While the television coverage of President Francois Hollande’s dismissal of the French government and Prime Minister Valls scrambling to form another was non-stop speculation and spin, the main thing on people’s minds here in Burgundy is the weather. The outgoing Economic Minister, Arnaud Montebourg, denounced austerity and conservatism, claimed modern Europe has been in economic crisis since 1929, quoted St. Augustine, and the French markets responded with the Bourse up nearly 3% in a couple days. The French government may look to the left for a solution to stagnation and unemployment, but the farmers and growers of France’s most important agricultural export look to the skies. Too bad all the hot air generated by the politicians, spin doctors, and talking heads can’t change the jet stream and bring us some true summer weather!
After a wonderfully sunny week, showers returned on Saturday evening August 23rd. Sunday was a superb late summer day, with brilliant sunshine and magnificently warm but not too hot temperatures. It was perfect for the international baseball tournament and country-western line dancing at the Journees Americain in Fenay, just east of Dijon, which I attended. Unfortunately, by late evening thick clouds had moved in from the west, and the night brought rain. Monday morning brought drear and drizzle, with weather more appropriate to late October than late August. It is cool, damp, and grey here in the Cote d’Or. Monday evening brought rain and Tuesday morning the fog and clouds covered the upper slopes of the Cote d’Or and and a steady rain drenched the region. As I write the sky is clearing a bit, and the wind is picking up out of the west. The forecast is for continued unsettled weather.
After writing about the prospects for the harvest in the southern part of the Cote d’Or, with another post devoted to the illustrious Grands Crus, it is time to consider the northern part of the region, the regional, village, and 1ers Crus north of the A6 motorway, from the suburbs of Dijon to the outskirts of Beaune.
CHENOVE, MARSANNAY, and COUCHEY
White, red, and rose wines are produced in the three villages entitled to the Appellation Marsannay Protegee. These villages were mostly untouched by the hailstorms of June 28th, and show delightfully healthy bunches of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruit. Well off the beaten path, these villages do have some very fine parcels and terroir. It is no accident that one of the climats of Chenove is called Clos du Roy, testament to the importance of this village during and after the reign of the powerful Valois Ducs de Bourgogne. A little visited, but exceptionally preserved pressoir and winery dating from the 14th century are still present amongst the modern apartments of Dijon suburbanites.
Much like the villages of St. Romain, St. Aubin, Monthelie, and Auxey-Duresses, Marsannay is going to have its day in the sun, particularly if the 2014 vintage finishes sunny and dry. The prices are good, quantities from the three villages are ample, and more and more offerings by-the-glass are being seen in the hip wine bars of Beaune. Negociants are swooping in to buy fruit, and producers from these villages are stepping up their quality as well. Wines from Alex Gambel and Rene Bouvier are starting to have a cult following on the east coast of the USA, and the prix-qualite rapport is excellent.
Early in my career I was exposed to the wonderful wines of Fixin, representing the fine wines of Domaine Pierre Gelin. Today the wines from the village of Fixin are emerging from relative obscurity, and the 1ers Crus are simply delicious in recent vintages. Normally a bit more pointed in structure, with higher acids, and a bit more chalky tannins than the wines from its neighbor Gevrey-Chambertin, Fixin can show great depth and richness when yields and weather coincide correctly. Modern winemaking techniques are bringing Fixin to a welcoming market, as the wines generally represent very fine value.
The wines of Fixin, particularly its 1ers Crus, are worth searching for. They can be every bit as good as Gevrey-Chambertin, at half the price, though the vineyards are small, and quantities limited.
BROCHON and GEVREY-CHAMBERTIN
I was having a quiet Saturday afternoon at my Domaine Henri Richard gite in Gevrey on June 28th, when the skies suddenly darkened, the wind began to howl, and the rain began to pour in sheets. What really got my attention was that a bit of this downpour was bouncing. It was hailing. Gevrey-Chambertin did not get too much hail that day, but curiosity forced me into my car and onto the Route de Grands Crus, where I then encountered another few waves of the storms that were moving in from the south.
