All posts by jhasenpflug

I have been in the imported wine business for the last 30 years, focused on estate-bottled European wines. In June 2014 I moved to France to pursue my dream of working with and writing about fine wine. I returned to my hometown of Houston, Texas in early 2015 to help with my father's illness. Since his passing I have stayed in Texas, and joined a new friend, Bertrand Leulliette, in importing some of France's finest estates. This blog reports my thoughts, opinions, passions, and reflections as I continue to stay involved in the world of fine wine.

Gris, Grey, Gray: A Bright Spot in Chablis

November in Burgundy is grey.  The dense clouds are low, the temperature hovers slightly above freezing, and the humidity induces a kind of closed-in shiver that is not quite bone-rattling but creates a sensation of being fogged in and hunkered down.  The weather and atmosphere permeates. October often presents an Indian Summer of warmth and sun, with the excitement of harvest and bubbly fermentations, but come Toussaints, the skies and fog descend and enclose, the temperature plummets, mists rise off the soil, and doors are shut as a more interior life begins.  Soon the winter pruning will start, and the cold morning mist will mingle with the smoke of the burning sarments vine cuttings, producing a wonderfully memorable haze and distinctive smell that permeates the region with a quiet melancholy.

This is one of my favorite times to visit in Burgundy.  Growers have time to chat between their fall tastings and salons, the new wine is developing in barrel or tank, the previous vintage is bottled or near complete in its elevage, and people begin the serious business of evaluating the quality of the new vintage that has recently arrived in their cellars.  As a buyer or journalist one has the unique opportunity to taste and evaluate the previous year’s offerings that by now are (mostly) finished wines, as well as to weigh the new vintage to get first impressions of taste, depth, structure, and promise.

We arrived at the home of Louis and Anne Moreau in the early afternoon after landing at Charles de Gaulle, and while Anne was traveling, Louis welcomed us into the family compound in centre ville Chablis.  We were soon on our way to Beine, home to the cellars of Louis Moreau’s two estates, Domaine de Bieville and Domaine Louis Moreau.  Six generations of Moreaus have farmed the hills around Chablis since the Restoration in 1814, first settling as coopers, then beginning their acquisitions of vineyards with the purchase of the Clos des Hospices in the then soon-to-be classified Grand Cru Les Clos. Through the latter part of the 20th Century Jean-Jacques Moreau and his brother Guy expanded their holdings, and created the negociant business of J. Moreau. The family reorganized its estate and ownership in 1994, selling the negociant business to Boisset, and at the same time forming the Domaine Christian Moreau for Guy’s son, and then buying further vineyards and creating the estates of Domaine de Bieville and Domaine Louis Moreau for Jean-Jacques’ son (and Christian’s younger cousin) Louis.

Louis Moreau had just returned from 8 years in California, studying oenology and viticulture at Fresno State University, followed by work with Clos du Bois and the new vineyards and winery of Roederer Estate in Mendocino.  He took over the family vineyards, and today works 120 hectares producing the appellations Bourgogne Blanc, Petit Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru.  He and his cousin Christian share the monopole of the Clos des Hospices, just under one half a hectare (40.9 ares) of old vines Chardonnay that routinely ranks among the finest of Chablis bottlings.

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Louis Moreau, Bertrand Leulliette, and the author, Jerome Hasenpflug in the Louis Moreau Tasting Room in the village of Beine, Chablis

Louis’ holdings are dominated by Petit Chablis and Chablis, complemented by over 20 hectares of Premiers Crus Vaulignot, Fourneaux, and Vaillons, and slightly more than 5 hectares of the Grands Crus Les Clos, Valmur, Vaudesir, and Blanchot.   The vineyards are farmed organically, having begun sustainable agriculture (lutte raisonée) in the late 1990s. The Louis Moreau vignobles are centered around the village of Beine near the new winery cellars, entrepot, and boutique, with significant portions across the river in Fleys near the Grands Crus, and in the 1ers Crus hillsides surrounding Chablis itself.

As most of the vineyards now approach 50 years of age, vinification is increasingly in small parcels, allowing for each village terroir to show its own character, while giving flexibility for the final assemblage of the Petit Chablis and Chablis.  All the wines are vinified in stainless steel, except for the Grands Crus, most of which are fermented and aged in older oak barrels of 228 and 500 liters.  What is exceptional, and to my experience quite unique, is the aging regimen after the fermentations are complete.  The Petit Chablis and Chablis are assembled and aged sur lie for a full year, while the Premiers Crus are aged on their fine lees for 18 months, and the Grands Crus rest in their old barrels for two years on the lees. This extended lees contact gives an added richness to the wines, while protecting them from oxidation and making them quite drinkable upon their late release.  In spite of this extended lees aging, the wines see a minimal dose of sulfur, preserving a freshness and taut nervosité that adds to the fruit-mineral balance characteristic of classic Chablis.

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Small parcel fermentation tanks at Domaine Louis Moreau
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Some of the 500 liter oak barrels for the Grands Crus

I tasted the following wines on the afternoon of Wednesday, 16 November and morning of Thursday, 17 November:

2016 Petit Chablis (predominantly Beine vineyards). Just finished alcoholic fermentation, malolactic not yet begun. Leesy cloudy.  Lemon-lime citrus with background of nectarine.  Rich entry with quite a bit of depth and fat.  Crisp, stony finish adds cut and length to the showy fruit.

2016 Chablis (55 year old vines from Fleys and 20+ year old vines from Beine). Alcoholic fermentation nearly complete.  More linear, focused mineral nose with tension. Lively rich entry, almost peachy fruit.  Complex finish with fruit-skin tones to add to the wet stones minerality.  Long, complex, and spicy.

2016 1er Cru Vaulignot (40 year old vines). Still a bit of sugar to ferment, leesy notes. Sweet ripe apple and pear fruits, with a background of chalk and stone.  Finishes long with increasing precision, a laser-like focus of minerality to complement the fruit depth.

2016 1er Cru Vaillons (mostly 70 year old vines planted just after WW2).  Alcoholic fermentation about 2/3 finished.  Almost like freshly-pressed grape juice with hints of grapeskin and seed tannins.  Predominantly ripe pear and apple flavors showing superb ripeness, but impeccably balanced by argilo-calcaire minerality.  Suave and elegant.

2016 Grand Cru Vaudesir (barrel fermented, from 4 year old 228 liter barrel).  Nose a bit subdued, slightly reticent.  Showing more powerful mineral structure than fruit. Dense and “unrepentant”, not much expression but an impression of weight and depth carried across its stony structure.

2016 Grand Cru Les Clos (middle slope, a parcel named “Felix”).  Stony nose with a hint of saltiness.  Rich and dense entry of apple and pear, soft and silky in the mid-palate. Finishes finely tuned, with a reassertive minerality to lend precision and structure to its balance.

The wines below were recently bottled:

2015 Domaine de Bieville Chablis.  Light green-straw. Lovely ripe pear with a background of wet stones.  Full ripe pear entry gives way to crisp freshness and mineral structure.  Quaffably delicious.

2015 Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis (predominantly Fleys with about 25% Beine vineyards). Straw gold. More mineral green apple notes, with a hint of the saline. Full rich entry with much more complexity, apply with a lemon-lime acidity in the background. Good long finish, with salty minerality providing structure and depth.

2014 Domaine Louis Moreau 1er Cru Vaulignot.  Light gold.  Nose of wet stone minerality and green apple. Finely tuned crystaline intensity to its nectarine fruits and passion fruit acidity. Crisp and lean, nervous tension to finish.

2014 Domaine Louis Moreau 1er Cru Vaillons. Straw gold with green facets. Ripe, full, and richer in the mouth, and a background of chalky wet stones.  Persistent bright fruits of apple and nectarine with ample acidity gives an intense finely tuned expression of focused minerality and structure. Great length.

2013 Domaine Louis Moreau Grand Cru Valmur.  Straw-gold.  Ripe nose of wildflower honey and a background of wet rocks. Wild and rather herbal, full, rich, and yet focused and precise.  Long, intense, clean finish.  Delicious.

2013 Domaine Louis Moreau Grand Cru Les Clos.  Medium straw-gold.  Chalky nectarine with notes of grape skin.  Dense, rich and full entry, quite complex with elements of honey, peach, and nectarine mid-palate but sustained to a long, linear, persistent finish by mineral structure and depth.  Precise. Focused. Excellent.

At dinner:

2008 Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Clos des Hospices.  Brilliant straw-gold. Wet stones mingling with forest floor, nectarine acidity. Lush, full entry with bright citrus-zest freshness and slightly saline background. An incredibly long finish turns towards truffled honey and candied orange peel. Still very young and developing complexity. Excellent from magnum tonight but has years to go.

