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Archive for the ‘Domaines’ Category

François Mikulski and his wife, Marie-Pierre

When the Poles were vanquished by the German Army in 1939, Lieutenant Mieczyslaw Mikulski, escaped to England and  joined the Free Polish Forces. Seconded to the British army, 1st British Airborne Division, Lt. Mikulski featured in the disastrous attack on the Arnhem road bridge (“A Bridge Too Far”),  in which he commanded the Parachute Brigade responsible for Allied perimeter security. After the counter-attacking German troops drove the Allies back across the Neder River, Lt. Mikulski’s unit provided rear-guard defensive fire against the massed Germans. When, finally, it came time for his own brigade to cross the river in the last boat, Lt. Mikulski singlehandedly manned the artillery gun to

Lieutenant Mieczyslaw Mikulski

protect his men against German fire. Only at the last moment, after all his men had successfully crossed the river, did the much-decorated Lieutenant plunge into the icy river and swim to safety. His son, winemaker François Mikulski, grew up with the same determination and courage and independence. François’ energies have vaulted him into the top eschelon   of Meursault producers.

 It would be difficult to find a winemaker more thoroughly worldly than François Mikulski.  After the Second War, his Polish father married a French woman working on an American base in England. The couple moved to Brussels, where François was born and raised. As a boy, François spent his summers in his mother’s native Burgundy, where he came under the spell of his uncle, the eminent Meursault winemaker Pierre Boillot.  As a young man, determined to become a winemaker himself, François journeyed to the United States 1983 where he was tutored by Joss Jensen in Oregon. After his studies, François bought an old Studebaker and drove across the US via Route 66 in emulation of Jack Kerouac. François returned to Meursault and worked with Pierre Boillot until 1992.

 The  vineyards  comprising  Domaine Mikulski currently total approximately 8.04 hectares. The Meursault Premiers Crus include .5 hectares of Les Genevrières, situated in Genevrières Dessus,  with  parcels planted  in 1948 and 1993 , and annually yielding an average of 10 barrels;  .80 hectares of Les Charmes,  situated in  Charmes Dessous, with  parcels  planted in 1913, 1930, and1998,  and annually yielding an average of 16 barrels ; .6 hectares of  Les Poruzots, situated in Poruzots Dessus,  with  parcels planted  in 1948 and 1985, and annually yielding an average of 12 barrels;  and a .25hectare parcel of Les Gouttes d’Or , with pieces planted in 1963 and1989, and annually yielding an average of 4 barrels. The Domaine also purchases grapes from the prestigious Perrières Dessous section of  Les Perrières, from which it makes a tiny quantity of very special wine each year.

The Domaine also posseses a miniscule .12-hectare parcel of old vine (over 55 years old) Le Limosin, a villages-level climat situated just below Genevrières Dessous, that many argue is worthy of Premier Cru status. Mikulski produces a mere 50 cases a year of this Meursault.  Holdings of other villages-level Meursault aggregate 1,5 hectaresand include parcels in lieux-dits  Meix Cavaux, Moulin Landin, Les Pelles Dessous, and Chaumes de Narvaux.   Together these vineyards, which were planted between 1955 and 1985,  yield about 650 cases per year. In addition, the Domaine owns .5 hectares within the lieu-dit Les Herbeux, situated near the old Meursault cemetery and adjoining Clos de la Barre, from which is produced about 225 cases of Bourgogne Chardonnay annually. Domaine Mikulski also includes 2 parcels of Aligoté, in lieux-dits Grandes Gouttes and  Les Veloupots both planted in 1929, and yielding about 1000 cases per year.

Domaine Mikulski holds a .9-hectare parcel of Volnay Premier Cru, Santenots-du-Milieu. This parcel, in the early part of the twentieth century, was under common ownership with the parcel currently owned by the Domaine des Comtes Lafon. The grandfathers of François Mikulski and Dominique Lafon each acquired their respective portions of the vineyard at that time. Mikulski annually produces about 400 cases of this superb wine. The Domaine also owns a small .12-hectare plot of unusual red Meursault Premier Cru, Les Caillerets, planted in 1975, bottling about 50 cases a year. Previously, Domaine Mikulski owned a .6-hectare parcel of Pommard but this has now been sold. The Mikulski holdings of Bourgogne Rouge comprise .5 hectares  within the lieu-dit Les Durots, planted in 1929, and presently produce about 260 cases annually.    The Domaine’s Passetoutgrains, a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay,   is produced from .5 hectares of vines in total, including parcels of lieux-dits Les Durots, Les Veloupots, and Les Grandes Gouttes, all planted in 1929.  The Domiane produces about 220 cases annually of its remarkable old-vine  Passetoutgrains.

