Louis Dressner Selections - Wine Importer

New Visit and Interview: Jean Maupertuis in Auvergne!

First thing's first: go read the BRAND SPANKING NEW interview with Jean Maupertuis on his profile. If you're unfamiliar with Auvergne's viticultural history, you will definitely learn a thing or two.


Two years ago, Jean Maupertuis purchased some vines in the commune of Riom. These are 45 minutes away from his village of Saint-Georges-sur-Allier, so we met him at at edge of an autoroute toll-booth (which admittedly was a bit confusing) to visit these first. Our first stop was a 1,5 hectare plot of Gamay d'Auvergne (a local strain that distinguishes itself by its later maturities and more rustic, peppery flavors) planted right after WW2.

The vineyard directly faces the town of Clermont-Ferrand, which you can see in the background of the above picture. These vines are planted on what was once one of Auvergne's most celebrated coteaux: designated as the Madargues cru, this was reportedly one of Louis XVI's favorite wines and was extremely popular in 17th century Paris. Today, only 12 h still remain in the cru (now a sub-appellation of the Auvergne AOC) and this is the only parcel left on this coteau.

The plot is wedged between expensive suburban houses.

"I don't know how long vineyards like this can last in the long run. This land is worth 5000 euros as a vineyard, and 1 million euros as a building site for housing."

The soils consist of white sands.

Grapes from this parcel go into the La Plage cuvée, which translates to "the beach". Get it?

The next plot of land we visited was a short drive away, all Gamay planted in even sandier soils.

It's this parcel that inspired the name La Plage, as the sands are the exact same you'd find on, well, a beach.

"Even the herbs that grow here look like the beach!"

The last parcel we visited from Riom is home to the Pinot Noir that produces Neyrou.

I immediately noticed a training system for the vines that I'd never seen before, which Jean defined as "En Lyre" training:

Essentially, "En Lyre" is a double palissage with nothing in the middle, permitting both sides to get optimal aeration and sun.

It quickly went out of fashion because this training system is impossible to work mechanically, and has therefore all but disappeared. According to Jean, it takes about 7 years to properly shape one. The vines here are 25 years old.

Another reason it became unpopular is due to the fact that you're getting grapes on both sides of each row, which automatically translates to low yields since one root is essentially sharing the work of two vines. Jean says that his Gamay and Pinot Noir planted in En Lyre produce teeny-tiny grapes, but that they are unbelievably full of concentration.

The vines here are exposed full South, and planted on clay heavy soils.

Jean has yet to work these soils, but plans to do so in the coming year. When he acquired these in 2011, they were abandoned and completely surrounded with extremely high thorns.

"It took a crew of 5 an entire month to clean everything up!"

The next morning, we set off to vineyards just a few minutes from Jean's home.

This 1.2 h parcel of Gamay was almost on some Clos Roche Blanche levels of flower-power!

All of these are wild flowers. The vines themselves were planted in the 60's and the soils are limestone.

The final parcel Denyse and I checked out produces the Pierres Noires cuvée. Zaggy was loving all the open space to run around in.

The soils here are all volcanic ash and debris.

Clermond-Ferrand can once again be spotted in the background.

The vines here are 60-70 years old and average 25 to 30 hl/h yields.

After a beautiful morning, we stepped into yet another contender for "smallest cellar in the universe".

Yup. That's all of it.

One thing that was sweet was this home-made spit bucket with a gutted bowl going placed on top of a vase.

Clever, clever!

Jean had already bottled all of his 2012's, which we gleefully re-tasted before setting off. They were quite nice.

- Jules 1-3-2014 11:12pm
tags: 2013, Jean Maupertuis, Visit, Zaggy

New Visit: Bouncing back at Bellivière!

Eric and Christine Nicholas live on a side road in the tiny village of Lhomme. When we arrived, Eric was busy spraying a biodynamic treatment on some Pineau d'Aunis, so Christine decided to give us a tour of some other vineyards before heading over to see him.

