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A Quality Revolution Comes to Burgundy’s Montagny

A new generation is shaking up the all-Chardonnay appellation

Betsy Andrews By March 4, 2022
vineyards of Cote Chalonnaise region, Burgundy, France
Vineyards of Burgundy’s Côte Chalonnaise. Photo by nevskyphoto /iStock.

On a foggy and chill November morning, Camille Feuillat was explaining the marketing material hanging inside the entrance of her tank room in the village of Montagny-les-Buxy in Burgundy’s Côte Chalonnaise. Above a vineyard view, the poster depicted a young woman bathed in blue, eyes closed and face turned skyward, against clusters of Chardonnay grapes and the slogan, “Great Burgundy Wines. The Feminine Side of Montagny.” It was a brazen declaration of a way in which Domaine Feuillat-Juillot has distinguished itself for 33 years: In an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée dominated by a male-led cooperative, Domaine Feuillat-Juillot has, since 1989, been an independent winery run by a woman. 

Camille’s mother, Françoise Feuillat-Juillot, grew up at Domaine Michel Juillot, her father’s acclaimed winery in Mercurey, though it was her brother, not she, who took charge there next. Feuillat-Juillot thought she might like to do something else — she studied business in Paris — but the vines tugged her back to Côte Chalonnaise, where the grower M. Bertrand was looking for help. A one-man operation, Bertrand had 20 out of his 35 acres in Montagny planted. Eschewing the cooperative, he made 5,000 bottles of wine a year, selling most of his grapes to négociants. Feuillat-Juillot partnered with him, taking over winemaking and business duties, while Bertrand replanted and expanded the vineyards. By 2002 when Bertrand passed, the winery was producing 60,000 bottles. In 2004, Feuillat-Juillot bought the domaine. 

“For my mom, it was really hard to be the only woman here. That’s why we have that slogan on the poster. There was a big cooperative with a lot of men. Even when she came with this guy who was 50 when she was 25, it was really hard. And when she bought it, it was hard at the beginning,” said Feuillat.

Times have changed in Montagny

A confluence of factors 

Today, “it is not a problem for me,” Feuillat says, to be a young woman running a domaine with her mother. Other difficulties are upon her neighbors and her; climate change has brought challenging vintages. Yet, opportunities exist, too. As prices soar in the Côte d’Or, the more-fabled north of Burgundy, or Bourgogne, as producers call it, observers are looking toward the Côte Chalonnaise. The appellations Givry, Mercurey, and Rully have emerged for red wine, Bouzeron for Aligoté, and in the all-Chardonnay AOC of Montagny, the wines are being lauded for their balance — at bargain prices. Across Burgundy, climatic extremes have also decimated harvests in the more-prominent Chardonnay appellations of Meursault, Chablis, and Pouilly-Fuissé, leaving American palates thirsty for white Burgundy. It’s difficult nowadays to predict any appellation’s future, but with quality having improved, more independent vignerons establishing themselves, and the cooperative itself evolving to keep pace with the rest of the wine world, Montagny is a place to turn to. 

“Montagny is definitely up and coming,” says David Hinkle, chief French officer for the importer Skurnik. “The price category is super value, and people are looking for it. Demand for white Burgundy is a large part of it. We barely have white Burgundy from anywhere available from any of our producers. I get 10 calls a day for white Burgundy these days.”

Montagny’s sleeper status, in part, has had to do with historic misuse of the terroir. Like elsewhere in Burgundy, Montagny’s cooperative, the 91-year-old Vignerons de Buxy, was founded during the Depression, when contracts with négociants dried up, and growers pooled resources to buy the equipment to vinify, and thus preserve, their crops. Though the Vignerons de Buxy was instrumental in establishing the Montagny AOC in 1936, when Feuillant arrived a half-century later, many vineyards were planted with red grapes — primarily Gamay, which grew capaciously in the limestone and clay soils. It wasn’t until the 1990s that winemakers began ripping out red vines and planting the Chardonnay that grew so elegantly and garnered better prices. Cooperative members were among them. Today there are a whopping 49 Chardonnay Premier Crus in Montagny, covering 60% of its total 868 acres. Some might argue that number is over-inflated, but it sure doesn’t indicate a lack of interest in quality.

“If your neighbor is developing quality, it pushes you to be better. Vignerons de Buxy has been part of that process, but has also been pushed by others to improve the quality,” says Rémi Marlin, the cooperative’s director-general. “We had a huge investment everywhere during the last 30 years in winemaking and vineyards.”

A quality shake-up

Unlike elsewhere in Burgundy, the cooperative still dominates Montagny, controlling 75% of the vineyards. But as independent vignerons establish domaines, they are raising Montagny’s profile and its excellence. The cooperative has done its part by consulting on vineyard management with its small growers and separating its own vinifications into region/village, climate, and estate tiers. Even on the lower end, which encompasses the bulk of its wines, it has transitioned its members to certified-sustainable production through Vignerons Engagés. Indeed, a focus on quality is one way the cooperative retains its relevance. In “The Oxford Companion to Wine,” Jancis Robinson calls the Vignerons de Buxy excellent.

“There’s a real dynamism around Montagny,” says Marlin. “Vignerons de Buxy keeps a strong position. But we’re also happy other people are interested in Montagny. Some in the new generation set up their own estates and are doing a very good job. It will be part of Montagny’s overall success. Every appellation needs to have a plurality to offer to the consumers, with single estates, wine merchants, and also cooperatives doing the job.”

