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Sylvain Cathiard. with his wife and son Sebastian

As Jockovino has pointed out elsewhere, one of the most durable images of the Burgundian vigneron is the laconic peasant, face deeply etched by long exposure to the elements and hands callused by years of manual labor in the vineyards.  His education has been acquired for the most part by working alongside his father and he is even now passing along the accumulated wisdom of generations to his son.  While the reality is most often strikingly different, there are at least a few instances where this compelling and beguiling image is surprisingly accurate.    

Sylvain Cathiard, who has been selected by Clive Coates as one of the few three-star superstars in Burgundy, is just such a man of the soil: a  vigneron whose personal ties to the terroir naturally imbue him with a remarkable talent to give transparent expression to the  wines he so carefully crafts.    

Domaine Sylvain Cathiard et Fils now comprises almost 7 hectares of vineyards in the Côte de Nuits, principally in Vosne-Romanée, but also in Nuits-St-Georges and Chambolle-Musigny. The Domaine was founded by Sylvain’s grandfather in the 1930’s and taken over by his father in 1969.  Sylvain himself, a graduate of the Ecole Viticole in Beaune, began working with his father, André, in the 1980’s and gradually assumed control in the 1990’s. Since taking over, Sylvain has raised the quality level of the Domaine to the topmost echelon of Burgundy. Sylvain has now been joined by his son Sébastian, who is being trained and groomed to take over in the future.    

The heart of Domaine Cathiard lies in Vosne-Romanée (and Flagey-Echézeaux) , where the Domaine has prize holdings in four remarkable Premier Cru vineyards as well as a small, spectacular parcel (.167 hectare) in Grand Cru Romanée-St-Vivant. To the south, between the village of Vosne and the border with Nuits-St-Georges, and adjacent to La Tâche, lies the Domaine’s .74 hectare parcel of Aux Malconsorts, a remarkable Premier Cru climat that rivals the best in the appellation.  Cathiard’s Malconsorts vines were planted in 1972. A bit north, and just above Grands Crus La Romanée and La Romanée-Conti, lies the Domaine’s .24 hectare parcel of Les Reignots. Further north, and adjacent to Grand Cru Romanée-St-Vivant, the Domaine holds a small .164 hectare parcel of Premier Cru Les Suchots, planted in 1969.  Lastly, within the Flagey-Echézeaux section of the appellation, lies Cathiard’s .293 hectares of Premier Cru En Orveaux, planted in 1953. En Orveaux is a particularly interesting vineyard in a portion of it actually falls within Grand Cru Echézeaux. In addition, the Domaine includes three parcels of village-level Vosne-Romanée, planted in the early 1970’s and aggregating .79 hectares.      

Domaine Sylvain Cathiard also enjoys a small .456 hectare parcel, planted in 1951, of Les Clos de l’Orme, a lieu-dit in Chambolle-Musigny situated just southeast of Premier Cru Les Charmes. In Nuits-St-Georges, the Domaine has a sliver (.128 hectare) of village-level vineyards planted in 1949, as well as a .475 hectare parcel of Premier Cru Les Murgers planted in 1945,  and a .43 hectare piece of Premier Cru Aux Thorey planted in 1953. This latter holding has an interesting history, it having been acquired by the Domaine in 2005 in consideration for the work that Sylvain Cathiard had put into the parcels of Aux Malconsorts and Romanée-St-Vivant acquired from Moillard by Domaines Dujac and de Montille.     

Sylvain Cathiard is a practitioner of lutte raisonnée, a system of vine cultivation that is essentially organic and noninterventionist. Lutte raisonnée entails holistic and balanced viticultural management with primary focus on 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; and, more importantly,  when chemicals are viewed as less harmful to the soil than alternative biodynamic treatments.   As a practical matter, lutte raisonnée can be distinguished from biodynamie in that the former implies the application of treatments only as a necessary response, and the use of chemicals as a less harmful alternative. In contrast,  biodynamie implements treatments systematically as prevention and employs biodynamic remedies like sulphur and copper that many vignerons believe are more harmful to the vineyard than chemical alternatives.   Lutte raisonnée, in the judgment of its practitioners, thus results in less intervention and a more flexible approach that elevates the long term health of the vineyard above organic and biodynamic orthodoxy.      

