So good they named it twice (Cote de Beaune, France – Day Two)

The famous village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wasn’t always named as such, it was renamed from just Chateauneuf after the Papal regime had all of their best vineyards here back in the 15th century. The association with this important period in history was strong enough to change the name of the village, thereby highlighting the importance of viticulture, and today it is the largest single appelation in France. This isn’t the only village in France that has changed its name to signify the importance of viticulture, some of the most famous are in Burgundy. Within the Cote d’Or, villages that neighboured the best grand cru vineyards began to take the name of the vineyard to lift their profile. Gevrey became Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle became Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne became Vosne-Romanee and Aloxe became Aloxe Corton. Arguably the most famous white wines in the world come from the Montrachet Grand Cru vineyards which are between the villages of Puligny and Chassagne, and thus they both took the name of the vineyard and became Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet respectively. In a way this is like a seal of approval or a sponsorship, but in the same way that a sponsorship from Pepsi doesn’t guarantee that The Spice Girls are good, just because the fruit comes from a classified vineyard it doesn’t mean it will be the same style or the same quality. This is one of the problems with the appelation classification system, is that it is merely for a place and not for the human influence, and two wines from the same vineyard but a different producer can be very different. As I always say, trust the producer first and the rest will follow.

Barrels and bottles

Returning to Chassagne-Montrachet I visited the first winery of the day, Domaine Blain-Gagnard. I was familiar with this producer as it was one of the best priced premier cru producers that I used to sell in the shop and was one of the few that could stock up in the shop rather than down in the cellar with all the super-premium wines. Blain-Gagnard as was the case with all of the estates I visited in the Cote de Beaune owns about nine hectares of vineyards, predominantly in the Chassagne-Montrachet appelation including some choice parcels in the Montrachet Grand Cru vineyards. Also like many others the domaine itself has only been in existence for a few decades but its origins stretch back several generations, being passed down in more recent generations to the daughters and often split. This arm of the family business is owned partly by Claudine Gagnard whose sister took the other part of the vineyards and the cellars next door, and her husband Jean-Marc who originally hails from Sancerre. They started the domaine back in 1980 soon after they married and it wasn’t long before they had already distinguished themselves for their commitment to quality. One of the first importers to work with them was in fact the Australian Domaine Wine Shippers and Australia is one of their best markets, amazing considering they export 80% of their wine.

The family tree and two problems that occur in the vineyards

Claudine met me at the cellars to introduce me to their history, philosophy and practices. They manage all of their vineyards very sustainably and aim to capture of the heavy mineralic soil they have in Chassagne. One of the defining characteristics of their style is their very crisp and mineralic qualities, which has in part been achieved by harvesting earlier, something they have done since the 1997 vintage. This in turn also retains the citric acidic qualities and freshness as well as lower alcohol levels. Further efforts are made to allow a very pure and fresh expression of the terroir by using minimal amounts of new oak and doing so for a very short amount of time. As well as their exemplary holdings of chardonnay vineyards they also dedicate 40% of their vineyards to pinot noir, which also includes some parcels in Pomerol. Today they Jean-Marc and Claudine are ably assisted by their son Marc-Antonin who gained experience working vintages with some outstanding producers in Australia like Cullen in the Margaret River. The day before I visited their importer in the United States had been there and so I had the chance to taste the entire range of wines from the 2011 vintage, and whilst they are undoubtedly charming and approachable wines in their youth (particularly this vintage) they will also age very gracefully. Click here to read my tasting notes.

My faithful friend, cement vats

My final appointment in the Cote d’Or was only around the corner but as it wasn’t for few hours I returned to Volnay for lunch at the Auberges des Vignes where I had been back in 2010. The food was wonderful but couldn’t match the quality of Ma Cuisine from the previous day. It also wasn’t the same as when I went in 2010 which was in July and was busier, so I got to sit by the window looking out into the vineyards, whereas now they have this part closed off. Anyway, I digress. My second appointment was with Bruno Colin, yet another producer I stocked but was unfamiliar with. One thing I remember about the wines was their quite strikingly modern yet classic labels that really stood out against most of the very traditional labels you tend to get from many regions in France. When I visited I discovered that one of the main reasons for the modern feel is that the domaine has only been around since 2004. This doesn’t mean that there is no experience, far from it in fact. Bruno comes from a long line of growers and producers in Chassagne-Montrachet, being the fourth generation. When his father Michel retired in 2003 he divided almost all of his holdings between his two sons, keeping only the best premier cru and grand cru parcels to vinify for himself and some close friends. Of course with the laws of inheritance set in place by Napoleon still in effect, Bruno and his brother Phillipe established their own estates as they had differing philosophies.

Lovely cellars of Bruno Colin

I met with Emeline Buchy who as is the fashioned went straight into showing me the cellars and the tasting, and once again I had to actually ask for as much information as possible about the domaine. Bruno works with 30 different parcels in five communes including Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Santenay, Saint-Aubin, and Maranges. They only produce about 5,000 bottles per year using again very typical viticultural and winemaking practices as my host informed me. Nineteen different wines with the majority being premier cru wines, predominantly in Chassagne-Montrachet and he prefers to use as little oak as possible for 12 to 18 months. Several hot topics were raised between myself and my host, the first being what a domaine actually is. At first it seemed that a domaine is a producer who only makes wines from their own vineyards, but Emiline was focusing on the legal side of things whereby you have a separate company that you sell your on grapes to for wine production, whereas I was thinking from the perspective of the customer and what it actually means for them. At the end of the day whether you make the wine from your own vineyards or you are buying grapes or wine to vinify or bottle, you can still call yourself a domaine. The other hot topic that she agreed with me was the point of using and certifying organic or bio-dynamic principles in a region like Burgundy where anything you do I your own parcels is negated by the actions of your surrounding neighbours effecting your parcel, not to mention the fact that there is very little if any biodiversity in the vineyards, just vines. In terms of the wines, they are technically excellent and show great quality, but they are on the safe side and lack personality. I couldn’t quite work out if it was a case of not ripe enough or not unripe enough, but they were too in the middle of the road. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Another unique tasting location

Click here to see more photos from my final day in the Cote de Beaune.

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