Click here to read the rest of this post...

- Jules 12-10-2013 12:30am
tags: Bellivière, Trips, Zaggy

Summer 2013: Clos du Tue-Boeuf in Les Montils!


Puzelat time! After a quick hello with Thierry and Jean-Marie, we headed straight to the Clos du Tue-Boeuf, the lieu-dit the estate is named after. The first part of the clos we visited were the three parcels that go into the Gravotte cuvée.

The three plots total 1h, and Thierry blends them together because of similarities in their soil composition. Gravotte is a small coteau of eroded clay and flint with shallow, chalky limestone, all planted in Pinot Noir.

The vines are 36 years old, and Thierry has recently ripped out a bunch of very old Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in the same area to replant Pinot Noir (all from massale, sourced from Caillière, Gravotte, Hervé Villemade's Ardilles parcel and Prieuré-Roch).

This will effectively double Gravotte's production in coming years.

Just a little further, the plots that produce Caillière (also planted exclusively in Pinot Noir) awaited us.

The soils here are composed of red, sandy clay.

As you can see from the pictures above and below, they are much less absorbent than Gravotte.

Still marching onwards, we crossed this little path to check out some Sauvignon Gris.

When I pointed out that the whole area felt extremely closed off, Thierry explained:

"The land costs nothing here so we bought everything around us to keep the trees and ensure nothing would ever get cut down. We didn't want to lose the biodiversity."

The Sauvignon Rose here was planted in 1998, when René Mosse used to work at the estate. It used to be woods, which Thierry's team cut down before planting the following Spring.

Some older Gamay used to be planted here as well, but Thierry recently ripped them out.

"They were shitty clones from the 70's. They had poor vegetal matter and were always sick."

Gamay will be re-planted here in massale.

From the Sauvignon, we took a quick drive upwards, which eventually led us to Frileuse.

If you haven't noticed yet, many of the Tue-Boeuf cuvées are made from micro lieu-dits within the lieu-dit of Clos du Tue-Boeuf. Also, this is the visit recap where the term lieu-dit has been used the most. So there.

Frileuse roughly translates to "the little cold one", and unsurprisingly, it's the parcel that gets the coldest, so frost is often an issue here. The soils are clay and flint, and less compact than Gravotte. The site is 2h: one in Sauvignon, the other in Chardonnay.

We then drove around for a while, passing by the Buisson Pouilleux, some of Pierre-O's recently purchased Touraine vines, the Guerrerie parcel and Brin de Chèvre, a plot of old vine Menu Pineau planted in 1934.

"I work the very old parcels by horse due to their fragility. A tractor easily rips them out of the ground or breaks them."

Still talking about Brin de Chèvre, Thierry explained that the windy climate and solid clay mean that (due to Menu Pineau being a late harvest grape), this is usually where they harvest last.

"This grape is super resistant. Esca has never been a problem and it resists mildew. The three really local varieties -Menu Pineau, Romorantin and Pineau D'Aunis- are always the most resistant to illness. Gamay and Sauvignon have only been planted here for 100 years, and they are always sick. This is why we've started replanting only these old varieties."

Still driving around, we passed a Gamay parcel where Olivier Lemasson was working. It would have been rude not to say hello, so we did.

This parcel planted on a very similar terroir to Frileuse.

After an extensive tour of the vines, it was time to taste, which didn't take very long since their is so little wine in 2012. Here's a picture of the TOTAL production of Frileuse.

That's right, 3 barrels. It tasted good. Additionally, there is only one barrel of Buisson Pouilleux, which also tasted good.

An exceptional rosé was produced in 12:

"We decided to make rosé because many parcels were hailed on. The tannins would have made the wine too harsh for a red."

Also, the little bit of Guerrerie Gamay harvested was consolidated into La Butte.

