arrival of the railroad in the mid-nineteenth century, followed by the phylloxera, changed things drastically. The railroad meant competition from the cheaper wines from the south of France and the phylloxera destroyed the vines. The area under vines shrunk to a fraction of what it had been. Today there are 560 ha of vines within the commune of Saint-Bris le Vineux.
While the rest of Burgundy is primarily known for its wines made of pinot noir and chardonnay Saint-Bris le Vineux is something of an oddity. Saint-Bris is the only appellation in Burgundy to allow the sauvignon grape. It is a village appellation for white wine only and 100 percent sauvignon. Wine made of pinot noir or chardonnay will be Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre rouge, blanc or rosé. The area under sauvignon vines has been growing steadily since the mid-1980's, when the vineyard area was down to around 50 hectares. It is now up at 104 ha. The vast part of the appellation Saint-Bris is in the commune of Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, but there are also small areas in the neighbouring communes of Chitry, Irancy, Quenne and Vincelottes.
Saint-Bris was originally Saint-Prix, named after the martyr whose name in Latin was Sanctus Priscus. He was killed in 274, when he had taken refuge in the woods of Puisaye. After the French Revolution the name of the village became Saint-Bris-le-Vineux.
Today Saint-Bris-le-Vineux is a village with slightly more than a thousand inhabitants. The church dates back to the 13th century and the chateau, just east of the church, is from the 17th century. The chateau is nowadays used as combined mayor's office/school.
© 2013 Ola Bergman