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Bugey is not a household word yet among American wine drinkers. Bugey is a small region tucked into the foothills at the southernmost end of the Jura Mountains—a range older than the neighboring Alps--in the southern tip of the Savoie region in eastern-central France. This sub-alpine territory along the Swiss border has a unique terroir well-suited to two native varietals, the white Altesse and the red Mondeuse; it also grows a large amount of Chardonnay, some Gamay and a little Pinot Noir (not a big stretch with Burgundy being due west). Arguably, its best known wine so far on this side of the ocean is the dem-sec pink sparkling Cerdon de Bugey (see Renardat-Fache on our website!).
But south of Cerdon, the village of Montagnieu lends its name to the best-known local cru, which features Altesse. Known locally as Roussette, Altesse thrives on the steep, rocky hillside vineyards and clay-limestone soils; is thought to be a relative of the Hungarian variety Furmint; and is the passion of fifth-generation grower Franck Peillot. Local parlance can get confusing: the appellation “Roussette de Bugey” can also contain Chardonnay, so Peillot adds “Altesse” on the label of his still white wine to clarify its contents. He feels that Altesse, naturally on the more neutral side aromatically but high in acidity, is a perfect and elegant vehicle for terroir expression—much more so than the ubiquitous Chardonnay—if and when its natural high ripeness and pulpy fleshiness are reined in.
Franck took over from his father, who like most in this hard-scrabble rural region had a polycultural operation, and grew it to a still-tiny 6.5 hectares focused on viticulture. His scattered and various parcels in the mountainous foothills are so steep in some spots that they can only be tended with a winch and a plow; and many of the vines are trained 2 meters high for maximum sun exposure in this cold climate. His farming is as sustainable as reasonably possible under these challenging circumstances and is fortunately also subject to little effect by others’ choices, given that his parcels are largely isolated, surrounded by woods and fields.
In addition to his still white Altesse, he makes a méthode-champenoise dry sparkling wine from Altesse, Chardonnay and Mondeuse, as well as two single-variety dry reds from Mondeuse and Pinot Noir. In the cellar, Peillot vinifies all parcels individually, fermenting with indigenous yeasts (which he began doing upon the suggestion of LDM founder Joe Dressner) in 15-20-hectoliter vats and “letting nature decide what the results will be”. Riper Altesse and less-ripe Mondeuse are likely to end up in the brut bottling, for example.