After ALL that tasting, we headed to the famed L'Herbe Rouge with Thierry, Jean=Marie, Pierre-O Bonhomme and Olivier Lemasson for lunch. This happened:

And this:

And this:

We also ate some good food, but that's inconsequential. Points of conversation included:

-A lot of growers working conventionally are slowly going out of business, as evidenced by Olivier Lemasson being able to buy old vine Côt, Gamay and Grolleaux from guys who have quit over the last 10 years.

-The Puzelat-Bonhomme négoce will change to Domaine Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme as of the 2013 vintage. This has been years in the making: Jean-Marie is a few years away from retiring, and Thierry, who will now be alone at Tue-Boeuf, has decided to focus his energy entirely on his family estate (on top of his importing business and running a successful wine bar in Orléans). Pierre-O made many of the 2011 wines and all of the 2012 wines on his own, and both parties feel that he is ready to step up to the plate. Fan favorites like Le Telquel, Rouge est Mis and Tesnière Pineau d'Aunis will still be in full effect.

-As of early 2013, Pineau D'Aunis is officially de-classified from use in the Touraine AOC.

"If you start a new plantation in Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, you get a 10,000 euro subsidy from the minister of agriculture. If you plant Pineau d'Aunis, you get nothing."

We also talked about the late Chistian Chaussaurd and Thierry's time as professors at the viticultural school of Ambroise. Cho-Cho was there for 5 years, Thierry for 3.

"On our own we were bad enough, but the combination of the two of us is what got us fired!"

Apparently, telling people to use less sulfur and native yeasts didn't go over too well...

Here are some completely unrelated pictures of Thierry's new puppy Horatio.

After lunch, Pierre-O drove us over to the really, really cool, 100+ year old Probilière parcel.

The soils here are composed of very fine clay and flint.

Some of the vines here are Gamay Teinturier, one of the only red pulped grapes in the world.

Some marcottage was going on.

The prior owner was pumping tons of chemicals into the vines, and was getting up to 100 hl/h yields off of 12 canes!!! Pierre-O has converted the parcel to organics, reduced the amounts of canes to 6 and had 40 hl/h yields in 2011.

Next up, we're heading way up North to Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir to visit Eric and Christine Nicholas at Domaine de Bellivière!

Summer 2013: Hervé Villemade in Cellettes!


Recognize that statue?


When pulling in to the Villemade's property, the first thing you spot is their fruit and vegetable garden.

The garden feeds the whole family, and Hervé and Isabelle's 80 year old father takes care of it all on his own. That and pruning "his" 2 hectares all by himself every winter.

"We just let him take as long as he needs. He's in no rush."

And yes, that's a big Homer Simpson doll. Scares the crows.

The first parcel we visited was the old vine Pinot Noir that goes into Desiré, a magnum only cuvée bottled exclusively in exceptional vintages.

Last year, the Desiré parcel produced 2 hl/h, which represents a 90% loss. And though 2012 was particularly brutal, the vines in this area are extremely prone to frost, which has prompted Hervé to purchase vines in the frost-free nearby village of Fougères-sur-Bièvre.

"In the 19 years I've worked this land, it's frosted badly 9 times. One year out of two: it adds up."

This is what frost damage looks like.

Still, Hervé is happy because the bit of sun they've had this summer has sprouted grapes from the damaged buds.

The soils here are heavy clay.

Next, we visited some nearby Romorantin.

The soils here are sand and flint.

Fortunately, 2013 hasn't been a bad year for mildew, the other recurring issue in the area. In efforts to thwart the fungal illness, Hervé has started using a seaweed solution against it.

It's critical that mildew not propagate right before flowering (when we visited), because this is when vines are the most vulnerable: since the sap's flow is so concentrated on the flower, it can hardly protect itself against the spread of illness.

The other big issue? The dreaded little chevreuils:

"If I could shoot them all, I would!"

Hervé is using a rotten garden solution to keep them away.

"It works, but you have to re-spray every time it rains."

Still in the same vicinity, Hervé pointed out some recently planted Sauvignon and Romorantin that will eventually make it into the Cheverny Blanc and Cour-Cheverny.