 The winemaking of François Mikulski reflects his background and heritage. He is, through his mother and uncle, enough of a Burgundian to understand terroir and to take from tradition those things of enduring value. But he is equally, through his personal development and experiences, receptive to innovation and not inclined to a subservience to needless tradition. He frequently travels abroad to exchange ideas with other eminent winemakers. At the same time, he remains his father’s son and determined to follow his convictions, independently and courageously.  

After meticulous triage in the vineyards, François de-stems his Chardonnay completely and presses it very lightly followed by a complete débourbage (process by which the must is clarified prior to fermentation). After a fermentation that typically lasts about 15 days, the wine is racked into French oak barrels in which they undergo malolactic fermentation and élevage (aging) for a total of about 16-18 months. François uses only 20% new oak with his white wines., believing that excessive wood masks full expression of the terroir characteristics.

The Aligoté is similarly sorted carefully, removing all imperfect grapes, then de-stemmed and fermented in open vats.  The wine then remains in the vats, still on  its lees, for an additional period before being racked into seasoned French oak barrels. The wine is bottled in July to preserve and accentuate the freshness of the fruit

The Gamay grapes are also subjected to severe vineyard triage. The whole clusters, with berries intact, are then placed into a sealed vat for carbonic maceration. In this process, the whole grapes begin to ferment in an anaerobic environment, with carbon dioxide (a natural byproduct of fruit sugar converting chemically into alcohol) permeating the grape skins and stimulating fermentation at an intercellular level within each berry. This process triggers certain enzymatic reactions within the grape that result in lower acidity and tannins, higher glycerol, and the dominance of particular phenolic compounds.  Altogether, carbonic maceration tends to produce brightly-colored, aromatic and fruity wines.

The Pinot Noir at Domaine Mikulski is, after careful selection and complete de-stemming, , fermented in open vats for about 15-17 days, then racked into French oak barrels (35% new for the Meursault Les Caillerets and Volnay Santenots-du-Milieu), in which the wines undergo malolactic fermentation and age for 14-18 months.

 It is axiomatic to the Burgundian commitment to terroir that vineyard management is the most crucial element in making wine expressive of the vineyard and vintage. François Mikulski 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 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 will intervene organically ( and occasionally even chemically) if certain danger thresholds are passed.  Most importantly,  practitioners  of lutte raisonnée  do not intervene routinely (even with organic treatments) as prevention but only as compelled by unusual conditions. As a practical matter, therefore,  lutte raisonnée  can be distinguished  from biodynamie in that the former implies the application of treatments only as a necessary response whereas biodynamie implements treatments systematically as prevention.  Proponents of lutte raisonnée thus assert that their approach typically results in less intervention and is accordingly more in harmony with nature. “La lutte continue.”  The debate goes on.

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"...an inherited sensibility, a predisposition to stand above the crowd, to remain unmoved by the fashions of the day ...."

“There are no rules” might seem an implausible mantra for a French aristocrat whose family was ennobled so long ago that the Bourbons are relative arrivistes. In reality, however, it is precisely this aristocratic heritage that bequeaths to Etienne de Montille the confidence to rely on his own finely-bred instincts and considerable winemaking skills.   

 The Montille family descends from one of France’s most distinguished noble families, and their roots in the Côte de Nuits extend back to the era of Phillip the Bold (1342-1404), who ruled Burgundy when it rivaled France in wealth and prestige.   Americans tend to dismiss the value of such a legacy if not, in fact, to disparage it; but the actuality is that such a legacy can contribute enormous value to society at large.  Properly transmitted, an aristocratic heritage is not a matter of material wealth or social position but rather an inherited sensibility, a predisposition to stand above the crowd, to remain unmoved by the fashions of the day, to protect and promote those values that transcend self-interest.     

