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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.

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.

Burgundy Harvest Updates – Saturday, September 20, 2014.

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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.

More to come tomorrow.

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Chambertin to Charlemagne – Patience & Anticipation in the Northern Grands Crus

The week beginning Sunday, August 17th has been a succession of splendid, sunny days, with cool, brisk evenings and nights.  Temperatures in Beaune have ranged from unseasonably cool nights of 8 to 10 degrees Celsius (46 to 50° F) to pleasantly warm and sunny days of 21 to 25° C (70 to 77° F).  The last week has been dry and brilliantly sunny, with many of the local tourists sporting some sunburn as they go about their daily interests (including this writer).  But it is unusually cool here in Burgundy this summer so far, after a rainy July and wet, cool, damp beginning of August, and a few hoteliers have reported to me a drop in reservations to finish the summer vacation holidays.

The return of drying and moderate weather after the changeable rainy conditions of July and the first two weeks of August has brought a few sighs of relief from local growers, and allowed those on their summer holidays to relax even further.  The vineyards are drying out, the vines are receiving their final trimming, some growers are pulling leaves and dropping fruit to control yields and enhance quality, and the many preparations for a busy harvest season are underway.  Local predictions are for the vendange to begin sometime around September 10th to15th.

I have spent the last several days visiting the vineyards between Chenove, the northernmost of the Cote de Nuits villages on the outskirts of Dijon, and Savigny and Chorey-les-Beaune, where the A6 AutoRoute cuts through the vines, whisking travelers between Paris and points south this summer season.  Resolute patience has given way to a quiet optimism here in the Cote d’Or, in spite of the setbacks and damage inflicted in several appellations in the area by the hailstorms of June 28th.

Damage from that storm north of Beaune was a bit more widespread than I had initially observed.  There is spotty damage to grape bunches on the southern sides of many vine rows in almost all the villages between Savigny-les-Beaune and Gevrey-Chambertin, showing the swift moving nature of the storms.  Most of the damage was confined to the south facing sides of the vines planted east-west, and varies from minimal (5 to 10%) in most villages, to fairly significant (35 to 50%) in the areas surrounding the Chapter House and historic pressoir of the Clos de Vougeot, and the upper and middle slopes of the Grands Crus of Richebourg, Romanee-Conti, Romanee St. Vivant, Grands Echezeaux, Echezeaux, and Musigny.  From Bonnes Mares into the four Clos of Morey, and finally the cluster of Grands Crus of Chambertin, damage lessens again to between 5 and 10% of grape bunches.  Some of these Grands Crus sites showed evidence of significant efforts mid-veraison to remove damaged bunches, a costly and time-consuming attention to detail during the August vacation period that can be financed only by the high prices that these wines can and will continue to command.

On the whole, ripeness is proceeding nicely, with veraison fairly advanced in most places, although somewhat variable with  millerandage (shot berries) in many bunches, and some vines with one or two green bunches complementing the red in the Pinot Noir.  There is very little appearance of a “second crop” that occasionally appears in the higher foliage of the vines in sunnier vintages.  In speaking with a few vignerons this past week, I was told that the variations in veraison color within and between bunches was a good thing.  Slight variations in ripeness tend to boost acidity levels in the resulting juice, making for fresher, livelier wines overall.

This report will concentrate on the most illustrious of those vineyards north of the A6 highway, the Grands Crus sites north of Beaune which have established and maintained the glorious reputation of Burgundy for over 1,500 years.  I have written about hail damage and the Grands Crus of Montrachet in a previous post (see Race to Ripeness – Santenay to Beaune, last revised Aug. 16, 2014), so here I will report on the historic sites between Gevrey-Chambertin and Pernand-Vergelesses, from Chambertin to Corton-Charlemagne.  Regional, villages and 1ers Crus appellations from the villages between Chenove and Chorey-les-Beaune will be discussed in a later post to follow.

CHAMBERTIN GRANDS CRUS

One of the oldest extant records of a single vineyard site refers to the donation in 640 AD of vineyards to the Abbey of Beze by Duke Amalgaire of the Kingdom of Burgondes, who had previously endowed the Abbey itself.  Interestingly, and perhaps denoting a historic recognition of superior quality, Clos de Beze can also be called Chambertin under today’s Appellation d’Origine Protegee regulations, but not vice-versa.  Most producers elect to bottle under both names if they are lucky enough to possess vines in both appellations.

