Saint-Aubin Premier Cru wines are those produced under the stricter conditions of the Saint-Aubin appellation, in the Cote de Beaune sub-region of Burgundy. They can be white or red and are usually made from either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, although the former predominates.
Furthermore, two thirds of the wines made in Saint-Aubin are Premier Cru, produced from just over 155 hectares (383 acres) of officially classified sites on sheltered, limestone-rich hillsides. This is a particularly high proportion of Premier Cru land to find in any one commune – topped only by Beaune and Vougeot.
The commune contains no Grand Cru vineyards but boasts 30 climats classified as Premier Cru, with several vineyards and lieu-dits sharing space. For instance, the nearly 30 hectare (74 acre) En Remilly vineyard which, at the eastern extremity of Saint-Aubin borders Puligny and Chassagne Montrachet, overlaps with part of the 7.8 hectare (19 acre) Les Cortons further west.
Just over 80 hectares (200 acres) remains as “village” Saint-Aubin (not to be confused with the 2.85 hectare/7 acre Premier Cru Le Village vineyard), with lesser demands on production.
For instance, while Premier Cru grapes must be harvested with a minimum potential alcohol of 11.5 percent for whites (generally Chardonnay, although Pinot Blanc is also allowed) and 11 percent for reds (Pinot Noir, although theoretically up to 15 percent Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are allowed if planted in the same vineyard), these limits are lowered for Saint-Aubin village wines to 11 and 10.5 percent respectively.
Final alcohol levels of a Saint-Aubin Premier Cru cannot be higher than 14 percent (village Saint-Aubin is limited to 13.5 percent).
Yields are slightly reduced for Premier Cru wines, with whites requiring a minimum of 6,200 liters per hectare (2,500L per acre) and reds 5,600L per hectare (2,260L per acre). These are only 200L per hectare less than Saint-Aubin village requirements.
The high percentage of Premier Crus is a direct consequence of the local topography. Saint-Aubin is nestled in a narrow sub-valley of the Côte d’Or escarpment, and good vineyard sites here are more limited than on the gentle slopes and plains just to the east.
However, the land that is suitable is capable of producing wines of high quality. The slopes surrounding the village form a natural amphitheatre – its sides arcing from south-west to south-east – interrupted only by the village of Gamay (after which the Gamay grape variety is named).
This topography affords the vines prolonged daily exposure to all available sunshine – a vital bonus in Burgundy’s marginal continental climate. The local soils and sub-strata are also well suited to both of the predominant grape varieties grown here.
The vineyards just east of Gamay village are particularly suited to Chardonnay, as they occupy the western side of the Mont-Rachet – the hill that gives its name to Burgundy’s famous Montrachet Grand Cru white wines. The only significant difference between the two sides of the hill is their aspect.
The eastern half of the Mont-Rachet faces south and south-east, capitalizing on the ripening rays of the sun in the morning and early afternoon. The western half misses out on this early sunshine, but it stays sunlit until the end of the day – an advantage in cool years in particular. However, a major drawback is that the west-facing vines are unprotected from the sometimes-oppressive heat of the afternoon sun.
Because of its high suitability for growing Chardonnay – and the increasing popularity of the white wines from neighboring Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet – Saint-Aubin has made an about-turn in its grape variety of choice. It used to be famous for its rustic reds (which comprised three-quarters of its production), but now white wines make up the majority of the appellation’s output.
The official classification of the appellation’s Premier Cru climats dates back to February 1977. The fact that it was one of the earliest in the area may explain the large number of its Premier Cru sites. Had the land been rated in the context of the superior sites just down the valley in Puligny and Chassagne, the bar might have been set a little higher.