Etienne

 Moreover, unlike the majority of vineyard owners in Burgundy, Etienne de Montille and his father Hubert enjoyed distinguished professional careers (Etienne as an international banker, Hubert as an avocat) that liberated them from  economic dependence on their vineyards. They were relieved of the obligation of pandering to vulgar tastes, and free to make wines to their own tastes and sensibilities, wines true to Burgundian tradition.  Etienne and Hubert de Montille have been resistant, if not immune, to the economic and social pressures of producing wines catering to the caprice of a changeable international market. Instead of following the Siren songs of Guy Accad and Robert Parker, the Montilles have focused their efforts at producing traditional Burgundies that faithfully express the terroir of their vineyards.   

The Montille vineyards traditionally included some of the finest in Volnay and Pommard, as well as within the entire Côte-de-Beaune. With recent acquisitions, the Montille vineyards are among the finest in the Côte d’Or, comprising some 15.76 hectares in total.  There are three Volnay Premiers Crus: Les Taillepieds (.80 hectares), Les Mitans (.73 hectares), Les Champans (.66 hectares), as well as 88 ares from three other Premier Cru vineyards that together produce a Volnay Premier Cru. In Pommard, the holdings comprise a little over an hectare each of Les Rugiens and Les Pézerolles and 23 ares of Les Grands Epenots, all Premier Cru. For the last decade, the family holdings have also included a half-hectare of Puligny-Montrachet, Les Caillerets, a Premier Cru  vineyard producing Grand Cru  quality white Burgundy.    In 2004, the Domaine acquired just over one hectare of Grand Cru vineyards in Corton, including .65 hectares of red Corton Pougets, and .4 hectares of white Corton-Charlemagne. The terroir is truly exceptional, facing full south and located at mid-slope. The vines average thirty-five years of age. In 2005, the Domaine further expanded with acquisitions from Thomas Moillard, including .287 hectares of the very top tier of Clos de Vougeot (by the abandoned tower just west of the Château de LaTour), and 1.38 hectares of Vosne-Romanée, Les Malconsorts, of which a very special parcel of .48 hectares ( Cuvée Christiane) was, inferentially, once amputated from the original La Tâche vineyard.   

 The vineyards are planted two-thirds with Pinot Noir clones, especially ## 777, 667, 115 and 997.  The final one-third derives from selection massale,  the vinicultural practice of propagating new vines from existing vines in the same vineyard that demonstrate desirable phonological attributes. Unlike clonal selection, plant material in selection massale is not homogenous. Those who practice selection massale contend the genetic diversity improves the character and complexity of the final wine. Historically, farmers used trial and error to improve their vineyard by propagating plant material from an existing vineyard block based on desirable phenological attributes: vine health, relative vigor, berry size, cluster size, time of ripening, and, of course, quality of resulting wine.   

 The vines at Domaine de Montille are planted with 1 meter spacing, a density of 10,000 vines/hectare, and trained with Guyot simple (single cane with a single spur). The viticulture is rigorously organic and the strictures of biodynamic farming have been followed for years. Etienne started experimenting with biodynamie in Mitans and gradually expanded the practices into the entire Domaine. Official certification is expected shortly. Etienne contends, however, that biodynamie is not an end in itself, but only one means for achieving his goal: the production of the finest wine possible. He thus employs biodynamic farming not because it’s fashionably green, but because it serves his purpose very well.   

 Etienne de Montille believes that both low yields and old vines are false gods, and must not be worshipped. This is not to suggest that his yields are high because they are not (35-40hl/ha for reds; 40-45hl/ha for whites). Nor is this to suggest that his vines are young because they are not (average age: 35 years). What Etienne proposes is that, contrary to some simple-minded critics,  low yields and old vines are not goals in themselves and that wines do not invariably get better as vine age goes up and yields fall. Instead, he contends that the optimal age for vines is often dictated by the vineyard itself. For example, the soil in many vineyards is not rich enough to support old vines, and vines in such a vineyard should be replaced after they exceed their maximum age. Similarly, low yields should not be manipulated but allowed to occur through natural mechanisms, such as the absence of fertilizers.      

