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Denis Bachelet is one of those singular winemakers in Burgundy whose skills are most often spoken of in hushed, respectful tones and whose wines have achieved iconic status .  His Gevrey-Chambertin  and Charmes-Chambertin are so rarely seen on the market that the oft-heard comparisons to unicorns are only half in jest.

This status is palpably incongruous for a man who is himself soft-spoken, gracious and invariably polite.  A portion of his cult-like renown may be due to the scarcity of wines produced by such a diminutive estate:  at 4.28 hectares, it is only about one-third the size of Domaine Armand Rousseau, Bachelet’s co-regent of Gevrey.  But the greater reason for the Bachelet prominence is the incomparable quality of his wine.  As Clive Coates has written: “The Denis Bachelet style produces wines of intensity, great elegance, and subtlety, feminine in the best sense. They are concentrated, harmonious, pure and understated.”

The teenage Denis Bachelet must have been both a quick learner and an intuitive winemaker.  Born in 1963, he produced his first vintage in 1981, a notoriously difficult and largely uncelebrated year  in Burgundy, and drew rave reviews for his efforts. Taking full charge in 1983, Bachelet  quickly rocketed to stardom where he has remained.

As befits a great domaine, there is a solid base in superb vineyards, which are well-situated, prudently farmed, and are comprised of remarkably old vines: all together  4.28 hectares.   Bachelet’s  signature wines, the Grand Cru Charmes-Chambertin (.43 ha.) and the Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin Les Corbeaux (.42 ha.), both come from vines dating back to 1907-1917. The lieux-dit  Les Evocelles, acquired in 2011, consists of 17 ares of vines planted between  1961 and 1969. The villages-level Gevrey-Chambertin (1.43 ha.) comes from vineyards planted between 1932 and 1937, and situated in lieux-dits En Dérée, Sylvie, Les Jeunes Rois, La Burie and La Justice. The Côte-de-Nuits villages (1.04 ha.) vines mostly dates back to 1952, but also include a 9 are parcel in the  lieux-dit Créole in Brochon, which was planted in the early 1900’s.  Remarkably, even Bachelet’s Bougogne Rouge (.61 ha.) and his Aligoté (.19 ha.) are old vine, being planted, respectively, in 1977 and 1987.

Bachelet follows the precepts of lutte raisonée, a system of vine cultivation that is essentially organic and noninterventionist. Lutte raisonnée entails holistic and balanced management of the vineyard, with primary focus on the microbial health of the soil and the biodiversity of the vineyard. The governing policy is to support and maintain the natural ecosystem of the vineyard so that the vines can prosper without intervention, thereby naturally resisting pests and disease. The system pursues a reasoned and not absolutist approach, however, and practitioners of lutte raisonnée  will occasionally permit limited chemical intervention if certain danger thresholds are passed.  The yields are, of course, naturally low due to the advanced age of the vines. In addition, there is green harvesting if any vines appear to be overly productive.  At harvest,  there is strict triage in the vineyards following by a scrupulous sorting again in the cuverie.

IMG_0745Bachelet adheres to a noninterventionsist philosophy in his winemaking, choosing to allow the vintage to express itself through the Pinot Noir. Accordingly, he eschews modernist techniques and takes a decidedly traditional approach to winemaking. After meticulous triage on a vibrating sorting table, the grapes are completely de-stemmed, lightly crushed, and then cold macerated in cement vats at 15°C. for 5 or 6 days.  Natural yeasts then ferment the must for up to two weeks, with the temperature regulated below 32°C.  Bachelet generally punches down once or twice daily, but only rarely pumps over. After fermentation, and pressing (pneumatic press), the juice is placed into stainless tanks to settle out the gross lees for up to a week, racked into barrels and  then cooled to 13°C. The intent of this cooling is to delay malolactic fermentation for as long as possible, as late as the following August, thereby maintaining high levels of CO₂ and preserving freshness.

The oak regimen is light, with generally only 25% new oak for the villages Gevrey and up to 35% for the Premier and Grand Crus. The tonnellerie Meyrieux crafts the barrels, using  Allier oak for the Charmes-Chambertin and Vosges for the villages and Premer Cru. After a total of 15-18 months, the wine is hand bottled without filtration.

 

Marsannay panorama

The seemingly inexorable price escalation of fine Burgundy, especially when combined with the alarming fall in yields inflicted by recent climatic misfortune, has prompted at least one salutary consequence. Those of us infatuated by Pinot Noir as expressed in the Côte d’Or – that is, Red Burgundy – have been motivated to re-examine our preferences and prejudices and to evaluate anew lesser regarded appellations that may likewise offer the enchantment of fine Red Burgundy.

