HERE COMES THE SUN !
This writer left his home in Puligny-Montrachet early this morning, not only because of an important rendez-vous to taste with a new friend in Gevrey-Chambertin, but also to drive the RN74 and Route des Grands Crus to see what was happening. My neighbor Francois Carillon began picking on Wednesday, and I wanted to see who was following suit and where. There were several crews of pickers out and about by 8:00am south of Beaune, but as I traveled northwards, there were fewer and fewer vendangeurs.
It was a glorious day – cool wind from the north, and brilliant sunshine only intermittently interrupted by puffy white clouds. Returning to Puligny this evening it is clouding up a bit, but the forecast is for continued cool, north winds and plenty of sunshine, as a high pressure system dominates our weather until at least next Wednesday. Temperatures are lovely, 20-24°C (68-75°F).
After two weeks of fairly decent weather and consistent sunshine, and only a single day of clouds and rainfall on Tuesday, September 9th, many growers have decided that ripeness has arrived or is quickly approaching. Picking began in the Cote d’Or earlier this week for the Cremant de Bourgogne, which requires higher acidity and less sugar. Yet as many watched the skies and their refractometers, an open optimism has taken hold that this vintage can be won after all.
Pickers were out in force today in Santenay, Chassagne, Puligny, Meursault, and north through Volnay and Pommard into Beaune. Most growers with whom I spoke were after their Bourgognes Blancs et Rouges, villages, and other petites appellations. There were picking crews on both sides of the RN74, mostly on the lower slopes. However, moving further north beyond the A6 highway, the number of teams out for harvest were much fewer. Many growers in the Cote de Nuits plan to begin sometime next week, around 15th to 18th September. The grapes north of Beaune look beautiful, with deep color and very little rot, only hail damage where I have previously reported. But the fruit, while sweet, still has a ways to go before full maturity, as many still had greenish pips or seeds giving a tight hard edge to the juice. A few more days of sun should help.
COTE DE BEAUNE OFF TO A FINE START
The increase in harvest activity south of Beaune was confirmed as I returned from Gevrey back to ma petite maison around 3pm. As I approached Puligny, I could see harvest crews in the 1ers Crus of southern Meursault, Puligny, and Chassagne, as well as some of the Montrachet Grands Crus. I decided to investigate further, and found a number of prominent growers had decided to hit the vines.
I drove up-slope from Puligny and stopped just beyond the village to find the team from Domaine Sauzet picking Les Meix, a wonderful village appellation site just below Les Pucelles.
I continued up the hill to the Grands Crus to see who was picking in Chevalier Montrachet. There was a team of about a dozen from Domaine Jean Chartron, and about 15 meters south was my friend Michel Colin presiding over a team picking for his son Philippe and himself.
After spending a few minutes with Michel (he told me his Chevalier was being harvested at 13+° potential alcohol), I headed off to Chassagne to see what I could find. I stopped in at Domaine Ramonet to find Jean-Claude Ramonet directing some recent pressing of grapes from their villages parcels. They will continue harvesting through the weekend, and he reported that they are in no hurry because the weather is so fine.
I decided to head downhill and passed two teams, Lamy-Pillot’s collecting fruit in 1ers Cru Champs Gains and Richard Fontaine’s team harvesting Chassagne villages Pinot Noir below Maltroie.
As it was getting to be around 5pm I thought I would check in with a couple of good friends in Chassagne at their new, modern cuveries at the bottom of the village, near the intersection of the old RN6 and 74 (both have now been “declassified” as Routes Deparmentales).
APERITIF MAISON: RED & WHITE
My first stop was at Domaine Fernand & Laurent Pillot, where I was surprised to see Laurent and his children with a few friends at the sorting table and destemming red grapes that were going into a small vat via a conveyor belt. Laurent had told me previously that he would begin the harvest on Saturday (tomorrow), and I asked why he had started a day early. He replied that he and his kids were so excited by the great weather that they decided with some friends to begin picking their Gamay grapes, which he grows near the bottom of the Chassagne slope (next to the old lavoir washing house). It was 12.5° potential alcohol and tasted fabulous. I have known and worked with Laurent since 1997, and was completely unaware that he made what used to be Appellation Controlee Bourgogne-Passetoutgrains (now the new AOP Coteaux Bourguignons). When I asked him why I had never been offered any, he replied coyly, “C’est la reserve personnelle, vin maison de mon pere”. It is the personal stash house wine of his father, Fernand Pillot!
After Domaine F & L Pillot I crossed the street to visit the new winery of Domaine Michel Niellon. I had run into Michel Niellon on the street the previous day, and I knew that he and his son-in-law Michel Coutoux planned to begin with their villages Chassagne today. But when I arrived I was in for a treat: they had just finished pressing a parcel of Chardonnay from Voillenots, and a tractor load of one of my favorite villages lieux dits, Blanchots Dessous, had just arrived. I was able to watch the entire pressing process in their new Vaslin Bucher presses, and was delighted to taste the free run juice directly from the press. At 12.5° potential alcohol, it was deliciously sweet grape juice, but with a thrilling backbone of racy acidity giving it length, and making me want to drink more!
I must admit to being completely thrilled by this experience! In thirty years in the wine business, having visited Burgundy well over 50 times, I have never been here during a harvest. This first true day of harvest, visiting some of my dearest Burgundian friends and former colleagues, will stick with me forever, longer even than the still lingering memory of fresh Blanchot Dessous juice! Many, many thanks to Michel Coutoux’s nephew (whose name I have lost in my mind trap sieve) for encouraging this new experience, as well as for sneaking me the newly assembled, about-to-be-bottled 2013s from vat: Niellon Chassagne 1ers Crus La Maltroie and Les Chaumees. I hope I can get a small allocation for my cellar here in Puligny!
Such joy cannot go without a little downer. I was saddened to hear of the death of Michel Coutoux’s wonderful Gordon Setter Reglisse, his constant companion, a fabulous hunter, and a truly loving animal. She was always in the cellar at Michel’s home, and a wonderful playmate to my English Springer Sally when we visited in 2001, so many years ago. Michel is lucky however, his new and beautiful dog Cartouche is following in Reglisse’s path. And she loves Chassagne grapes!
La vendange a commencé ! More reports to follow soon, with early warning through Twitter @amitiesjerome . Follow me there as well!