 Etienne varies his winemaking techniques each year to accommodate the permutations of the vintage. For example, in 2004, the Pinot Noir was fully destemmed, whereas in 2005 whole clusters alone were used. Etienne disfavors extended cold maceration, and the pre-fermenation maceration rarely exceeds 2-3 days.  Only indigenous yeast is used. Fermentation occurs at fairly high temperature, up to 35° C., with a cuvaison in open wood vats of 15-21 days accompanied by 6-8 pigéages during the first few days.  Chaptalisation is strenuously resisted so that the wines rarely exceed 12°C alcohol.  After fermentation, there is a static débourbage for about 72 hours. Disfavoring woody wines, the domaine uses only 25% new oak.  The wines are generally racked only twice before they are lightly fined with egg whites and bottled unfiltered.  Total élevage generally comprises between twenty and twenty-four months.   

Montille wines are above all harmonious and elegant, characterized by a plethora of subtle notes that ring remarkably true to the terroir. Noblesse oblige.

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Clos des Grandes Vignes: This 2.21-hectare Nuits-St-Georges Premier Cru climat is a monopole of the Château de Puligny-Montrachet. The walled vineyard lies on the east side of the  Beaune-Dijon road (RN 74) in the middle of the commune of Premeaux-Prissey.   Facing east  and lying at 230-240 meters, the soil is nearly flat with only a 2-4% slope. The topsoil is a mixture of limestone with a small amount of clay and the subsoil is Bathonian limestone.

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It is entirely appropriate that the rooster is the symbol at once of France and of the Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, so inextricably are the two bound together in history and tradition. The Domaine de Vogüé is one of the few iconic wine properties in France, with a transcendent reputation for quality that intrigues every epicure who has ever popped a cork or sniffed the bouquet of pedigreed Pinot Noir from Burgundy.          

The roots of the Vogüé family in Chambolle reach back to 1450, and to a long line of aristocrats who have since served as faithful stewards of some of the  finest vineyards in the world. The modern history of the Domaine commenced just after the Second War with the revival of the French economy and the vineyards in Burgundy. Presiding over the Domaine during this period was the larger-than-life, Hemmingway-esque Comte Georges de Vogüé, who    

Comte Georges

  

personally led the renaissance with charm, passion and resolute skill.  Today the pipette has passed to the Count’s granddaughters, Claire de Causans and Marie de Ladoucette, who have ably directed the affairs of the Domaine through their continued confidence in estate manager Jean-Luc Pépin, winemaker Francois Millet, and vineyard manager Eric Bourgogne.      

Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, from its base in Chambolle-Musigny,  is currently  comprised of 12.52 hectares of some of the finest vineyards in the Côte d’Or, including 7.12 hectares (almost 70%) of the Grand Cru Musigny  , 2.6 hectares of the Grand Cru Bonnes Mares, a .60 hectare parcel of Premier Cru Les Amoureuses;   and a parcel each of Premiers Crus Les Fuées and  Les Baudes, together aggregating .34 hectares;  and a 1.8 hecatre parcel of the villages-level lieu-dit Les Porlottes.       

The Domaine owns  7.2 hectares of the Grand Cru Musigny  including the entirety of the Les Petits Musignys climat  of  which .66 hectares are planted in chardonnay. This wine is entitled to the status Grand Cru Musigny Blanc, which would make it the only white Grand Cru in the Côte de Nuits. At present, however, mostly due to the youth of the vines, the Domaine has elected to bottle this wine (about 150 cases per year)  only as Bougogne blanc.  For similar reasons, the Domaine chooses to declassify approximately 2.8 hectares of vines (those younger than  25 years)  within Musigny,  and to bottle this wine (approximately 600 cases per year) as Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru.  This leaves 3.66 hectares of vines in Musigny, averaging 40 years, that create the Domaine’s iconic Musigny, Vieilles Vignes. Only about 900 cases are made annually.  The parcel of Bonnes Mares owned by the Domaine is situated entirely in the Chambolle portion of the climat, close to the village itself. At 2.7 hectares, it is the largest single parcel of the climat and amounts to almost 20% of the entirety. The vines were planted in 1970 and yield only about 500 cases a year.   The small parcel (.60 hectares) of the Domaine’s Les Amoureuses is located in the uphill, easternmost section of the climat,  separated from Musigny only by a small. The vines here were planted in 1970 and yield about 165 cases per year.  The Domaine’s villages-level Chambolle-Musigny, of which about 400 bottles are produced each vintage, derives mainly from a 1.8 hectare plot in the climat of Les Porlottes. Situated near the wooded area to the west of the village, the rocky, limestone soil in Les Porlottes contains vines planted in 1975. The Domaine’s  .34 hectares of Premiers Crus  Les Baudes (planted in 1955) and Les Fuées (planted in 1964) are declassified and included within the villages-level cuvée.      

