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.
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 thatadds to the fruit-mineral balance characteristic of classic Chablis.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is a foggy, misty, quite murky day in the Cote d’Or. After two weeks of brilliant sunshine that has seen most of the whites safely into their wineries, Thursday evening brought thunderstorms that lasted several hours. Lightning, thunder, and several significant downpours doused Puligny and Chassagne, but most of the fruit was already in. Lesser amounts of rain fell in Volnay, Pommard, Beaune, and points north into the Cote de Nuits.
The rain continued off and on through most of yesterday, Friday 19 September throughout the Cote and was especially drenching between 10:30am and 3pm. The gloomy weather continues today, and is forecast to remain until Monday, when we all hope the sun will return to ripen and dry the Cote de Nuits and the Grands Crus north of the A6 motorway, most of which have yet to be picked.
In over 25 years of visits to Burgundy, I cannot recall two more glorious days than Monday and Tuesday, September 15 & 16, 2014. Absolutely perfect blue skies were complemented by hot but dry temperatures and minimal humidity. Yesterday, Tuesday the 16th, was especially gorgeous, with temperatures close to 30°C (85°F). Teams of pickers were out nearly everywhere, and the landscape from time to time looked like a swarm of ants with people, minivans, and even small busses converging on the slopes of the Cote d’Or.
The Cote de Beaune continued its frenzy of Chardonnay picking, and began the difficult task of sorting out its hail damaged reds in Volnay, Pommard, and Beaune. The Cote de Nuits was really out in force for the first day yesterday, with fruit being harvested from Chenove down to Premeaux, mostly in the villages and 1ers Crus parcels. I stopped to check in with many growers, occasionally helping at the sorting table, lugging or cleaning caisses, and taking pictures while getting a sense of the quality and quantities coming into local cellars.
The last week to ten days of warm, sunny, hot, and dry weather has had a dramatic effect on the grapes and potential yield of the 2014 harvest. After the rains of July and the first two weeks of August, grapes were quite swollen and potentially diluted. Even with hail damage, there appeared to be sufficient fruit in many but the most severely damaged vineyards to return a reasonable yield for 2014. The hot and dry weather has significantly reduced the swollen grapes in size, and estimates vary as to the eventual rendement. I have heard that the INAO has authorized crops of up to 60 hectoliters per hectare in villages appellations, and up to 50 hl/h in the 1ers and Grands Crus. No grower with whom I have spoken has estimated anywhere close to these numbers, with most guessing at yields of around 40 to 45 hectoliters per hectare. Of course in hail damaged vineyards, yields will be significantly less. In reality it is too early to tell what yields will be, as that can only be done when the fruit has become wine. But outside of Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, and the 1ers Crus of Puligny and Meursault, things do not look too bad, and the quality of fruit that I have seen and tasted is top notch. It will be a very good to excellent vintage in 2014.
On the whole there are broad smiles nearly everywhere. The whites at the villages level are fairly abundant, with little if any rot, and any hail damaged fruit was so dried out that it fell off easily on the sorting tables. The 1ers Crus whites in Chassagne are spectacular in quantity and quality. While the hail storm of June 28th certainly limited the quantities harvested from the 1ers Crus in a swath from northern Puligny through northern Meursault, there is little rot to worry about, and the hail-damaged, dried berries were not a problem. Some growers used their tables de triage, while a few others sent their fruit straight from the fields into the pressoirs, as they saw nothing but perfect fruit in the picking boxes.
Thierry & Pascale Matrot have reason to be proud! Three beautiful daughters who make their lives easier – two in the vines and cellars, and one who is running Le Chevreuil, one of Meursault’s top restaurants (as well as the attached hotel).
Meanwhile in Chassagne-Montrachet, Philippe Duvernay of Domaine Coffinet Duvernay was positively elated at the quality of his Chassagne 1er Cru Fairendes, harvested with no rot or hail damage. His fruit went straight from the picking boxes into the pressoir.
My first stop in the Cote de Nuits was at Domaine Bertagna in Vougeot, a domaine with outstanding 1ers and Grands Crus holdings, where the four previous years have seen only miniscule harvests, amounting to the equivalent of two normal vintages since 2010.
Eva Reh had a delighted smile on her face, and cellar-master Denis Rozat was excited to be beginning another harvest. Their joy will be mitigated by severe losses from hail in the Clos de Vougeot and their prized, adjacent monopole Clos de La Perriere, but the harvest is clean, beautiful, and very tasty.