For many, this process is another reminder that, whatever our conceits to the contrary, our penchant for certain appellations is to some extent a function of fashion. For example, the allure of Vosne-Romanée and Chambolle-Musigny is evident and fully justified; but there are démodé appellations — Corton and Volnay come immediately to mind – that can offer equally compelling if somewhat different takes on Pinot Noir.

One such appellation that has been receiving considerable new focus is Marsannay-la-Côte, the northernmost and most recent (1987) AC in the Côte-de-Nuits. Although Marsannay today enjoys only “secondary” prestige within the Côte d’Or, this was not always the case. The wines of the Clos du Roy vineyard were appropriated by Royal Decree for the tables of Louis XIV and XVI; and several climats enjoyed the equivalent of Grand Cru status well into the nineteenth century. During the Belle Epoque, Marsannay became the dernier cri in Paris cafés. In 1919, Joseph Clair (Dom. Clair-Daü) originated Marsannay Rosé and it was quickly adopted by the smart set in Dijon society.

Indeed, Marsannay (and especially the rosé) was in such high demand in adjacent Dijon, that vignerons sold all their wine locally and enjoyed singular prosperity during the Roaring Twenties (or, as the French say, Les Années Folles).  Their success was such that Marsannay proponents perceived little benefit in promoting their wines during formation of the Appellation system in the early 1930s, and Marsannay was accordingly not included as an AC.  When the fashion faded, and as the French economy descended into the abyss of the approaching war, Marsannay went into full eclipse.
The village of Marsannay was founded in the Fourth Century as Marceniacum, in recognition of a Gallo-Roman named Marcenus, the seigneur of a large villa in the area.  Marceniacum in Monte became Marsannay en Montagne and finally Marsannay-la-Côte. In 644 AD, the Duke of Amalgaire bequeathed the vineyards of Marsannay to the monks of the Abbot of Béze. According to local lore, commemorated by Phillip the Good in 1443, Charlemagne himself stopped and rested beside a fountain under a tree in Marsannay.

The Marsannay Appellation comprises 228 hectares of vineyards in the communes of Marsannay-la-Côte, Couchey and Chenôve. There are 65 climats within the appellation, of which around 20 produce palpably more distinguished wine.  Not surprisingly, however, the application for Premier Cru designations is mired in politics. The most distinguished lieux-dits, and therefore the ones justifiably anticipating premier cru status, include Clos du Roy, Longeroies, Les Grasses Têtes, and La Charmes au Prêtres (depicted in Pitiot as Les Rosey).

The slopes of Marsannay rise gently from 260m to 320m, mostly facing eastwards over a base of Bathonian or Bajocian limestone. The topsoil is a dark brown mixture of marl, clay, limestone scree, Aeolian sediment and pebbles.

Uniquely, Marsannay  produces red, white and rosé wines of disntinction,  Marsannay being the only Appellation in the entire Côte d’Or entitled to AOC status for its rosé wine. Clive Coates has observed that Pinot Noir produces perhaps the best rosé wine of all; and Marsannay is the most celebrated rosé in Burgundy.

At its best, Marsannay rouge is rich, intense and robust, powefully textured with firm tannins, tending to exhibit dark berry and supple plum flavors, and boasting an appealingly  persistent finish.  Marsannay blanc, at its best, is round and balanced, with good concentration of melon and peach, slight mineral inflexion, with seductive vibrancy and a surprisingly long finish. Marsannay Rosé exhibits great energy and charm, with understated notes of strawberry and raspberry, wisps of lavender,  with captivating vitality and  a long, liminous finish. Excellent examples of Marsannay can be sourced from Sylvain Pataille, Camille Giroud and Bruno Clair.

 

Marsannay_la_Cote

 

Gerbais also   Jockovino has previously written (A New Dawn Rises Over the Aube) how       and why some of today’s most compelling and seductive Champagnes come      from the hitherto obscure Aube region of Champagne. At the forefront of the    excitement in the Aube is Domaine Pierre Gerbais, an 18-hectare estate  situated in the Côte des Bars, the southernmost vignoble in Champagne.  The  Domaine’s vineyards lie on slopes of the Ource Valley in the village of Celles –sur-Ource, and benefit from a microclimate created by the convergence of the Laignes, Seine,  Ource and Arce river valleys.  The vineyards lie on the famous Kimmeridgian Ridge, a geological  formation of limestone marl that runs through the vineyards of Champagne, the Loire Valley and Burgundy. More than a few oenophiles are convinced that many of the finest vineyards in the world lie on the  Kimmeridgian Ridge, whose distinctive limestone clay, rich in fossilized ammonites, give rise to uniquely profound wines.