It is axiomatic to the Burgundian commitment to terroir that vineyard management is the most crucial element in making wine expressive of the vineyard and vintage.  Vineyard manager Eric Bourgogne, who succeeded Gérard Gaudeau in 1996, 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 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.     

Eric Bourgogne eschews chemical fertilizer, instead  applying small amounts of compost made at the Domaine.  Another tool that Eric Bourgogne employs in his vineyards is the seeding of the vineyard with insect pheromones in order to disrupt the mating activities of vineyard pest. This confusion sexuelle serves in lieu of insecticides and pesticides, which are shunned. The Domaine also controls predation by promoting competition among insects, believing that a natural balance of insects assures better prospects for vineyard health.  Bourgogne also interplants grass between rows and allows it and concomitant weeds to grow during autumn and winter. The objective is to resist soil erosion and to challenge the vines. Horse plowing is employed in the spring as a means of avoiding the soil compaction caused by mechanical tractors.      

It sometimes appears that winemaking requires simultaneously the technical skills of a proficient chemist and the artistic vision of a poet. If this be true, then Francois Millet is perfectly suited to the task, for his technical decisions    

Winemaker Francois Millet

  

are as deliberately reasoned as they are informed by his intuitive connection to the ethereal.   Fine winemakers today invariably and wisely refuse to follow formulaic winemaking, and insist on preserving a  wide latitude of options depending on conditions.  Francois Millet, however, elevates this flexible attitude to a higher plane of reality. He varies his winemaking based on vintage, vineyard and also by parcel and will seamlessly change direction if his finely honed nose so persuades him.    

There remain, nonetheless, certain inclinations and preferences that may suggest Millet’s normative instincts. Destemming is favored, although the percentage will vary between 30% and 100% depending on vintage and parcel. The objective of retaining stems is to achieve an overall balance of tannins, according to Millet, and so he will vary the proportion of stems depending, for example, on the appellation, the quality of natural grape tannins in the vintage, and the soil of the particular parcel.      

Generally, Millet favors a short period of natural pre-fermentation maceration. Fermentation temperatures are regulated to remain below 32°-33°C, although the length of the cuvaison, which can vary between two weeks and a month, varies depending on the vintage and the parcel. There is then, importantly, a period of post-fermentation maceration, after which the free-run wine is racked off.  The remaining pulp is gently then pressed and segregated until careful evaluation confirms that the time is appropriate to add the press wine.      

Not surprisingly, the Domaine maintains an adaptable policy toward new oak, generally using between 40% and 70% new oak depending on conditions. At present, Millet has decided that Allier oak is the most suitable for his barrels and so uses that exclusively. Obviously, the period of élevage varies according to the rate of the wine’s development, but generally the wines are bottled after between 18 and 20 months months’ aging. Fining, with egg whites or gelatin, may occasionally be used but filtration is employed only rarely.

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  Négociants and winemakers are generally viewed today as polar opposites. The winemaker is a veritable rock star, a man or woman of heroic mien and charismatic appeal. Adoring oenophiles and wine snobs alike grovel at his gates and genuflect in his cave. Today’s winemaker is the innovator and the artiste who, typically operating from his own domaine, routinely spins straw into gold. A majority of fine Burgundy is now being produced by winemakers under the domaine system, and, as result, the percentage of fine wine is significantly higher than it was in years past. In contrast, the négociant is often viewed as an insensitive corporate suit who panders to vulgar tastes and MacDonaldizes Burgundy in the pursuit of unholy profits. While there are, sadly, a few négociants who fit this mold, there are also négociant-winemakers who are fully in the avant garde of what is new and exciting in Burgundy.     