There is some damage to the vineyards and fruit in Gevrey, but nothing compared to the devastation further south, which I have already reported in previous posts. Gevrey growers tell me that 5 to 10% of their crop was lost to the hail, but at the moment, most expect a fairly normal, average-sized crop, because the vines were carrying a fairly copious fruit set, and the recent rains have swollen the grapes significantly. The key to 2014 will be the weather between now and September 15th, when many growers forecast the harvest will begin. A rigorous selection at harvest and again in the winery will be required to keep quality at the levels that recent prices command.
Gevrey-Chambertin should deliver a fine quantity and quality of fruit in 2014 if the weather improves. The next few weeks will determine the quality of the vintage, but there is plenty of fruit for producers to work with here.
MOREY ST. DENIS
I have always liked the wines of Morey. To me they show an accentuated minerality, a flavor almost like the iron accents in blood, or the smell of mecurochrome that my mother would put on an abrasion when I skinned my knees or elbows. I have been told that Morey has an inordinate amount of manganese in its soils, which might account for the high-toned, tart dark fruit flavors that I associate with Morey St. Denis. Damage here was minimal, and the growers here should be happy if the clouds lift and the sun shines.
As mentioned in a previous post, Musigny, at the knoll of the hill just above Clos de Vougeot, was significantly impacted by hail. Damage north of the village was quite limited except in the upper slopes near Bonnes Mares, but moving south towards 1ers Crus Les Amoureuses and Les Charmes more sustained damage appears. I would estimate losses of 35% in some Chambolle vineyards.
Chambolle-Musigny has always been a favorite village for me. Its elegance and suave flavors remind me of a darker style of Volnay, more sultry, like Lauren Bacall compared to Catherine Denueve. Good results can be expected here if the weather will cooperate, though hail damage in the southern parcels was significant, reducing the crop by 25 to 35%.
VOUGEOT and FLAGEY_ECHEZEAUX
Outside of their distinguished Grands Crus, there are not many parcels of vines in Vougeot or Flagey to talk about. Vougeot has 3 hectares of vines classified as villages, and almost 12 hectares of 1ers Crus parcels to complement the 50 hectares of Clos de Vougeot. The only non-Grand Cru property in Flagey-Echezeax is classified as Appellation Vosne-Romanee Protegee. These parcels sustained some heavy damage from the hail, especially parcels higher on the slope, including the two Monopoles, Clos de La Perriere (Domaine Bertagna) and Clos Blanc de Vougeot (Boisset’s Domaine de la Vougeraie), where I estimate 40% of the crop was lost. The Vougeot 1ers Crus Les Petits Vougeot and Les Cras were less affected, as were the small villages parcels.
Unfortunately, Vosne-Romanee, the village where, according to Thomas Jefferson, “there are no ordinary wines”, was substantially impacted by the hail, and I have written of the damage to the Grands Crus in a previous post. Yet other vines in Vosne-Romanee were also badly damaged, particularly northern, upper parcels of the 1ers Crus Les Suchots and Les Beaux Monts. Again, fruit on the southern side of the vines was more damaged, but a fair bit of fine fruit clusters remain to be harvested.
Further south, and down the slope adjacent to and below La Tache, things appear fairly good, with an abundant crop ripening nicely.
Moving further south into Vosne-Romanee villages appellations, at the Nuits St. Georges border about 10 to 15% losses in vines seems to have been the average. Again, the fruit clusters on the south sides of the rows of vines were most affected by the hail.
Occasionally in the Cote d’Or one still comes across vineyards like the one pictured below, showing the effects of using herbicide treatments on several rows of vines. While I recognize that Les Bourguignons are fiercely proud, independent people, with huge, compassionate hearts, I simply do not understand how one’s neighbors can tolerate the continued use of poison in these treasured vines. This is an abominable cruelty to agriculture.