Domaine Gerbais has 10 hectares of Pinot Noir, 4 hectares of Chardonnay, and 4 hectares of Pinot Blanc. The vines themselves are quite old, some planted over a century ago (average age over 30 years), so the roots reach deeply into the Kimmeridgian soil. The Domaine is devoted to the principles of organic viticulture and fulfilled the rigorous certification standards of AMPELOS since 1996. They produce about 20,000 cases per year.

Gerbais is a family affair and there are three generations now pulling together to fashion their remarkable Champagnes.IMG_1466   The winemaker, 23-year old Aurélien Gerbais who spearheads the efforts, was trained in Burgundy and passionately embraces their terroir-driven philosophy, together with many of the innovations adopted by the young generation.

The conventional wisdom is that Champagne must come from three grapes only:  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  This is largely accurate in practice, insofar as only 100 acres out of Champagne’s total of 30,000 acres are planted in other than the “big three”.  But it is not true in fact.  As of 2010, Champagne can be produced from four grapes beyond the “big three”: Petit MeslierPinot BlancArbanne and Pinot Gris.

One of the most compelling and seductive attractions of Domaine Pierre Gerbais is their cultivation and use of  a rare type of Pinot Blanc (“Pinot Blanc Vrai”) in some of their Champagnes. In this regard, Pinot Blanc was once widely planted in the Aube as the vines are more resistant to the region’s frost. But the development of more frost-resistant clones and, more importantly, the vicissitudes of fashion have all but extinguished  the availability of this charming alternative.

Gerbais employs seléction parcelaire, that is to say the Domaine carefully identifies particular parcels of vines within the vineyards and then picks and vinifies separately the fruit within each such plot before composing the final blends.  The grapes are harvested carefully by hand and crushed in a traditional Champagne press. After a brief period of débourbage at a controlled, cool 12° C.,  alcoholic fermentation is induced in stainless steel tank through select organic yeasts. The wine then, also in tank,  naturally passes through malolactic fermentation.  Each of the Domaine’s  bottling expresses a unique approach to Champagne and includes variable techniques and blends.

The Domaine’s offerings include the Cuvée de Réserve,  Extra Brut.  This wine is a blend comprised of 5% Pinot Blanc, and 47.5% each of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. All the fruit comes from low-yield old vines (average 35 years).  At present (2013), the base wine is from the 2007 vintage, with a low dosage of 5g/L. The Cuvée de Réserve is aged on its lees in bottle for 30 months and disgorged 6 months before release. Total sulphur dioxide is less than 30mg/L. The pH is measured at 3.06.

Gerbais’ Prestige, Extra Brut is a Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) derived from two quite distinct parcels of Chardonnay. The predominant constituent derives from a special lieu-dit called Les Côtes, a north-facing parcel planted in 1983. The complementary parcel is an old vine parcel with a more typical southern exposition. The fruit from each parcel is separately crushed and vinified in thermo-regulated stainless steel vessels. The current (2013) bottling has a base wine from the 2008 vintage, and a dosage of 5g/L. The  Prestige, Extra Brut is aged on its lees in bottle for 36 months and disgorged 6 months before release. Total sulfur dioxide is less than 36mg/L. The pH is measured at 3.08.

L’Audace Brut Nature is a 100% Pinot Noir-based Champagne from a special lieu-dit, Les Saintes Maries. The vineyard includes vines developed through selection massale and from a rare variety of  Pinot Noir called Pinot Droit, in which the fruit-bearing shoots grown straight up instead of at right angles to the main plant. Accordingly, the resulting juice offers unique flavor profiles, and produces very distinctive Champagne.  Although the current (2013) offering derives entirely from the 2010 vintage, the Domaine has decided not to designate it a vintage Champagne.  There is no (0 g/L) dosage and the wine is accordingly labeled Brut Nature. L’Audace Brut Nature is aged on its lees in bottle for 24 months and disgorged 6 months before release. Total sulfur dioxide is less than 8 mg/L. and can thus be legally labeled “sulfur free.”

