Well known until the destruction wrought by phylloxera, the Bugey is slowly recovering its heritage of quality winemaking.
Located between the Jura and the Savoie wine regions, the Bugey shares aspects of both, yet it retains its own distinct identity. It is at the southern end of the Jura mountain chain, and the Rhône river loops the region’s southern and eastern edges, where it marks the border with Savoie. The soils are mostly calcareous throughout.
The Bugey’s climate is semi-continental, with hot summers and cold winters, but the region is also on the fringes of a moderating oceanic influence, and so avoids too many extremes.
Viticulture began here with the Romans, but really took off in the 16th century when monks greatly expanded the vineyards. The planted surface peaked at 14,000 hectares and remained there until phylloxera hit in 1875, which effectively decimated the industry. Replanting occurred slowly throughout the 20th century, and today there are 500 hectares planted in the Bugey.
In 1958 the region gained VDQS status, and in 2009 it was promoted to full-fledged A.O.C. There are currently three appellations: Bugey (for all colors), Bugey pétillant (for sparkling wines) and Roussette de Bugey (for whites made from the Altesse grape). There are also a handful of special crus, the most famous of which is the sweet, pink, low-alcohol Cerdon de Bugey.
Many of the grapes grown here are the same as in neighboring Savoie (Jacquère, Altesse, Mondeuse), but the Bugey also shares some varietals with the Jura (Poulsard) and with nearby Burgundy and Beaujolais (Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Chardonnay).
Special mention must go to the two most characteristic (if not the most widely planted) varietals: Altesse and Mondeuse. Altesse is not a productive grape, which is one the reasons it is not more popular. It is the grape used in Roussette de Bugey (where it must constitute at least half the blend), a wine which can be racy and very mineral. Roussette de Bugey is often made with a small amount of residual sugar (5-10g per liter) to balance the acidity, but in the best examples there is no detectable sweetness.
Mondeuse is an intense, tannic grape that produces dark red, very aromatic wines which are often surprisingly light on the palate. The best examples are structured and age-worthy. This is a grape of great potential, but its tendency to produce high yields means that extensive green harvesting is necessary to make concentrated wines of high quality.