NUITS ST. GEORGES and PREMEAUX-PRISSEY
The town of Nuits St. Georges and the village of Premeaux-Prissey, which is entitled to the appellation of Nuits St. Georges, constitute one of the largest vineyard appellations in the entire Cote d’Or, with over 178 hectares of villages and 147 hectares of 1ers Crus shared between them. There are no Grands Crus in Nuits St. Georges, but there are a lot of excellent wines produced here. As throughout most of the Cote, the finest terroirs are mid-slope, where they enjoy excellent exposure to the sun, great drainage, and a superb mixture of calcaire stones and rich, nutrient and mineral-laden soils.
Hail was not an insignificant factor in the Nuits St. Georges appellations, but I would estimate only spotty losses of 5 to 10%. Where there was damage, it was again on the south side of vines, with the northern sides showing abundant and fine fruit clusters. Millerandage seems to have been fairly significant, with quite a few older vines showing substantial shot berries in their bunches.
I could not get inside to view the vineyards in two of my favorite Nuits St Georges (Premeaux) 1ers Crus Monopoles, the Clos Arlot of Domaine de L’Arlot, and the Domaine Jacques-Frederic Mugnier Clos de la Marechale, which I have enjoyed since Faiveley controlled its production. These adjacent sites in Premeaux-Prissey express two different sides of Pinot Noir. I always enjoy the rich dark red fruits and smooth, satisfyingly silky style of Clos de la Marechale, while the more brooding, mineral, sauvage black fruits of Clos Arlot are fantastic with lamb or game.
COMBLANCHIEN and CORGOLOIN
Today the villages of Comblanchien and Corgoloin may be more well known for their marble stone, quarried from some of the Cote d’Or’s hardest limestone rock, but I predict that there will soon be some newly popular producers, lieux dits, and wines from these attractive vineyards around the major rock industry of Burgundy.
With prices for all Burgundy escalating, it may soon be impossible to offer a Cote de Nuits village wine by the glass in many top restaurants. However, the Appellation Cote de Nuits-Villages Protegee wines from Comblanchien and Corgoloin can fill that void for high quality Pinot Noir at a reasonable tariff. I, for one, am excited to see the appearance of a few lieux-dits names on the labels of some of these villages’ better producers. Jean-Marc Millot’s Aux Fauques, from Comblanchien, and the Domaine d’Ardhuy’s Corgoloin Monopole Clos des Langres, are two examples of Cote de Nuits-Villages at its best.
Last Thursday marked the 70th anniversary of one of many atrocities committed by German SS troops as they retreated from the Allies’ advance and inevitable liberation of France. The memorial at Comblanchien marks that sad night.
Comblanchien and Corgoloin have a long history of viticulture as well. The Clos des Langres of Corgoloin was planted in the 9th century by monks from the Abbey of Cluny, and remained the property of the Diocese and Bishops of Langres until appropriated by Revolutionary forces at the end of the 18th century.
While the Cotes de Nuits-Villages wines from these villages (as well as those from Fixin and Brochon with the same appellation) may be headed up in price with all the rest of Burgundy’s wines, they still represent an excellent value for the world’s most distinctive Pinot Noir.
While this village’s wine production is dominated by its Grands Crus Corton and Corton Charlemagne, there are still nearly 90 hectares of villages appellation vines in Aloxe and 37 hectares of 1ers Crus spread between Aloxe and Ladoix. Hail damage was minimal here, especially as many of the vines are in the lower slope areas of the Corton hill.
If the sun returns to Burgundy, Aloxe-Corton will be a good source of quality wines in 2014. There are top producers such as Domaine Antonin Guyon, Domaine Tollot-Beaut, and Domaine Chandon de Briailles bringing very fine wines to market at reasonable prices compared to other villages across the Cote d’Or. While some wines from the village have a reputation for lightness, these producers’ wines show medium depth of soft cherry fruit, bright acidity, tightly wound minerality, and smoky, bacon-fat aromas that I thoroughly enjoy.
