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Posts Tagged ‘Domaine de la Vougeraie’

         

            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.

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Clos Blanc de Vougeot  is a small 2.29-hectare Premier Cru climat located in the commune of Vougeot.  The vineyard, a monopole of the Domaine de la Vougeraie, is situated in front of the Château du Clos de Vougeot, below the western half of the Clos de Vougeot’s north wall. By tradition, and most likely in fact, Cistercian monks identified the parcel as early as 1110 A.D. as a perfect vineyard site for white wine used in communion. Surrounded as it  is by vineyards producing red wine (not only in Vougeot but also in the whole Côte-de-Nuits), Le Clos Blanc is poetically referred to as a “diamond set in a field of rubies.”

 The triangular-shaped vineyard, whose traditional lieu-dit is La Vigne Blanche, lies at an elevation of 250 meters, with an eastern exposition, and enjoys a limestone-based soil mixed with clay. While the vineyard is planted 95% with Chardonnay, there is also a small amount of traditional Pinot Beurot (4%) and Pinot Blanc (1%) which help make the wine both distinctive and complex.

Owned from 1959 until 2000 by L’Heritier Guyot , where it was quite regrettably an underperformer, the quality of Clos Blanc de Vougeot has been raised by the Vougeraie team to the very highest level. The farming is organic (certified by Ecocert) and rigorous biodynamic practices are closely followed. Winemaker Pierre Vincent presses whole bunches for 2½ hours, followed by a 12 hour debourbage at 15°C. The wine is fermented in barrels and aged for 16 months before bottling.

Only about 500 cases of the wine are made each year.

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Les Evocelles: This 10.44-hectare climat is situated in the commune of Brochon but is entitled to the AOC  Gevrey-Chambertin. The vineyard is located high up the hill at the northwesterly-most point in viticultural Gevrey. The name derives from a corruption of Les Broselles, referring to a patch of scrubland. All of the adjacent and neighboring vineyards are designated Premier Cru. Les Evocelles enjoys a favorable south, southeast exposition and lies on the same calcareous soil as its neighboring Premiers Crus Champeaux and Combe aux Moines. While it is unclear why Les Evocelles missed out on the more prestigious denomination, arguably the high elevation of the vineyard, at almost 400 meters, occasionally affects the ripeness of the grapes in cool vintages. An excellent source is Domaine de la Vougeraie.

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La Justice:  This 18.27-hectare  climat in Gevrey-Chambertin is itself comprised of two subclimats of approximately equal size. The downhill subclimat is rich in alluvial gravel whereas the uphill parcel has very thin topsoil. The vineyard lies to the east of the town at a hollow in the hill that has benefited over the millenia from the alluvial flow of diverse minerality. By tradition, the name of this vineyard derives from its function in years past as a place where executions by hanging and guillotine were carried out. It beggars credulity, however, to suppose that the blood of aristocrats beheaded following the French Revolution can have much enriched the terroir and its wines. There are numerous owners of this vineyard although the most consistent source of elegant and concentrated wines comes from the Domaine de la Vougeraie.

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Nuits-St-Georges is a wine appellation that includes some of the finest and best-known French Burgundy wine. Wine so labeled must come from vines planted in the commune of Nuits-St-Georges (or the adjoining commune of Prémeaux-Prissey with which it is viticulturally joined) situated in the Côte de Nuits region of the Côte-d’Or department of Burgundy in eastern France.

In From the Earth to the Moon, author Jules Verne envisioned in 1867 that the first lunar explorers would celebrate their moon landing with “a fine bottle of Nuits.”    In 1971, to commemorate Verne’s sci-fi forecast, Apollo 15 astronauts named one of the moon’s craters “St. George Crater”. Completing the circle, the town council in Nuits-St-Georges rechristened the main square in the village Place de la Cratère. The vineyards of Nuits-St-Georges, celebrated by Verne and Apollo 15, have been successfully producing wine of the first rank for at least one thousand years.

Leaving Beaune and heading north toward Dijon, Nuits-Saint-Georges marks the gateway of the Côte-de-Nuits, the Oz of Pinot Noir. The commune has been inhabited since antiquity and the vestiges of  a substantial Gallo-Roman villa have recently been excavated. The name “Nuits” is derived from the Latin “nutium,” signaling the fine walnuts that were once prolific in the area.  

Nuits St Georges, together with Prémeaux-Prissey, comprises 322.59 hectares. While there are no Grands Crus, there are 37 Premiers Crus aggregating about 147 hectares, and about 175 hectares of village-level vineyards. The overwhelming majority of vines, some 97%, are planted in Pinot Noir, from which prized red Burgundy is made, but there are a few vines planted in Chardonnay from which a small group of domaines, notably Domaine J-F. Mugnier and Domaine de l’Arlot, produce excellent Nuits-Saint-Georges blanc.