The word négotiant encompasses a swath of possibilities, beginning with the trader who buys finished wine in bottles and merely slaps on his label before hitting the shelves of les grandes surfaces. There are also the traditional large négociant companies, well-known and quite respectable like Faiveley or Drouhin, who enjoy long-term contracts with vineyard owners for their fruit. Finally, there are the négociants who, under long term contract, dictate vineyard

Négotiant as Artiste: David Croix

practices, buy grapes, and then use superstar winemakers to craft the wine to exacting standards. These are the “boutique négociant winemakers,” who are today in the vanguard of Burgundy.     

Among the finest of the boutique négociant-winemakers is Maison Camille Giroud, an old and venerable négoce, which is today presided over by wunderkind  David Croix. Founded in 1865, Camille Giroud earned an impeccable reputation over the last century and one-half as a specialist in “eccentrically traditional” vins de garde. Often hard and tannic in their infancy, Giroud’s wines were raised very slowly and deliberately in their own deep, cool cellars in seasoned (not new) barrels. Even after bottling, the wines are allowed time to reach harmonious maturity at their leisure. On a recent visit, many of the 1976’s were still not yet ready. When the wines are at least deemed mature, the Maison releases them with pristine labels and capsules, even new corks if necessary.    

This system produced generations of legendary wines but was not, unfortunately, a very good business model, especially in the 1980’s and 1990’s, periods of high interest rates and spiraling costs. The aged grandsons of the founder finally felt the need the to  pass to torch in 2001 to a group of oenophiliac investment bankers led by wine-collector/banker Joe Wender and his wife, Napa cult vintner, Ann Colgin. This group has been able not only to infuse necessary capital but also to bring management at once sensitive to fine wine and highly skilled in modern business practices.     

 The group’s first inspired decision was to induce Burgundy’s legendary Becky Wasserman-Hone to take over as “PDG” (président directeur général) and to reorganize the entire operation. In short order, she sold off old stocks not worthy of the Giroud name, replaced outmoded barrels and equipment, and otherwise brought the winery and cellar into conformity with modern standards.

Winemaker David Croix

Her most inspired decision was the hiring of then 24-year old David Croix as winemaker. After formal training in oenology, David apprenticed to Benjamin Leroux at Comte Armand, who had succeeded wunderkind poet/winemaker Pascal Marchand. In 2007, the still-young and very accomplished David Croix assumed full charge of the Maison as successor PDG.     

 Following in the footprints of Leroux and Marchand, David Croix has sought to bring his viticultural contracts into line with organic principles, with an unswerving commitment to the holistic health of the vineyards.  There is very strict triage both in the vineyards and on a vibrating sorting table in the cuverie. Typically, the Pinot Noir is 100% destemmed (although Croix is increasingly experimenting with some whole cluster fermentation with some vineyards ) and then allowed to macerate in open, wooden vats. Afterwards, there is some light pressing with a pneumatic press. (The former use of a hundred year-old wooden press has been discontinued). Some press wine may be added later  to increase structure.  

  Winemaking for  Pinot Noir varies considerably with the conditions, and the amount of punchdowns and rackings is highly dependent on the vintage.   Under the right conditions, Croix will also use frequent pigeage (punching down) during the first stages of alcoholic fermentation; and, if alcohol levels increase, sometimes remontage (pumping over).  

For white wines, the Chardonnay grapes are pressed and then barrel fermented and aged. 

One of the Giroud “signatures” has traditionally been little or no new oak. Under  Croix, the average percentage of new oak averages 15% but can be 0% (e.g., Bourgogne rouge, Marsannay) up to 40-50% for some Grands Crus like Chambertin or Corton Charlemagne. Depending on the state of the fruit, Croix may not rack until bottling, allowing up to 20 months in barrel.    

Maison Camille Giroud occupies a singular niche in Burgundy: it is at the same time among the most dependable and exciting sources of fully mature, traditional Burgundy, and one of the best sources for transparent, terroir-driven current vintage Burgundy.

