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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5 rue du Docteur Tardieux
Saint-Bris le Vineux 89530
T: + 03 86 53 07 22
*Tastings by appointment only