Vincent Balivet and his family are one of only a handful of organic growers in Bugey, a small and relatively unknown appellation in the foothills of the Alps, northeast of Lyon. We stumbled upon their wine at the restaurant La Ferme de la Ruchotte near Beaune. Bugey-Cerdon only recently earned its AOC in 2009, and it has since become a wine of interest to many of our customers. Made almost entirely from Gamay with a small percentage of the native Poulsard grape, this off-dry, low-alcohol sparkler is a simple and refreshing selection for food pairings of all kinds.
The Balivets farm organically in the village of Mérignat, on the south-facing stony slopes above the Ain River in the appellation of Cerdon, a sub-appellation within Bugey. A dedicated few growers still produce this wine, made by méthode ancestrale—so few, in fact, that when driving through the region, one needs a local to find where the grapes are grown! Unlike the méthode champenoise, wines made by méthode ancestrale do not receive a dosage. Rather, they undergo primary fermentation until the alcohol level reaches roughly 6% and are then bottled. In bottle, the wine continues to ferment, but stops naturally at 8%, with a pleasant level of residual sugar remaining. The Bugey-Cerdon of Domaine Balivet is a terrific selection for both restaurant wine lists and retail shelves, offering an eclectic, crowd-pleasing and value-driven alternative to sparkling wine. When we met the Balivets back in 2006, they had none for sale, and it was only with much pressure that we convinced them to sell us one pallet of wine for the West Coast. And that was a happy beginning!