Guide to the Loire regions

Côtes du Forez

Grower Profiles

Domaine de la Madone
Gilles Bonnefoy is in the distinguished position of being the only independent grower in the Côtes du Forez to have never had any connection with the co-operative system. He started his domaine in 1997, returning to Champdieu from where his family originate after deciding that trying to sell Gallo California wines to the French was probably not such a good idea. Whilst Bonnefoy had acquired a BTS qualification whilst studying in Macon and Versailles, he had not necessarily intended to become a winemaker, since the family vines that had originally belonged to his great grandfather had passed through his uncle. He needed to establish his own vineyards from scratch.

Bonnefoy’s venture began with the 1997 vintage, with wine produced from two parcels of vines on the slopes of the volcanic pic of La Madone, named after the statue to the Madonna that stands at its summit. The vineyard had been abandoned, so it was down to him to bring it back into life. Whilst he proved to be competent enough to withstand this challenge, he failed in the winery when the wine underwent malolactic fermentation in the bottle; his first ‘commercial’ release came with the 1998 vintage.

During this time, he held down a day job (he only became a full time vigneron in 2004) working as a commercial manager with LVMH selling Veuve Cliquot, and for the first seven vintages, he worked from an old cellar in the appropriately named Rue des Caves in Champdieu. He finally erected his own purpose built winery (next to the family home) on the hillside above Champdieu in readiness for the 2004 vintage.    

He began to extend his domaine by acquiring land to replant in 2000, adding to his existing location in La Madone. This distinguished south-facing slope of volcanic origin had last been planted (with hybrids) at the turn of the last century and had been grubbed up after the Second World War. By now, the land was a mass of scrub and required extensive clearing before the first vines could be planted a year later. Also in 2000, Bonnefoy bought land in the lieu-dits of Le Pigeonnier (another historic site of volcanic origin, close to the main Boën to Montbrison road), the south-facing if sandy Haute Roche (from where Bonnefoy now sources his grapes for his Côtes du Forez Rosé) and Le Pizet just to the south of Le Champdieu.

The decision to plant Roussanne in 2001 was on the recommendation of a vigneron friend in the Savoie, who suggested the variety on the basis that climatically the conditions of the Forez are very similar. The first crop was harvested in 2005.

Bonnefoy now works a total of eight hectares, including 0.5ha of 70 year old vines which are still Gobelet trained. In addition to holding down a full-time job, buying and replanting vineyards, and making the wines, he also became certified organic in  2001 and followed this with a Demeter certification for biodynamic production with the 2008 vintage. Needless to say, all the grapes are harvested by hand.

Bonnefoy produces five different wines, two as Vin de Pays and three under the appellation. The Vin de Pays d’Urfé Roussanne de Madone is something of a local curiosity but is a worthy Rhône look-alike, although does exhibit more oxidative characters. The second Vin de Pays is the distinctly sweet (36g/l) Rosé La Madone Demi-Sec which is from a vineyard still in conversion. It’s a bit aigre-doux and hollow.

The three Côtes du Forez wines are made up of the dry Rosé La Madone – Gamay sur Volcan which is produced through saignée which in turn helps beef up the red wine, starting with La Madone – Gamay sur Volcan, although even this was a little too stalky in 2008, whilst La Madone – Gamay sur Volcan Vieilles Vignes shows a little more concentration, structure and black cherry fruit.

Wine Overview:
There is little argument that Gilles Bonnefoy is probably the most dynamic and exciting of all the independent growers in the region, although on the basis of the current (2008) releases there is a degree of inconsistency in some of the wines. The 2009s tasted from tank, however, showed much greater quality. He is an open and very likable guy whose wines are certainly worth seeking out, even though they don’t get to travel too far, with 30% of his sales from the cellar door and a further 40% sold to restaurants and caviste’s within the Loire département.  

Gilles Bonnefoy
Domaine de la Madone
T: + 33 4 77 97 07 33
F: + 33 4 77 97 79 38


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