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            When Jules Lafon first arrived in Beaune in 1865, Napoleon III occupied the thrown of France, “Mad Ludwig” ruled Bavaria, and Alexander II was Czar of all the Russias.   While these countries are no longer ruled by hereditary dynasties, Jules’ great-grandson, Dominique Lafon, is   

Dominique Lafon

widely hailed around the world as the King of Chardonnay. Wine Writer Clive Coates, has written: “The Domaine des Comtes Lafon is in my view the world’s greatest white wine domaine.” Remarkably, he Domaine also produces Volnay that is every bit as distinguished.    

            As any three-starred Michelin chef will readily admit, the first principal of fine food is the best ingredients. It is just so with fine wine, and it is axiomatic that the finest wines will originate in great vineyards. In this respect, Domaine Lafon is ideally endowed, for their vineyards include only the best parts of the best vineyards. Lafon’s Meursault holdings include plots of Premiers Crus Les Perrières (.77 ha),  Les Genevrières (.55 ha), Les Charmes   (1.71 ha), and Les Gouttes d’Or (.39 ha), plus the lieux-dits Clos de la Barre   (2.12 ha) and  Desirée (.45 ha); Meursault villages (1.36 ha); and  Volnay Premier Cru  Santenots-du-Milieu (3.78 ha). The Domaine also has superb Volnay holdings in the Premiers Crus climats En Champans (.52 ha), Clos des Chênes (.38 ha).  In Monthélie, the Domaine produces Monthélie rouge from  1.06 hectares and Monthélie blanc from .15 hectares, both from the Premier Cru climat Les Duresses. The Domaine also produces a small amount of Puligny-Montrachet, Premier Cru, En Champgain (.25 ha). Its iconic Grand Cru Montrachet comes from a .32 hectare parcel within Le Montrachet in Chassagne-Montrachet.  

            When Dominique took over the family vineyards in 1984, at the age of 25, he was already convinced that the technological innovations to winemaking adopted by his father’s generation were a dead end. In fact, Lafon believed that the quality of grapes, in terms of taste especially, was rapidly deteriorating. He formed part of the vanguard of young winemakers that turned to biodynamics and to organic viticulture out of a conviction that naturally balanced soil would ensure healthy vineyards, better tasting fruit, and, most importantly, a truer expression of terroir.                   

           Lafon believes strongly in the virtues of restricted yields, and ploughs his soil to encourage the old vine roots to reach further down into the soil. He contends that ploughing combines with an organic regimen to add natural acidity to the fruit. This acidity, he believes, allows picking at greater ripeness while still in balance.                       

          The handpicked Chardonnay grapes are carefully sorted and destemmed, then pressed slowly and gently (less than 2 bars for less than 2 hours) with a Bucher pneumatic press. The must is then lightly dosed (less than 5 gm/HL) with sulphur, and allowed to settle for 12-24 hours, depending on the vintage. After cooling to 12-14°C., the must is fermented in oak barrels (100% new for the Premiers Crus), where the new wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and rests on its lees for the next 6 months in Lafon’s famously cool cellars. Batonnage  (stirring of   

Lafon's cool, deep cellars are among the best in Burgundy

the lees) is employed during the first part of this period, although the frequency of batonnage has decreased over the years. During the spring, the wines are racked into tank and assembled; importantly, the fine lees are retained. The assembled wine is then gravity-fed into mature casks where the wine ages for an additional 12 months, after which it is racked off the lees. The wines are finally bottled 20-24 months after harvest.

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One of the most durable images of the Burgundian is the laconic peasant, face deeply etched and hands callused by years of exposure to the elements, beret akimbo, and a Gauloise à la Bogart. His education has been assimilated from generations of winemakers, and his worldview has remained congruent with the medieval Duchy of Burgundy. As compelling and charming as this iconic image may be, the reality is often strikingly different.    

The Domaine de l’Arlot, which is financed and controlled by the international financial services company AXA, stands as testimony that world class Burgundy does not invariably require the  

Domaine de l'Arlot

enduring stewardship of a single family, toiling in the vineyards and cuverie with techniques passed on from father to son. A well-advised and skillfully-led corporation can in fact bring in a professional overseer and produce superb Pinot Noir that faithfully manifests its terroir.    

