Posts Tagged ‘Volnay’

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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Les Taillepieds: This 7.17-hectare Premier Cru climat lies just south of the village of Volnay, in the central section of the commune,  immediately to the north of Clos des Chênes. Facing east, southeast, with an elevation ranging between 280 and 320 meters, and planted on hard marl and limestone colluviums, Les Taillepieds is among the best vineyards in Volnay.

The name [tailler (cut) + pieds (feet)] suggests that the steepness of slope and the sharpness of the rocks have conspired over the years to cut many a foot.

 The Les Taillepieds of Domaine de Montille has achieved almost iconic status, although Marquis d’Angerville is another good source.

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Les Mitans is a 3.98-hectare Premier Cru climat in Volnay. The vineyard  downhill, just to the southeast of the Autun Road (RN73)   between Premiers Crus Les Brouillards and En L’Ormeau. “Mitans” means “between”. The vineyard is mostly clay-limestone, very stony, and enjoys an elevation of 250-260 meters and an exposition of east, southeast.

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Clos du Château des Ducs is one of several Premier Cru climats in Volnay collectively known as Le Village but also entitled to their own individual Premier Cru liux-dits. Clos du Château des Ducs,   a tiny .57-hectare  monopole of  Domaine Michel Lafarge,    lies below the village of Volnay , just above Clos de la Chapelle and Clos de la Bousse d’Or. As the name suggests, this vineyard lies on the site of the 11th  century Château de Volnay,  which was owned by the Ducs of Burgundy from the 13th century onward.  The Château  itself was destroyed by fire in 1749, but its vineyards, as well as the cellars originally belonging to the Château, now belong to Domaine Michel Lafarge.  Facing east, southeast, the vineyard lies at an altitude averaging 280 meters. The soil is a light-colored mixture of clay and Oxfordian (“Argovian”) limestone.

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Les Caillerets is a 14.33-hectare Premier Cru climat in Volnay. The vineyard is situated downhill from Clos des Chênes, just southeast of the Autun Road (RN 73). It is among the most renowned in Volnay, producing, as Clive Coates writes, “Volnay of real silk, lace and the complexity of all the petits fruits rouges you can imagine.” Facing east, southeast from an altitude varying between 260 and 290 meters, the rocky soil of Les Caillerets is an admixture of limestone and calcium- rich clay. Fine examples of Volnay, Les Caillerets are made by Domaine Michel Lafarge and Domaine Marquis d’Angerville.

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Volnay, Clos des Chênes is a 15.41-hectare Premier Cru climat in Volnay. Clos des Chênes is situated in the southern end of Volnay,  above Route Nationale  73 at the border with Monthélie. The name attests to the onetime presence of an ancient oak forest on the vineyard site.  At one time the vineyard belonged to the Knights Templar, but was later inherited by the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament.  Clos des Chênes faces southeast from an altitude of between 280 and 320 meters, with  soil composed of limestone marl and clay-limestone scree.  Along with Les Caillerets, Les Taillepieds, Clos du Château des Ducs, and Les Santenots-du-Milieu, Clos des Chênes is ranked among the best in the appellation. Excellent Clos des Chênes is produced by Domaine des Comtes Lafon and Domaine Michel Lafarge.

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Michel Lafarge

The original Burgundians were most likely a Scandinavian people whose roots can be traced to the southern shores of the Baltic. The present island of Bornholm off peninsular Denmark, known in the Middle Ages as Burgundarholm, bears linguistic testimony to this origin. During the first century A.D. the Burgundians migrated west to the northern border of the Roman Empire. The Burgundii, as they were known by the Romans, crossed the frozen Rhine on New Year’s Eve 406 A.D.,  and established a kingdom on the Rhine’s west bank. Before the end of the century, however, the Regnum Burgundiae was attacked and destroyed by the Huns. The destruction of this kingdom is recounted in one of the great literary triumphs of the Middle Ages, the Nibelungenlied, which provided the basis for Wagner’s Ring. 


The cellars at Domaine Michel Lafarge were built at around the same time as the Nibelungenlied was being written:  13th century AD. People were clearly much shorter when the cellars were built and it is not too difficult to imagine the Nibelung Alberich scurrying about in search of a prized bottle of ancient Clos-des-Chênes.

