Posts Tagged ‘Chambolle-Musigny’

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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One of the strengths of Burgundy is the variety of paths that have led so many to their apotheoses as winemakers. The conventional assumption is that Burgundian winemakers descend from soldier/farmers who fought alongside Vercingetorix against the Romans, men who were born with argilo-calcaire under their fingernails, and Pinot Noir in their DNA.  This stereotypical winemaker learned in the fields and cuverie alongside his father and grandfather, and absorbed the accumulated wisdom of generations of vignerons by the age of 10, when he produced his first vintage.

Frédéric (“Fréd”) Mugnier easily makes every critic’s shortlist of the most respected and influential winemakers in Burgundy and yet his background diverges widely from the stereotype. He was born in 1955 in Geneva, to which his parents had briefly relocated from French Indochina shortly after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. His father, trained as a lawyer, pursued a career as a merchant banker in Paris, his mother’s birthplace, where young Fréd grew up when he was not in Alsace. He took a degree in Petroleum Engineering and specialized in off-shore oil projects from the North Sea to Africa.

Fréd’s paternal forbearer and namesake Frédéric had been a successful distiller in Dijon in the middle of the 19th century, profiting greatly from the boom in Absinthe. One of the iconic absinthe posters of that era, the  Zouave by Lucien Lefevre, promoted Mugnier Absinthe. The business prospered and Frédéric acquired the Château de Chambolle-Musigny in 1863 from the Marey-Mange family, along with a few hectares of vineyards. The family added the Clos de la Marechale in 1902. The Domaine was managed for a period by Maison Faiveley and later by Bernard Clair, the cask wine being sold off in barrel to negoces. Although Fréd’s father occasionally visited the Château, especially after his retraite in 1977, he remained very removed from the winemaking and the vineyards.

Although Fréd’s father had died in 1980, it was not until 1984, at the age of almost thirty, that Fréd Mugnier heeded the Sirens of the vineyards whilst on a sabbatical. Enrolling at the Lycée Viticole, Fréd was soon a confirmed addict, completely enchanted by a passion for Pinot Noir. In the twenty-five years since taking the helm as a relative novice, Frédy Mugnier has emerged as one of the dominant influences in Burgundy, producing some of the most elegant and compelling examples of Pinot Noir.

 Domaine J-F. Mugnier, from its base at the Château de Chambolle-Musigny,  produces two Grands Crus, Bonnes Mares (.36 ha) and Musigny (1.13 ha); two Premiers Crus, Chambolle-Musigny, Les Amoureuses (.53 ha), Chambolle-Musigny, Les Fuées (.73 ha) and a village Chambolle-Musigny (1.3 ha) that is comprised of three climats, two of which are actually  Premiers Crus. Beginning with the 2004 vintage, the famed Monopole Premier Cru Nuits-St-Georges, Clos de la Maréchale (9.55 ha), reverted to Mugnier control (long under contract to Maison Faiveley). As result, the Domaine now consists of 13.79 ha of some of the best vineyards in the Côte d’Or.

Mugnier is a confirmed noninterventionist, preferring to allow the vintage and the vines to express themselves. He avoids the use of herbicides and insecticides, preferring the risk of infestation to the untoward consequences of toxic chemicals. A key to his wines, Mugnier believes, is low yields. Overall, he rarely exceeds 32 hl/ha in his vineyards.  He eschews fertilizers, regarding their absence as a simple and natural way to control yields. The best way, he contends, to keep production low is the selection of clones and rootstocks that are not naturally prolific. He does not conform, however, to the widespread practice of close-pruning as an adjunct to controlling yields. Fréd believes that short-pruning over-stimulates the vines to produce too much unnecessary foliage. He also opposes vendange vert (green harvest), the shedding of bunches in June, claiming that this practice only covers up earlier mistakes. Instead, he practices envasivage, removal of double buds, in May.

Severe triage is Mugnier’s final weapon against elevated yields. Both in the vineyards and in the cuverie, his instruction is adamant: only perfect fruit is allowed to pass. Interestingly, Mugnier also rigorously selects the stalks that he adds to the fruit. He contends that ripeness of individual stems is essential, and even goes so far as to suggest that better and riper stems come from certain vines. Depending on the vintage, up to 40% of stalks are selected for inclusion in fermentation.

There is generally a pre-fermentation cold maceration lasting for between three and five days.  After that, fermentation starts naturally, without cultured yeasts and with only the natural yeasts on the fruit. Fermentation, which occurs in open 65 hectolitre vats, covered only with a layer of inert gas, is permitted to reach high temperature (32°-33° C.) before heat exchangers kick in to lower the temperatures. There is frequent pigéage, often up to five times daily, during a cuvaison that lasts 14-23 days.

The wine is then racked into barrels to undergo malolactic fermentation. Press wine is kept segregated and only added, if at all, at an assemblage just before bottling. Mugnier uses only 25-30% new Allier barrels with a very light brûlage (toast). To preserve freshness, Mugnier racks as little as possible. Elévage typically lasts about 18 months and is followed by light fining with egg whites but little, if any, filtration.

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