When you wind your way up to the east out of the little village of Fuisse in the Mâconnais region of southern Burgundy, you should take time to look back over your shoulder at the beautiful little church with its plot of vines, and the hillside skating back up behind it to the west. The narrow road will curve around the shoulder of the hill (atop which sits what has long been called the “faerie woods”) and if you bear to the left, you will quickly find yourself in the little village of Chaintré, the home of many men bearing the last name Cornin.
And at least two of them are currently making wine, as I accidentally found out as we drove up a driveway and bounded out of the car enthusiastically to find a bemused Vincent Cornin, who politely told us that we were probably looking for his cousin Dominique, and sent us on our way a bit farther down the hill.
This wasn’t the last time I made such a mistake in my travels in Burgundy, where brothers and cousins with the same last name proliferate a sometimes confusing plenitude of domaines with common family names.
Needless to say I eventually made it to the little winery out back behind the stone farmhouse of Dominique Cornin and his son, Romain, to taste their tiny production of wines and to admire their beautiful horses, which sometimes join them in the fields, though only for fun (plowing with horses takes too long, explained Dominique).
Dominique Cornin represents the fourth generation of farmers named Cornin in the village of Chaintré. His father tended vines, and his grandfather tended vines but sold his wines to the cooperative, and his great grandfather grew vines along with many more things. Dominique began working in the fields and in the cellar when he was young, and took over completely from his father in 1983.
Cornin, like many vignerons in Fuissé, farms dozens of small vineyard plots in and around his village. For a long time, the vineyards have been farmed organically, but Cornin’s vineyards were not certified organic (Agriculture Biologique) until 2009, and for several years have been practicing most of the biodynamic regimen on their vineyards, including the use of most of the preparations and the lunar calendar.
When asked about their motivation for being organic and biodynamic, 23-year-old Romain Cornin, explained: “My great-grandfather died when my grandfather was only 16. The same is true for my father’s cousin Vincent up the road. They were the first generation to use all the new chemicals in the vineyards, and we are convinced that is what made them sick. Now we have no interest in such chemicals. And really, we don’t need them.”
Romain is very involved in the winemaking, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll be taking over duties as winemaker in five years, his father suggested with a smile. For now, they jointly manage their small production of around 5400 cases of wine, all hand harvested and carefully guided through its slow fermentations with natural yeasts, and careful rackings at the new moon. Cornin uses very little oak at all in his winemaking, and almost none of it new. Most wines are fermented in steel and aged in large cement vats, or a combination of vats and used oak barrels.
The terroir that the Cornins (and everyone else in the region) farm is built around a singular characteristic: Limestone. Fuissé marks the end of the great limestone shelf that lies under most of the heart of Burgundy, and the village of Chaintré itself sits on the site of an old limestone quarry. The soils are often no deeper than 20 centimeters, and then from there the roots of the vines strive downwards into solid limestone, seeking the fissures and weaknesses in the stone.
From this shallow soil and its calcareous rock, Cornin coaxes delicate wines that I highly recommend seeking out, especially for those who are interested in tasting rocks in their wines. Sadly only a small amount of Cornin’s wine makes it to the USA. He is seeking better representation.
2008 Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chaintré, Burgundy
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey, ripe apples, and wet stones. In the mouth it has a wonderful texture and bright acidity that clasps flavors of wet stone and lemon zest which ride airily into the finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. Click to buy.
2008 Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chanes “Serreudieres,” Burgundy
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of wet leaves, wet stone, and the tangy scent of green apples. In the mouth the wine offers green apple flavors mixed with a wet stone minerality. Nice acidity. Score: around 8.5.
2008 Dominique Cornin Saint Véran
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of cold cream and lemon pastry cream. In the mouth it is broad and rich with a silky texture and flavors of cold cream, lemon curd, and the wonderful aroma of wet leaves on the long finish. Nicely balanced, good acidity. Made from 60-year-old vines. Score: around 9.
2008 Dominique Cornin Pouilly-Fuissé
Pale yellow gold in color, this wine smells of yellow flowers, lemon zest, and a crisp mineral aroma. IN the mouth the wine has fantastic acidity and very nice balance between the crystalline mineral qualities of the wine and a nice chamomile and citrus pith flavor. The finish is 100% wet stone. Made entirely in stainless steel. Score: around 9. Cost: $23 Click to buy.
2008 Dominique Cornin Pouilly-Fuissé “Les Chevriers”
Pale yellow gold in color, this wine has just a hint of butter on the nose, but mostly a wonderful sweet lemon scent. In the mouth the wine is classic lemon, lemon zest, and wet stones through a long floral finish. Nicely balanced and delicious. Made in larger, old demi-muid oak barrels that are a “pain” to use according to Cornin. Score: around 9.
2008 Dominique Cornin Pouilly-Fuissé “Clos Reyssie”
Pale gold in color, this wine has a nose that combines a wonderful floral quality with rich buttercream and lemon curd aromas. In the mouth the wine comes across instantly as graceful, and quite complex, with flavors of lemon curd, tart grapefruit, and a sappy spiciness that is hard to pin down. Fantastic acids, and great length. Excellent. Score: between 9 and 9.5.
2009 Dominique Cornin Beaujolais Blanc
Pale gold in color, this wine has a nose of appley, yeasty aromas with hints of lemon. In the mouth the wine also has a yeasty aspect, with flavors of apple, lemon, and wet stones, but the yeasty quality detracts a little from these more appealing flavors. Simple. Score: around 8.
2009 Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chaintré
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon and wet stones with a hint of the tart tanginess of green apple skin. In the mouth the wine offers green apple, and grassy lemon and grapefruit zest flavors tied to a mineral backbone. Score: around 8.5.
2009 Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chanes
Pale yellow gold in color, this wine has a nose of lemon zest and drier aromas of parchment or autumn leaves. In the mouth the wine (somewhat remarkably) also tastes of dried autumn leaves, with a soft pomelo and lemon quality that floats above wet stone minerality. Good acidity. Score: around 8.5.
2009 Dominique Cornin Saint Véran
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of dried apples and wet stones. In the mouth a mix of mineral, dried grapefruit rind, and grapefruit juice mixes with a hint of dried leaves. Very interesting flavors mix and swirl with good acidity and linger nicely on the palate. Score: between 8.5 and 9.
2009 Dominique Cornin Pouilly-Fuissé
Pale green gold in color, this wine smells of wet slate and candied lemon rind. In the mouth flavors of lemon rind, wet leaves, and stones mix with a nice delicacy. Filigreed acidity contributes to the minerality of this wine which lingers through the finish. Score: around 9.