About the producer
Based in the village of Quintaine – a hamlet between Viré and Clessé, Jean Thévenet and his son Gautier (who has been involved since 1996, at the helm since 2000) produce distinct wines that offer astounding value.
They pick later than many of their neighbours, producing a richer style of Chardonnay. The wines are naturally generous and full-bodied, but with incredible concentration and amazing freshness. The Thévenets assign the latter to the estate’s white marl soils, which they feel enable the fruit to retain its acidity even when super-ripe.
The “dry” Cuvée E.J. Thévenet (previously known as Cuvée Tradition) has a touch of residual sugar (normally between 2 and 4g/l). This meant that for several years that the wine had to be declassified to Mâcon-Villages, as Viré-Clessé was – until 2003 – only permitted to have up to 2g/l residual sugar. After the warm 2003 vintage, a year in which many producers made wines with more than the permitted residual sugar for the appellation, the INAO changed the rules and Domaine de la Bongran could officially put Viré-Clessé on their labels once more.
The estate produces two other wines: the Cuvée Levroutée is an off-dry style (typically with around 18g/l residual sugar), only made in exceptional years with part-botrytised Chardonnay; the Cuvée Botrytis is a stunning sweet wine, made with botrytised fruit when the vintage conditions allow it.
They only release the wines when they feel they are ready to drink, often around four years or so after the vintage for the Cuvée E.J. Thévenet. The wines, however, age beautifully – often peaking after a decade in bottle.
The Thévenets have two other labels – Emilian Gillet and Domaine de Roally, working with different terroirs for each, but employing a similarly traditional approach in the winery.
In the vineyard
Gautier took over the viticulture and winemaking in 2000, although his father Jean is still involved. The estate consists of 15 hectares, all of which are organically farmed. The vines are up to 80 years old, at 250 to 300 metres’ altitude in Quintaine, in Viré-Clessé.
The white marl soils are key to the wine style produced, retaining freshness in the wines. The microclimate here is also unusual, enabling them to – in certain vintages – produce their stunning botrytised sweet wine, Cuvée Botrytis.
The decision of when to pick is made on taste rather than numbers, with the grapes harvested only when they are ultra-ripe – full of flavour and complexity. In vintages where the conditions are right for botrytis, they leave fruit on the vine to develop botrytis for their Cuvée Levroutée and Cuvée Botrytis. Everything is picked by hand and yields are low, 35-45hl/ha – around three times lower than the appellation’s limits.
In the winery
As Jean Thévenet says, “Terroir is to wine what a composer is to music.; the winemaker being only the conductor.” In this spirit, there is very little intervention in the winery.
They use a Coquard press to gently extract the juice and keep the fruit’s delicate aromatics. The must then ferments incredibly slowly with indigenous yeasts, taking up to two years. The wine stays on its fine lees, giving the wines a viscous texture, while the white marl soil lends them minerality and acidity. Despite the wines richness, there’s no oak at all here, with only stainless steel tanks in the winery.