The Domaine’s most singular offering is its L’Originale Extra Brut, made 100% from selected parcels of Pinot Blanc Vrai. The dominant parcel is in a special lieu-dit called Les Proies, comprised  of very old vines that were grafted in 1904 onto the then-extant rootstock. This parcel, with already low yields due to the age of the vines, suffers additionally from millerandage, a condition causing undersized berries and reduced yields.  Fortunately, both old vines and millerandage produce intense, profoundly compelling fruit for Aurélian Gerbais to use in this flagship, prestige cuvee. The current (2013) offering of L’Originale Extra Brut is crafted from base wine made the 2008 vintage and a dosage of 5-6g/L.  This very special Champagne is aged on its lees in bottle for 36 months and disgorged 6 months before release. Total sulfur dioxide is less than 31mg/L. The pH is measured at 3.01.

Les Corbeaux: This 3.21-hectare Premier Cru climat in Gevrey-Chambertin is situated in just south of the village of Gevrey, and east of the Premier Cru Fonteny vineyard.  Facing east from an elevation of 300m, the soil is limestone-based,  peppered with small pebbles in the upper portion of the vineyard,  and exhibiting somewhat richer and browner soil at the lower section.

The vineyard lies over the site a of a cemetery from the Middle Ages. The name Corbeaux, which means “crows” in French,  attests to the birds that were attracted to the burial site.

The most notable wine from the vineyard is produced by Domaine Denis Bachelet.

When General de Gaulle famously questioned: “How can you govern a country French cheesethat has 246 kinds of cheese,” he was de Gaulleconfirming that the historical conflicts among France’s many peoples belie the fiction of a cohesive Belle France. One of the most quarrelsome regions of France has been Champagne, which has since antiquity been the venue of France’s bloodiest battles; and, more recently, the source of perhaps its most iconic wines. It seems that when the Champenois have not been fighting the Romans or the Germans, they have often turned on themselves, perhaps just for practice.

The province and viticole of Champagne has historically been divided into two sectors. The northern Marne , with Reims as its center of gravity, is comprised of  the Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Blancs.  The portion of the Champagne viticole  in the southern sector of the Aube,  which revolves around the city of Troyes,  is the Côte des Bar.  The rivalries and conflict between the Marne and the Aube have deep historical roots that continue into the present.  For at least the past 100 years, the casus belli has been economic conflict arising from the highly lucrative Champagne trade. Although both the Marne and Aube grow grapes and make Champagne, the two rivals have competed to dominate, each trying to marginalize the other.

To the extent that the Marne has become more dominant than the Aube since the Middle Ages, and Reims grown ascendant over Troyes, the northerners have been positioned to define the terms of conflict.  In the first part of the twentieth century, they prevailed upon the central authorities in Paris to designate the Marne as the premier part Champagne and to denigrate the Aube as secondary.  This prompted violent protest in the Aube which came very close to open insurrection in 1911-14, diverted only by the outbreak of the First World War.   Although the southerners succeeded after the War in overturning their disparaging second class status, the damage had largely been done:, and the Aube has since played a decisively secondary role in the Champagne trade.  While Aube grapes have consistently formed an essential part of the blends, the Marne has garnered all the glory.  The best-rated vineyards and most powerful Champagne houses have invariably been situated in the north. Even today when most oenophiles think of fine Champagne, it is almost invariably from the Marne .

The worm has begun to turn, however, and serious wine lovers increasingly focus on the Aube. One of the reasons for this change is that the very success of the Marne has all too often led to an inflexible embrace of traditional practices and a resistance to innovation and creativity. Vignerons in the Aube, in contrast, unfettered by the shackles of their past, have been free to experiment and try new approaches.  The Marne remains in many ways a captive to the Grandes Marques and to the prevalent practice there of buying in grapes and blending wines in pursuit of a “consistent house style.”  Thus, for example, while many in the north are mired in the past, still robotically blending Champagne for the sweet tooth of the Russian Imperial Court, many creative young Aubois are crafting low dosage Champagne more suited to modern palates and cuisine.

Although the Aube is situated halfway between Beaune and Reims, Aubois vignerons incline more towards their brethren in Burgundy by reason both of geographical influences and personal chemistry.  Aubois vignerons,  strongly influenced by their  Burgundian neighbors,  appreciate the relative value of terroir over uniformity.   Significantly, the Kimmeridgean marl and Portlandian limestone of the Aube   more closely resembles the soil in Burgundy (and especially Chablis)   than  the more homogeneous Cretaceous chalk of the Marne. Historically disparaged by their rivals in the Marne, the Aubois have eagerly embraced the philosophy and innovations of the new generation in Burgundy.  While the feet of the Aubois are firmly planted in Champagne, their hearts belong to Burgundy.