In an effort to have the most diverse, heterogeneous plantation possible, Hervé has sourced selections massales from over 10 friends, including Clos Roche Blanche, Clos du Tue Boeuf, Maisons Brûlées, Noella Morantin and old vines from their own parcel, La Bodice. The Romorantin was also sourced from François Cazin, Phillipe Tessier and other locals with old vine massales.

After a nice stroll through the vines behind the cellar, we took a quick drive to the lieu dit Les Ardilles.

The lieu-dit of Les Ardilles is 5 hectares: 2 hectares of Pinot Noir and Gamay produce the Les Ardilles cuvée, with an additional 3 hectares of Chardonnay that go into the Cheverny Blanc. There is also a bit of Côt planted, which produces the Pivoine bottling if the quality is high enough. Otherwise it's blended in the rosé.

The whole area is completely surrounded by woods, with rockier Manganese and clay subsoils.

"You never sink into these. They are much easier to work."

For vines he's recently had to replant, Hervé has sourced Pinot fin massales from 3 plots of the infamous Prieuré-Roch estate.

"They add a lot of finesse."

Duh! Hervé hopes to find different Pinot Noir plants in the future to have as much diversity as possible.

The last bit of land we visited were the recently acquired parcels in Fougères-sur-Bièvre. To get there, Hervé led us through some cereal fields.

Zaggy made sure to stay close.

The grass here is visibly untamed, but it isn't that big of a deal because the soils are so rich in clay.

These Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted in 1973, and 40% of them are missing vines. Hervé will eventually replant.

We also saw some old vine Menu Pineau that goes into Bulle Blanche.

As mentioned earlier, these vines are are at double the elevation of Bodice and on much heavier clay, so they don't get hit by frost at all.

We then headed to the cellar. Here's ALL of the 2012 Cheverny Blanc...

Hervé was only able to produce 45 hl instead of a usual 300 hl in 2012, and it's fermenting very slowly.

"The challenge with years like 2012 is harvesting grapes at optimal maturities, since they are so heterogeneous."

All the whites start fermenting in concrete, then are racked to barrel to finish. Acacias was a blend of young and old vines together in 12, so there will be no Chataigners (the name of the old vine Romo). Sugar and malo was done, and the wine was still aging on its lees. Beautiful nose, fresh, and vibrant. La Bodice 12 was also really good.

Les Ardilles will be the only red in 2012. Only a microscopic 60hl of red was produced!!! We tasted the Pinot and Gamay before blending; the grapes that would normally have made the Cheverny Rouge went into the rosé this year. The final wine will be under 12% alchohol.

Check out these cool wine fair posters.

Our next visit brings us to our other Romo master, François Cazin!

- Jules 9-27-2013 10:13pm
tags: 2013, Hervé Villemade, Homer Simpson, Summer, Trips, Zaggy

Summer 2013: Les Maisons Brûlées in Pouillé!


The first time I visited Les Maisons Brûlées, Michel Augé asked us to participate in his favorite experiment, which involves his guests walking though the entire vineyard without saying a word, then asking: "How did it make you feel?"

Even though this was only back in the summer of 2011, I didn't get what he was trying to accomplish with this. How did it make me feel? I replied that I didn't know, that it was a vineyard, that it was pretty... Michel nodded, but asked again: "But how did it make you feel?"

What Michel wanted us to realize was that every part of the vineyard has a different energy, and that one must be in tune with nature to understand, to feel it. The question seemed odd, trivial and besides the point at the time, but his message finally clicked a year later during last summer's visit at Renardat-Fâche (re-read the part about the biodynamic experiments). Look, I've spent my whole life in vineyards, and the man is right: biodynamic vineyards- and I am in no way, shape or form trying to explain why this is the case- have a special, connected energy I've never felt anywhere else. I'll leave it at that.

The man may have a deep, philosophical soul, but he's still down to earth enough to rock some Royal Wear sneakers.