Following meticulous sorting in the vineyards and then again in the winery, Cathiard completely destems the fruit and employs cold maceration for 4-8 days, depending on the vintage. With neither yeasting nor enzyming, fermentation is permitted to reach fairly high temperatures (31°-32° C.) for 16-22 days, with the frequency of pigéage and length of cuvaison adapted to the vintage.   The young wine is then racked into Allier barrels (30-40% new oak for village-level, and 60-70% for the Premier Cru) and aged 18-20 months. After assemblage, the wines are bottled without fining or filtration.    

The wines of Sylvain Cathiard, especially his Vosne-Romanée, are reference-standards. Tasting through his village-level and then his Premier Cru Vosne, the subtle differences among the crus are readily apparent, and illustrate both the authority and the magic of terroir. Cathiard wines are lush and opulent, to be certain, and without the slightest hint of forced extraction or excess sweetness; and they are harmonious and balanced and delicate. But the overriding impression that Cathiard wines give is one of absolute precision: striking each prescribed note perfectly in pitch and tone, without ever a hint of excess or discordance.

According to many knowledgeable observers, La Romanée-Conti remains the world’s most expensive wine simply because it has no peers.  In Allen Meadows’ lapidary phrase: “Romanée-Conti  is the single greatest wine in the world, red or white.” The vineyard itself, a clos or walled vineyard, is comprised of 1.81 hectares and is situated in the commune of Vosne-Romanée, west of the village and immediately downhill and east of its sister Grand Cru, La Romanée.  La Romanée-Conti is a Grand Cru climat and a monopole of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which of course takes its name from the famous vineyard. 

The vineyard itself is approximately square in shape, each side measuring around 150 meters. Facing east with a 6% slope varying from 260 meters to 275 meters, the vineyard enjoys ideal exposition as well as virtually perfect drainage. The soil, rich in iron and sodium carbonate, is composed of Prémeaux  limestone, sand and pebbles, with a relatively high (35%) content of clay. The yield of the vineyard averages 35hL/ha, with only 500 to 650 cases available each year.

The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti also owns the entirety of La Tâche (6.06 hectares), 3.51 hectares of Richebourg , 3.53 hectares of Grands-Echézeaux, 4.67 hectares of Echézeaux, 5.29 hectares of Romanée-St-Vivant, and .67 hectares of Montrachet.

By tradition at least, Gauls drafted by Caesar into the Roman army from Burgundy were later rewarded with landgrants, known appropriately as “Romanée” vineyards.  Many of the best of these vineyards were located in and around the village of Vosne, which was not , however, rechristened Vosne-Romanée until 1866.  By the 9th century, much of Vosne, including the Romanée-Conti vineyard, belonged to a Cluniac priory named in honor of St. Vivant. By the 13th century, however, the vineyard came under the control of the Abbot of Cîteaux.

In the earliest extant records, the vineyard was not yet known as La Romanée-Conti .  but as the Cloux des Cinq Journaux (“Walled Vineyard of 5 Journals”). A Journal  (plural form Journaux)is a measure of land that a man, aided by a plough and horse, could work in a single day. (For more on units of measurements, ancient and modern, see here). By 1584, then known as the Cros des Cloux, the vineyard was put under perpetual lease, and held by a succession of powerful nobles, passing finally in 1631 to Philippe de Croonembourg, who recorded his leasehold under the name  “La Romanée.”  The vineyard would remain with the Croonembourg family, under whose skillful cultivation it would achieve unparalleled fame, until 1760, when it was sold to the Prince de Conti, who reserved the wine entirely for himself and the guests he lavishly entertained. In 1794, the vineyard, now finally known as La Romanée-Conti, was confiscated by the Revolutionary government and sold (albeit for worthless assignats) to Nicholas Defer de la Nouèrre.  