         

            Wine lovers, especially Burgundy aficionados, often indulge the conceit that our preferences among appellations are determined solely by that part of the brain devoted to detached and judicious evaluation. The reality is that taste predilections in wine, as in music or art, are far more subjective; they are, more often than we’d care to admit, frequently a function of the fickle fancies of fashion. Pommard, for example, was among the two or three best known and esteemed appellations in Burgundy during the nineteenth century (and before). By the 1930’s, however, when the AOC laws were formulated, Pommard had slipped somewhat from fashion, an actuality reflected in relatively lower prices, for example, than the prices in Grand Cru-rich Gevrey-Chambertin.   Accordingly, no Grand Cru designations (which were based almost exclusively on then-current price) were awarded to vineyards in Pommard.

            The consensus among today’s sophisticated Burgundophiles is that any contemporary reformulation of the qualitative hierarchy in the Côte d’Or would promote at least two of Pommard’s vineyards, Rugiens Bas and Clos des Epeneaux. In fact, the reigning arbiter of taste in Burgundy, Allen Meadows, would crown the Clos des Epeneaux at the very top of Pommard.

            Comprised of 5.2 hectares, the Clos des Epeneaux is one of the largest Premier Cru vineyards in Burgundy. The vineyard’s most remarkable distinction, however, is the fact that it has remained under single ownership within the same family since 1756. During the 18th century, the Marey-Mange family, related by marriage to the present owner, Comte Armand, acquired the entire 30.52-hectare Epenots vineyard in Pommard. Shortly thereafter, the owners carved out and walled in the Clos, which is itself composed of 4.6 hectares situated in the climat Les Grands Epenots and .6 hectares situated in the climat Les Petits Epenots. Significantly, the present manager of the estate, Benjamin Leroux, has determined that the vineyard walled within the Clos des Epeneaux is in fact geologically distinctive from the surrounding terrain outside the walls.

The soil in the Clos is ferruginous marl (mixture of clay and calcium carbonate) combined with plentiful limestone debris over a subsoil base of Argovian limestone. Not surprisingly, the thinner and rockier soils are found upslope (260 meters), where the soil depth can be only 20-30 cm; downslope (240 meters) soil depths increase to measure 60-80cm. The Clos enjoys a beneficial microclimate, with a favorable east-facing aspect that permits maximum exposure to the morning sun. The wall vitiates the damaging potential of strong winds while at the same time permitting gentle breezes to move out pockets cold air as well as to dry out moisture that could lead to rot. The vineyard also benefits from an underground stream as well as from the abundance of limestone scree integrated into the soil fostering good drainage. By family tradition, the spelling of “Epenots” was poetically changed to “Epeneaux” (the suffix “-eaux” in French means waters) in honor of the underground stream.

Even with the blessings of Nature and History, the Clos des Epeneaux long underperformed its potential and its wines languished in relative mediocrity. Well into the 1960’s, the wine was sold off to négociants. In 1985, however, a very prescient Comte Armand took an inspired risk and selected a young and relatively-untested Canadian poet-turned-winemaker, 29-year old Pascal Marchand, to take over from Marcel and Philibert Rossignol,

Pascal Marchand

who had supervised the estate since 1955. Marchand jumped in and immediately started making changes. A devoté of organic and biodynamic winemaking, Pascal ceased the use of herbicides and started plowing the vineyard to cut surface roots and eliminate weeds. He adopted more natural farming techniques, aiming toward biodynamié, and significantly lowered yields. By the time that Pascal was lured away to take over Domaine de la Vougeraie in 1999, the wines of the Clos des Epeneaux has ascended in quality to the highest rank.

The Count, however, demonstrating convincingly that his selection of Marchand had not been mere luck, made an equally inspired  choice in selecting Pascal’s replacement, Benjamin Leroux. Determined to become a vigneron at an early age, and despite not coming from a winemaking family, Ben enrolled in Beaune’s Lycée Viticole when he was 13. Upon graduation, he took a Diploma in Oenology at Dijon University, and in 1990-1992 apprenticed to Pascal Marchand  at the Domaine des Epeneaux. Leroux subsequently rounded out his practical training in Bordeaux at Cos d’Estournel, and then with universally-respected Jacques Lardière at Maison Louis Jadot.