From Noella Morantin's, it took us a whole 4 minutes to arrive to Michel and Béatrice Augé's farm.

Our first stop was visiting Praline and the gang!

This is Praline.

This is Praline in action, which gives you a much better idea of how massive she is.

Praline just had a son with Olivier Cousin's horse Joker, and because of his long, lanky legs, Michel has named him Danseur!

And it wouldn't be a party without our good friend Donkey!

Donkey's main job is to keep Praline company. While an incredibly social guy, he's not much of a hard worker.

"Horses and donkeys are like dogs and cats. A horse, you can train and it will take orders. A cat does what he wants."

We then set off for a tour of the vines.

Glancing into the horizon, Michel explained that his vineyards are exceptional because they are THE last in the area to be on planted on a coteaux. He describes his vineyards as the same landscape you would typically see in 12th and 13th century France, well before people started intentionally planting in the plains, a phenomenon fully linked to mechanization.

Michel also explained that the area's economy revolved around a potter's town the size of Tours in the 2nd century. Traces of galo-roman ruins are still being found to this day.

The vineyards are separated into two distinct sections. The one closest to the farm and on the top of the coteau is co=planted with many grapes, including Pinot Noir vines that go into Herdeleau. At 25 years olds, these are the youngest of the estate.

Right across, Côt is planted and acts as the base of Erèbe, as well as the Sauvignon for Poussière de Lune. These are 70 years old.

Michel's got some honey going!

The bees play an essential role in the vines, as do the hundreds of insects (most microscopic) that inhabit and feed from the various wild flowers and plants. Also, butterflies:

"As long as there are butterflies in your vineyards, the berry worms (verre de la grappe)-which are night moths themselves- will go away. All you need to attract butterflies are flowers and plants."

Luckily, over 70 types of wild plants grow in the vineyard.

Oh, and trees:

"Just like man, vines need trees. They help us all live better."

On the bottom part of the hill, it's colder so vegetation is slower. Very old 60 plus+ Gamay and Pineau D'Aunis as well as Cabernet Franc are grown here, as well as very old Sauvignon that is over 100.

This land totals 8 h, with 1 h being rented to a young guy.

FUN ASIDE: Michel has been experimenting with his dog Balou's hair to scare away chevreuils.

The idea is very simple: Balou killed a baby chevreuil during the summer, so in theory they should be scared of her.

"I have no idea if it's actually doing anything."

Obviously, it wouldn't be fair to not show you what Balou looks like.

The most interesting factoid of the visit is how the estate and lieu-dit got the names Les Maisons Brûlées (the burned houses): the vineyards on the bottom of the hill are planted on the soils of a village that completely (and mysteriously) burned down. You can spot the stones that were used to make these houses -which were presumably easy to stack on top of each other- all over the vineyards.

You can spot these easily in the superficial soil, but they are especially present in the subsoil. Interestingly, all the the vines planted in this area are franc de pied.

After telling us the burned down village story, Michel poetically exclaimed:

"The peasant's work is to heal the earth."

After our nice stroll through the vines, it was time to taste some wine! We were all parched, so Béatrice busted out some of her home-made elderberry blossoms lemonade. It was extra refreshing. We then tasted Sauvignon, which Michel uses a unique technique I've never seen anywhere else: pelicular macerations in little boxes before pressing the grapes.

"Sauvignon has really high alcoholic potential. The maceration (in boxes) gives more matter, which would be impossible with a regular alcoholic fermentation."

Michel feels the wines need one year to find their final precision.

"That is the challenge with sulfur free whites. It takes up to a year in a half for them to stabilize."

Speaking of a long time, Silènes 2012 still has 250 grams of sugars to work on!!!

"The summer should do it's work."

For stupid legal reasons, l' Herdeleau is now L'Art de L'Eau for 2011.

It was delicious, and while tasting, Michel explained that he harvests different parcels based on maturity levels, so it's done plot by plot rather than grape by grape.