Domaine Louis Moreau is a producer who continues to refine his trade. Organic vineyard practices, small parcel fermentations, extended lees aging, and patience before bottling makes this a domaine to follow closely.  Unfortunately, nearly half the crop of the Petit Chablis and Chablis were lost to frost and hail in the 2016 vintage.  But while the pressure for higher prices is strong, Louis Moreau’s depth of vineyard holdings and long aging process gives balance to a difficult result in the 2016 vintage.

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With Louis and Bertrand, this wine was a wonderful dinner companion, and great conversationalist, evolving and changing nuance and expression over our two hours at table.

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Back in the Saddle Again !

It has been nearly two years since my last blog post on this site, an appreciation of my father after his death in February 2015 (Hommage à Mon Père – March 2015).  Since I returned to my hometown of Houston, Texas just before his death, I have been enjoying the presence of my family and the many wondrous developments that have taken place in Houston since I last lived here in 1973.  More than 40 years later, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the world; whether you judge it by the origins of the inhabitants, their cuisines, music, architecture, art, culture, or consumer tastes.  Perhaps the only unhappy relic that remains from my growing up here is the weather.  It is still far too hot for this native Texan of German-Irish-Bohemian extraction.

After living in France for nearly a year, I returned to Houston and have remained here to be near my family.  None of us is getting any younger, but our good health and vibrant spirits have been complemented by some new additions, notably my grand-niece Ella Jane, who will soon be joined by her brother, Jonathan James.  So my family forms the solid foundation of my current existence: with our matriarch, my mother Jane, still here in Houston providing me with a solid base both mental and material, my brother Jim and sister-in-law Molly near Dallas with their daughter Amanda and her husband Brian, and Jim and Molly’s son Chris and his wife Tara in Tulsa, Oklahoma (with the aforementioned grand-niece and nephew), and my sister-in-law Debra and her husband Craig in Wharton, Texas, where I have discovered once again the pleasures of Thursday and Friday night lights, high school football enjoyed with my nephews Michael, Matthew, and Mitchell, and their step-siblings Carson and Katie.

While not quite officially retired, I still like to remain involved with fine wines.  I often attend tastings with the superb young wine people at the Houston Sommelier Association, where a serious and attentive attitude and respect prevails, and some of the world’s top winemakers come to present their work.  Many of the HSA are studying for their Master Sommelier credentials, and David Keck, Texas’ most recent Master Sommelier and HSA’s driving force, will soon be moving into another project, where I hope I can continue to rely on his expertise and friendship, for my own edification and pleasure. There is a serious and diverse wine scene here, supported by the population in the area that now numbers over 4 million souls, most of them thirsty, eager for exciting new wines, and the knowledge to put them in historical perspective.  Other tastings where I can encounter wine legends Guy Stout, MS (Education Director for Glazer’s  distributorships) and Bear Dalton (wine buyer for Spec’s Retail outlets) help refresh and sharpen my palate. Sometimes it’s fun to relive the good old days……

On my last trip to Burgundy, in June 2015, I also met an interesting Houstonian of French descent who was just beginning his ambitious enterprise – opening a new French wine importing company in Houston, Texas.  Bertrand Leulliette is 25 years my junior, with significant experience working in the US for some of France’s best wine exporters, as well as a former basketball player in France’s professional league.   Since we first met, he has pleaded, cajoled, teased, and very simply included me in his process, so that today I am proud to say that we work together.  I often wish that I had had his fearless entrepreneurial spirit 25 years ago – there might now be a Jerome’s Wines instead of a defunct Newcastle Imports or a declining Esprit du Vin, not to mention a shuttered Jerome’s The Pitt BBQ Restaurant.

Bertrand’s Wines is a new and exciting enterprise, specializing in French wine estates of excellence and integrity.  Our suppliers are mostly family enterprises, clustered around a marvelous collection of Burgundy domaines, with a few selected producers from Bordeaux, Alsace, Provence, the Rhone and Loire valleys, even Cahors.  I like to think that I complement Bertrand Leulliette’s energy, enthusiasm, taste, and connections to a younger generation of French vignerons, with my own experience in the wine trade, from sourcing suppliers to selling  retailers and restaurants through some of America’s most well-respected distributor networks.

Our journey begins in earnest next Tuesday, November 15th, when we depart Houston for France.  We plan to visit our suppliers in Chablis, the Cote d’Or, Chalonnaise, Macon, Beaujolais, and Provence, sandwiching our trip around the famous Trois Glorieuses weekend of the Hospices de Beaune Auction on Sunday, 19 November.  I hope to be blogging often during our trip, with thoughts, tasting notes, and the usual personal opinions.  If any of you dear readers have any specific requests, please send them along in your comments, or email me directly at jerome.hasenpflug@gmail.com .

It feels good to be back.

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A Sad Awakening at Home – Hommage à Mon Père – Harry Hasenpflug, Jr.

Tuesday, February 17th, just after 6am, my father died, six weeks before his 83rd birthday.  His death came suddenly, as we were anxiously awaiting a complex surgery that might have alleviated some of the symptoms of his severe cervical and lumbar stenosis, which had rendered him nearly immobile over his last few months.  He died peacefully, without pain, with his wife and my mother, Jane, my brother, Jim, and his wife, Molly, and myself by his side. Since March 2014, vertebral pressures on his spinal cord had caused him to lose much of the use of his left arm, and diminished his ability to walk.  By the time of my visit home to Houston, Texas in December 2014, he could neither walk nor stand without assistance. His neurosurgeon had scheduled a cervical laminectomy for February 24th.  Dad was optimistic about the skills of his surgeon, and hopeful that the results would allow him some relief from a life of immobility.  He was fully cognizant of the risks of such surgery given his age and condition, and he saw it as the alternative to a certain life of advancing invalidism.  Unfortunately, an infection, which eventually spread to his bloodstream, ended our hopes.

My father was trained as a geophysical engineer, with a scientist’s attention to detail and a stubborn precision in his everyday life.  Today my friends often point out my affinity with his punctilious habits, and I am quietly proud to accept their comparisons.  But in my younger days it was an outlook and discipline against which I rebelled mightily, and it became the source of frequent family conflicts. In high school I had been lucky enough to be accepted to the University of Cambridge, England for my undergraduate studies.  I cherished the idea of being 5,000 miles away from his overbearing influence, in a culture far different from my Gulf Coast upbringing.  In my first week at Churchill College, Cambridge, I attended our Fresher’s Dinner for new undergraduates, and was seated next to a gentleman whose place-card read “Professor Emeritus Sir Edward Bullard”.  A former physics student of Ernest Rutherford in Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, Bullard went on to found the discipline of marine geophysics, mapping the existing land masses of the earth into the hypothetical, original Pangaea land mass before continental drift and plate tectonics had become commonly accepted science.

It was my first experience of a full Cambridge dining celebration, complete with Vintage Port and Madeira making their opposing circumnavigations of our table.  At dinner that evening, Professor Sir Edward Bullard examined my place setting, and asked, “Are you any relationship to Harry Hasenpflug, Jr.?”.  Somewhat taken aback, I responded that if he was referring to the Shell Oil Company geophysicist from Houston, Texas of the same name, well then yes, I was his son.  I asked the Professor how he knew my father, and he replied “Oh, I have never met him, but I use his books in my graduate student seminars.”  I had left Texas to remove myself as far as possible from my father’s discipline and compulsive influences, yet he had arrived at Cambridge before me.  I had never known that he had written books, much less that they were groundbreaking, seminal manuals in the application of computer science to oil exploration geophysics, proprietary research of Shell Oil Company.  Humbled by this new revelation of my father’s talents, I phoned home to Texas from Cambridge (in 1973 at the rate of nearly £10 per minute), only to discover that my father was more concerned that the Professor might have purloined his writings from Shell rather than with the burgeoning pride I had felt in his preceding me intellectually into Cambridge’s historic halls.  It would not be the first time that my father’s experiences had preceded my own.

After Cambridge I continued my studies in Social Anthropology at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.  My fieldwork for my doctoral studies was in northwest New Mexico in the Burnham Chapter of the Navajo Nation.  I spent most of 1979-80 within a community of traditional Navajos, living in a stone hogan with a dirt floor and no running water.  My research concentrated on the community’s pastoral land use and matrilineal social structure, working with a legal team from the National Indian Youth Council who were preparing a lawsuit to stop what would have been the world’s largest coal strip mine, just south of the existing mine in Fruitland, New Mexico.  When I came home briefly in the summer of 1979 to attend my brother Jim’s wedding, I learned that my father had preceded me to New Mexico as well.  His own graduate studies and summer employment 25 years earlier had brought him to the same region near the Chaco River Basin, where he was searching for oil and natural gas on federal lands adjacent to the Navajo reservation.  Such a coincidence of geography and the nearly opposite goals of our researches would mark the juxtaposition of our political views for the rest of his life.

