Domaine Sylvaine & Alain Normand, Mâconnais

Domaine Sylvaine & Alain Normand label

Country & RegionFrance, Burgundy
Appellation(s)Mâcon La Roche-Vineuse and Pouilly-Fuissé
ProducerAlain and Sylvaine Normand

Le style des vins est sérieux et précis et nous suivrons cette évolution avec beaucoup d’intérêt. (The style of the wines is serious and precise and we will follow this evolution with a lot of interest.)
        —Guide des Vins 2019, Bettane & Desseauve

Alain Normand hails from the Loire Valley, but his ancestral home is Normandy, hence his name. That makes him a Norseman—a Viking—and true to form he is a tall, red-headed man. He met Sylvaine, a Burgundian, in the wine school in Beaune. They began their careers by taking over an abandoned vineyard in La Roche-Vineuse with a métayage contract, a common agricultural practice in France whereby the landlord is paid in wine. Today, Alain works the vineyards, makes the wine, and sells off the landlord’s portion to négociants. He keeps the finest for himself. Sylvaine handles the office work when she’s not handling the two children. Domaine Sylvaine & Alain Normand is a typical family domain operation.

Alain Normand works eleven hectares (27 acres) in La Roche-Vineuse, an old village nestled on the steep flank of the huge limestone outcropping that gives name to Vineuse. This village sits astride the small pass that cuts through the Mâcon ridges and leads to Cluny, the seat of power for the Benedictine order of monks in their Medieval heyday. On his hillsides in Vineuse, Alain farms Chardonnay, a little Pinot Noir for AOC Bourgogne Rouge, and a little Gamay for AOC Mâcon Rouge.

Alain Normand of Domaine Sylvaine & Alain Normand

In 2003 Alain and Sylvaine inherited a tiny parcel of Pouilly-Fuissé in Solutré from Sylvaine’s father and made about a pallet of wine every year from it. After the harvest of 2009, they inherited the rest of Sylvaine’s family vines—seven hectares (17 acres) total. Three (7 acres) are in AOC Pouilly-Fuissé divided between mostly old-vine parcels in Chaintré (vines are 50-60 years old) to the south and Solutré (vines are 30 to 80 years old) in the northern half of the appellation. The remaining four hectares (10 acres) are on the lower slopes of Chaintré and Solutré and are classed as Mâcon-Villages. The Normand Pouilly-Fuissé production is now divided along the lines of the Mâcon production: an old-vine cuvée–from more than 70-year-old vines–made in old and new oak, and a classic cuvée made in vat. All four cuvées are raised with long lees contact. It’s worth noting that the two Pouilly-Fuissés bottled at chez Normand all come from the Solutré vineyards. The wine from the Chaintré, a warmer zone, is sold off to the négoc.

Domaine Sylvaine & Alain Normand harvest

In time for the 2017 harvest, the Normands moved into a new winery on the edge of town, one they had designed and built. It’s a far cry from the makeshift operation they had in an old stone barn with a hodgepodge of aging cellars just down the road from their house. In the old days, each visit took us down that road on foot, led by Kiki the terrier, who ran ahead only to turn and bark impatiently, jump a couple of times, then run ahead again. One year we came (2004?) and walked down that road and it came to mind that Kiki was not leading the way.

“He passed on,” Alain said. He shrugged, and added: “He was a purebred, Kiki was. It’s just that he was the first of his kind.”

In 2019 the Normands gained HEV certification (High Environmental Value, a new program instituted by the Ministry of Agriculture). Now they’re working with Terra Vitis for certification for sustainable practices that they have been following for years now (which may be a springboard into organic farming).

The methods that the Normands use both in the cellar and in the vines are the antithesis of the cooperatives whose wines dominate the Mâcon trade.

The Wines

Bourgogne Chardonnay
ChardonnayThe new cellar allowed Alain to not simply make more wine, but to age it properly (in the old days, a lot of what he made was sold off quickly to the négociants, a practice he has curtailed considerably). The biggest benefactor was this cuvée--his "base" wine. It comes from parcels in Solutré (the most volume), Chaintré, and La Roche Vineuse, and ages on its fine lees for a minimum of twelve months. The local co-ops, by contrast, start bottling in January following the harvest. Twelve parcels; fifteen acres of vines.
Mâcon La Roche-Vineuse
ChardonnayThis comes from roughly 13.5 acres and is made in a distinctly artisan style with native yeast in vat and an extensive upbringing on its fine lees (that spicy zesty quality in the finish of the wine comes from this lees contact). The bottling is usually in the summer following the harvest, but can easily wait until the autumn if the wine isn’t ready. Production averages 2,500-3,000 cases in normal years.
Mâcon La Roche-Vineuse Vieilles VignesChardonnayThis comes from roughly five acres of vines planted in the late 1940s after the war. The wine is made in barrels that range from one to six years old, with around 15% new, and normally is bottled without fining or filtration. The élevage can be extensive; the 2010, for example, was bottled in March of 2013 because the fermentations required that amount of time to complete.
ChardonnayThe Normand holdings in Solutré are divided among 15 parcels, and the wine for this, the classique, comes from 30-40-year-old vines and is made in tank. The famous Rock of Solutré dominates the skyline, and vineyards come off of its south-eastern flank to dip into a little valley and then climb back up the opposite side to face northeast. The highest and lowest vineyards are classed AOC Mâcon; the middle of the flanks are reserved for Pouilly-Fuissé.