In 1819, Romanée-Conti was acquired by Julien-Jules Ouvrard, a famously prosperous wine merchant  who also owned the Clos de Vougeot and Château de Gilly. He enjoyed superb vineyard holdings, including parcels of Chambertin, Chambertin Clos de Bèze, Latricières-Chambertin, Les Amoureuses, Corton Clos du Roi, and Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot. In late 1869, Jacques-Marie Duvault-Blochet acquired the vineyard and it has remained in his family, through whom it descended through marriage to Edmond-Gaudin de Villaine, grandfather of the current co-gérant  (co-director), Aubert de Villaine.  During the Second War, while Edmond’s son was held prisoner by the Germans, the Villaine family sold a 50% interest to Henri Leroy. The Domaine is today owned equally by the heirs of the Villaine and Leroy families.

A certain amount of confusion continues to obtain regarding the relationship between La Romanée-Conti and its sister Grand Cru, La Romanée, a monopole of the Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair.  Allen Meadows has thoroughly studied the relationship and, in his new book The Pearl of the Côte, adduces a great deal of credible evidence that suggests that the two vineyards were indeed once a single parcel.

The French Revolution transformed not only the political map of Europe but also the vinicultural map of France. Prior to the Revolution, most vineyards, especially in Burgundy and Bordeaux, belonged to the Church and the nobility. The vineyards were seized by the State in 1790 , with an objective toward replenishing the empty State Treasury.  In an adroit exercise of Cartesian rationalization, Talleyrand (himself notably the Bishop of Autun and the eldest son of the Comte de Périgord) justified the theft of these properties from the nobility and the Church by rechristening them biens nationaux (“national goods”). As such, they by definition belonged to the State and could be placed at its disposition and sold off at auction in the interests of France.

 One practical impediment to Talleyrand’s scheme was that the Treasury’s needs were immediate, and any sale of the biens nationaux would have taken considerable time to implement.  To monetize more quickly the biens nationaux, the National Assembly printed certificates of value called assignats, conceptually a variety of bond based on the value of the stolen properties. These assignats were then used by the government to retire its debts; and, in turn, came to be traded and exchanged as legal tender. Et voilà —  the birth of paper money!

The National Assembly was so pleased with its creation that it kept the printing presses rolling until so many assignats were issued that they no longer had any value.  By thus discovering inflation did the French government first master the magic of reverse-alchemy: transmuting valuable vineyards into valueless paper money.  By 1793, France descended into the throes of hyperinflation, and the process that began with the separation of vineyards from their rightful proprietors segued quite naturally into the severance of many heads from their traditional owners.

A peculiar subset of American exceptionalism is that we measure our vineyards quite differently from the rest of the world, especially the French. The metric system, established by the French Revolutionary government on 18 Germinal, Year III (7 April 1795) is, of course, founded on the meter. One hundred square meters (100m²), the are,  is the most basic measure for land, including vineyards, with the hectare (100 ares) being the more common and practical base unit.  One hectare equals 10,000 square meters.

The American system of land measurement continues to be based on the acre, (with 2.471 acres equivalent to one hectare).  The acre itself is a one of the many units of measure that were standardized by decree of King Edward I in 1300.  The acre was supposed to be the quantity of land tillable by a man, aided by an ox, in one day. The traditional acre was described as one furlong in length by one chain in width. (Traditional acres were long and narrow due to the difficulty in turning an ox team and plough).  A furlong was the length of a furrow that could be ploughed by a team of oxen before resting. The chain was the equivalent of 4 rods, the rod being the supposed length of an ox goad, the long pole used by the ploughman to motivate his oxen forward. A rod was the equivalent of 5½ yards; and there were 40 rods in one furlong, and 8 furlongs in one mile. An acre, for those still awake and paying attention, was equal to 10 square chains, or to160 square rods.

