Domaine de la Bongran is no ordinary Mâconnais estate. Since Jean Thévenet took over the domaine in 1972, this Viré-Clessé producer has become a cult name – with Jean a pioneer of organics and minimal intervention, as well as the estate’s unique wine style.
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 neighbors, 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.
While most estates are currently offering their 2021s, the Thévenets only release their wines when they’re ready to drink – with the 2018 the latest vintage to emerge from these special cellars – and the wines age beautifully – often peaking after a decade in bottle.
The estate has long been a favorite of ours – and has received serious critical acclaim, yet still manages to fly under the radar. Allen Meadows, aka Burghound, wrote, “The quality of what is produced here is mind-boggling”, while the Wine Advocate’s William Kelley has said that “Thévenet makes some of my favorite whites in all of Burgundy”. Robert Parker noted how served blind, many believe they are tasting Grand Cru white Burgundy rather than a “lowly” Mâconnais that comes in at a fraction of the price.
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 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.
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 meters’ altitude in Quintaine, in Viré-Clessé. The white marl soils are key to the wine style produced, retaining freshness in the wines.
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 flavor and complexity. 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.
This estate has managed to stay out of the spotlight, and the wines are really special – offering phenomenal value from one of the region’s most exciting estates.