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The ancient Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin, built in the 12th century by monks of the Abbey of Cluny as a press house and winery, now owned by an entrepreneur from Macao, China

Most of Chambertin and its adjacent Grands Crus remained in the hands of the monks of the Abbeys at Langres and Cluny until the French Revolution confiscated the church’s property and sold it to benefit the new French republic, dedicated to liberte, egalite et fraternite.  In 1790, the 28 hectares of vineyards comprising Chambertin and Clos de Beze were sold to a gentleman named Claude Jobert.  They remained in that family’s hands for years, but with the newly revolutionary Napoleonic rules of inheritance, the property has since been fragmented over generations into over 60 parcels, each jealously guarded by its proprietors and farmed by individual growers as they see fit.  Now there are over 40 producers of wines from these two Grands Crus alone.

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Looking uphill from the bottom of Clos de Beze into adjacent Chambertin itself, from the Route de Grands Crus. These two Grands Crus extend uphill to just beneath the forest.
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Some lovely fruit in Clos de Beze, very little damage, a little millerandage
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Variable versaison in Clos de Beze – should make for fresher acidity and livelier wine
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Not much fruit in this parcel of Clos de Beze below the forest, but beautiful bunches of grapes!
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Beautiful fruit in Chambertin

The other Chambertin Grands Crus, Ruchottes, Mazis, Chapelle, Griottes, Latricieres, Charmes, and Mazoyeres (itself a lieu-dit within Charmes) surround the noble growths of Chambertin and Clos de Bezes.  Whether adjacent or just below, (but never above, as for the most part the upper Chambertin Grands Crus extend to the forest), these vineyards produce some of the most sublime wines on the planet.  The finest examples of Grands Crus Gevrey-Chambertin are rich and dense but never heavy – supple, lively, fresh, complex and succulent in smells and flavors of raspberry, black currant, and pomegranate fruits, with discreet but never overbearing notes of cinnamon, licorice, oriental spice, and moist forest floor, complemented by a suave texture of elegance and velvety suppleness, and a profound tannic structure that finishes with a cinnamon/cocoa-dust dryness, never hard nor bitter.

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Beautiful fruit in Ruchottes-Chambertin
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A bit of millerandage in Ruchottes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Good enough to eat yet? Chapelle-Chambertin
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Some hail damage in Latricieres
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Good stuff in Mazoyeres-Chambertin
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Make my day in old vines Mazis-Chambertin!

To be sure Chambertin Grands Crus have been renowned through the centuries for the wonderful wines produced there.  Its wines may indeed have been among the first ever counterfeited: after Napoleon’s retreat from the Russian front, the market is said to have been flooded with his favorite wine: Chambertin.

THE MANY SPLENDORED CLOS OF MOREY

Of the five Grands Crus in the village of Morey St. Denis, four are named Clos, implying a walled garden vineyard of historically unique importance.  All possess medieval historical origins, with over 900 years of viticulture, mostly by monks and nuns, the most well-educated people of their era.  Like most other church and aristocratic property, these were also confiscated by the new republican government after the French Revolution, and sold at auction for the benefit of its citizens.

Only one, Clos de la Roche, refers to its geological rather than historical features (it was near the site of a medieval quarry for limestone marble).  Clos de la Roche is the largest Grand Cru in Morey, at nearly 17 hectares, with over 30 different producers working its vines.

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Very nice fruit set in Clos de la Roche
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Beautiful & perfectly spaced bunches in Clos de La Roche
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The still-producing quarry in Morey St.Denis from which Clos de la Roche derives its name

The historic origins of the other Clos in Morey date from the 11th to 14th centuries, with both monks and nuns making their contribution to the development of some of Burgundy’s most prestigious vineyard sites.

Morey Grands Crus show very little hail damage, with some marvelous fruit ripening nicely over the last week.  Some growers have practiced a vendange verte, thinning the crop by cutting off excess bunches to (theoretically) increase the concentration and ripening prospects of the grapes that remain.