Prior to the measurement reforms of the French Revolutionary government, vineyards in France were measured by ouvrées and journaux. An ouvrée was reckoned to be the amount of land that a man could manually till in one day; the journal (journaux is the plural) was the amount of land that a man, aided by a horse, could plough in a single day. One journal was comprised of 8 ouvrées; and one ouvrée is equal to 4.285 ares.

If anyone is still following this discourse (if so, we’d love to hear from you!), this question will inevitably arise: since an acre and a journal were both reckoned to be the amount of land that, respectively, an English yeoman and French paysan could plough in one day, why is a journal (at 3424.66 m²) notably less than an acre (4046.95 m²)? Perhaps the French took longer lunch breaks?

          Aux Malconsorts is a 5.86-hectare Premier Cru climat that ranks among the very finest vineyards in Vosne-Romanée. Lying at the southern portion of the appellation, at the border with Nuits-St-Georges, Aux Malconsorts is superbly located just to the south of La Tâche and north of Les Boudots, the  remarkable Premier Cru  in Nuits.  The vineyard is divided by a north-south running vinicultual path, with disparate soil profiles in each half. Above the path the soil is lighter and sandier, whereas the soil below the path is richer, more ferruginous and  compact. The vineyard faces east from a elevation varying between 260 and 280 meters. Soil depth varies from as little as 10 centimeters to a generous one meter.

The etymology of  Aux Malconsorts derives not (alas) from an evil consort but rather from old French descriptors of the thorny brushwood that covered the plot before it was cleared in 1610 and converted into a vineyard.

Aux Malconsorts produces preeminent Premier Cru Vosne-Romanée of commanding presence, with firm, dense tannins, elegantly muscular and richly structured wines that can rival the best of this extraordinary appellation.

The reference-standard producer of Aux Malconsorts has for years been Domaine Sylvain Cathiard, whose .74-hectare parcel, with 35+ year old vines, consistently produces stellar wines. Since 2005, however, upon acquiring the vineyards of Thomas Moillard, Domaines Dujac (1.57 hectares) and de Montille (1.38 hectares) have joined Cathiard in setting the standard. In addition, Domaine de Montille’s holdings in Aux Malconsorts include a .48-hectare parcel (named Cuvée Christiane by Etienne de Montille in honor of his mother) that juts into La Tâche, where it seems geologically quite at home. Regardless of whether this parcel in fact once formed part of La Tâche, as many speculate, Cuvée Christiane exhibits distinctly different qualities from the remainder of  Aux Malconsorts.

 

English critic Clive Coates, never one to be effusive in his praise, has designated Bonneau du Martray as one of the Top 10 Burgundy Domaines of all time and states unambiguously that the Domaine is the “best source” for Corton-Charlemagne.

Family-owned for almost two centuries, Domaine Bonneau du Martray, is the only estate in Burgundy that produces exclusively Grand Cru wines.   The Domaine is not only the largest single owner of Corton-Charlemagne but also the largest single owner of any one Grand Cru in Burgundy. With 11 hectares of vineyards situated on the legendary Hill of Corton, within the heart of the original Corton-Charlemagne, the Domaine safeguards and indeed refines the iconic wines with direct lineage to Charlemagne.

Although the entire 11 hectare estate is contiguous, it is bisected by the communal border between Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton. Within Pernand lie 4.5 hectares of Chardonnay vines, all situated within the climat,  En Charlemagne. Within Aloxe lie 5 hectares of Chardonnay and 1.5 hectares of Pinot Noir, both parcels within the climat, Le Charlemagne. The Chardonnay grows on the upper slopes of the Hill of Corton. The soil of En Charlemagne is grey marl admixed with clay over Oxfordian limestone base. The topsoil is fragile and requires much care to maintain. The soil of Le Charlemagne, on the Pernand side,  is very similar but contains more flint.  The Domaine’s Pinot Noir parcel lies downslope in  Le Charlemagne, and the soil contains more iron (thus is redder) and pebbles, but less clay.