For years this village has literally lived in the shadows of the hill of Corton’s illustrious Grands Crus, yet judging by the presence of white and red offerings in the wine bars of Beaune and the surrounding region, Pernand-Vergelesses is in for a time of renewed appreciation. With one 1er Cru, Sous Fretille, virtually identical in geography and geology to Corton Charlemagne, and other vineyards being the first and the last to grab sun from the sky just adjacent to Savigny, I believe that Pernand-Vergelesses will soon be a brighter star in the Burgundy firmament.
As a salesperson I used to refer to Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc as “baby Corton-Chuck”. The reds can also be delightful bargains, though it seems most of the Pernand offered today is white. Look for the 1ers Crus of Ile de Vergelesses or Vergelesses, as well as the Sous Fretille.
It was only last year that Savigny was devasted by hail in July 2013, and the results are empty cellars for some producers from this lovely village. One producer of Savigny-les-Beaune that I have known for over 25 years told me that they made no 1ers Crus in 2013. If she is lucky, there will be a fine crop in 2014 to harvest.
Savigny sits in the mouth of a broad valley cut by the River Rhoin. After the village, the valley opens to the east with some superb vineyards on both the northern and southern sides of the Rhoin. The broad, open valley is perfectly exposed, and its 1ers Crus are the first and the last to receive the day’s sunshine. The soils vary from quite stony to a mixture of clay and soil, argilo-calcaire, the essential terroir of great Burgundy wines. Aux Guettes, Clous, Serpentieres, Gravains, Les Lavieres, Fournaux, Champs Chevrey, Narbantons and others all present excellent rapport prix-qualite.
Hail damage and millerandage were fairly slight in 2014 in Savigny-les-Beaune. Yet still, the average for winemakers there is to have made approximately two normal vintages in quantity over the last four years. Understandably prices will rise, as the lack of wine throughout Burgundy is exerting enormous pressures on price. But those growers who exercise restraint will find themselves with increasing market share. The wines of Savigny-les-Beaune still represent value for this buyer’s money.
This village on the outskirts of Beaune has always been an excellent source for Cote de Beaune-Villages and the village appellation of Chorey-les-Beaune. Most growers there are producing quality wines at very moderate prices, often not much more than Bourgogne Rouge. Most of its 154 hectares sit on the eastern side of the former Route Nationale 74, which has been the traditional separation of wheat from chaff in Burgundy. However, these wines are generally charming: full of Burgundy Pinot Noir flavors and delightfully easy to drink. My current house quaffing wine is Chorey-les-Beaune from the friendly cousins at Domaine Tollot Beaut. Delicious!
This post and previous missives have covered the prospects for the 2014 harvest in the Cote d’Or in some detail, village by village, lieu-dit to Grands Crus from Santenay to the suburbs of Dijon. If the sun continues to shine, the Cote d’Or should enjoy a fine harvest in 2014. Some villages, notably northern Meursault, Volnay, Pommard, and Beaune, have been devastated by the hailstorms of June 28th, and will suffer greatly from a lack of wine at a period of worldwide increases in demand for wines of authenticity and terroir. And there is no vineyard area on earth that more fully embodies the concept of terroir than the Cote d’Or.
I still believe that Matt Kramer said it best: ” Memorable wine is as much a map as a taste. It is why wine lovers in general, and Burgundy lovers more than anyone else, spend so much pleasurable effort exploring the distinctions between one vineyard and another. This is why a thirty-one mile strip of land, the Cote d’Or, has captivated wine drinkers for a millenium. Through its wines, one has the sensation of having found a terrestial crossroads, a place where man and plant and planet meet“. (Emphasis mine, Matt Kramer, Making Sense of Burgundy, 1990).
What the weather brings in the next couple of weeks will only add to the complexity of understanding this incredible place. I am happy if you enjoy my humble contributions, while I live my dreams in France.