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Clos St. Denis with a nice set, although very uneven veraison
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Tightly packed bunches showing some hail damage in Clos St. Denis
The Chapel of Notre Dame of Nuits St. Georges, where monks once controlled Clos St. Denis, and whose graveyard bears the remains of some of Burgundy's most illustrious families.
The Chapel of Notre Dame of Nuits St. Georges, whose newcomer monks controlled Clos St. Denis,, and whose graveyard bears the remains of some of Burgundy’s most illustrious families.
Roses are often planted at the ends of rows of vines.  The provide a wonderful aesthetic, but they are also early insicators of potential vine diseases or infestations.
Roses are often planted at the ends of rows of vines. They provide a lovely aesthetic, but they are also early indicators of vine diseases or infestations which could affect the vineyards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clos de Tart has a unique history, as it was one of the few medieval vineyard sites under the control of women.  From the 12th century it was the property of the nuns of the Notre Dame de Tart.  In 1791 it was confiscated and sold to benefit the new republic, but to this day it remains a monopole vineyard with only one single owner of its 7.5 hectares.

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Crop thinning and a beautiful spread of fruit in Clos de Tart
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More bunches for the birds! Clos de Tart evidently wants to make a statement in 2014

Clos des Lambrays does not have a name to reflect its monastic connections, but they do exist.  The Lambrays were a noble family from the upper Saone river valley (northeast of the abbey town of Beze).  The property was leased in the mid-14th century by the abbey of Citeaux, who had been cultivating Clos de Vougeot for 200 years already.  Their expertise undoubtedly paid off over the centuries, until the property was nationalized after the Revolution.  Today Clos des Lambrays is just under 8 hectares, with only three producers accounting for its wines.

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A beautiful sloping vineyard site, stretching from mid-slope nearly to the forest
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A bit of hail damage to complement the millerandes at Clos des Lambrays
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Some nice fruit in this parcel of Clos des Lambrays

The main Grands Crus vineyards of Morey St. Denis sustained fairly minimal damage from the storms of June 28th.  These should be a fine, but very limited, source of very fine wines at the Grands Crus level if the weather holds from now until the coming harvest.

BONNES MARES & MUSIGNY

Just south of Morey is the village of some of my favorite Cote de Nuits wines, Chambolle-Musigny.  Bookended by two excellent Grands Crus, Bonnes Mares in the north with a small parcel in Morey, and Musigny south of the quiet, nearly hidden village, for me Chambolle is the Cote de Nuits’ stylistic equivalent of Volnay.  The wines possess an elegance and silky texture, combined with a depth and powerful, nearly coffee-like torrefaction which I find most expressive in Musigny itself.  This is not to diminish the efforts of Bonnes Mares’ excellent producers, and the fact is that I have only drunk either no more than a dozen times during my lifetime so far.

The first Burgundy that truly turned my head, literally blew me away, was a Bonnes Mares from Domaine Georges Roumier that I enjoyed with friends one Thanksgiving dinner as a graduate student.  Its impact on all of us was profound, and we all regretted that I could afford only one bottle for that memorable celebration.  Unfortunately I do not remember the vintage, but I do remember that it cost me less than $30.  Bonnes Mares is all silk and refinement, the epitome of that French saying “L’Enfant Jesus en culottes de velour”, meaning “Baby Jesus in velvet pants”The fruit is juicy and unctuous, usually more sweet red than tart black fruit flavors, with an impeccable balance and long, satisfyingly exuberant finish that literally leaves one happily speechless.

A lovely set in the Morey parcel of Bonnes Mares
A lovely set in the Morey parcel of Bonnes Mares
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Veraison is a bit uneven, but a decent result in middle Bonnes Mares
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Some pretty fruit in the Comte de Vogue holdings of Bonnes Mares

The southern parcels of Bonnes Mares show approximately 5% to 10% damaged clusters, while in the northern, Morey parcels, merely 5% or so of the bunches were affected.  Further south into Musigny and upper Vougeot the damage was much more significant and visible.  This swath of vineyards south into the illustrious Grands Crus of Vosne-Romanee were hit pretty hard by two waves of hail the early evening of June 28th.  This author was driving south from Bonnes Mares to Clos de Vougeot on the road above Domaine Bertagna’s Monopole Clos de La Perriere when I was assaulted by sheets of hailstones, from cherry to golf ball sized iceballs.  I remember it every day that I drive, as the dings and dents in my car are quite evident of the storm’s fury, which lasted merely minutes.

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Hail damage and millerandage in Musigny vineyards
Old vines showing significant damage
Old vines showing significant hail damage in Musigny parcel

 

 

Open and exposed to the elements on a knoll above its neighbors, Musigny sustained quite a bit more damage than Clos de Vougeot, which is lower on the slope, and protected by stone walls two meters high in most places.  I estimate losses of 25 to 35% in Musigny.