"This is what led us to do blends. The soils have way more importance than the varietals."

The 3 grapes in l'Art de L'Eau (Pineau D'Aunis, Gamay, Cab Franc) happen to be amongst the red grapes with the highest amount of tartaric acid, which is usually confuses with tannin. Hmmmm.....

We also tasted this sous-voile, Vin Jaune style Sauvignon that was the bomb.

Next up, we're hopping over to Cheverny to check in on dynamic brother/sister duo Hervé and Isabelle Villemade of Domaine du Moulin!

- Jules 9-18-2013 11:53pm
tags: Les Maisons Brûlées, Summer, Trips, Zaggy

Summer 2013: Domaine de la Chappe in Tonnerre!



"People who arrive on time have no lives!"

This is how Vincent Thomas of Domaine de la Chappe jokingly greeted after arriving over an hour late to our appointment. I blame it all on Olivier Horiot for making us hang out so long at his sister's place!

After exchanging helloes, we agreed to take a tour of the vines, but not before Vincent could load up the truck with new releases and some paté made from one of the two pigs he recently raised. Though he assured us it was delicious, Vincent forewarned the group that he could not bring himself to eat any himself.

"When you have that connection with the animal, it just feels wrong to eat them. But I love pork and will eat one if I didn't raise it!"

The first plot we visited was 1.5 h of Pinot Noir called les Rouquins. It's very rocky on the top of the parcel, which it makes it near impossible to work the grass.

This is especially challenging in years like 2013, where there has been LOTS of rain. Still:

"Better to have a lot of grass than a desert!"

As you can see from the pictures, it's kind of growing wild everywhere. The good news is that the constant freshness has made them avoid a lot of potential hail; 10-15% of Vincent's 2013 harvest has already been lost to those icy bastards from the sky.

"The problem with Pinot is that when it's stressed- for example by hail- it grows like crazy."

On the bottom part of the hill, the clay gets heavier so it's easier to plow.

The rocky top goes into the André cuvée, the bottom into Joseph. These vines were planted in 1990, 91 and 92.

We then drove to a parcel of Chardonnay.

Heavy, soft clay here. It's much easier to work. Except when it rains...

"It's so wet you could make pottery."

Just like the Pinot we visited earlier, the vines are completely surrounded by woods. Vincent doesn't have many neighbors, and some of them work organically. If not, he sells the grapes of rows with chemical overlap to a négociant.

The last parcel we checked out was the famous Aligoté!

It was about time to re-taste Alimonade:

This bubbly bad boy is part ancestrale, part traditionelle, ALL refreshing.

That was probably the corniest thing I've ever written. Fuck it, it's staying...

We also tried a whole bunch of other stuff, including the 2012 Thérèse. The 2011's flew out of inventory when we had them last (Maya and David sold out in two weeks), and it's too bad there will be so little of this precise, lively Chardonnay in 2012.

Speaking of not a lot of wine, Vincent started a small négoce last year so that he could have a little more volume. The purchased fruit is all from organic growers, most of whom are his close friends. From this project we tasted a 2012 Bourgogne Tonnerre aged in barrique that was fresh, bright and alive, a carbonic Pinot that was juicy and easy and a 2011 Epineul that macerated in 35l oak tanks.

Our outdoor tasting ended with André 11 and 12, both of which were great. Oh, and the paté was delicious!

Next up, we're back in the Loire and visiting the one and only Clos Roche Blanche! Get ready for A LOT of pictures of flowers.

- Jules 8-28-2013 11:19pm
tags: Domaine de la Chappe, Summer, Trips, Zaggy

Summer 2013: Olivier Horiot in Les Riceys!


Though we've been working with Olivier Horiot for a few years now, it wasn't until our fairly recent interview at L'Herbe Rouge last February that we began to truly realize how funny, clever and talented the guy is. This visit only solidified our belief that Domaine Olivier Horiot is one of the coolest, most forward thinking estates in Champagne right now. Watch this video to understand his epicness:

I laugh out loud every time I watch this video. The contrast between epic war movie music and Olivier's mellow demeanor undoubtedly makes it a postmodern work of juxtapositional art. Historians will look back upon this fondly!

