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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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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.

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.