CLOS de VOUGEOT

The memorable storms which swept northward from the Cote de Beaune that evening brought less damage than they left in the Cote de Beaune, but significant damage to some of the most storied and illustrious Grands Crus of Burgundy.  Perhaps no other site enjoys greater fame or recognition than the Cote de Nuits’  largest  Grand Cru, Clos de Vougeot.  Since the 12th century the monks of Citeaux had built this beautiful property, endowing it with a magnificent winery, a superb set of walls delimiting its boundaries, even mapping and naming its specific, unique plots within the walls.  Today, the 50 hectares of Clos de Vougeot are farmed by over 80 different proprietors.  It would be a tough afternoon’s work to taste through each bottling, but I know of no amateur de Bourgogne who would refuse an invitation to such a glorious tasting.

Burgundy's most well known vineyard site, Clos de Vougeot, aslo serves as headquarters of the Confrerie de Chevaliers du Tastevin
Burgundy’s most well known vineyard site, Clos de Vougeot, also serves as headquarters of the Confrerie de Chevaliers du Tastevin
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Variable ripeness, millerandage, and hail damage in upper Clos de Vougeot
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Better looking fruit mid-slope toward the RN74 in Clos de Vougeot, north side of the vineyard
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Variable veraison, millerandage, but copious undamaged fruit near the bottom slopes of Clos de Vougeot adjacent to the RN 74

While the upper reaches of Clos de Vougeot were pelted by hail and sustained significant damage, one of the strengths of the size of Clos de Vougeot, recognized by the monks themselves, is that the variety of plots offer greater possibility for producing a fine wine than if the plots had been vinified separately.  Barring any unfortunate events until harvest, there will be a healthy amount of Clos de Vougeot for sale from the 2014 vintage.  Because of the fragmentation of plots through inheritance, one may not be able to buy from one’s favorite producer, but there will be a healthy vintage here, especially from those lower plots closer to the former Route Nationale 74.

ECHEZEAUX & GRANDS ECHEZEAUX

Considerable damage was inflicted in the lower slopes of Echezeaux and upper Grands Echezeaux during the late June hailstorms.  Unprotected by walls like neighboring Clos de Vougeot, the hail and winds struck with full force.  20 to 30% of the crop was lost in 2014.

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Good bunches, partially damaged bnches; a critical sorting will be needed here in Echezeaux
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Some good bunches, some damaged. Echezeaux will require experienced pickers at harvest

 

 

 

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Grands Echezeaux with a decent set, but the good, the bad, and the ugly all visible here
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Looking better on the lower slopes of Grands Echezeaux, just a bit of millerandage

I remember early in my wine career, a prominent Vosne-Romanee grower told me that Echezeaux was a monk’s wine, a wine for contemplation and reflection, if not prayer.  I often remember that conversation when I am drinking great Pinot Noir.  Will it thrill or pacify me?  Or both?  It will be a difficult harvest in Flagey-Echezeaux this year, requiring precise selection and sorting, and a monastic discipline that will eventually command higher prices.

THE NOBLE GRANDS CRUS of VOSNE ROMANEE

Heading south from Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux into the commune of Vosne-Romanee, one dips into the slight geological depression of 1er Cru Les Suchots before coming face to face with what are arguably the greatest, and indisputably the most expensive, of Burgundy’s Grands Crus.  Thomas Jefferson took over as Ambassador to France from Benjamin Franklin in 1785, and his four years of service saw him visit many of Europe’s most prominent wine regions, including Burgundy.  He is reported to have remarked “there are no ordinary wines in Vosne”, but he was merely stating what had been obvious for at least 500 years.

In spite of names that allude to Roman origins, it was the monks of the Abbey de St. Vivant from Vergy in the Hautes Cotes de Nuits that first colonized these vineyards in the  9th century.  With plenty of aristocratic patronage and sales to the kings and princes of France and Europe, the wines of Richebourg, Romanee St. Vivant, La Romanee, Romanee-Conti, La Tache, and more recently, La Grande Rue have come to define the finest expressions in the world from the Pinot Noir grape.  There are, simply, no finer red wines in the world, in this writer’s opinion.

Unfortunately, these cherished sites were not spared by the waves of hail that fell on the evening of June 28th.  Mid to upper-slope vineyards saw significant damage.  Upper Richebourg and La Tache appear to have losses of nearly 40%, while further down the slopes, damage in Romanee St. Vivant and Romanee-Conti appears less widespread, which I would estimate at 20 to 25%.