Camille Feuillat tends to agree. “The cooperative is more than 100 growers. If they all want to leave, one hundred more independent winemakers is going to be a problem. I don’t want them to leave. For us, it’s great. We are 15 independent winemakers in this area. I guess it’s enough. It’s such a small appellation.”

Still, she applauds a vigneron like Maxime Cottenceau. After three years working with acclaimed producer Vincent Dureuil at Rully’s Domaine Dureuil-Janthial, Cottenceau came home to Montagny, and breaking with family tradition, abandoned the cooperative and launched Domaine Maxime Cottenceau in 2018. Cottenceau treats his wines to nearly two years of élevage, working with the lunar calendar through their lengthy barrel aging. The result is a deep layering of flavors, from orchard fruits to flowers to wild herbs, atop a grippy, acidic backbone. But it all starts in the vineyards, where he cultivates 10 acres of organic Premier Cru vines. 

“Somebody like Maxime is already ahead of the curve. He’s taken it to the next level as far as his farming goes,” says Hinkle, his importer. That doesn’t mean he can survive financially. “There’s certainly an opportunity to sell really well-made domaine wine,” but with Covid-19 restricting tastings and importer visits, and a year like 2021 bringing early bud break before a killing frost, “it’s not a given” — which helps explain why so many small growers remain tied to the successful cooperative. 

“A lot of winegrowers who are part of this co-op don’t want to leave because it’s a very big investment to start your own domaine,” says Feuillat, whose mother succeeded with the help of Groupement Foncier Viticole, which crowd-sourced 280 private investors. “It’s another job.”

“I think Maxime is pretty courageous to be starting at this moment,” Hinkle concludes. 

“Vignerons de Buxy keeps a strong position. But we’re also happy other people are interested in Montagny. Some in the new generation set up their own estates and are doing a very good job. It will be part of Montagny’s overall success. Every appellation needs to have a plurality to offer to the consumers, with single estates, wine merchants, and also cooperatives doing the job.”

More independence

For the winemakers, though, something other than courage propels them. “I decided to become an independent winemaker, first of all, out of a passion for winemaking and love of the terroirs of Montagny,” says Laurent Cognard. He founded Domaine Laurent Cognard in 2006 when he took over his parents’ 13.5 acres. They had sold to the co-op. “The most interesting part of our work is achieving something starting from working our terroir in the vineyard to having the result in the bottle after winemaking. As each terroir is worked separately, each of our cuvées of Montagny has its own identity.”

He’s echoing what Françoise Feuillat-Juillot says about starting her domaine back in 1989, “Joining the co-op has never been an option for me. I have always been passionate about working from the vine to the bottle. You can really see a full year of work in the vineyard inside your bottle. I also love to share my passion presenting my own wines, vinified by myself.”

As her daughter Camille introduces advances, such as terracotta aging and organic certification, she only strengthens the hallmark of Feuillat-Juillot’s wines — their representation of terroir, from the Key lime notes and bristling structure of their Montagny Premier Cru Les Crêts, to majestic marriage of round fruit and minerality of the Montagny Premier Cru Les Coères. To minimize interference with the expression on terroir, Feuillat prefers aging in larger barrels, just as does Laurent Cognard.

“I want my wines to be as generous and fresh as possible,” says Cognard. “This is why I age in 500-liter (132-gallon) barrels. It allows the wines to oxygenate without adding too much oak. It works well on these terroirs. The wines are generous, and the minerality of Montagny is well preserved. With this balance,” he concludes, stating the goal of any winemaker in any appellation, “you just want to have another drink.”

Betsy Andrews visited Burgundy as a guest of the BIVB.

bottle of Vignerons de Buxy Montagny

Vignerons de Buxy Montagny Buissonnier 2018 (~$17)

Guava, lychee, passionfruit — it’s tropical fruits all the way through in this entry-level wine from Montagny’s large, certified-sustainable cooperative. But that bright fruit flavor is offset by a roundness that typifies the appellation and some of Chardonnay’s richer apple notes. It’s a steal for the money. 

bottle of Domaine Feuillat-Juillot Montagny 1er Cru Les Coeres

Feuillat-Juillot Montagny Premier Cru Les Coères 2018 (~$28)

Produced from 60-year-old, organically grown vines on an east-facing, marl-and-limestone slope 1,000 feet up in the AOC’s most acclaimed vineyard, this Chardonnay is aged on the lees in both 60- and 132-gallon barrels. It rides the wave of Montagny’s lauded balance, taking your palate on a journey from ripe, peachy fruit — with a bit of mushroom, too, on the nose — to oaked lusciousness to minerality with a delicious touch of brine. 

bottle of Domaine Laurent Cognard Montagny 1er Cru Les Bassets

Laurent Cognard & Co. Château de Buxy Montagny Premier Cru Les Bassets 2018 (~$40)

Less than 10% new barrels, all of them 132 gallons, yield an elegant, fruit-forward adventure in this wine made from sustainably grown vines on the eastern slopes of clay and limestone. It oozes across your palate with a mouth-filling body and luxurious notes of baked apple and pear, bookended by pineapple, and a sly herbal hint, in the fragrance and on the finish, where its creamy density and sizzle of acid gives it the feel of a pineapple mousse.