The prevailing wisdom in Burgundy is that small parcels of vineyards produce more terroir-specific wines by focusing on the attributes of the particular parcel.  While this may be persuasive, it must also be realized that this rationalization may be borne from necessity: small parcels are what most winemakers have to work with. A compelling case can also be made for the virtues of composing wines from a somewhat larger vineyard.  Benjamin Leroux, like Pascal Marchand before him, often muses on the virtues of being able to make wines from a complex of variables within a larger vineyard. A small parcel can be coaxed by a skillful winemaker into an exquisite sonata. A larger vineyard, with differently aged vines and a subtle variety of the same terroir can inspire a symphony.

Initially, Leroux followed in the footsteps of Pascal Marchand, and divided the Clos into 4 blocks,  picking and then vinifying each separately to produce four cuvées.  The blocks were defined by age, with a “young block” of 22-26 year old vines; a middle-aged block of 30-46 year old vines; a mature block of 50- 66 year old vines; and an old vine block greater than 66 years old.  Recently, however, Leroux has decided to base each block on its geology, and to replant portions of each such block in rotation, thereby providing each cuveé with its own age-mix of vines.

Benjamin Leroux

Although Ben Leroux is acknowledged as a technical master of scientific winemaking, he actually follows a very intuitive approach, which flows directly from his perception of biodynamics.  “For me,” Ben observes, “biodynamie is not a technique but a philosophy.”  In Ben’s weltanschauung, man has become disconnected more and more from nature of which he forms an integral part.   Rather than trying to impose our own rhythms on the outside physical world, Ben contends that it is just “common sense” to work harmoniously with the forces of nature, to attune ourselves with gravity, with the sun, with the cycles of the moon. Nevertheless, because  biodynamie is a philosophy and not a religion, Ben retains an open mind toward biodynamic techniques, and will, for example, abstain from “biodynamic treatments”, such as copper sulfate,  that he feels disrupt natural rhythms.

Since the grapes mature at differing times within this large vineyard, several passes are required in order to pick the fruit from each block at optimal ripeness, and the harvest can take 8-10 days to complete. The vinification process for all four cuvees is essentially the same. After sorting, all the fruit from the Clos is completely de-stemmed and given a short pre-fermentation cold soak. Using indigenous yeasts, fermentation continues for about three weeks, after which there is a post-fermentation maceration of around a week. Fermentation is accompanied by remontage (pumping over) and pigeage (punching down), frequency being adjusted to the vintage.  Fermentation temperature is regulated not to exceed 32°C; post maceration is kept at 28°C. Total cuvaison is limited to one lunar cycle of 28 days.

The wines are then racked into Betrange oak and aged for 20-22 months. The amount of new oak varies with the age of the vines, with young vines receiving only 20% versus 80% for the older vines. Leroux carefully blends together wines from the different cuvees to produce the final Clos des Epeneaux for each vintage. Any wine not used in the blend is bottled as Pommard 1er Cru and as Pommard villages.

As Eric Asimov has written, Burgundy is a “cascade of complications.” The conventional preconception and clichéd criticism of Pommard is that its wines are rustic and stolid. But these adjectives could never be rationally applied to the Pommard of the Clos des Epeneaux.  Ben Leroux’s wine is robust and with great structure. They exhibit a perfumed and expressive nose of black cherries,spice and minerality, an  impressive concentration, round and smooth, in the midpalate, and a sweet, firm but velvety finish. The overall impression is one of class, grace, and elegance.

Imagining White Burgundy as Major League Baseball, each appellation a competing  team, and the winemakers cast as starting pitchers, Meursault would doubtless boast the deepest starting rotation. One needs only to reflect that this appellation includes such outstanding talent as the widely-celebrated Dominique Lafon, the supremely-gifted Jean-Marc Roulot, and the eagerly-pursued Jean-François Coche. Not to mention superstars Pierre Morey, François Mikulski and Alix de Montille.

Making comparative evaluations among such a galaxy of brilliant winemakers is at the best highly subjective, and at the worst beside-the-point. Nonetheless, given the embarrassment of riches in Meursault, it is striking that at least two of today’s most influential wine writers, were an election held for  primus inter pares,  might well send up the white smoke for Patrick Javillier. The always perspicacious Clive Coates, who calls Javillier “the King of Meursault,”  recently compiled a list of the 10 Top Burgundy Domaines of All Time, awarding  one of the coveted spots to Domaine Patrick Javillier.  Along the same lines, today’s most influential commentator on Burgundy, Allen Meadows, recently praised Javillier’s 2008 wines as “genuinely brilliant,” then went on to enthuse: “In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is quite simply no one in Burgundy producing better regional or villages level wines across the board.”