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Millerandage and hail damage at Richebourg upper parcels
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Not a lot of fruit to harvest in this part of Richebourg
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Some good bunches, but most have some hail affected berries: Richebourg
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Some very fine old vines fruit, just not much of it
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Romanee St. Vivant upper parcels with substantial hail damage
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Not a pretty site in Romanee St. Vivant, very variable fruit conditions on the same vine
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A fine looking set lower down in Romanee St. Vivant, a younger vine
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This neighboring vine was a bit less prolific, but not badly damaged, also Romanee St.V
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Fine fruit in La Grande Rue
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Promising results in La Tache
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A little bit uneven in ripeness, but should be fine: La Tache upper parcel
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La Tache upper parcel: not everything is perfect, a fair amount of hail damage here
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One of my favorite places. La Tache just outside the village of Vosne-Romanee

 

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Since the recent vine extortion episode DRC has installed a sign asking visitors not to walk in the vineyard of Romanee-Conti. I respect their concerns. This picture is from the road, beautiful fruit like this was seen in most of this hallowed site.  I have tasted this wine only twice in my life.
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A bit of millerandage in Romanee Conti, but for the most part excellent, prime fruit
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This is probably as close as I will get to tasting this wine again in my lifetime: Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Romanee-Conti. Absolutely beautiful fruit.

The Grands Crus of Vosne-Romanee are indeed “no ordinary wines”, as Thomas Jefferson observed just before the French Revolution changed the face of viticulture in Burgundy.  But I for one am happy that in the 200 years since, most of these vineyard sites have remained in the hands of only a few families.   Their prescient guardianship of this patrimony is a passion that goes well beyond the luxury-brand mentality expressed by too many of their wealthy consumers.  I commend the proprietors of these unique vineyard sites for their efforts to continue and improve upon this heritage.  And a special mention must be achnowledged as well: Aubert de Villaine deserves thanks not only for his efforts for the wines of DRC, but for his forthright support of the cultural patrimony of Burgundy as well.  His tireless efforts for the campaign to have Burgundy climats preserved in the inventory of UNESCO’s world heritage sites, his support for the renovations of the ruins of the Abbey of St. Vivant near Vergy, and his energetic enthusiasm for the Festival de Musique et Vin a Clos Vougeot are an incredible generosity for which I, for one, am extremely grateful.

The vibrant town of Nuits St. Georges unfortunately has no designated  Grands Crus in its extensive vignobles.  But unlike many villages, which were eager to add the names of their most famous crus to enhance the reputation of their village’s wines, Nuits St. Georges can content itself with having donated its name to the entire region: Cote de Nuits.  We move south to the final Grands Crus before the A6 motorway divides north from south, in a manner that 2,000 years of winemaking history could not.

CORTON and CORTON CHARLEMAGNE

There are tales that Charlemagne’s wife asked him to plant white grapes in his vineyards so that he could continue to drink with gusto without staining his white beard with red wines.  At that time water was hardly a safe beverage to drink.  A story, perhaps mere legend, perhaps true, but not as documented as his gift, in 775, of a hillside between Pernand and Aloxe to the monks of the Abbey of Saulieu.  It would be 25 more years before he would be crowned with papal authority as the first Holy Roman Emperor, sanctifying the medieval symbiosis between church and state throughout Europe.

After a century of battles over the division of Charlemagne’s Empire, in 936, Otton the first, also known as Otton le Grand, was crowned King of the Franks for the portion of the empire that then included Burgundy.  It is his name that gives us Corton, and later becomes joined with Charlemagne’s in the largest of the white wine Grands Crus of the Cote d’Or, Corton Charlemagne.  If ever there were wines of kings, and kings of wines, it is here on the hillsides below the forests of the mountain of Corton.

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The hillside of Corton and some of the Grands Crus vineyards of Corton and Corton Charlemagne, as viewed from the road between Savigny and Chorey-les-Beaune
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A similar view from early spring, nearly 10 years earlier

Proceeding from the northeast in Ladoix-Serrigny, and stretching nearly 270° around the oblong circle of the hill, to the village of Pernand-Vergelesses, the Grands Crus appellations of Corton, Corton-Charlemagne, and Charlemagne are spread over more than 150 hectares divided among three villages, Ladoix-Serrigny, Aloxe-Corton, and Pernand-Vergelesses.  Charlemagne is rarely seen in use as an appellation in its own right, and Corton has numerous lieux-dits permitted to be added to the singular Grand Cru classification of Corton (Mourottes, Lolieres, Rognets, Vergennes, Renardes, Clos du Roi, Bressandes, Marechaudes, Perrieres, Greves, Vigne au Saint, and Chaumes – just to name an even dozen).