The author in his Hogan in Burnham Chapter, Navajo Nation in Northwest New Mexico (1979)
The author as rebellious graduate student in his hogan in Burnham Chapter, Navajo Nation, in Northwest New Mexico (1979)

Dad went on to a storied career with Shell Oil Company, and we often joked about what he might have been worth financially if he had been paid a commission for Shell’s discoveries in the Gulf Coast region under his tenure there.  He was “retired” by Shell in 1989 at age 57, and he and my mom Jane began to travel the world with the same dedicated curiosity that he had brought to his scientific career.  I joined them on a couple of their trips, and always saw the places that we visited in a different light because of it.  Every trip produced a narrative album with his photographs and observations, and I vicariously enjoyed their travels through all 33 volumes he had produced since 1990.  Only the record of the last trip, our family vacation to Ireland in July 2014, remains incomplete.

In 1981 my own academic endeavors were interrupted, as between teaching assistant jobs while trying to compose my doctoral thesis, I had found a new and fascinating addiction, food and wine.  At Cambridge University I had paid attention when wines were served at our college’s formal dinners, and when I began to supplement my graduate student income as a waiter in one of Cambridge, Massachusetts’ finer restaurants, that appreciation of wine opened a new career path beyond academia.  After four years of managing restaurants and writing wine lists in some of Boston’s best addresses, I began my career in wine in earnest in 1985.  My father’s skills and interest in geology and geophysics would soon inform and confirm my growing conviction that distinctive wines come from unique places.  With his help I became a terroiriste.

Our first trip together into the vineyards of France was in September, 1992.  He, my mother, and I enjoyed a leisurely tour of eastern France from Alsace through Chablis, Burgundy, and on to Lyon, the Rhone Valley, and western Provence.  I had been invited by the Trimbach family to be initiated into Alsace’s wine organization, the Confrerie St. Etienne.  Yet our explorations were not merely touristic, as the geologist in my father compelled us to explore the Ribeauvillé Fault Zone, one of the world’s most complex geophysical regions.  From the Rhine Basin to the Vosges Ballons, from Strasbourg to Mulhouse, and particularly from Bergheim to Riquewihr, we discovered the village vineyards, the Alsace Grands Crus and the distinctive geology of each within the region.  We even drank Clos Ste. Hune in the fabled vineyard site with Hubert and Pierre Trimbach, while discussing the nature of its unique muschelkalk limestone marl.

My father Harry, my mother Jane, and myself at the Confrerie St. Etienne Chapitre de la Chasse, 19 September, 1992, Chateau de Kientzheim, Alsace, France
My father Harry, my mother Jane, and myself at the Confrerie St. Etienne Chapitre de la Chasse, 19 September, 1992, Chateau de Kientzheim, Alsace

After Alsace we continued to Chablis, and, assisted by William Fevre, we explored the difference in the Kimmeridgean marls of the 1ers and Grands Crus, and the Portlandian limestone soils of Petit Chablis.  On the escarpments of the Cote d’Or, I listened intently to explanations of limestone degradation and carbonization, the formation of primary marls, the effects of the sloping escarpments on soil distribution and sun exposure, and the geologic periods responsible for the differences in the layered sedimentary deposits that became more visible each time I examined them.  By the time we were heading toward the pink granite hills of the Beaujolais Crus, I could tell the difference between the rocky outcroppings of Bajocian versus Bathonian limestone, and recognize the subtle variations of the colors, density, and fossil composition between Meursault, Puligny, and Chassagne.  I developed an awareness of the differences between the villages of the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, how they were shaped by combe and valley, small streams and underground springs, and ancient geological faults that provided the basis for the climats or vineyard sites of each.

The Rhone brought further discoveries.  A stop in Ampuis exposed the difference between the mica schist of the Côte Brune and the gneiss of the Côte Blonde in Côte Rôtie.  The stunning bump of granite and clay that composes Hermitage, and Cornas’ granitic schists intermingled with dense limestone, layered like the folds of an accordion, became convincingly alive and apparent to me.  The lacework limestone outcroppings of the Dentelles de Montmirail and the rounded quartz stones that millennia of glaciers had strewn through the Rhone Basin around Avignon gave me new meaning for the flavors of Gigondas, Chateauneuf, Rasteau, Lirac, and Vacqueyras.

I learned more about the terroirs of France’s eastern wine-producing regions on that trip than at any time since.  It became the foundation through which I came to understand and appreciate fine wines.  Alas, it was only geology and geophysics to my father.  Several surgeries on his sinuses in previous years had left him without his sense of smell.  Unable to smell and barely able to taste the differences in the wines we drank each day, it was up to my mother and me to discuss and discover the nuances of aromas, floral, mineral, animal, that came from the specificity of soil composition and vineyard location.  Ironically, six years later, in 1998, a former colleague of my father at Shell Oil Company’s Exploration and Production Department, geologist James E. Wilson, would write Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines.  They had worked together to find oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico’s offshore limestone continental plates, but never shared a bottle or two of Chevalier or Batard to talk about rocks.

That 1992 trip also opened my eyes to another facet of French wine: its history.  I had known “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres” since high school Latin class, but visiting the sites of Alesia, Lugdunum (Lyon), Arles, and Nimes gave new dimensions and depth to French wine.  The legacy of the Roman Catholic Church in France and the interaction of the monastic orders with the Duchy of Burgundy were lessons I eagerly absorbed.  Having been raised by devout Catholics and educated by Dominican nuns and Jesuit priests, our trip included visits to the medieval Abbeys of Pontigny, Fontenay, Vezelay, Citeaux, Tournus, Paray-le-Monial, and Cluny, as well as the Papal See of Avignon.  The influence of the monastic orders in viticulture and winemaking techniques was a discovery that gave a new dimension to my relationship with my parents.

The Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny, near Chablis, originally founded as the summer residence of the monks of the Archbishopric of Cantebury, England
The Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny, near Chablis, originally founded as the summer residence of the monks of the Archbishopric of Cantebury, England

We had a similar trip in 1994 to Germany and the Czech Republic, combining a discovery of the Rheingau, Pfalz, and Mosel with genealogical searches for my father’s family ancestors near Kassel, Germany and the village of Dolni Lukoviçe outside Pilsen in the Czech Republic.  In 2001 a family reunion trip brought us to the Loire Valley, where we explored the silex flint deposits of the upper Loire and the tufo chalky caves and dwellings of Saumur and the Touraine, all the while enjoying the local wines and cuisines.

These were among the most important journeys that informed my career in wine, if not my approach to life itself.  I now treasure a perspective that views the concept of terroir not merely as place, but the history of human activity and achievement within that place.  I embrace “Culture” written large, defining the unique and distinctive tastes of food, wine, cheese, architecture, and even social and religious beliefs, things that give definition to a singular yet shared heritage.  What I have received from my father was a gift of understanding, a way to appreciate and interpret “patrimony”.

This post will end my blog “Jerome in France – Living the Dream”.  I will begin a new blog soon, within this site at http://amitiesjerome.com.  In it I hope to share my passion and understanding, my inheritance, appreciating life’s many gifts.

My father enjoying "Irish Wine" at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Ireland, July 2014.  Cheers Dad !
Dad enjoying “Irish Wine” at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Ireland, July 2014. Cheers Dad !

Hospices de Beaune – 154th Auction of Wines – Tasting

Sunday, November 16th, 2014 will mark the 154th auction of the wines from the Hospices de Beaune, one of the longest extant and certainly the most prestigious of wine charity events in the world.  The Hospices, or Hospital, in Beaune has been the beneficiary of the sale of wines from donated parcels of vineyards since its original endowment in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor of the Duchy of Burgundy, and his wife Guigone de Salins.  Today, the auction sales serve to benefit not only the upkeep of the original L’Hotel Dieu (which continued in use as a hospital until the early1960s, now a museum), but also to benefit and finance the new, modern hospital in the town of Beaune,  This post will not attempt to recall the history of the Hospices or the origins of the many cuvees offered at auction on Sunday.  For a wealth of information on the Hospices, its functioning, the history, the various blends or cuvees, its viticulture and winemaking, and the details of the sales, visit the website http://www.hospices-de-beaune.com/index.php/hospicesdebeaune.