Although the Javillier family has resided in Meursault for centuries, they did not make wine until Patrick’s father, Raymond, came back from World War II in 1945. By the time that Patrick took the pipette from his father in 1974, Domaine Javillier comprised a mere 3 hectares, including 2 hecatres of village level Meursault and one of Aligoté.

Currently,  Domaine Patrick Javillier  consists of 9.5 hectares in the Côte de Beaune, principally in Meursault but also in Savigny-lès Beaune, with additional small plots in Pernand-Vergelesses, Aloxe-Corton and  Puligny-Montrachet.The heart of Domaine Javillier lies in Meursault where the Domaine has holdings in six different villages-level climats.

The Domaine’s largest such holding is a 1.5-hectare plot in Les Tillets ,a 12-hectare climat situated uphill and southwest of the village of Meursault toward Puligny-Montrachet. Lying at an elevation averaging 350 meters and enjoying a southeast exposition,with a limestone-based soil,  the vineyard manifests a stylistic similarity to the elegantly racy wines of Puligny.  Javillier’s  oldest vines in Les Tillets were planted in 1937, and the youngest ones in 1977.

The Domaine also holds a 1-hectare parcel of Clos du Cromin, another village-level climat in Meursault that is part of 9.27-hectare Le Cromin that lies in the clay-rich Volnay side of Meursault, adjacent to the Volnay-producing Les Plures.

 

Intriguingly, Javiller’s most compelling Meursaults are actually each blends of different climats. Contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy in Burgundy, which insists that single vineyard wines are de rigeur, Javillier is a highly articulate proponent of the philosophy that the whole can exceed the sum of its parts. He vinifies each parcel separately and then carefully evaluates and adjusts the elevage of the individual cask before assembling the final cuvées.  Each constituent cask is scrupulously selected for its own characteristics and for its capacity to contribute to the blend. Javillier coaxes complexity into his wines using a combination of batonnage and extended lees contact. 

Javillier’s Cuvée Les Clousots is a blend derived from .36-hectare of parcel of Les Clous Dessus and a .23-hectare parcel of Les CrototsLes Clous Dessus is an east-facing 9.76-hectare climat of Meursault situated at the top of the hill, just to the north of Les Tillets on an east facing slope Javiller’s plot of Les Clous Dessus was planted in 1957 and enjoys deep (1meter) clay-limestone soil over a limestone base.  Les Crotots is 4.61 hectare climat of Meursault situated midslope, south of the village, just downhill and to the east of Premier Cru Les Poruzots. Javillier’s parcel of Les Crotots was planted in 1975 on clay-limestone soil with an eastern exposition.

Javiller’s Cuvée Tête de Murger is a rich and complex Meursault blend derived from .62 hectares of vines planted in 1979, partially from Les Casses-Têtes, and partially from Au Murger de Monthelie.  The 4.64-hectare Les Casses-Têtes is classic Meusault terroir, east-facing and with very thin soil. The vineyard lies mid-slope in the center of the appellation, just downslope to the east of Les Clous Dessous.  The 6.94-hectare climat Au Murger de Monthelie is situated in the northwestern corner of Meursault, toward Volnay,  along the border with Monthelie. The climat faces west on a deep (80cm) clay rich soil over a base of volcanic rock.  Javillier believes that Les Casses-Têtes contributes minerality and tension on the attack while the Au Murger de Monthelie provides balance, length and opulence on the palate.

Patrick Javillier is particularly renowned for producing what several critics contend is the most remarkable and compelling example of Corton-Charlemagne, surpassing that of even the better known and much larger Bonneau du Martray.  Javillier’s tiny .17-hectare south-facing parcel is located in the Grand Cru lieu-dit Les Pougets. Javillier’s  vines were planted in 1984.

 Perhaps Javillier’s most emblematic wine is his Cuvée des Forgets, which is technically a modestly-classified Bougogne blanc but seems for all intents and purposes (save price!) a full bodied Meursault. Cuvée des Forgets derives from 2.25 hectares of vines within the lieux-dits of Les Herbeux,  situated the the northernmost section of Meursault, and  Les Vaux, which is located just across the border in Volnay (but nonetheless entitled to the Meursault appellation).  The vineyards were planted in the early 1970s and the soils are alluvial limestone over silt.

