A champion of the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, fourth-generation vigneron Sébastien Magnien talks to us about terroir, experience over education and the 2019 vintage.
“I’ve been in the vineyard and the cellar since birth,” says Sébastien Magnien, fourth-generation winegrower from the small village of Meloisey in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune. “Both of my grandfathers were winegrowers.”
Sébastien Magnien in the Hautes-Côtes
Sébastien has made a name for himself as a champion of the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune sub-region. It’s not far from the Côte de Beaune proper, but it can feel quite different. “We’re at a higher elevation in the Hautes-Côtes,” he explains. “Vineyards reach as much as 480 metres above sea level here, while the Côtes de Beaune is between 200 and 350 metres.” The cooling effect of the higher altitude has a clear influence on the wines: “you can maintain acidity a lot more easily here. You get one or two per cent less alcohol, fresher aromas and good phenolic and tannic ripeness, too.”
With no Premier or Grand Cru holdings, Sébastien has built up his range by identifying vineyard sites with the potential to outperform their status. “Take the Clos de la Perrière in the Hautes-Côtes,” he says. “It’s only a regional appellation, but it’s got the character and the potential of a village-level wine, if not a Premier Cru.”
Before taking over the family estate, Sébastien studied both viticulture and oenology. “I studied a lot,” he reflects, “but I think the most important thing is experience.” He trained at Domaine Rossignol-Trapet in Gevrey-Chambertin and with Olivier Leflaive in Puligny-Montrachet.
Like many young French winegrowers and winemakers of his generation, he also gained international experience. “I worked for three months at Hartford Family Wines in Sonoma Valley,” he says. One of California’s cooler regions, Sonoma is known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – Burgundy’s signature grapes. “I really wanted to learn as much as I could about these varieties before I came back home to start working at the estate,” he says.
Burgundy 2019 for Sébastien Magnien
The 2019 vintage was Sébastien’s 17th, and he is clearly comfortable in his craft. “I know all my different terroirs very well now,” he says. “You have to have confidence in your terroir. We’re working with only two grapes here so the unique identity of the wines has to come from the terroir. To understand it, we need to think about the soil: there’s white soil, brown soil, red soil. Sometimes there’s more limestone, or more clay. Our wines reflect those differences.”
The growing season in ’19 was not without its challenges, notably an early frost on 5th April. “We thought at the time that the frost wouldn’t have much of an impact,” Sébastien recalls. Unfortunately, it had a direct impact on yields: “I produced only half my normal quantity of white wines, and about two-thirds of my reds.”
Low yields aside, the quality of the ’19s is clear. Sébastien describes it as a warm vintage, without a lot of rain and with a particularly dry summer. “I’ve never seen alcohol levels like it,” he says. “But there’s a nice level of acidity too. The aromas aren’t too ripe. The wines are elegant, fresh and well-balanced. It’s a very Burgundian vintage.”