Château de Lavernette, Leynes

Château de Lavernette label

Country & RegionFrance, Burgundy
Appellation(s)Beaujolais, Pouilly-Fuissé
ProducerBertrand and Anke, Xavier and Kerrie de Boissieu
FoundedThe château has been passed down through the Lavernette family since 1596.

If the Loire is pastoral, Alsace majestic, and Languedoc rugged, then the Mâconnais and Haut Beaujolais are enchanting. This is Hobbit Land, full of hills and dales and little stone villages, and a skyline dominated by the twin cliffs of Vergisson and Solutré.

Chateau de Lavernette through door

The commune of Leynes and its old four-story Château de Lavernette are right at the crossroads of Beaujolais and the Mâconnais. Down across the road from the château, to the east, grows a Chardonnay vineyard in limestone soil for its crémant and Beaujolais Blanc. Up on the broad slope just southwest of the château grows Gamay in granite soil for its two red Beaujolais, plus two small parcels of Chardonnay in more limey soils that are reserved for its Bourgogne Blanc. Across a tiny creek to the north of the château is the southern boundary of the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. A hill goes steeply up from that creek to the village of Chaintré, and on this flank the château farms four small parcels in limestone to make two Pouilly-Fuissé cuvées. A third cuvée of Pouilly-Fuissé is made from a parcel that grows near the top of the long hill west of the château. Not far from this parcel the hill summits and then falls northward into the deep bowl where the village of Fuissé sits. The geography here is nothing if not compact.

Château de Lavernette vineyards

The château has been passed down through the Lavernette family since 1596, when Philibert Bernard de Lavernette bought the property from the monks of Tournus. It was a Seigneurie, or lordship, and as such a seat of power that administered justice in the area. (Those decisions, along with tax records, land deeds and the like, are recorded in ledgers in the Lavernette library, and have been studied by historians.) Documents from 1684 inventory two wine presses and four large vats on the property, but no doubt vineyards and wine making were part of Lavernette’s makeup long before this. Early in the twentieth century, René de Boissieu married Gabriëlle Bernard de Lavernette, the heiress of Lavernette, and the property passed to the de Boissieu family. The twin shields on the Lavernette labels represent the families’ coats of arms.

René was the grandfather of Bertrand de Boissieu who, with his Dutch wife Anke, had been the director of Lavernette. Bertrand and Anke were the first in the Beaujolais region to farm according to the ecological principles of lutte raisonnée, or reasoned fight, a pragmatic approach to organic farming that was, in their younger days, a radical thing in France. Beginning in 2006, their son Xavier, with his American wife Kerrie, took this one step further by converting the château’s 28 acres of vineyards to biodynamic farming. Certification came in 2010.

Chateau de Lavernette Kerrie and Xavier de Boissieu

Xavier had never been comfortable farming with modern chemical inputs, and in 2005 he and Bertrand embarked on an experiment that continues to this day. They segregated 20 rows of Chardonnay of the same clone (CL277) and rootstock (SO4) all planted in 1988 in the Beaujolais Blanc vineyard. Ten rows were treated entirely organically and the other ten were treated biodynamically. Early on, the results showed little differentiation, but by the third harvest when the grapes were blind-tasted among the harvesters, most preferred the biodynamically-farmed grapes. These days, when they do the test with their harvesters, it’s nine out of ten people who prefer the BD grapes and their balance between sugar and acid. It’s far from a scientific test, but then again with wine subjective impressions can be everything.

