Vincent and Jean-Claude Royet at Domaine Royet, Combereau, Burgundy.

t was created almost by accident, the Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois appellation. In addition it is also a very colourful appellation, at least when it comes to the colour of the clay in the vineyards. Blue, yellow, red, grey or white. You name it, the Couchois has it all.

– The Couchois is a multicoloured terroir, says Vincent Royet at Domaine Vincent Royet. Here you have clay of many different colours. This has an impact on the character of the wine.

The Couchois, the area surrounding the village of Couches, is one of the lesser known parts of Burgundy. It’s just to the west of the Côte Chalonnaise and in terms of wine it is limited to the regional appellations. You have the Bourgogne rouge and the Bourgogne blanc, but there is also the Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois.

Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois vines at Domaine Royet in Combereau, Burgundy.Domaine Vincent Royet in Combereau, a hamlet four kilometres west of Couches, is run by the father-son team of Jean-Claude and Vincent Royet. It was only recently that Vincent was added to the domaine name. Previously it was simply Domaine Royet.

– It’s true about the clay, continues Jean-Claude Royet. The red clay produces fruity wines. Yellow clay produces lighter wines, while blue clay produces wines with more power, more robust wines. It’s not the same palette of terroirs as you have in the Côte de Beaune, where it changes every 200 metres, but it’s interesting to work with these differences in clay type.

All vineyards of Domaine Vincent Royet are located around Couches and the neighbouring communes. The furthest is the Clos Roussots in Maranages, some 15 kilometres away.

Domaine Royet, Combereau, Burgundy.– Our aligoté is 100 per cent stainless steel tanks, says Vincent Royet. The vineyard is in Couches. You have a quite rich soil with marnes bleues. There is always this slightly smoky, flinty character in the wine.

Vincent Royet is the fifth generation at the domaine. It was Jean-Claude Royet’s great-grandparents that started the domaine.

– It may go even further back, but we haven’t checked, says Jean-Claude Royet. My grandparents had three or four hectares. They had some animals as well. But it was mainly vineyards and other crops. Then my parents decided to focus on just the vineyards. They arrived here in 1964 or 1965.

Combereau, Couches, Burgundy.– For the past 30-35 years the domaine has remained between 13 and 14 hectares, depending on what was planted at the moment. The work we do is very different compared with what my parents did. For them it was simple. They sold everything to the négociants, so they just had to focus on maximising the yields. When you bottle your own wine that is not the single most important thing.

– When I arrived here in 1984 we started selling some bottles. It was only red. We didn’t have any white, so I began planting some chardonnay and aligoté. Then we started making crémant. And that was actually how people began discovering our wines. It’s a good terroir for crémant here. We started from scratch and today we produce 85 000 to 90 000 bottles of crémant annually.

It’s been a long process, switching to bottling and selling almost the whole production in bottle. Lots of investments have been necessary, but the Couchois is not a part of Burgundy where wine prices are high, so it has required some patience.

Jean-Claude Royet at Domaine Royet, Combereau, Burgundy.– It still remains quite some work, says Jean-Claude Royet. In general the tannins in Côtes du Couchois can be quite hard, so we are experimenting with different methods to make them softer.

Apart from the aligoté there are three different cuvées of Bourgogne blanc at the domaine.

– They come from different parcels. Also, the vinification and élevage is different for each cuvée, says Vincent Royet.

– There is the standard cuvée which comes from young vines, says Jean-Claude Royet. It’s a wine where we try to focus on fruit and freshness. Then you have Les Grands Quartiers, named after the parcel it comes from, where some oak is used, which is from 20-25 year old vines. Finally, for the Authentique cuvée the vines are even older, about 30 years old. All are around Couches, but in six different communes. Just a few kilometres from here, because if you go two kilometres from here you are already in another commune.

Vincent Royet at Domaine Royet, Combereau, Burgundy.It is all stainless steel for the basic cuvée, whereas barrels are used for both the other cuvées. Les Grands Quartiers starts in tank and finishes in barrels, barrels which are two to five wines old. The Authentique cuvée sees close to 50 per cent new oak.

– But it is not the same kind of oak for the two wines. It’s Central France oak for the Authentique, while it is Tronçais oak for Les Grands Quartiers. Tronçais tends to give a bit more of vanilla character to the wine, while Centre France produces more of a toasted character.

In red the portfolio is quite similar in composition. There are three regional appellation wines. One Bourgogne rouge and two Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois. But there is also a premier cru, a Maranges Clos Roussots.

– The Bourgogne Pinot Noir is vinified in a stainless steel tank and then transferred to barrels. If you only use a tank the tannins become a bit harder, so that’s why we use barrels. The aim with this cuvée is to focus on the fruit.

Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois vines in Combereau, Burgundy.– The basic Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois is made in 500 litre demi-muids with a light toast, says Vincent Royet. The process is basically the same as for the Bourgogne. One third new barrels, one third barrels used for one wine and one third barrels used for two.

The appellation Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois is a fairly young one.

– The winegrowers had worked more than twenty years to get the appellation, says Jean-Claude Royet. But it wasn’t the Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois appellation they initially had asked for in 1955. They had asked for the Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, because it would have been the continuation of the appellation after Maranges.

But while Paris-l’Hôpital was included in the appellation Couches was left behind. It was not until the late 1980s that the request was brought back on the agenda. However, the growers of the Hautes-Côtes refused to include Couches in the appellation. As a solution to this the INAO suggested the Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois appellation, which saw the light of day in 2000. But since there was little chardonnay planted at the time the appellation came to only include red wine.

– In a way the Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois is an appellation created by accident, smiles Jean-Claude Royet.

Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois vines at Domaine Royet in Combereau, Burgundy.The Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois, Cuvée Expression, has a longer élevage and the amount of new oak is higher.

– The Bourgogne Pinot Noir is a blend of several parcels, says Vincent Royet. The basic Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois comes from the same place as the white Authentique. It is marnes bleues. The Expression comes from Saint-Sernin-du-Plain where you have some limestone as well, which produces finer tannins.

The Maranges premier cru Clos Roussots is 50 per cent new oak and 50 per cent barrels used for one wine.

– It’s the same vinification for all the reds, but here you can really see the impact of the terroir, says Vincent Royet. Here you have arrived in the Côte de Beaune, with more limestone. We have had this parcel since 1985. 50 year old vines and low yields.

Unlike many other domaines in Burgundy, who just produce the vin de base and let someone else take care of the bubbles, Vincent and Jean-Claude Royet deal with the whole process, from vineyard to bottle. For the two Crémants de Bourgogne they use all four main grape varieties of Burgundy – pinot noir, chardonnay, aligoté and gamay. There is also the Royal Royet Rosé, which isn't a crémant, but a vin mousseux made from gamay.

– It’s because of that it’s a vin mousseux, says Jean-Claude Royet. You are not allowed to make a crémant with 100 per cent gamay. The appellation is Vin Mousseux de Qualité.

© 2021 Ola Bergman