We began the visit by driving to Les Escharere and Valigrain, two neighboring parcels.

As you can hear from the audio, it was a very windy day. Escharere is the first parcel you see, followed by Valigrain.

Upon arrival, Olivier started chatting up his neighbors about everyone's big worry in 2013: hail. His colleagues were checking for any damage from a recent storm, and had luckily been spared. It's hailed 3 times on this grouping of parcels this year. Due to late flowering, the damage hasn't been too bad.

"It sounds strange, but we're getting used to bad weather."

Here are some pics of recent hail damage from Escharere's Chardonnay.

Escharere consists of Pinot Noir and a bit of Chardonnay on marl.

"The marl gives a roundness to the juice you don't get in other areas."

The best grapes from this parcel are blended into Métisse, and the rest are sold to a VERY FAMOUS house that will remain anonymous.

Just below, the 30 year old Valigrain vines feature a more Southern exposition and a steeper coteau.

"The soils here are always drained due to good exposition, so the vines are always balanced."

This is especially important since Les Riceys is one of the rare parts of Champagne with a continental climate, leading to very cold winters and scorchingly hot summers.

Along with Pinot Noir, a small amount of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc is co-planted in these soils. During harvest, Olivier's team perform 2 to 3 passes: one for the Valigrain Champagne, one for Rosé de Riceys and a last one for the Coteaux Champenois Blanc.

Olivier works all his soils with a tractor, letting grass grow every other row. His soil is fluffy and soft, while most of his neighbors' are rock hard. He's also very vigilant in keeping yields low, keeping only 6 to 8 bunches per cane.

"50 hl yields are the maximum if you want to produce a quality rosé. The soil is very fertile here, so it's easy to have really high yields."

We then set off to Olivier's second major site, En Barmont.

A little bit of hail here, but no damage.

"It still really stresses the vines."

While admiring the view, Olivier filled us in on some of his region's particularities. With 866 h planted in vines, Les Riceys is not only the the biggest viticultural village in Champagne, but in all of France! It's also the southernmost appellation of Champagne, smack dab on the border of Burgundy. In fact, the border actually splits the village of Les Riceys in half!

Olivier lives in the Champagne part.

After hanging in En Barmont, we drove to a new parcel on a 45% incline.

Les Riceys has a large amount of the style of stone house pictured below.

These are very typical in the South of France (especially the Rhône) and all but absent in other viticultural regions of France. No one really knows why they are so prevalent here.

The final parcel we visited is called Les Prémalins.

This is where Olivier has planted the ancient grapes of Champagne: Arbane, Pinot Meunier, Petit Meulier, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. He's also experimenting with all types of training systems to see what happens.

After a much appreciated tour of the vines, we visited the Horiot's recently renovated cellar. The ground floor serves as a pressing room.

The gravity press is a new addition, as well as the concrete tanks, which permits Olivier to not use temperature control.

While we were checking the ground floor out, Olivier's son popped in and showed us his bad-ass Horiot T-shirt!

I also spotted this inspiring manuscript.

Titled Harvest 2012, Advice for Vinification, it contained many nuggets of wisdom: which yeasts to use, how much sulfur to add (and when!), what to do if you have rotten grapes in the mix... It was all in there!

While the ground level already existed, the Horiot's dug out a completely new underground cellar.

We tried a few things from barrel, including still Chardonnay from Escharere destined to make Champagne, as well as Pinot Blanc and Arbane from En Barmont. Olivier only has 303 plants of Arbane, which tends to produce only one barrel a year. We also got to try the Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay from Valigrain that make the Coteaux Champenois Blanc and some rosé still in its carbonic state. Olivier used to conferment his wines, but now vinifies everything separately.

After visiting the cellar, we set off to the local hang run by Olivier's sister.