The estate and winemaking are currently directed by the very charming and articulate Jean-Charles le Bault de la Marinière, scion of the family that has owned the property since shortly after the French Revolution.  Since taking the reins from his father in 1994, Jean-Charles has

Jean-Charles le Bault de la Morinière

implemented principles of organic agriculture governed by a biodynamic philosophy. He has banished herbicides and chemical fertilizers, reduced crop yields, and promoted sustainable and renewable biological diversity in the soil.

Each of 16 separate parcels of ripe Chardonnay fruit is separately hand-harvested and sorted before complete de-stemming and light extraction by pneumatic Bucher  presses. Each of the parcels is then vinified separately. Fermentation begins in small, 15-hl stainless steel vats, where the juice ferments for 5-6 days with temperatures held below 18°C. After this initial period, the must goes into Allier and Nevers oak barrels, 30 % new, where it undergoes alcoholic and malolactic fermentation; and in which there is periodic batonnage.  After malo is complete, the wine is racked off its lees and the wines (still-separated by parcel) are blended in tank before racking back into barrels. Before the second winter the wine undergoes Kieselguhr and sterile plate filtration and is re-racked into tank to await bottling, typically in Spring, around18 months after harvesting.

 

Jean-Marc and Hugues Pavelot

Jean-Marc and Hugues Pavelot illustrate yet again Burgundy’s apparently endless capacity to generate father-son teams that transition seamlessly from one generation to the next. Much like Michel and Frédérich Lafarge in Volnay,  Pavelot Père et Fils work so completely in synch that either one could doubtless complete the other’s sentences without a change in pitch or emphasis.  

Domaine Pavelot, with family roots going back in Savigny-lès-Beaune to the 17th Century, currently comprises 12 hectares in the Côte de Beaune, principally in Savigny-lès-Beaune, but also in Corton, Beaune, and Pernand-Vergelesses.  

The heart of Domaine Pavelot lies in Savigny-lès-Beaune (locally known as “Savigny”) where the Domaine has holdings in six different Premier Cru vineyards.   On the south-facing hillside sector lying under Mont Battois, Domaine Pavelot holds a .6-hectare parcel of Premier Cru Aux Gravains , 75% of whose vines were planted in 1930 (the other 25% in 1990), from which are produced on average 300 cases per year. Adjacent to Aux Gravains,  lies the Premier Cru vineyard of Les Serpentières, in which Pavelot holds a tiny .17-hectare parcel that was planted in 1947 and yields, on average, only 80 cases a year.  In the same sector of the appellation,  also on the north of the river, lies a 1.48-hectare parcel of Premier Cru Les Guettes, planted in 1978 and producing about 685 cases annually.    

On the hillside closer to Beaune, Pavelot owns three additional Savigny vineyards: a .36-hectare parcel of Premier Cru Les Narbantons, planted in 1923 and yielding an average of 165 cases per year; and a .45-hectare parcel of Premier Cru Les Peuillets, planted 1n 1955 that averages 225 cases annually. The Domaine’s largest holding  is  2.21-hectare parcel of Premier Cru La Dominode, which is a lieu-dit within Les Jaurrons, and arguably the most celebrated vineyard in Savigny. The largest portion of the vineyard (45%) was planted in 1928, while 32% dates to 1973 and 23% to 1993. Altogether Domaine Pavelot produces, on average, about 1000 cases annually of La Dominode.  

The Domaine also holds several parcels of village-level vineyards, aggregating  5.35 hectares of Pinot Noir vines averaging over 35 years of age,  from which are annually produced about 2000 cases of Savigny-lès-Beaune Village (Rouge). The Pavelots, in addition,  hold .84 hectares of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc vines, from which they blend (90-95% Chardonnay, remainder Pinot Blanc) about 400 cases annually of Savigny-lès-Beaune Village (Blanc).  