Fruit from Domaine Georges Roumier’s Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Cras was being sorted when I arrived there, and after the sorting, entire whole bunches were being sent to the vats. There was a small amount of rot which was quickly excised, and great care was being taken to smell any bunches suspected of vinegar fly acetic development.
Pierre Damoy hastened his schedule by a day or two, and yesterday, Tuesday, September 16th, he began his harvest with Marsannay. No problems with fruit here, and he expects to bring in his Grands Crus in comparable condition, with about 10% hail damage in his Chambertin and Clos de Beze, less in the lower slopes of his Chapelle-Chambertin.
After Sarah Bastien of Domaine Henri Richard finished her Gevrey villages aux Corvees, the team took a small break by harvesting her new Pinot Blanc from Brochon (destined for a new Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs). After lunch she began the reds again with the domaine’s Grands Cru Charmes-Chambertin. Cellar-master Guillaume Berthier will use about 25% whole clusters in the Charmes-Chambertin, and up to 40-50% of whole clusters for the parcel of Charmes which will be labeled Mazoyeres-Chambertin.
When I arrived at Domaines Parent-Gros in Beaune, home of Domaine Anne-Francoise Gros and her husband Francois Parent of Domaine Francois Parent, I found that they had just begun harvesting their parcel of Richebourg Grand Cru. The sorting table team was closely inspecting each bunch of grapes for any signs of rot or acetic odors. The fruit was beautiful with a small amount of rot, a few vinegar bunches, and some dried out hail-damaged berries, but overall in great condition. It tasted delicious.
As I write these notes on Wednesday midday September 17th, the mornings clouds have burned off and the sun is shining brilliantly again. The clouds of this morning were probably a welcome sight to pickers and workers in the vineyards, after yesterday’s relentless sun and considerable heat.
The wind and clouds are moving from south to north again, and the radar shows some unsettled weather ahead, moving up from the Mediterranean. It remains quite dry, but predictions are for possible storms tomorrow through the weekend. Hopefully these will hold off a few days and the rest of the harvest will finish with a wonderful result for vintage 2014.
I am bouncing all over the Cote d’Or on my first experience of the harvest in Burgundy. After thirty years of visits as a buyer and tourist, I am finally witnessing how some of the greatest wines on earth are made. The harvesters are in the vineyards by 7am, work until noon, usually have a fine lunch and rest until 2pm, and are back in the vines (or in the winery) until 7pm. It is a long day of hard and monotonous work, but feels immensely satisfying at the end of the day, when the juice is in the vats and the wine begins to make its personality (climat, vintage, quality & quantity) known.
I began this Saturday morning September 13th by assisting at the table de triage in Gevrey-Chambertin with Sarah Bastien & Guillaume Borot of Domaine Henri Richard. My job: to pick out the stems, leaves, and other detritus that make their way past the destemmer.
But many pictures and a full vat later, I took our dejeuner de vendangeurs complemented by jus des raisins de Gevrey villages aux Corvees (12.3° ) ! Of course wine was also served.
After , I made my way south to help lug caisses (the harvest grape boxes that contain about 25kg of grapes – around 20 bottles all finished) with Philippe Duvernay and his son Sebastien of Domaine Coffinet-Duvernay in Chassagne. Heavy lifting, mostly in 1er Cru Fairendes, where the fruit was being brought in at 12.5 to 12.7° potential alcohol.
The harvest in the Cote de Beaune is progressing nicely, while many in the Cote de Nuits remain on the sidelines as the marvelous weather brings the Pinots to superb, near perfect ripeness. Crews were out in force in Savigny, Aloxe, and Ladoix, but Corton Charlemagne saw nary a vendangeur.
Next week will bring more harvest teams out in the Cote de Nuits, as the superb weather is forecast to change to cloudy and rainy by Thursday. But the wonderful thing about weather forecasts here in France is that they are rarely accurate and often change twice a day. Several important growers with whom I spoke this week were planning to hit the vines further north on Monday, September 15th.
I learned of a new pest in the vineyards this week, one rather specific to red wine grapes, and caused by the small fruit fly relative named drosophila suzukii, the vinegar fly. The fly punctures the skins of ripening grapes, allowing botrytis acetic to take hold, decimating grape bunches and turning the sweet red juice into vinegar. It can be prolific and exceptionally damaging in warm, humid conditions, which will be another factor in when the big red producers of the Cote de Nuits decide to begin their harvests. With unsettled weather possibly returning on Thursday, it would not be surprising to see more vendangeurs in the Cote de Nuits early next week.
Stay tuned for more harvest reports from the 2014 vintage in the Cote d’Or….. and for immediate gratification as well as more pictures, follow me on Twitter at @amitiesjerome.