This post will offer the author’s opinions of the wines, tasted on Friday morning, November 14th, at the official professional tasting offered at the new cuverie of the Hospices de Beaune Domaine Viticole.  Incidentally, the 2014 wines will be the last vintage of the current regisseur, Roland Masse, and in 2015 the first woman winemaker, Ludovine Griveau, will take over.

THE 2014 VINTAGE – 534 PIECES OFFERED

Despite the hailstorm in June which devastated many of the Hospices’ vineyards in Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, and Meursault, the 2014 Auction will present 534 barrels for sale in the 2014 vintage.  Other vineyards elsewhere returned healthy, even copious crops.  So 2014 is a return to more normal , average yields in Burgundy, and represents an increase in the size of the auction lots over the 2012 and 2013 vintages.  Still, 534 barrels from 60 hectares of vineyards, at 228 liters per barrel only represents a yield of about 20 hectoliters per hectare, a miserly result from nature’s vagaries in 2014.

I have covered the 2014 harvest and beginning of vinifications in other posts, but the tasting of the Hospice de Beaune cuvees on Friday was my first extensive tasting of wines from the 2014 vintage.  Keep in mind that most of the cuvees tasted were still in the process of secondary, malolactic fermentations, a difficult period to judge the wines’ potential.  But nonetheless, these professional tastings allow potential buyers at the auction, as well as domaine owners. negociants,  restaurateurs, and amateurs du vin, the possibility to evaluate the wines.  Historically, these official tastings mark the first evaluations of a new vintage, even with the wines in a very raw state.  I have been tasting new wines in Burgundy for over 25 years, often at various stages of the wines’ evolution, and while evaluating wines in such a state of unfinished youth can be difficult, it is not impossible to get an appreciation of a wine’s flavors, concentration, depth, texture, and balance.  What follows are my opinions of the wines at this early stage of their development.

I arrived at the Hospices de Beaune cuverie at 8:45am, to find nearly 200 people already waiting for and beginning admission to the tasting.  The lines of tasters were excited by the vintage’s strong potential, and the orderly crowd awaited their turn to enter the caves, and once inside, wound their way snake-like through the rows of barrels.  The entire process of tasting the 32 cuvees of red wines, followed by the 14 offerings of whites, took about two hours.  The caves were a bit crowded, but the organizers’ policy of only allowing 600 people in the large cellars at any one time meant that the lines proceeded in a manner that allowed all the tasters time to taste all the wines, take notes if they wished, and chat amiably about their impressions.

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Hospices de Beaune tasters winding their way through the cellars. Unrushed, generous, and complete, the organizers did a superb job of showing the many different cuvees.

As usual in Burgundy, the reds were all tasted before the whites.  I have no idea how many people will be tasting over the four tasting periods (morning and afternoon sessions on both Friday and Saturday), but the amount of wine poured out as samples must be substantial.  Hopefully the generosity of the Hospices will be matched by the generosity of the bidders at the auction Sunday afternoon!

THE WINES – 2014 – A VERY FINE VINTAGE

As a very general observation, somewhat sweeping and contradicted in many individual instances, I found the red wines to be better than the whites.  Most of the reds offered a tremendous depth of fruit, lush, velvety textures, and a beautiful yet powerful balance between fruit, acidity, tannin, and oak.  I was astounded that of all the reds sampled, only a few were marked by toasty oak, and all the wines were in new oak barrels.  Most showed a depth of concentration that stood up to the new oak barrels, which I believe bodes well for the continued elevage of the wines after their sale at auction.  The whites, many still cloudy from the tumultuous primary fermentations and some slightly petillant from the onset of malolactic, struck me as somewhat flat on my palate, rich and fat in ripeness, but many lacking some grip, firm, fresh acidity, and real depth of concentration.  But these generalisations will be contradicted by some of the specific notes below.

RED WINES

Santenay Christine Friedberg – Bright focused red fruits tightly wound around a core of bright tart acidity.  Malo evident.  Lushly textured, even velvety.  Good length and depth.  Quite fine.

Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Rameau-Lamarosse – Spicy cinnamon notes with dark cherry cobbler elements.  Richer and longer than the Santenay, showing a kiss of toasty oak to finish.  Very good.

Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Fouquerand – Griotte cherry and cassis flavors, quite tart, linear and focused, with firm tannins.  A bit tight and drying in the finish.  Decent.

Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Arthur Girard – A little gas and petillance. Gamey and bloody notes, a strong mineral element with dark red fruits.  Rather deep and concentrated.  Very fine but a bit brooding.

Savigny-les-Beaune Les Vergelesses 1er Cru Forneret – Meaty aromas with new toasty oak very evident.  Bright tart red currant fruits. Lush with a lovely silky texture.  Oak resolving in the finish.  Very good plus.

Monthelie Les Duresses 1er Cru Lebelin – Bright, tight, focused red fruits, quite tart, with malolactic evident.  Finishes a bit green, lean, and slightly vegetal. Ok but not a favorite.

Auxey-Duresses Les Duresses 1er Cru Boillot – Tightly wound red tart fruits around a racy acidity and fine tannic structure.  Nice smooth texture, but restrained and somewhat short to finish.  Decent.

Beaune 1er Cru Cyrot-Chaudron – Pronounced toasty new oak.  Roasted cherry cobbler flavors.  Not quite enough depth and concentration to support the new oak. Good but oaky.

Beaune 1er Cru Maurice Drouhin – Deep intense red fruits of sour cherry and cassis.  Quite rich and deep, suave velvety texture.  Lovely integrated oak finish.  Balanced, nicely tuned.  Very good.

Beaune 1er Cru Hugues et Louis Betault – Petillant.  Bright tight acidity showing a bit lean in fruit.  Firmly tannic.  Not for hedonists.

Beaune 1er Cru Brunet – Tight, closed and tannic.  Lacks depth of fruit, even a bit hard.  Not for me.

Beaune Greves 1er Cru Pierre Floquet – Complex aromatics with clove and cinnamon spices.  Lushly textured, full red fruits of cassis and raspberry.  Hints of iodine minerality.  Long fresh finish.  Very good.

Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Avaux – Closed subdued nose.  Petillant entry, a bit of gas and showing new toasty oak.  Firmly tannic.  Fruits masked by new oak elements.  Closed and ungiving at the moment.

Beaune 1er Cru Rousseau-Deslandes – Toasty oak and grilled cherry fruits.  Lush rich texture but flavors and finish dominated by oaky toastiness.  Not for me.

Beaune 1er Cru Dames Hospitalieres – Complex aromatics of spice and soft red fraises des bois (wild strawberries).  Soft and accessible, a fine drink, if perhaps a bit simple and one-dimensional.  Good.

Beaune 1er Cru Guigone de Salins – Meaty, gamey, butcher shop nose.  Lush velvety texture, buoyed by a kiss of new oak.  Long pleasant finish but a bit marked by oak.  Good.

Beaune 1er Cru Nicolas Rolin – Subdued quiet nose.  Focused bright, tight and tart red fruits, with an emerging gaminess mid-palate.  Finishes firm but not hard. Should age nicely.  Very good.

Volnay 1er Cru General Muteau – Malo evident with pronounced petillance and gassy elements.  A bit light with soft red fruits.  Seems elegant and stylish, but maybe lacking a bit of depth?  Good.

Volnay 1er Cru Blondeau – Quite a bit of gas, even a bit reductive. Silky fine texture with sour cherry fruits.  Subtle and suave to end.  Quite fine.

Volnay Santenots 1er Cru Jehan de Massol – Strawberry and soft cherry fruits.  Lush palate, smooth texture, and excellent tannic balance.  Delightful to taste.  Very well done.

Volnay Santenots 1er Cru Gauvain – Spicy red fruits. A bit firmer but also more dense than the Santenots above.  Full and quite concentrated red fruits give way to a long complex finish.  Very good to excellent.

Pommard Suzanne Chaudron – Tight closed nose.  Firmly tannic, not at all open.  Finishes tannic, lean, even mean.  Not for me.

Pommard Raymond Cyrot – Meaty and dense.  Rich full red fruits of cherry and cassis with a background of toasty oak.  The finish is dominated by the new oak.  Decent but oaky.

Pommard Billardet – Red licorice and tart sour cherry fruits in the nose.  Petillant and gassy.  Hard to evaluate through the malolactic notes.  A bit tart, firm, and tannic to finish.  Should be ok.

Pommard 1er Cru Dames de la Charite – A bit of gas and reduction in the nose and entry.  Dark cherry, deep, dense, and a bit brooding.  Very masculine and concentrated.  Very good to excellent.