Finally, Domaine Pavelot enjoys a few small holdings outside Savigny, including  a .61-hectare parcel of Premier Cru Pernand-Vergelesses, Les Vergelesses, planted in 1975 and yielding an average of 300 cases per years;  a .23-hectare parcel of village-level Aloxe-Corton, Les Cras, planted in 1953 and producing about 100 cases per year; and a minuscule .09-hectare slice of Grand Cru Corton (Blanc), Les Chaumes, from which are produced 25 cases per year.  

  

Hugues Pavelot

Traditionally, as well as in the hands of less skilled vignerons than the Pavelots, Savigny wines can be a somewhat lifeless, all too often caused by fruit harvested before full phenolic maturity. Domaine Pavelot, however, as well as a handful of other Savigny vignerons, have mastered the techniques of coaxing elegant, rich, and seductive wines out of the difficult appellation while remaining true to the Savigny terroir. The approach taken by Domaine Pavelot is a combination of scrupulous viniculture and noninterventionist winemaking carefully tailored to the peculiarities of Savigny .    

The Pavelots are adherents of lutte raisonnée, a system of vine cultivation that is essentially organic and noninterventionist.  Lutte raisonnée entails holistic and balanced viticultural management with primary focus on 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, and when chemicals are viewed as less harmful to the soil than alternative biodynamic treatments.   As a practical matter, lutte raisonnée  can be distinguished  from biodynamie in that the former implies the application of treatments only as a necessary response and the use of chemicals as a less harmful alternative; whereas biodynamie implements treatments systematically as prevention and employs biodynamic remedies like sulphur and copper that many vignerons believe are more harmful to the vineyard than chemical alternatives.   Lutte raisonnée , in the judgment of its practitioners, thus results in less intervention and a flexible approach that elevates the long term health of the vineyard above organic and biodynamic orthodoxy.    

Jean-Marc and Hugues Pavelot focus on low yields and old vines to produce their wines. The vines of the Domaine average over 65 years of age, and many are almost 100 years old. Such old vines typically provide small yields of rich, concentrated fruit. In addition, the Pavelots affirmatively restrain vineyard yields through a program of close pruning, de-budding, and vendange vert if necessary. In addition, only focused and restrained use of organic fertilizer is permitted.    

The vines are manually harvested and carefully sorted in the vineyard to remove any imperfect fruit.  The clusters are then brought immediately to the cuverie where they are subjected to a second round of triage. All of the Regional, Village, and much of the Premier Cru is then completely de-stemmed. Partial clusters of Dominode and Bressandes are left intact.    

A pre-fermentation maceration follows for 4-5 days, with temperature restrained to 12° C. The must is then slowly permitted to warm up to ambient cuverie temperatures, at which point the naturally-occurring  yeasts generate alcoholic fermentation. Temperature-regulated fermentation continues 12-15 days for Village wine and 15-19 days for the Premier Cru. During this period there is twice-daily pigeage (punching-down); toward the end of the process, there may be some remontage (pumping over) until all the sugar is converted into alcohol.    

Selecting termination date for cuvaison is a critical decision at Domaine Pavelot, one seen as greatly determinative of the character of the wine. The decision is predicated on careful evaluation based on tasting and experience.    

After a débourbage (settling of gross lees) of 24-48 hours, the wine is racked into French oak barrels (10-30% new), the choice of toast, percentage of new oak, and the origin of the barrels, all dependent on the vineyard. For example, Aux Gravains is treated to 25% new Tronçais barrels with light toast, whereas La Dominode enjoys 30% new Aliier barrels with medium toast, while Pernand-Vergelesses, Les Vergelesses is racked into and aged in 25% new Allier barrels with heavy toast.    

 The wines are barrel-aged on their fine lees 10-12 months for Village-level and 12-14 months for Premier Cru, and  then assembled in tank by appellation, resting there for a month or two before bottling, with light filtration,  only if necessary.

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