The Wines

Crémant de Bourgogne
ChardonnayThis comes from the Vigne de la Roche vineyard, where Lavernette has 7 acres of Chardonnay divided into seven parcels planted between 1984 and 2002. Bertrand used to make this crémant the way most growers make the stuff: he gave the grape must to an élaborateur, a specialist in sparking wine who made and raised the wine in an off-site facility. His son Xavier now makes this méthode champenoise wine in-house, and its production is far more artisan than that for most crémant. The wine undergoes malolactic naturally, and there is only one small sugar addition, which is done at bottling with the addition of yeast. The wine then ages on its lees for a minimum of eighteen months and as long as twenty-four (a glance at the back label of the bottle in your hand will give you the specific amount of time), a considerably longer period than the nine months typical for most crémant. At disgorgement, there is no dosage of sugar; the wine is merely topped off with the same wine from another bottle.
Granit Blanc de NoirsGamay
This is the creation of Xavier and Kerrie, who traveled to Champagne to meet with growers such as Egly-Ouriet, Agrapart, Larmandier Bernier and others for advice before starting this project. The grapes come from the estate Gamay vines growing on granite soils. The wine, a méthode champenoise, is made in-house exactly like the crémant. Anyone who may think that Gamay has no business in Champagne method wines needs to take a look at the Aube, where as much as 40% of the vineyard surface was planted to Gamay prior to World War II.
Beaujolais Blanc ChardonnayThe vineyard, the same one that produces the crémant, got its name from a layer of white stony chalk under the topsoil. It’s worth noting that the first row of vines grows some fifty feet from the Pouilly-Fuissé border—and this wine is half the price. This is a fresh, appley tank-raised Chardonnay that has an élevage of eighteen months these days, giving it a dense complexity. Most Beaujolais Blanc comes from vineyards nearer the Sâone River in the southern Pierres Dorées region; this is a rare one from the northern end of the appellation. Chardonnay accounts for around 3% of total production in Beaujolais.
Bourgogne Blanc

ChardonnayMost of these grapes come from two parcels southwest of the château, supplemented with grapes from Vigne de la Roche. Apart from grape source, this differs from the Beaujolais Blanc by virtue of being raised in neutral barrels and in tank.
Pouilly-Fuissé "Maison du Villard"
ChardonnayLavernette has four old-vine parcels in this climat, which spans the southern flank below the hilltop village of Chaintré. The parcels total four acres, planted in 1959, 1964, 1970, and 1971. The wine is raised entirely in tank and drinks very much "on the stone," as they say.
Pouilly-Fuissé Cuvée Jean-Jacques de Boissieu
ChardonnayJean-Jacques, born 1736, became a finance counselor to the king, but became better known as an engraver whose work can be seen in museums around the world. The stamp used on this label comes from an engraving entitled "The Little Coopers" that he made in 1770. The wine comes from the 1971 parcel of Maison du Villard. It is made in barrel and has more weight and heft than its sibling.
Pouilly-Fuissé "Vers Châne"ChardonnayThis two-acre parcel grows near the crest of the hill that forms one side of the bowl of Fuissé. The vines average 32 years of age and the wine’s élevage typically lasts 22 months in barrel, which is mostly old (for 2015, 20% of the wood was new, a high percentage reflecting the ripe vintage). This is very much of a wine that drinks on the stone, full of underpinning minerality.
Beaujolais-VillagesGamayLavernette has nearly 16 acres of Gamay, all growing just south of the château on a granite slope. Of these acres, the younger blocks planted between the mid-nineteen sixties to the mid-eighties go into the classic Beaujolais-Villages cuvée. Normally, the percentage of whole clusters in the ferments dominate, but there usually is some de-stemmed fruit too, and how much varies according to the vintage. This cuvée is raised entirely in tank.

Lavernette's granite soils have a good amount of clay, more than what's usually found in Beaujolais. This makes for fuller-bodied wines (clay typically translates into tannin for reds; think Pommard as opposed to Volnay). In a 1894 reference book on the region's wines, Leynes' red was reputed to be highly esteemed, with good color and structure, and a 15 to 20-year life span!

Beaujolais-Leynes "Le Clos"GamayThis comes from the château's best parcels of Gamay, 4.2 acres that were planted in 1957, 1961 and 1967, and grow in a walled vineyard. Leynes is one of thirty-nine villages entitled to use its names within the Beaujolais-Villages appellation. Normally, the ferments for Le Clos are predominately whole cluster, but as with the classic cuvée above there's usually some de-stemmed fruit and the amount varies according to the year. Leynes is made traditionally in older barrels, racked only at bottling, and never fined.