Pommard Epenots 1er Cru Dom Goblet – Ripe cherry, red berry fruits.  Suave and velvety texture.  Lovely balance of soft tart cherry fruits, lightly oaky, finishing elegant and stylish.  A feminine counterpart to the powerful Dames de la Charite cuvee.  Very good to excellent.

Corton Grand Cru Charlotte Dumay – Pure refined nose of dark red fruits of dark cherry and cassis.  Lovely sweet mid-palate with spices of cloves and cinnamon in the background.  Excellent balance and depth.  Should be superb.

Corton Grand Cru Docteur Peste – Spicy clove cinnamon nose but darker and a bit more brooding in fruit than the Charlotte Dumay.  Deeper, firmer tannins give a slightly drying tone to the finish.  But the sheer depth and power should overcome in the end.  Excellent.

Corton Grand Cru Clos du Roi Baronne du Bay – Lovely red fruits of currant and strawberry give way to a soft, elegant, and refined texture.  Quite drinkable today, nicely supported by new oak tones.  Very good to excellent.

Echezeaux Grand Cru Jean-Luc Bissey – Dark black fruits, dense and brooding.  Tart blackberries and black currants.  Deep, intensely concentrated, and very long to finish. Superb.

Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Cyrot-Chaudron / Georges Kritter – Quiet, closed nose.  Dense and firmly tannic entry.  Blackberry and myrtille notes but also brooding, gamey and sauvage.  Perhaps even a bit too dense, almost over-extracted.  Should be excellent.

Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru Madeleine Collignon – Dark and brooding black fruits with a hint of reduction.  Lush, silky suave texture underneath.  Really refined and elegant with sheer weight and power.  Hints of raw meat, licorice, clove and cinnamon spices.  Long and luscious.  Superb.

WHITE WINES

Saint Romain Joseph Menault – From 600 liter tonneaux.  Citrus notes of lemon, lime, and pink grapefruit.  Chalky wet stone minerality, hints of malolactic petillance.  Precise and focused, with a crisp clean finish.  Very fine.

Pouilly-Fuisse Francoise Poisard – From 450 liter barrel.  Creamy and vanilla notes with a whiff of stony minerality.  Mildly citrus with peachy stone fruits.  A little diffuse, and perhaps a bit short.  Good.

Beaune 1er Cru Les Montrevenots Suzanne et Raymond – Lemon meringue, lovely creamy texture, delightful chardonnay fruit flavors kissed by new oak.  Refined and elegant.  Very good.

Meursault Loppin – Light citrus notes, light texture. Undistinguished, lacking depth and concentration.  Not to my liking.

Meursault Goureau – Creamy texture but a bit light and innocuous.  Disappointing depth and concentration.

Meursault Poruzots 1er Cru Jehan Humblot – Tangy citrus notes with a whiff of new oak.  Petillant, but lacks real depth and grip.  Light and dominated by a finish of new oak.  Acceptable.

Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru Baudot – Closed reluctant nose.  Soft and a bit flabby in texture, with creamy vanilla flavors.  Light lemon chiffon.  Disappointing.

Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru Philippe le Bon –  Bright focused minerality of wet hot stones.  Lushly textured, a bit diffuse and loose.  Lacks grip and depth.  Almost soft.  Acceptable.

Meursault Charmes 1er Cru de Bahezre de Lanlay – Intense tangy nose of citrus and wet stones minerality.  But short and a bit fat in the mouth.  Builds a bit mid-palate and finishes fairly long and deep.  Good.

Meursault Charmes 1er Cru Albert Grivault – Tangy citrus notes of lemon and kaffir lime.  Bright, fresh, intense depth of fruit.  Real Meursault, almost oily in texture.  Very fine depth and a long crisp, tangy finish.  Very good to excellent.

Corton Vergennes Grand Cru Paul Chanson – Dense and focused mineral and citrus notes.  Focused, rich, and deep at the same time.  Creamy mid-palate shows very fine depth of concentration.  Fine length in the finish.  Very good to excellent.

Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru Roi Soleil – A bit oaky.  Creamier style than above, a bit diffuse.  Lacks precision and concentration.  Ok.

Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru Francois de Salins – Citrus with white flowers and bright focused minerality.  Bright, tight, focused citrus acidity with minerality adding precision and persisitence.  Racy and long.  Excellent to superb.

Batard Montrachet Grand Cru Dames de Flandres – Creamy nose a bit closed, showing vanilla and a bit of honey.  Rich entry of lemon and wild-flower honey.  A bit of tart malic acidity gives fine length and structured depth.  Excellent.

PROSPECTS FOR THE AUCTION – 2014 HOSPICES DE BEAUNE

The evolution of prices over the last years, with continued increases multiplied by short vintages, is expected to continue with the 2014 vintage Hospices de Beaune auction.  A very fine vintage of reasonable quantities, combined with increasing worldwide appreciation and demand for Burgundy wines, is sure to bring record setting returns from the auction for the benefit of the Hospices de Beaune’s operations.

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The Harvest Has Ended – Now the Real Work Begins

It has become commonplace for winemakers to proclaim “the wine makes itself, all you need is good grapes”.  Another vigneron recently told me “I went into winemaking because it was easy, and I was not a smart student, even stupid people can do it.”  While there may be some romantic notions attached to the magic of fermentation, and a very certain truth to the idea that you cannot make good wine without good grapes, it does involve a great deal of thoughtful planning, a multitude of choices involving the processes of fermentation, and a significant investment in the proper tools of the trade.  The wine does not make itself.  This is especially true when making red wine from Pinot Noir grapes.

I have spent the greater part of the last two weeks visiting wineries in the Cote d’Or, as well as the Maconnais and Beaujolais regions, and I have a few points I would like to make about the simplicity of the idea that “wine makes itself”.   Most of the year, including the months when the vines are dormant, are spent preparing for the harvest.  There is one, primary goal in mind: to bring grapes to ripeness.  Lack of sunshine, hailstorms, rain, vinegar flies, and rot can all contribute to defeating this singular purpose.  In general, the work of nearly all the seasons is devoted to letting nature run its course, which is, of course, what makes each vintage intrinsically unique and different.

This year, the 2014 vintage in the Cote d’Or, finished with almost perfect weather from mid-August through the harvest.  Except for the hailstorms of Saturday, June 28th, and the consistently cold, rainy weather throughout July and the first dozen days of August, we might be talking of a truly great vintage.  It will definitely be a good to very good vintage, but now the real work of the winemaker begins: the elevage, or raising of the wine.  When raising animals, one talks of breeding and nurturing as elevage, and the same word is used for the aging and finishing of cheeses.  Nature may make the grapes, but it is the winemaker’s elevage that makes the wine.  And elevage defines a series of choices about one’s grapes and how they are treated, choices determined by the winery’s means, capital, equipment, markets, and reputation, as well as the terroirs or appellations that it produces, and the prices that they demand.

Fermentation is a tumultuous process that requires monitoring and control to be successful.  Uncontrolled fermentation can quickly generate too much heat, killing the yeasts that are the engine behind the process of transforming grape sugars into alcohol, making juice into wine’s first expression.  So one of the first controls that must be exercised in fermentation and elevage is temperature control.  Many smaller wineries still have concrete vats in their cellars, which do not heat easily and can help delay the onset of tumultuous fermentations.  Some concrete vats have radiators installed within to help regulate temperature.  Others using concrete or wooden vats depend on dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) added to the vats to cool warm must or juice that is fermenting too rapidly and in danger of becoming too hot.   I have also seen a lot of larger wooden vats with thermo-regulation radiators.  Other growers use stainless-steel, temperature-controlled vats.  And some have entire wineries that are not merely air-conditioned, but actually fully refrigerated, capable of being cooled to less than 5°C in a matter of hours.

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A graphical representation of the progress of fermentation: the red line going up over time indicates the temperature of fermentation, the black line descending is the specific density of the fermenting juice, which diminishes as heavier sugar molecules are converted into alcohol.

A large part of what vessels one uses for fermentation depends on economics.  Smaller growers with less capital cannot afford stainless steel for everything.  Many family domaines remain content to use equipment that has been in place for generations.  Other well-capitalized producers can afford the most modern equipment, but prefer wooden vats for what they believe is a better result in their wines.  For most it is a matter of choices made within the parameters of economy, tradition, and science.  What follows are the profiles of several domains which I have visited recently, and how they approach the elevage of their Pinot Noir wines.

DOMAINE DE LA ROMANEE CONTI (Vosne-Romanee)

The prestige and history of this domaine have been thoroughly documented in other sources, but I was lucky enough to spend a morning with Aubert de Villaine, to learn more about what makes this domaine’s wines amongst the greatest ever produced.