There is a very strong sense of history that permeates Domaine Michel Lafarge in Volnay. This is reinforced by the father-and-son team, Michel and Frédéric, who jointly manage the estate and make the wine using very traditional methods and with knowledge handed down over the generations. Just so, they remain open to innovations that prove their value through experience. Michel’s commanding stature and piercing blue eyes confirm his kinship to the Viking raiders who crossed the frozen Rhine, just as his gracious manner and charm manifest the qualities that have enabled the Burgundians to prevail over other competing tribes of the region over the centuries.

As fits their respect for the tried and true, the Lafarges have resisted the rush to embrace clones and continue to use a sélection massale. Their objective is to use old vines and small yields, and they contend that clones have a tendency to be overly productive. Similarly, the Domaine prefers the Cordon system of pruning over the more prevalent Guyot , believing that Cordon produces a smaller overall yield: more individual berries but of demonstrably smaller size and thus smaller overall quantity of more concentrated juice. As a secondary benefit, Michel and Frederic are convinced that Cordon makes the vines more resistant to disease by spacing out the vegetation and facilitating treatments against rot and other diseases. If such treatments do become necessary, traditional methods of control such as copper and sulphur are employed. Even then, the Lafarges will prepare their own Bordeaux mixes rather that rely on the ready made products of agrochemical companies. Modern chemical treatments and herbicides are eschewed and only modest amounts of organic compost are ever used to fertilize when necessary.

With their primary objective of old vines and low yields, they will on a selective basis green harvest young vines and other prolific vines, such as those clones that the Lafarges have allowed on an experimental basis. They also scrupulously  excise verjus (unripe, green grapes), both on the vines and in triage at the cuverie. Just as does their neighbor and friend Etienne de Montille at the Domaine de Montille, the Lafarges  reject blanket rules of vinification and tailor techniques in accordance with the peculiarities of the vintage. “There are no rules,” says Etienne, although the statement could have been pronounced with equal conviction down the street at Domaine Lafarge.

Typically, though not invariably, the Lafarges will destem between 80% and 100% of the bunches, with total destalking favored in less ripe vintages when the presence of unripe stalks will be more likely to add a herbaceous

Frédéric and Michel Lafarge

quality to the must, although the presence of some stalks will tend to lengthen the period of fermentation and decrease the temperature of the fermenting must. There is a decided preference for a longer and cooler fermentation period. They reject the use of enzymes and commercial yeasts, adhering to a natural pre-fermentation maceration with a transition into fermentation prompted by the action of natural, indigenous yeasts.

Cuvaison will typically occupy 10-14 days, with temperatures kept at between 28° and 32°C. Heat exchangers are anathema, however, and the fementation temperature is regulated by controlling the ambient temperature in the cuverie. In less ripe years, the fermention is hotter and shorter: hotter in order to extract more fruit and tannin, and shorter to resist the less attractive qualities of the unripe secondary flavors. A cooler and longer fermentation period is perceived as better able to gently extract the elegant secondary flavors.

Although generally opposed to saignée, the Lafarges will employ the practice in years when they conclude that dilution might otherwise occur. They strenuously resist any pumping in the cuverie and will move the pulp to the press by hand to avoid damaging the fragile fruit. For the same reason, the press is manually controlled to allow the gentlest possible extraction of press wine from the pulp. In any event, very little vin de presse is ever used, with between 5-10 % the norm.

New wood is sparingly used, with typically only about 25%, although up to a third may be used in ripe years for Premier Cru. Racking is delayed as long as possible, by up to one month if the lies are healthy and the ambient temperatures are low enough. A second racking will occur once malo is complete. Total élevage will generally last between fifteen and twenty months. The wines are rarely filtered and finished with only a light fining with egg whites before bottling.

Domaine Lafarge is comprised of approximately 12 hectares of vineyards. There are 1.28 ha of Chardonnay in Meursault, and 1.1 ha of Aligoté. Except for small portions of vineyards devoted to Gamay for inclusion in their stellar Passetoutgrains, the remainder of the Lafarge vineyards are planted in old-vine Pinot Noir. Their best known vineyards are in Volnay Premiers Crus, and include .97 hectares of Clos des Chênes, .57 hectares of Clos du Château des Ducs, and .30 hectares of Les Caillerets, and small plots of Chanlins and Les Mitans. The Domaine also produces noteworthy Beaune, includes .38 hectares of Premier Cru Les Grêves, and .20 ha of Les Teurons; and a tiny quantity of Pommard from a .14 hectare vineyard in Pommard Premier Cru Les Pezerolles.

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