A similarly celebrated wine is Javillier’s Cuvée Oligocene, which derives from the Meursault climat Les Pellans, which is located in the southernmost section of Meursault adjacent to Puligny-Montrachet. The vineyard lies just south of Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes-Dessous, but curiously only one-half (6.84 hectares) of the vineyard was legally classified as Meursault after the Great War, despite the fact that the entire vineyard enjoys the same geology, altitude and exposition. Javillier’s .75 hectare parcel of Les Pellans, planted in 1977, is infortuitously situated in the section robbed of its birthright in the original classification. While this obliges Domaine Javillier to label Cuvée Oligocene as Bourgogne Blanc instead of Meursault, the flip-side is that Allen Meadows perennially describes the Cuvée as “genuinely brilliant” and as a “best buy”.

 

Significantly, Patrick Javillier  accords the same care and treatment to his  Bourgognes Blancs as he does to his Meursault.  That is, he vinifies his Cuvée des Forgets and Cuvée Oligocene and then ages them on lees just as he does his prized Meursault.  

 

Domaine Javillier also produces a very small quantity of Puligny-Montrachet from an .18-hectare parcel of a village-level  climat Les Levrons (6.56 hectares), which is located just downhill to the east of Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Referts. In addition, Javillier makes a miniscule amount of Meursault Premier Cru, Les Charmes, from a tiny plot of .06 hectars Finally, Javillier produces excellent wines from 2 village-level lieux-dits in Savigny-lès-Beaune, a .54 hectare parcel of Les Grands Liards, and a .7 hectare parcel of Les Montchevenoy.

Javillier picks each climat of Chardonnay separately, carefully sorts through the fruit and then presses each separately in Vaslin open tank presses (as opposed to closed tank pneumatic presses that are more common today). . As Remington Norman observes, this eccentric system results in more oxidative winemaking since not only is the tank more open to the atmosphere than with a pneumatic bladder press, but also the must is more fully exposed to oxygen as it runs along the length of the press. Javillier is willing to sacrifice some of the primary fruit aromas in exchange for the more rapid development of secondary and tertiary aromas in bottle. It may also be that this process helps guard against the premature oxidation that seems to afflict may winemakers who use more anaerobic presses. Javillier’s wines, for whatever reason, do not exhibit the premature oxidation that curses too many contemporary white Burgundies.

After a 24-hour débourbage (“settling”), the must is racked into barrels (25% new oak) where the wines undergo alcoholic and malolactic fermention, and age on their lees for 11-12 months. Unlike many of today’s best winemakers, Patrick is a proponent of batonnage (“stirring the lees”), which he believes enriches the wine and adds complexity. On the other hand, batonnage is presumably be oxidative for two reasons. First, merely removing the bung allows air (and thus oxygen) to enter the barrel and fill up any empty space caused by evaporation. Secondly, the actual stirring physically stimulates the release of free SO₂  and CO₂ , which gasses, trapped in solution in the wine, are believed to retard oxidation.

The white wines rest in the barriques until just before they are needed for the subsequent vintage (usually 11-12 months) at which time each cask is evaluated. Javillier then makes selections based on the characteristics of each cask and assembles his cuvées and decants them into cement vats where they rest for an additional 3-5 months. Javillier believes that the porosity of the cement allows a gentle exchange of air through the walls of the vat, thereby enriching the wines. Again, Javillier is rejecting the prevailing preference for stainless in favor of a the presumably more oxidative cement. Following light fining and (if necessary) filtration, the wines are bottled 14-18 months after harvest.

Thus, Javillier’s open tank pressing, his batonnage, and the final élevage in cement  run counter to prevailing practices in Burgundy which tend to reject practices thought to be oxidative. Nevertheless, either because of or inspite of these disfavored practices, it remains noteworthy that Javillier wines have been entirely free of premature oxidation.

Although best known for his white wines, Patrick Javillier also makes superb Pinot Noir, most characteristically a Premier Cru Savigny-lès-Beaune, Les Sepentières. Javillier’s parcel is comprised of .71 hectares of vines planted in 1979 with full south exposure. The soil is limestone-based and very stony. The reds are 100% de-stemmed and then cold macerated for 5 or 6 days. They are vinified in oak barrels, of which 50% are new, and then aged for 11-15 months.  The press wine is separated, vinified and aged separately, and added to the final blend if appropriate to the vintage. The reds are neither fined not filtered before bottling. Increasingly, Patrick’s daughter Marion is assisting in the winemaking of the reds.

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