Of course one begins with grapes from vineyards renowned for their wines since the 10th century.  But once the decision is made to pick the grapes, no expenses are spared to bring them into the winery in perfect condition.  The first triage, or selection of bunches, is made in the vineyards by the pickers, most of whom return to pick at DRC year after year.  The cadre of itinerant workers is over 100 strong, over 80 deployed in the vineyards to select and pick, and the rest in the cuverie performing another selection at the tables de triage.  The economic ability to hire this many experienced, returning workers allows DRC to pick their parcels quickly and without interruption.  The Grand Cru Romanee Conti was picked quickly on the morning of Sunday, September 19th in a matter of two hours, because of storms forecast for that afternoon.

The grapes at DRC are picked into the smallest picking baskets I have ever seen.  Only one layer of bunches goes into each basket, maybe eighteen to two dozen bunches of grapes, so that the grapes selected by the experienced pickers arrive at the winery in prisitine condition, to be sorted and inspected again at the tables de triage.  Given that the DRC wines are fermented mostly as whole clusters, this is an essential detail.

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Small, shallow picking boxes used by Domaine de La Romanee Conti during harvest. Only 18 to 24 bunches of grapes per box maximum.  These from La Tache picked September 18th, 2014.

M. de Villaine reported to me that in 2014, depending on the parcel, up to 80% of whole clusters went into the large wooden fermentation vats.  After fermentation, the resulting young wines are drained off into stainless steel vats, and the marc, the grape bunches, still juice-laden, are put into the pneumatic press to gently extract the more structured and intense juice from the remains of the stems, seeds, and berries, in a process called decuvage.

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Large wooden fermentation vats at DRC, with the very modern pneumatic press, on this morning extracting the best of DRC’s Grands Echezeaux 2014.

DRC assembles the press juice and free-run juice immediately into stainless-steel tank, where the combined young wines are allowed to settle out any gross lees before descending by gravity into the barrels in the cellar below.  The malolactic fermentation and aging take place in nearly all new oak barrels, custom-made by Francois Freres.

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Barrels at DRC awaiting their new wines. Nearly 100% new oak, custom made by Francois Freres to DRC specifications. The trees and wood are selected by DRC years in advance, so that the wood is properly aged before being made into barriques.

This years crop at DRC is nearly twice as large as 2013’s yields.  Even this felicitous result for the 2014 vintage will do little to quench the desires of the world’s elite to own this wine.  What is a shame is that so many of these “collections” are repeatedly bought and sold as though they were hedge funds or works of art.  I, for one, wish that these collectors would drink more, rather than just collect for the sake of economic speculation or conspicuous ownership.  One can gaze at and appreciate art in a museum or private collection, but the pleasure, the “art” of wine is in its savoring, sip by precious sip.

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DRC Grands Echezeaux press wine. Deep, intense cassis and blackberry flavors, bright, tight focused acids, dense pronounced tannis, firm but neither green nor astringent.

DOMAINE HENRI RICHARD (Gevrey-Chambertin)

By contrast, the family run Domaine Henri Richard is compact, even humble, a little more than four hectares under exploitation, two in villages Gevrey-Chambertin, one hectare in Grand Cru Charmes and Mazoyeres Chambertin, and additional holdings in the appellations of Marsannay and Coteaux Bourguignon.  This domaine, now run by the fourth generation of the family, Sarah Bastien, all of 30 years old, has been cultivating its vines biodynamically since 2000.  Certified Agriculture Biologique, Sarah and oenologist/chef de culture Guillaume Berthier are producing extraordinary wines of depth and refinement, although mostly for private clients and a few lucky importers.

The process here is reserved and economical.  Approximately 20 vendangeurs harvested the domaine’s vineyards over a one week period.  I was able to document much of their work in previous posts, as well as occasionally assist at the table de triage.  I was happy to be invited to their last day of decuvage, pressing the mostly whole cluster Mazoyeres-Chambertin Grand Cru, and celebrating with a traditional Burgundian lunch of Saucisson au Genes, sausage cooked in the marc of whole cluster Pinot Noir.

This domaine utilizes a collection of cement vats and small, new stainless steel cuves.  Temperature controls are a combination of morning harvests, the cool, thick, polished cement walls of the cuves de beton, and plenty of dry ice as the grapes go into vat.  As the pictures below demonstrate, these small, but passionate producers, do nearly everything by hand themselves.  The modern pressoir is pneumatic, the vats for debourbage after decuvage and pressing are epoxy-lined iron (settling the lees after draining the vats and for assembling the free-run with the pressed-juice), and new oak barrels have not been used since 2012!

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The marc of the Domaine Henri Richard Mazoyeres-Chambertin, mostly whole clusters, ready for decuvage, pressing, and assemblage with the free run wine.
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Sarah Bastien in the vat shoveling the marc into buckets, Guillaume Berthier feeds the pressoir. Last decuvage of the Domaine Henri Richard, Mazoyeres Chambertin Grand Cru.  The Mazoyeres is whole cluster, the Charmes only 30%.
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Buckets of whole cluster fermented fruit go into the press. A tasting of the free-run and pressed juice was profound: the press wine was far more intense in deep, dark fruits, with powerful but resolved tannins to complement. And superb, velvety texture.

Let us not forget the small rituals that accompany the harvests and milestone moments of each vintage.  Harvesters are fed great meals for lunch and dinner each day, with mid-morning and mid-day casse-croutes snacks to keep them well-fueled for the hard work of the days’ harvest (which begins at 7am and ends at 7pm if not later!).

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2014 Gevrey Chambertin villages after 24 hours of debourbage (settling of lees). Cinnamon, cardamom, licorice, and intense dark cassis fruits, wrapped in bright acidity and a suave silky texture.
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Our end of decuvage lunch, Saucisson au Genes, sausage cooked in the vapors of Pinot Noir whole clusters after pressing. With Margaret’ Bastien’s (Sarah’s mother’s) superb roast potatoes.

DOMAINE BERTAGNA (Vougeot)

This beautiful and historic domaine, based in Vougeot, is owned by the Reh family, with Eva Reh firmly in charge of the estate.  The Reh family also owns the renowned Mosel-Saar-Ruwer estate Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, which is run by Eva’s sister, Annegret.  Domaine Bertagna is blessed with some of the finest 1ers and Grands Crus holdings in the Cote d’Or, from Chambertin, Clos Saint-Denis, Clos Vougeot, Corton-Lalieres, and Corton-Charlemagne, to parcels of 1ers Crus Nuits St. Georges Les Murgers, Vosne-Romanee Les Beaux Monts, Chambolle-Musigny Les Plantes, soon-to-be-planted Chambolle Les Amoureuses, and their renowned monopole Clos de La Perriere just across the path from the Chapter House of the Clos Vougeot itself.  The domaine is completed by villages parcels in Vougeot and Chambolle-Musigny, and some excellent parcels of Hautes Cotes de Nuits from the vineyard Les Dames Huguettes on the plateau above and within the commune of Nuits St. Georges.  Maitre de chais Denis Rozat supervises the day to day operations of the estate with Eva Reh.

Perhaps it is feminine determination and attention to detail, or perhaps the Kesselstatt experience of making white wines in stainless tanks, but Domaine Bertagna’ facility is a model of modernity.  Small stainless steel tanks line the neatly ordered cellar, with larger tanks for assemblage.

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Bertagna’s battery of modern, temperature-regulated fermentation vats. Each vat corresponds to a specific parcel or appellation.

2014 brought superb fruit into the cellars, and after destemming 70% of the clusters, the grapes and clusters were cooled in their vats for a five to seven day cold maceration, to delicately extract the anthocyins and polyphenols of the skins.  Temperatures are allowed to rise slowly to begin fermentation, which proceeded quickly in 2014 due to very healthy indigenous yeasts brought in on the fruit.  As the alcoholic fermentation finishes, the tanks were raised in temperature to 32 to 35°C for a few days for further extraction of color and flavor.  The free run wine is racked off into stainless vats for a day or two of debourbage, before the wines descend into barrels in the cellar for malolactic and aging.

The marc is then pressed to extract the remaining wine, the smaller parcels pressed in a new vertical press, the larger parcels of Hautes Cotes de Nuits pressed in a modern pneumatic press.  Interestingly, the press wine is put into barrels separate from the free run cuvees, and assemblage of the press wine does not happen until after the malolactic fermentations are completed.  The addition of the press wine to the final assemblage is done by tastings and blendings to produce a final wine that is rich, structured, and powerful, yet refined, elegant, and smoothly textured.  Unused press wine is usually added to the Hautes Cotes de Nuits assemblage.

