Pierre Sorin at Domaine Sorin Coquard in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Burgundy.
– T

here has always been vineyards in the family. At least for twelve generations.

Pierre Sorin at Domaine Sorin Coquard in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux undoubtedly has quite a bit of history to fall back on. This being Burgundy there is obviously pinot noir, chardonnay and aligoté at the domaine, but also a sideshow starring the village pride – the sauvignon – and the unmanageable beast – the césar.

Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Burgundy.Twelve generations is what Pierre Sorin is sure of. It’s very likely more than that, but as we move back through the centuries information is becoming more and more difficult to find.

– During the Reign of Terror (1793-1794) the Sorin family sought exile in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, explains Pierre Sorin. The family originates from the Vendée, towards Cognac.

The Saint-Bris appellation is one of Burgundy’s exceptions. Centred around the town of Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, a 20-minute-drive southwest of Chablis, this is the only appellation in the region where the sauvignon grape is authorised. Compared with Chablis it is small. Just 161 hectares, while Chablis covers around 4000 hectares.

Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Burgundy.– Almost all our vineyards are located in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, says Pierre Sorin. We have a small parcel in Irancy. Then of course there is our 1.3 hectares in Champagne, but that’s a bit of a different story. Sorin is my father’s name, while Coquard is my mother’s. On her side there are several growers in Champagne. Our grapes are taken care of by my uncle and cousin. Making champagne when you are located in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux is a bit complicated, so it’s a future project. For the time being it is sold to a co-operative.

In total Domaine Sorin Coquard consists of 26 hectares of vineyards. In terms of surface area the main appellations are Saint-Bris, Bourgogne Aligoté and Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre in both red and white, as well as some rosé.

Pierre Sorin at Domaine Sorin Coquard in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Burgundy.– Here in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux we mainly have clay and limestone. It is Portlandian soil. Towards Chitry-le-Fort there is a little bit of Kimmeridgian. Overall it is relatively homogeneous. One side of the village is more stony than the other and one has more clay than the other. But it is all clay and limestone.

The average age of the aligoté vines at the domaine is high. There are some young vines, but many can be found in the 50 to 70 years range. Most parcels are located south of the village, in lieux-dits such as Le Gaudier, Les Vaux Marquis and Vaupiary.

Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Burgundy.– Most of our sauvignon parcels are stony. We have one which has more clay. That parcel brings more richness and less fruit. For our main cuvée we blend all the parcels.

– Today’s Saint-Bris is more pure and distinct than what it used to be in the past. It has become more well-made, with more focus on terroir.

In line with this a second Saint-Bris cuvée saw the light of day with the 2018. Grain de Folie (impulse, whim) comes from a parcel with white clay. It is vinified and aged in barrels which are between five and eight years old.

– For a Saint-Bris to be aged in barrels is quite unusual, says Pierre Sorin.

Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Burgundy.– The market for Saint-Bris has been growing a bit in the USA, but much of what is produced is still sold in France. Together with the other growers of the appellation we are trying to develop it. It is an appellation which in a way is the bastard child of Burgundy. It’s not easy.

The pattern with two cuvées per appellation continues with the red and the white Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre. In white there is the traditional cuvée and the Plénitude, a cuvée that Domaine Sorin Coquard has been producing since 2006.

– Plénitude is made one hundred per cent in barrels, says Pierre Sorin. There is 20 per cent new oak. The rest is barrels which have seen up to six wines previously. It’s a selection of parcels in Mouillepain towards Saint-Cyr-les-Colons. It’s always the same parcels. The soil is quite rich in limestone, with white clay.

The traditional cuvée of the red Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre is vinified in stainless steel tanks. Élevage then takes place in concrete tanks for the main part – 80 per cent – of the cuvée. The remaining 20 per cent see élevage in barrels.

Domaine Sorin Coquard in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Burgundy.– What I am looking for is a fruity wine. The reds from Yonne are not as powerful as the ones in the Côte d’Or. It is a lighter, easy to drink wine.

– Then you have the Madeleine cuvée (named after granny), which I make in barrels. Some are new, some are used and are between one and nine years old. The cooper I use is Florent Tschieret in Beine. He runs the business all alone, so production is very limited. Around 100 barrels per year.

Domaine Sorin Coquard in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Burgundy.But despite Pierre Sorin’s characterisation of the Yonne red there is some power at Domaine Sorin Coquard. In 2017 they took on a small parcel of Irancy from a retiring cousin. It’s in Les Cailles, which, together with lieux-dits such as Palotte and Les Mazelots, is often regarded as the best part of the appellation. The appellation rules for Irancy allow up to ten per cent of césar to be blended with the pinot noir. That is not the case with this wine though, which is a 100 per cent pinot noir.

– Our cousin’s parcel in Les Cailles was next to another parcel, which was not planted. We managed to acquire that parcel as well. The parcel belonging to our cousin is just 0.15 hectare. With a bit more planted we reached 0.40 hectare in 2018. By 2022 we will have 0.80 hectare.

– It is vinified in two small underground concrete tanks. Vinifying such small quantities isn’t easy, but these tanks work very well when it comes to temperature management.

Pierre Sorin at Domaine Sorin Coquard in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Burgundy.– Irancy always has more sous-bois, more mushrooms. Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre does not have this. Les Cailles is a nice place. It’s in the commune of Vincelottes, close to the Caves Bailly. Palotte is usually better thanks to its southern exposure.

The other power source of the domaine is the Cuvée Antique. It is basically a Coteaux Bourguignons, but it is made entirely from the césar grape.

The Coteaux Bourguignons is the successor to the Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire appellation, a regional appellation covering all four of Burgundy’s departements. It comes in all three colours. For the reds and the rosés gamay and pinot noir are allowed, as well as césar in Yonne. For the whites even more varieties are allowed – aligoté, chardonnay, melon de Bourgogne, pinot blanc and pinot gris.

– The césar is really easy to vinify, says Pierre Sorin. It’s a lazy wine. I put it into the tank and then I rarely touch it.

– But to work with the césar in the vineyards is something completely different. To be honest it’s bloody awful. It’s the first grape variety to start growing in the spring. It attracts disease easily. Oidium and mildew – ouch! Verasion is early, but at the same time the césar is the last to ripen.

Domaine Sorin Coquard has been producing this cuvée since 1996. Quantities are limited. Just 2500 to 3000 annually. All the césar parcels of the domaine are in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux.

– It does not have the finesse of the pinot noir. The tannins are more aggressive. You have more of black fruits. The vines are all on southwest facing slopes, because like the malbec it requires a lot of sun

Since the 2017 vintage the domaine is HVE certified (Haute valeur environnementale/High environmental value). The vineyards are ploughed and no weedkillers are used.

© 2020 Ola Bergman