There was a bit of noticeable hail damage evident as I surveyed this spectacular real estate.  I would say that losses here are no more than 8 to 15%, all around the hillside.

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Corton Charlemagne Lolieres, from the Ladoix side of the hill
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Corton Les Lolieres, again from the Ladoix side of the hill
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Not everything is beautiful, damaged bunches near Corton Lolieres
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Serious rainfall just north of Beaune, here near the bottom of Corton Les Renardes

From an old colleague and friend, a producer of superb wines from these villages just north of Beaune, and through a source at the University of Dijon, I was able to obtain some excellent meteorological data showing the dramatic differences in the amounts of rainfall this spring, versus after the hailstorm, in July and the first weeks of August.  From April through June a gauge near Aloxe-Corton recorded 105mm of rain, a little over 4 inches in three months of spring.  In July alone, the same gauge recorded 135mm, nearly 5.5 inches versus 4 inches in the previous 3 months.  Through August 16th, the gauge measured nearly 40mm, 1.5 inches, with no significant rainfall recorded since that date.  It has been wet in the Cote d’Or, but the improvements of the last week have brought a bit of optimism to the region.  It is still unseasonably cool, even cold at night, but it is drying out the vineyards and there have been no signs of pourriture (rot) to threaten a healthy crop. 

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Wonderful fruit from these parcels in the slopes of Corton Clos du Roi
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Fine old vines fruit from Corton Le Charlemagne parcel above Aloxe-Corton
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A fine vintage for Les Escargots de Bourgogne!  Here at the bottom of Le Charlemagne
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Just round the corner in En Charlemagne a bit of unpleasantness in Pernand
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Another ugly bunch-ling, this also from the En Charlemagne on the Pernand side

 

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Looking toward the village of Pernand from En Charlemagne, with the Chapel of Notre Dame de Bonne Esperance (Our Lady of Good Hope) atop the Pernand 1er Cru Sous Fretille

Corton and Corton Charlemagne have mostly escaped the devastation of their neighbors further south in the Cote de Beaune, just across the motorway.  If the good weather holds, this should mean Grands Crus red and white wines in good quantity as well as quality. 

A VOIR, avec BONNE ESPERANCE

This post has discussed the ripening of fruit and the prospects for the 2014 vintage in the glorious Grands Crus of the Cote d’Or north of the A6 Motorway from Aloxe-Corton to Gevrey-Chambertin.  I discussed the state of the Montrachet Grands Crus in a previous post (see Race to Ripeness – Santenay to Beaune, revised August 16, 2014) and I will discuss the prospects for the regional, villages, and 1ers Crus villages from Chenove to Chorey-les-Beaune in a subsequent post to follow in the coming days.

So far the forces of nature have dealt the growers of the Cote d’Or a difficult hand to play.  A marvelous spring and beginning of summer, with a swift flowering and copious set of fruit, was followed by a devastating hailstorm affecting vineyards throughout the Cote d’Or, but especially devastating in northern Puligny, Meursault, Volnay, Pommard, and Beaune.  The storm also left significant, but less catastrophic damage in Vosne-Romanee, Flagey-Echezeaux, and Vougeot.

The hailstorm of June 28th was followed by nearly six weeks of mostly rainy, cool weather, which water-logged the vineyards and delayed the ripening process, which had been proceeding to a harvest that might have been as early as the first week of September.  Since Sunday, August 16th, Burgundy has enjoyed a solid week of sunshine, with cooler than normal temperatures, drying out the vineyards and lifting the spirits of most producers.  The harvest should commence between the 10th and 15th of September, depending upon exposure and the location of vineyards on the slopes.

Now approximately three weeks from harvest, Burgundians do what all people dependent upon agricultural forms of life must do: it waits.  Today, Sunday, August 24th, is brilliantly clear and sunny, following yesterday’s overcast skies and threatening rain, which  did result in some scattered evening showers.  But the forecast for next week is mostly for continued sunshine and moderate temperatures.  If we can reach harvest without further damaging meteorological incidents, 2014 could bring some fine results.  It will do little to alleviate the pressure on pricing due to increasing world demand and previous, less than generous vintages, but it will provide this piece of paradise on Earth a continued raison d’etre.  We’ll see, and we will continue to hope for the best.