The soil types fall into three sections. The town and the vineyards are bisected by the Meuzin River, which flows east from the hills above the town. North of the river, toward Vosne, lies the first section. There, the soil is a continuation of Vosne:  colluvium comprised  of limestone with a small amount of clay over a Bathonian limestone base, and covered with pebbles and scree. Most prominent among these vineyards are Aux BoudotsLes Thorey and Les Damodes.

To the south of the Meuzin River, toward Beaune,  lies the second section. Here the soil is somewhat richer and deeper, certainly with a higher clay content, but also with sand and gravel. The base here is comprised mostly of hard Comblanchien limestone. Most prominent here is the commune’s signature vineyard, Les Saints Georges.  Further south, and within Prémeaux-Prissey, is found the third section, in a higher elevation, reaching 320m. Here the soil is quite thin and fine, particularly in the Clos de l’Arlot. Further downslope can be found Clos de Forêts and Clos de la Marechale.

Leading producers in the appellation include Domaine de l’Arlot for its Clos de l’Arlot and Clos des Forêts, Domaine J-F. Mugnier for its Clos de la Marechale, Domaine de la Vougeraie for its Les Damodes, and Domaine Gérard Mugneret for its Les Boudots. Other well-known Domaines include Domaine des Perdrix and Henri Gouges.

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Les Damodes: This 8.55-hectare Premier Cru climat lies in the northern part of the commune of Nuits-St-Georges, uphill and to the north of the village and along the border with Vosne-Romanée.  Facing east and lying at 280-340 meters, this vineyard has a slope of 20% and runs along the top of Premiers Crus Aux Cras, Le Richemone and Aux Murgers. The topsoil is a limestone-rich mixture of clay and silt. The name derives from a triad of Druid goddesses who were believed to control harvests. One excellent source of Les Damodes is Domaine de la Vougeraie.

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Musigny is a Grand Cru vineyard and appellation situated in the commune of Chambolle-Musigny in the Côte de Nuits sector of  Burgundy.  The vineyard lies to the south of the village itself, and borders the Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot in the southeast,  the Grand Cru Échezeaux in the south, and  the Premier Cru Les Amoureuses in the northeast.  The vineyard aggregates a modest 10.86 hectares and lies on a  slope ranging from an 8% to a 14% grade, with  elevations between 260 meters and 280 meters.  The shallow brown topsoil, which averages only 20cm-30cm in depth, is comprised of limestone pebbles and red clay over a limestone base. Similar to Les Bonnes Mares, Musigny is bifurcated by a path into a northern section, Grand Musigny, and a southern section, Les Petits Musignys, which is a monopole of the Domaine Georges de Vogüé. Grand Musigny, which faces southeast, is mostly limestone with some clay. The southern section, Les Petits Musignys,  faces south and is comprised of a higher proportion of clay. Musigny produces exclusively Pinot Noir-based red Burgundy, except for a tiny parcel of  Les Petits Musignys from which Vogüé produces a precious white wine from Chardonnay, the only one in the Côte de Nuits entitled to be labelled as Grand Cru.

It is beyond dispute that Le Musigny is one of the greatest vineyards in the world. The name derives from a Gallo-Roman settlement, Musinus, which was itself likely named after a once important but now forgotten Roman. The climat was cultivated at least by the 8th century. Certainly, by the time that the Abbey of Cîteaux founded the Clos de Vougeot in 1110, the vineyard was already producing legendary wine.

Clive Coates has written that Musigny produces red wine that “can be quite simply the most delicious to be found in Burgundy…. With … its incomparable breed, depth, originality and purity on the finish, a great Musigny is heaven in a glass.”  Perhaps more poetically, the Burgundian Gaston Roupnel wrote that “Le Musigny à l’odeur d’un jardin sous la rosée, … de la rose et de la violette à aurore.”  [“Musigny has the scent of a garden in the morning dew of the rose and violet dawn.”]

Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé owns 7.12 hectares of Musigny, almost 65.6%, including the entirety of Les Petits Musignys. The Vogüé wines set the standard of excellence, although Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier (with 1.13 hectares) produces equally-inspired and distinctive Musigny. Equally superb examples of Musigny,  each with its own hallmark, come from tiny parcels owned by Domaine de la Vougeraie (.21 hectares), Domaine Leroy (.27 hectares), and Domaine Georges Roumier (.10 hectares).

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