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The vertical basket press in action. Denis Rozat and Eva Reh prefer the resulting press wine as it is finer and silkier in texture than the pneumatic press wine.
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The finished “cake” or gateau of marc in the basket press. In a way, the operation of these presses mimics the old, wooden basket presses still found but rarely used.

 

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Press wines from the day’s decuvage. At Bertagna, the assemblage of the press wine with the free run wine is done after both have completed malolactic, to control structure, tannins and astringency in the finished wine.

I was able to taste the free run and press wines from the Vougeot Le Village, Nuits 1er Cru Les Murgers, and the Vougeot 1er Cru Monopole Clos de La Perriere.  In general, the color of the press wines was lighter, and as expected, more cloudy.  The nose of the free run wines was fruitier, brighter, and juicy, while the smells of the press wines were somewhat  more brooding, with a spicy backbone of cinnamon and cardamom.  In the mouth both press and free run samples possessed bright, focused, tingling acidity (these were pre-malolactic after all), but the press wine had the structure, depth, and sheer power to complement the voluptuously textured, sumptuous fruit of the free run examples.  A very interesting tasting, which I look forward to following as the vintage develops in barrels.

DOMAINE TOLLOT-BEAUT (Chorey-les-Beaune)

I was unable to visit Nathalie and Jacques Tollot during decuvage, but from previous posts one can see a remarkable commitment to modernity as well as tradition.  This family estate goes from strength to strength each vintage, and 2014 saw the first use in Burgundy of an optical sorting table at the domaine.  After destemming, the berries proceed swiftly along a sorting table, where optical scanners detect any slight irregularities in berries, and puffs of air blow the irregular berries into a collection bin, where they are discarded with the stems.  This machine can sort two tons per hour, the equivalent of a  one hectare parcel of relatively high yield in Burgundy.

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Optical scanner at Domaine Tollot-Beaut, the first to be used in the Cote d’Or. Jacques Tollot was quite happy with the results, as well as the speed.

I have been regularly visiting the Tollot family winery since 1988, over twenty five years.  Their swift embrace of innovations, while maintaining a true sense of family tradition, is evident in nearly all aspects of their winemaking.  From the new optical table de triage above, to the sophisticated and powerful heat-exchange cooling system below, to the change in bottle styles to accommodate a longer, more expensive cork to ensure a more secure closure for the aging of their wines, this family does it right.  Of course their size and annual turnover give them much greater flexibility than most smaller family domaines.

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While these beautiful cement cuves scream family tradition, behind the walls of the cuves is a sophisticated heat exchange system for regulating the temperatures during fermentation. Here a newly harvested parcel, harvested on a very hot afternoon, is chilled down to allow a prefermentation cold maceration.

DOMAINE PIERRE DAMOY (Gevrey-Chambertin)

Blessed with amongst the largest holdings of Grands Crus in Gevrey-Chambertin, with lovely vineyards in Marsannay and a distinguished monopole, Clos du Tamisot, a Gevrey villages of 1ers Crus quality, Pierre Damoy is a wonderfully eclectic and opinionated grower.  The holdings of the domaine include over one third (5.36 hectares) of the totality of Chambertin Clos de Beze, and nearly half of Chapelle-Chambertin.  Since 1990, Pierre has returned his family patrimony to its rightful place amongst the finest names of the Cote d’Or.  With one foot firmly in the traditions of his forebearers (organic viticulture, late but lightning-quick harvesting, long macerations), the other is totally dedicated to the most modern of tools for the making of his wines.  He is also an amateur horticulturalist, with an extensive collection of plants from around the world, including tropical flowers, ferns, cacti, and fruit bearing trees, all surrounding a small fresh water fish pond with croaking frogs.

Previous posts and photos showed up to ten people at the table de triage, and once the grapes are into the cellar, the commitment to modern technology is nearly total.  The entire fermentation room is refrigerated, with individual, temperature-controlled regulation for most of the stainless steel vats.  During picking, the grapes and approximately 25 to 30% whole clusters went into their vats with the fermentation room at 5°C.  This was often a welcome respite from the heat of the harvest outside.  After a five to seven day prefermentation cold maceration, Pierre allows the temperature inside to rise, and the fermentations begin.

In 2014, the cuvaison was prolonged using the domaine’s abilities to control the temperature within the vats as well as the winery fermentation areas.  By the time of decuvage, the room was quite warm, as Pierre likes to let the vats reach 32°C for a few days of extra extraction.

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Cellar worker Guillaume preparing to get into the vat to shovel the marc into buckets for the pressoir.
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Using a hand shovel to scoop the marc into buckets. This was a parcel of Gevrey villages.

After pressing, the free run and pressed juices are assembled in stainless tanks for a debourbage (settling of the lees) that lasts from four to ten days, depending upon how quickly the juice becomes clear.  Pierre does not like to begin with cloudy juice in the barrels.

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The modern pneumatic press at Domaine Pierre Damoy. Pierre presses lightly, the press is programmed for 1.25 to 1.4 bars of pressure.

When we talked about the barrels themselves, Pierre is clearly influenced by his horticultural studies, and his close personal attention to minute details.  Domaine Pierre Damoy uses only one forest for its barrels, Troncais, and while it is true that there are no Appellation d’Origine regulations for the forests used by barrel makers, Pierre avoids this potential pitfall by selecting his wood through a personal visit to the forest with his tonnelier Francois Freres, where he selects the actual trees that will be harvested, cut, dried for three to four years, and fashioned into barrels.  Pierre also prefers a very light toast to his barrels, complemented by steam seasoning to remove sappy or toasty elements.  For Domaine Pierre Damoy, the barrels are where the living wine breathes through the oak staves during malolactic and aging.  It is not a flavor additive.

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The iconic workers’ hut in Chambertin Clos de Beze bearing the family domaine’s name.

THE WORK AHEAD

Elevage, the raising of the wine from its alcoholic fermentation in larger vats, through its malolactic fermentation and its aging in barrels, is a process that requires a multitude of choices at different stages, as the wine evolves.  From a decision about whole clusters versus destemming, to the length of time for cuvaison (a process that itself includes multiple decisions about the length of pre-fermentive cold maceration, temperature of fermentation, warm post-fermentation maceration, decuvage, and finally the treatment of the press wine) decisions are taken largely through tasting the wines as they begin their evolution into Burgundy.

It may often be said, and, during irregular visits, it can appear that the wines make themselves.  But over time, the wines evolve into something, an ideal perhaps, that the winemaker is searching for.  It is an expression of place, a personalized flavor, the saveur of another vintage telling its story, until finally the bottling is done and its proud owners reveal their hard work and individual efforts to a waiting and thirsty public.  This is why I love Burgundy: in no other wine region on earth are the expressions of singular varietals so idiomatic, so personal, so precise, and so delightful to drink.

Rhythm & Blues in Burgundy

The harvest is in.  With mostly glorious weather conditions prevailing from mid-August through this past weekend, September 28th, the grapes, both white and red, gold and deep purple hued, arrived in the cellars in excellent condition.  Except for those vineyards hit by the hailstorms of June 28th, quantities are substantial and quality appears to be very high.  Not much rot, more talk than actual acetic effects from drosophila suzukii, and a natural degree of ripeness that will require little, if any, chaptalisation.

Very healthy yeasts came into the cellars on the grapes, and fermentations have begun quickly.  In many cellars the whites proceeded to barrel to complete their primary, alcoholic fermentations within a week to ten days.  The reds are just finishing up in vats and tanks, with pumpovers and pigeage to extract fine, deep ruby-purple tones with ripe, fleshy flavors and the tannic backbones that should make for a very fine vintage.  The dry weather of the last month has had only one sad effect: the brilliant colors of fall in the vines, with shades of autumn in New England, are more brown than yellow, red, or lively orange.

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Beautifully ripe Chambertin at Domaine Pierre Damoy in Gevrey
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Brown grapeseeds, no greenness here. Again Domaine Pierre Damoy in Gevrey

Until today’s overcast sky and periods of light rain, we have enjoyed a true Indian summer, with warm, sunny days and starry, cooler nights as we move past the autumnal equinox into fall.  The days grow shorter as the sun moves south in the sky, and yet people here are reluctant to give up their summer pleasures: bicyclists are out in the hills in force, and yesterday, a national day of walks called Frandonee brought out hundreds of people for a 20 kilometer walk from Morey-St. Denis through the valley of Vergy in the Hautes Cotes de Nuits.  A weekend exposition and book fair at the Chapter House of the Clos de Vougeot was packed with interested consumers.  It was a wonderful weekend to be outside.

