Domaine Bersan: What Lies Beneath

Posted on Jan 10, 2024


Saint Bris Burgundy wine

Into the cellars at Domaine Bersan…

Sitting along the banks of the river Yonne in the core of the Auxerrois region, Saint-Bris-le-Vineux is a charming village crafted from ancient stones. Beneath its surface lie remarkable medieval cellars that sprawl across 3.5 hectares, reaching a depth of 60 meters underground—truly exceptional examples within the region of Burgundy.

We were lucky enough to visit Domaine Bersan, where the family has been making wine there since the mid fifteenth century, and they have the cellar to prove it.

As it was explained to us while we toured underground, their cellars are a historical marvel built between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, which served a dual purpose as guardians of winemaking traditions and as a formidable defense during tumultuous times.

Saint Bris Burgundy winery

An underground city.

The first use of the cellar was to protect the people from the King of France. In the 11th century, the Burgundian Kings were allies with the English. When the French Kings decided to invade Burgundy, Saint-Bris being in the north was the first to be attacked. The people of Saint-Bris built an underground city so that the people could hide and move around as needed.

This resulted in several examples of ingenuity that included numerous fake entrances, and stairs down into the cellar designed in such a way that if the enemy were right-handed (which most people were at the time), they would be challenged to pull out their sword as they were coming down any of the stairs.

Burgundy white wine

Sipping wines in a historical place.

All the village’s cellars were connected essentially creating an underground city and this continued through to the 14th and 15th centuries, throughout the 100 years war. But over time as wineries have changed ownership and separated, so have the underground connections. Nonetheless, just touring through the well maintained Bersan cellar, one could easily imagine what it must have been like all those years ago.

Saint Bris Burgundy Winery

Pierre-Louis & Jean-Francois Bersan [source: Bersan]

Jean-François Bersan and his son Pierre-Louis are the current stewards of the family business, producing wines from their 20 hectares of vineyards comprising of 7 hectares of red and 13 hectares of white varieties across nearly a dozen different Burgundy appellations.

Chardonnay of course from Chablis, but producing wines from Saint-Bris allows for a much wider selection of wines. Of particular note is that it’s the only appellation in Burgundy where Sauvignon Blanc is grown.

Saint Bris Burgundy winery

The wine tasting lineup.

Along with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Bersan also produces Sauvignon Gris, Pinot Noir and Aligoté. The latter of which is a variety that Bersan and some of their village peers believe has particular potential in the area.

For each of their wines they produce a ‘classic’ and a ‘Marianne’ special cuvée (named for a daughter that passed away). Annual production culminates in approximately 120,000 bottles, a significant portion of which is exported, accounting for nearly 50% of the estate’s reach.

Saint Bris Burgundy winery

The vineyards [source; Bersan]

Their vineyards in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, grace the undulating slopes along the east bank of the Yonne valley, situated south of Auxerre (10 km away) and west of Chablis (15 km away). The subsoil, dating back to the Jurassic period between 200 and 145 million years ago, boasts clay-limestone composition, with Portlandian layers (between 145 and 152 million years ago) crowning the hilltops and Kimmeridgian deposits (between 157 and 152 million years ago) adorning the slopes.

Saint Bris Burgundy winery

Perfect storing conditions.

As we continued to tour the cellars, we saw several old wine presses from the Middle Ages. We were also shown the private family collection complete with thick mold covering thousands of wines dating back generations. Making that particular part of the cellar even more mysterious is the fact that Jean-François’ father passed away unexpectedly without leaving any record of what exactly the wines or vintages are that have no labels. A challenge to test even the very best blind taster!

Saint Bris Burgundy winery

Visiting a piece of history.

What elevates Domaine Bersan to an enigmatic realm is the sanctuary of its cellars. These vaulted chambers, add an unparalleled dimension to the estate’s allure. Originally conceived to shelter villagers during sieges, the maze now captures the imagination of visitors, offering a compelling narrative of how these cellars stood as silent guardians, not just of precious wines but also as fortifications during perilous times.

A visit to this winery takes you on a journey through time, terroir, and tradition—an odyssey that offers not just exquisite wines but a profound understanding of the intersection between winemaking and the pages of history.

Tasting Notes

2020 Domaine Bersan Aligoté

St Bris Burgundy wine

2020 Domaine Bersan Aligoté

Light gold in colour with medium + acidity this easy going wine offers up notes of melon and grapefruit with hints of citrus peel. This is made to be enjoyed as an aperitif that brings simple pleasure to its drinker, with or without food. Medium – body. Hints of minerals on the finish add interest and definition.

Very Good

2020 Domaine Bersan Cote d’Auxerre Blanc

More body and intensity than the previous wine, this is 100% Chardonnay from the region just north of Chablis. Mineral notes layered over apple flavours with medium acid. Rounder than most of the Petit Chablis we tasted but sharing that simple flavour profile that makes for a good aperitif.

Very Good+

2018 Domaine Bersan Sauvignon Blanc St. Bris

St Bris Burgundy wine

2018 Domaine Bersan Sauvignon Blanc St. Bris

St. Bris is one of the 7 communes in the Cote d’Auxerre. One of the few places in all of Burgundy where you will find the Sauvignon Blanc grape grown. And it grows well here as this has they typicity of Sauvignon Blanc with its high acidity and grapefruit flavours. Medium body and hint of smoke show a bit of barrel influence.

Very Good+

2020 Domaine Bersan Cote d’Auxerre Rouge

This Pinot Noir has a medium dark red colour. We get tart cherries with hints of baking spices and a touch of cracked pepper on the finish. The medium- body is accompanied by medium+ acid which creates a fairly tart palate sensation. A lighter style of Pinot Noir suitable for shellfish dishes.

Very Good

2019 Domaine Bersan Cuvée Marianne Irancy Pinot Noir

St Bris Burgundy wine

2019 Domaine Bersan Cuvée Marianne Irancy Pinot Noir

Just west of Chablis lies the town of Irancy which is surrounded on all sides by beautiful hills planted to Pinot Noir. This wine has a nice savoury aspect to its primary chaerry and spice flavours. Medium body and medium acid make for a good mouthfeel that avoid the tartness the Cote d’Auxerre showed. Tough to be a red wine in distinctly white wine territory, but this wine stands up to the test.

Very Good+

 

 

 

Domaine Bersan

Saint Bris Burgundy Winery

A truly unique visit.

5 rue du Docteur Tardieux

Saint-Bris le Vineux 89530

France

E: contact@domainebersan.fr

T: + 03 86 53 07 22

*Tastings by appointment only

 

3 Comments

    • Robin@42aspens.com'

      What a fascinating history! You were walking in caves that dated to the 11th Century! That is amazing! I love the ingenuity of thinking through how to create stairways to put soldiers at a disadvantage.
      The history, the wines…what an amazing visit!

      Post a Reply
      • We learned much more than winemaking and to see the cellars and wine press so intact was really something. We hope you get the chance to go there one day, your creative mind would love it!

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