La Madone

Biodynamic Gamay from the Volcanic Terroirs of the Massif Central

You’re not alone if you haven’t heard of the Côtes du Forez. At less than 170 hectares, the vineyard area is tiny and almost entirely unknown—even within France. It wasn’t always this way. Before phylloxera visited the region, more than 5,000 hectares were planted here, and when we first got our tour, Bonnefoy pointed out the old hillside mansions built on the fat of the land. The appellation today lies on an ancient geological fault-line near the source of the Loire River in France’s Massif Central, about a one-and-a-half-hour drive west of Beaujolais. The vineyards run north to south in a thin cordon on the slopes of the Monts du Forez, about 20 kilometres west of the Loire River. The area is known for its plethora of old volcanoes, and evidence of their activity is hard to miss.

The Gamay grape thrives on the volcanic and granite soils here and it is this potential that Gilles Bonnefoy began to exploit in the late-1990s. The Estate originated with the born-again vigneron renting a few plots of old vines and has grown to today’s cultivation of 12 hectares of hillside vineyards. These sites were converted to organic farming in 2001 and biodynamics in 2009 (Demeter certified).

These are lip-smackingly vibrant and delicious reds that combine the energy and sensuality of good Beaujolais with a cool, rocky freshness and marked savoury nuance

Bonnefoy works across three key soil types—Granite du Forez (in various guises), Migmatites du Montbrison and basalt—each gifting its own cuvée(s). Gilles Bonnefoy is one of the few remaining vignerons to cling onto and celebrate his region’s pre-phylloxera heritage, so in addition to this fabulous terroir and his Gamay Noir stock, Bonnefoy also farms a cadre of Gamay’s ancient teinturier cultivars such as Gamay de Bouze and Gamay de Chaudenay. Thought to be introduced by the Benedictine monks, these old variants are now almost extinct outside the Forez appellation, making their wines some of the most unique in France.

The La Madone vineyard is named after the volcano of the same name. At five hectares, La Madone is, by a stretch, Bonnefoy’s largest vineyard. It’s a dramatically steep site rising 180 metres at a one-in-two gradient, and it sits on an equal blend of volcanic soils and diorite granite (a microcosm of Côtes de Forez dirt). With its Mosel-like incline, the vineyard must be managed entirely by hand, and frankly, you must feel for the vignerons responsible for its management. Even to plant here, Gilles first had to clear the land of forest. Whatever possessed him to undertake such a task of founding and managing this demanding vineyard can only be understood when you taste its wine.

Bonnefoy’s artisanal toolkit in the cellar includes wild fermentation and varied use of whole bunches, which the vigneron adapts to each terroir (though, as a general rule, the younger vines are destemmed). Everything is hand-harvested and, eschewing wood—to protect his wine’s delicate aromatics—Gilles works with concrete, sandstone amphora and cuve inox. There is very little sulphur used, just a smidge at bottling.

The Range

Vins de la Madone IGP Urfé Sauvignons Gris et Blanc 2022
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Vins de la Madone IGP Urfé Sauvignons Gris et Blanc 2022

This smokin’ white is drawn from a small vineyard perched on the side of the Purchon volcano in the Côtes du Forez (upper Loire Valley). The blend is 60% Sauvignon Gris and 40% Sauvignon Blanc from vines planted in 2011 in the region’s volcanic-rock (basalt) soils. The wine ferments with wild yeasts in stainless-steel tank, and Gilles Bonnefoy generally blocks malolactic conversion to harness as much energy as possible. The result is a wonderfully juicy, layered, mouth-watering white with bright, stonefruity and flinty allure alongside a crisp finish kissed by fresh herbs and subtle grip.

Vins de la Madone IGP Urfé Sauvignons Gris et Blanc 2022
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Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Migmatite 2022 (1500ml)
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Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Migmatite 2022 (1500ml)

The Migmatite is drawn from a 50-year-old parcel of low-yielding Gamay on the Migmatites du Montbrison—granite covered in sand and clay mixed with migmatite (igneous/metamorphic rock). This soil type extends to just 25 hectares of the current plantings across the Côtes du Forez. While it’s said to be responsible for producing lighter styles of wine, Bonnefoy’s derisory yields of only 25 hl/ha ensure charming depth to go with the region’s refreshing persona. The grapes were hand-harvested, followed by whole-cluster, semi-carbonic fermentation (à la Beaujolais) with native yeasts. Aging was in stainless-steel cuve, and the wine was bottled with minimal SO2. The palate is fabulously enticing, with waves of crunchy red fruit and smoky/green pepper spice (a feature of this site, according to Bonnefoy) alongside a wash of acidity that lifts the long, refreshing finish. Very lucid, very Gamay and—while there is something old-school, rocky and almost Brouilly-esque—the wine remains super bright and pure.

Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Migmatite 2022 (1500ml)
Added
Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Migmatite 2022
Added

Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Migmatite 2022

The Migmatite is drawn from a 50-year-old parcel of low-yielding Gamay on the Migmatites du Montbrison—granite covered in sand and clay mixed with migmatite (igneous/metamorphic rock). This soil type extends to just 25 hectares of the current plantings across the Côtes du Forez. While it’s said to be responsible for producing lighter styles of wine, Bonnefoy’s derisory yields of only 25 hl/ha ensure charming depth to go with the region’s refreshing persona. The grapes were hand-harvested, followed by whole-cluster, semi-carbonic fermentation (à la Beaujolais) with native yeasts. Aging was in stainless-steel cuve, and the wine was bottled with minimal SO2. The palate is fabulously enticing, with waves of crunchy red fruit and smoky/green pepper spice (a feature of this site, according to Bonnefoy) alongside a wash of acidity that lifts the long, refreshing finish. Very lucid, very Gamay and—while there is something old-school, rocky and almost Brouilly-esque—the wine remains super bright and pure.

Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Migmatite 2022
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Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Dacite 2022
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Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Dacite 2022

This cuvée is drawn from two parcels of Gamay planted in Champdieu between 2007 and 2015. Dacite is a soil type unique to the Côtes du Forez. The rock is highly friable, with infertile, grainy soils and low clay content for the region. To bring more depth to the young vines, they were cropped at 30 hl/ha, and the wine undergoes a brief maceration before aging in stainless steel. Picked on the cusp of ripeness, it’s a snappy and juicy introduction to this grower and the Gamay of the Côtes du Forez. There are supple wild red fruits, floral prettiness, a hint of spice, and something earthy and savoury, while the powdery tannins suggest this will take well to a brief chill before serving.

Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Dacite 2022
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Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Migmatite 2021
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Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Migmatite 2021

The Migmatite is drawn from a 50-year-old parcel of low-yielding Gamay on the Migmatites du Montbrison—a kind of granite, covered in sand and clay and mixed with Migmatite (igneous/metamorphic rock). This soil type extends to just 25 hectares of the current plantings across the Côtes du Forez and, while it’s said to be responsible for producing lighter styles of wine, Bonnefoy’s derisory yields of only 25 hl/ha ensure there is charming depth to go with the region’s refreshing persona. The grapes were hand-harvested followed by whole-cluster, semi-carbonic fermentation (à la Beaujolais) with native yeasts. Aging was in stainless-steel cuve and the wine was bottled with minimal SO2.We’re getting a little more serious now as the old vines and whole-bunch vinification introduce more depth and complexity. There’s more meat on the bones. The palate is fabulously enticing, with waves of dark berry fruit and smoky/green pepper spice (a feature of this site according to Bonnefoy) alongside a wash of acidity that lifts the long, refreshing finish. Very lucid, very Gamay and, while there is something old school and rocky, and almost Brouilly-esque, the wine remains super-bright and pure. 

We’re getting a little more serious now as the old vines and whole-bunch vinification introduce more depth and complexity. There’s more meat on the bones. The palate is fabulously enticing, with waves of dark berry fruit and smoky/green pepper spice (a feature of this site according to Bonnefoy) alongside a wash of acidity that lifts the long, refreshing finish. Very lucid, very Gamay and, while there is something old school and rocky, and almost Brouilly-esque, the wine remains super-bright and pure.

Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Migmatite 2021
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Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Mémoire de Madone 2021
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Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Mémoire de Madone 2021

In his excellent ‘Definitive Guide to the Wines of the Loire Valley’, Richard Kelley explains that the region’s basalt soils are “considered the best, if rarest sites, producing more concentrated and age worthy Gamays”. True to form, made from extremely low-yielding of Gamay Noir, the wine from this site manifests a deeper register and structure—if we were in Beaujolais, think Morgon.With a buoyant mix of darkly plummy fruit and velvety texture (the wine is raised in sandstone 900-litre amphora which Gilles finds amplifies the wine’s density), this is the most compact wine in the range, yet it is still packed with the kind of sprightly, vin de soif personality guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The fruit is crunchy and vibrant, and you have freshness, but here you’re also getting depth and length. This possesses everything necessary to age well, but why wait when it’s so delicious now?

The fruit is crunchy and vibrant, and you have freshness, but here you’re also getting depth and length. This possesses everything necessary to age well, but why wait when it’s so delicious now?

Vins de la Madone Côtes du Forez Mémoire de Madone 2021
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Country

France

Primary Region

Central Vineyards, Loire Valley

People

Winemaker: Gilles Bonnefoy

Availability

National

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