- Bugey, France
Thank you to importer Louis/Dressner for this estate profile:
(Click here for more on the Louis/Dressner website and here for the Renardat website)
The Bugey, halfway between Lyons and Geneva, is one of the tiniest and most obscure wine areas in France. Although the altitude is modest, the terrain is very mountainous, the roads are steep and winding as in the Alps and the villages are built for cold winters – the houses made of gray/white limestones all bunched together on narrow streets.
The vineyards are hard to detect, little patches here and there on steep slopes looking southeast or southwest, lost in the midst of fields with grazing cows and dense forests. The total surface of vineyards in the Bugey covers about 170 hectares and the varietals are borrowed from all the surrounding areas: Gamay, Poulsard (a grape from Northern Jura), Roussette, Mondeuse (both from Savoie) and Chardonnay. Many still wines are produced, but the region's star wine is the Cerdon Méthode Ancestrale, a demi-sec, pink bubbly made by spontaneous but incomplete fermentation.
Alain Renardat is a respected vigneron in Cerdon, and was a long-time supplier of Alain Chapel's restaurant in the Dombes. The Dombes, which, like the Bugey, is in the Ain department, is an area of ponds and marshes, known for its fish and small birds. Alain Chapel, who died several years ago, was a chef beloved among chefs, and famous for his love of wine and winemakers. A vigneron selected by Chapel was guaranteed to have great personality and wines. And while the restaurant is now closed after a long run under the helm of Chapel's widow and sons, the winemakers he'd bring together annually to treat them to dinner remain great friends.
Alain, though technically retired for years, is active as ever. Along with his son Elie, they make their Cerdon from Gamay and Poulsard, and follow the technique of méthode ancestrale (as opposed to Méthode Champenoise plain old carbonation, the preferred method used for supermarket wines). The grapes are picked by hand, pressed and fermented in cold vats until the alcohol reaches about six degrees of alcohol. After a light filtration that leaves most of the active yeast in the unfinished wine, it is bottled and continues its fermentation in the bottle, reaching about 7.5 or 8 degrees of alcohol and retaining a fair quantity of its original sugar. It is more vinous (with grapey primary aromas) than most Champagne, since there is neither dosage nor addition of yeast before the second fermentation.
Cerdon is to be consumed throughout the year following the vintage. It is fragile and requires excellent cellaring and transporting conditions. Renardat's is delicate, berry-scented, refreshing, and makes a delicious aperitif or dessert wine (even chocolate goes well with it).
The 2020 vintage will mark a distinct shift and evolution in the work at Renardât-Fache. Over the years, Elie had become increasingly frustrated with the inability to assure his Cerdon be consumed in its optional drinking window (within the year of release). Hobbled sales due to the COVID pandemic were the final straw: with the abundant 2020 crop, he decided he'd create a new cuvée that could maintain fruit and freshness throughout the year.
The solution was to make a 100% Gamay, non-vintage Cerdon, blending years to preserve freshness. For those who have been drinking the wines for a long time, Elie says it reminds him of what the estate was producing 20 years ago: fruity, "glou glou" Cerdon to knock back with abandon. The goal is to adapt year by year but have this cuvée represent 60 to 70% of the estate's global production. The first release will be a blend of 2019 and 2020.
For Renardât's classic vintage release (the wine we've always imported), this means two things. The first is an significant drop in overall annual production since so much fruit will go to the Gamay cuvée. The second is a large increase in the percentage of Poulsard used in the blend. The Renardât were already the only estate using significant amount of Poulsard in their Cerdon, and Elie feels the wine has gained enormously in complexity and finesse from this decision.
There has also been an intentional push to make wines with less residual sugar. The 2020's are on average 10 to 15 grams less than the 2019's, and Elie feels the additional Poulsard for the vintage bottling makes you sense sugars even less. The final, exciting development is a future release of 100% still Gamay and Poulsard cuvées!