The Domaine surrounds a château constructed in the 17th century from hewn Premeaux limestone. With adjoining vineyards and gardens, the château was  acquired and restored by Jean-Charles Viénot in the late 17th Century. His son François Viénot erected a surrounding stone wall, adopted the name of the l’Arlot stream, and the Clos de l’Arlot  was born. Maison Jules Belin, one of Burgundy’s most prominent 19th century négotiants, acquired the property in 1891, at which time it also bought the Clos-des-Forêts and the Clos de Chapeau. The Maison’s fortunes declined through the twentieth century and the estate fell gradually into disrepair.    

In 1987, the able head of AXA, Claude Bebéar, learned that Clos de l’Arlot and surrounding vineyards were available, and he moved quickly to acquire them. To spearhead the operation of the properties, newly baptized as the Domaine de l’Arlot,   Bebéar selected Jean-Pierre de Smet.    

De Smet was English-born and raised in Nice. Trained as an accountant, he set off as a young man for New Caledonia where he ran a business and    

Founding Winemaker, Jean-Pierre de Smet

 indulged his love for sailing. On a whim which was to change his life, Jean-Pierre spent 1977 in Burgundy with his friend Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac. He thereafter trained at the University of Dijon and continued assisting Seysses at Dujac for nearly a decade until, in 1987, the call came from another friend, Claude Bebéar.    

The estate acquired from Maison Belin consisted of 13 hectares, 7.1 hectares of the monopole Premier Cru Clos des Forêts-Saint-Georges, all planted in Pinot Noir; 4 hectares of the monopole Premier Cru Clos de l’Arlot, planted half with Pinot Noir and less than half with Chardonnay (the remaining fraction is planted with Pinot Beurot); and 1.8 hectares of Côte-de-Nuits Villages, Clos du Chapeau. AXA and De Smet have since added a couple of other small parcels, 25 ares of Grand Cru Romanée-St-Vivant and 85 ares of Premier Cru Vosne-Romanée, Les Suchots.    

Jean-Pierre subsequently brought in Lise Judet as co-gerante and Oliver Leriche as his technical director to supervise the making of the wine. The new regime transformed the viticulture from prevailing commercial practices to a more organic approach. They ceased using herbicides in favor of manual ploughing, and replaced insecticides with natural treatments. At present, viticulture is completely organic with a strong biodynamic orientation.    

Yields of the Pinot Noir are kept low, with a yield of 35 hl/ha on average, through a system of severe pruning as well as by using only compost to fertilize. At harvest, the grapes are handpicked into small baskets and then rigorously sorted in the vineyards to remove any imperfect bunches. The whole bunches are then rushed to the cuverie where, after another triage and little or no de-stemming, the bunches are vatted and allowed to cool gently.  The free run juice is allowed to begin fermenting with the resultant carbon dioxide retarding oxidation of the whole grapes, which themselves macerate slowly for 2-3 days before natural fermentation begins. According to    

Olivier Leriche

Leriche, this process breaks down the grapes, and helps extract a maximum of color, complexity and aroma. Fermentation temperatures are naturally maintained below 32° C.    

The cuvaison lasts between two and three weeks. This wine is then racked and some press wine may be added if needed for structure. After a one day débourbage, the wine is moved into oak casks (40% new for the Premier Cru), where it undergoes malo and rests on its lees in a cool cellar for 15-18 months. Generally, the wine is racked only twice before it is lightly fined (with egg whites) and bottled without filtration.    

The white wine, which comes from a section of the Clos de l’Arlot, is made mostly from old vine Chardonnay but also includes some rare Pinot Beurot. White wine in the Côte de Nuits is unusual, even more so when it comes from a Premier Cru vineyard. As with the Pinot Noir, the white grapes are fermented in whole clusters. After pressing, the must is cooled and, following débourbage, is racked into a tank (to retard oxidation) until fermentation begins. It is then placed into 25% new oak where it rests for about a year. Before bottling, it is lightly fined and filtered.

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