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Piles of marc (seeds, stems and skins after pressing) await the distillateur just outside Pommard.

And yet the elation of the harvest, the open doors to all domaines bringing in grapes, the ritual lunches, dinners, and paulees of the harvesters with the growers after the vendange, has finished, has dissipated.  The open excitement of another vintage drawing to a close is replaced by a quiet reserve as nature, in the form of fermentations that were once thought magical until Pasteur’s discoveries, takes its course.

For this writer it has been a complete change of rhythm.  There are so many fewer people in the vines.  Appointments must now be made to speak with vignerons and their oenologists about the vintage.  Burgundian reserve has returned.  We wait.  This year the fruit has been so healthy and the weather so warm and gorgeous that fermentations are quick and easy.  As the alcoholic fermentations wind down, the next issue will be how swiftly the malolactic fermentations take hold.  If they, too, are swift and easy, unlike the previous two years, we could very well be watching an awesome vintage being born in 2014.  Until the wines are more ready to taste and evaluate, I must find other forms of entertainment.  Thankfully, Netflix has just arrived in France.

Grey, cloudy, moist, warm weather has moved up the Rhone and Saone valleys this morning, and is forecast to hover over the Cote d’Or until Wednesday afternoon.  On cooler evenings one can already smell the wood burning in fireplaces and wood-burning stoves.  I, for one, hope for more sunshine and a pleasant fall before the cold and grey of Burgundian winter sets in.

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From the falaise above St. Romain. The village of St. Romain bathed in sun, with the village of Meursault beyond.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES ! Burgundy Harvest Update – Sunday, 21 September, 2014

It is another glorious day in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or!  Yesterday’s clouds and foggy morning gave way to clearing blue skies by 2pm, which continue today with low humidity and lovely temperatures (midday: 17°C, 63°F).  A line of clouds should be rolling in from the northwest later today, but the forecast is for continued splendid weather through most of next week.  This continued Indian summer is making everyone smile.  (Yes, the French use the phrase too, eté indien)   Just for the sake of contrast, here is what the same view from above looked like yesterday morning, and indeed for much of rainy July and early August:

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Meursault shrouded in fog Saturday morning, September 20th, 2014

Almost all of the white wine grapes are now in the producers’ cellars.  There are some parcels of Puligny and Meursault 1ers Crus whose ripening has been delayed by the hailstorm of June 28th, but plans are to pick those early next week.  The white grapes were nearly uniformly clean, ripe, and, except for some hail damage where shriveled berries quickly dried and fell off the vine, showing no signs of significant rot or botrytis.  For most growers the white grapes went straight to the pressoirs, there was little need for any triage.

Potential alcohol levels varied between 12.3° and 13.5°, and the fruit and juice that I have tasted has a wonderful sweetness, complemented by brilliant, tightly wound acidity.  These will be  classic white Burgundy wines, with chaptalisation rarely necessary, and if practiced, only to bring the wines up in alcohol a half to at most one degree.  Fermentations are proceeding very rapidly in the cellars, as a healthy crop also brought in healthy and copious yeast populations on the fruit.  The INAO has set the maximum yields for regional and villages white Burgundies at 60 hectoliters per hectare this year, and except for the hail-ravaged 1ers Crus in Meursault and Puligny, and some other plots of very old vines, this should be a fine vintage for quality wines with enough quantity to replenish stocks in the marketplace.

One of my neighbors in Puligny, Francois Carillon, reported that his alcoholic fermentations began almost immediately after debourbage (the settling of the juice’s gross lees), and took only a week to complete after the must was transferred to barrel.  His Bourgogne Blanc and Puligny villages yields were in the range of 50 hectoliters per hectare.  At Domaine Michel Niellon, Michel Coutoux was very happy with the quality and quantities of his Chassagnes from villages as well as 1ers and Grands Crus levels.  Potential alcohol at harvest was between 12.5° and 13.2°, and the vats were bubbling away when I visited Saturday morning the 20th September.

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Fermentation getting underway in this vat of Chassagne villages.
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Fermentation in full-tilt boogie in this vat of 1er Cru Vergers.

Most growers transfer their juice from vat into barrels when the fermentation begins, and that process is now underway in most white wine producing cellars throughout the Cote de Beaune.

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This vat of Chassagne villages bubbling away happily.
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Niellon Chevalier Montrachet continuing its fermentation in barrel.

Laurent Pillot finished his harvest  on Friday afternoon, bringing in the Aligote adjacent to his cuverie at the bottom of the village near the RN6/74 interchange.  He and his son were just finishing cleaning tanks after debourbage, and transferring the must to barrels for fermentation.

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A very happy Laurent Pillot in his Chassagne winery.
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Laurent’s son Adrien prepares the barrels to receive the must.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I mentioned earlier, the latest parcels to be picked seem to be those most impacted by the hailstorm at the end of June, as well as the higher slopes of Puligny, Blagny, and Meursault where cooler temperatures usually mean a later harvest.  More on these wines in a later post.

The Pinot Noir harvest is in full swing as I write this post, with most of the Cote de Beaune reds in the cellars, and in the Cote de Nuits, most grapes are being brought in under superb conditions.  Many of the producers of the Cote de Nuits’ illustrious Grands Crus will wait to bring in their fruit next week, under what is forecast as continued near-perfect weather.  As of yesterday, I saw some fruit remaining in Corton, the upper slopes of Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix Grands Crus parcels, and quite a few parcels waiting to be picked in Vosne, Morey, and Gevrey Grands Crus.  For the most part, the harvest of reds in Volnay, Pommard, and Beaune has finished, with spectacular fruit brought in, just not much of it.  The 1ers Crus and much of the villages parcels in these communes were severely impacted by the hailstorms, and yields will be down significantly.  Some growers report parcels that produced only 5 hl/h.  The quality is beautiful, but the quantities will be miserly.

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Triage at Domaine Marquis d’Angerville sorting Volnay 1er Cru Champans
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A lovely bin of Volnay 1er Cru Champans at d’Angerville. Yields are down >50%.

Guillaume d’Angerville estimates that in the last 5 years (2010 to 2014 vintages) he has produced the equivalent of only two average crops.  The quality of 2014 is superb, with little rot and very little damage from vinegar flies in the Cote de Beaune.  But there will be little wine to sell from the 2014 vintage.

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Guillaume d’Angerville with a handful of beautiful Volnay. Excellent quality, just not much of it.

There has been widespread talk, and a bit of quiet fear, of a new pest that has arrived in the Pinot Noir vineyards of Burgundy.  I have heard a lot of discussion about drosophila suzukii, the invasive species of fruit fly that has been found in several vineyards.  The flies thrive in heat and humidity, particularly in places where the air is stagnant, without much wind.  The flies puncture the ripening fruit, introducing a vinegar yeast to the bunch, and can decimate surrounding vines quite rapidly, turning wine grapes to vinegar juice.

For many growers, 2014 marks the first year of this new pest, and I heard varying comments on its presence, effects, and vectors.  Everyone agrees that the issue is localized in small parcels this year, mainly in the Cote de Nuits, but reported to be quite problematic in the Cote Chalonaise as well.  Many maintain that heat, insufficient ventilation, and humidity are causes, and point to parcels where leaves were not pulled from the fruit before harvest, especially in the lower, frequently wetter areas.  Others claim to have no problems whatsoever, due to the sanitary conditions of their organic and sometimes biodynamic plots.  The highest estimates of the effects of the vinegar fly that I have heard are that 3 to 5% of the fruit was affected in the Cote de Nuits.  Pickers and sorters have been extremely vigilant this year, sniffing boxes and bunches for the telltale vinegar aromas, and even where the fruit arrives in beautiful condition, extra care and time are being taken on the tables de triage.

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A bunch of Pinot Noir affected by drosophila suzukii vinegar fly.  This bunch smelled of cheap red wine vinegar
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Richebourg getting special attention on the table de triage at Domaine Parent-Gros, Francois Parent was very cautious.
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Extra personnel were added to the sorting table at Domaine Bertagna
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Victoria Damoy (front left) supervises her triage table at Domaine Pierre Damoy

Most growers with whom I spoke did agree to one thing: that drosophila suzukii has indeed arrived in Burgundy, and that it will become another significant issue that will require vigilant attention in the vines for the coming years.

The next several days will complete the harvest in the Cote d’Or vineyards for 2014.  Growers will continue their work as the wines begin to take shape and reveal their personalities.  But confidence is high that a quality vintage is being produced in 2014.