We got to taste another shade of Champagne's bubbly side: Belgian beer!

We also ate lunch and talked about all types of interesting things. Did you know that Les Riceys is the only region in the world where you can make 5 radically different wines from the same parcel and have all of them pass as AOC? Count em': Rosé des Riceys, Blanc de Noir Champagne, Champagne Rosé, Coteaux Champenois, Coteaux Champenois Blanc. BooM!

Did you also know that you are legally allowed to use Arbane, Petit Meulier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris to make AOC Champagne? And that out of today's 15 000 active Champagne producers, only 18 use grapes other than Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier?

Or that only 17 producers still make Rosé des Riceys?

Or that the Horiots have 100 h of fields in their family's property, and are in the process of getting cows for milk, meat, fertilizers and biodynamic preparations?

So many factoids!

We ended our visit with great conversation about carbonic maceration. It boiled down to carbonic maceration potentially hiding or "killing" terroir when a wine is young, but that it shows itself if you let it age. The Rosé des Riceys is the perfect example:

"The thing with these sans souffre carbonic wines is that people are bottling them very young, at their most unstable state. You need to age these. Our rosé barely has any sulfur, and the more they age, the less they need it."

Next up, we check in on young gun Vincent Thomas of Domaine de la Chappe! Stay tuned!

- Jules 8-19-2013 11:29pm
tags: Champagne, Olivier Horiot, Summer, Trips, Zaggy

Summer 2013: Franck Pascal in Baslieux-sous-Châtillon (+ New Interview!)


For our second stop in Champagne, we drove over to Franck Pascal's. Make sure to read the newly added interview on Franck's profile; it's full of insightful information on Franck's beginnings and how he approaches viticulture.

We started by visiting a parcel that goes into Harmonie. For some reason, my professional photographer crew only captured this one picture of the surrounding landscape.

They were promptly fired and replaced.

Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are planted here on soils of marl and limestone. The vines are exposed east to West.

"It's a really great exposition here considering how flat it is. It helps the grapes ripen optimally."

Most of Franck's parcels border neighboring growers' vines, and initially Franck was working up to 2 extra hectares of land just to avoid chemical overlap between rows (keep in mind he only had 3 h at the time). Unfortunately, this backfired, and the shock from convential to biodyanimcs was too much for his neighbor's vines.

"I quickly realized that what worked for me wasn't for my neighbors. The plants couldn't adapt: they started getting very sick and many of them produced next to no fruit."

Franck made it up to them by giving them some of his harvest, and now sells the grapes from overlapping rows to a négociant.

The second and third parcel we visited are in the village of Belval-sous-Châtillon.

Mostly Pinot Meunier here, co-planted with Chardonnay. The top of the plateau is sandy limestone and the coteaux consists of micha-schist. The oldest vines here were planted in 1955.

"The coteau and the plateau are so different that I've started treating them like two separate parcels. I work the soils in different passes and we don't harvest the same day anymore."

Just like at Francis Boulard's, Franck is obliged to have clearly visible AB signs and little white squares posted everywhere so helicopter sprayers know that his parcels are being worked without chemicals.

Franck is in the tiny minority who actively works his soils.

He recently acquired 3 new parcels from his wife Isabelle's side of the family. The estate is extremely fragmented, spanning 20 parcels over 5 villages for a total of 4 hectares.

"One is only 115 square meters!"

That' 1237.8 square feet. The guy who sold it said it was too small to access by tractor, so Franck jumped on the opportunity to buy it. It is one of the many parcels he works exclusively by horse.

"Every time I acquire a new parcel or plot, I go with the horse. If there has been consistent herbicide used, the roots remain very superficial, and a tractor would tear them right out."

1/4 of the estate is regularly worked by horse, and Franck remembers when his grandfather worked all 5 of his hectares this way.

"I remember the mornings after big parties. My dad would doze off and let the horses do all the work!"

The last parcel we visited was a beautiful, isolated plot of Chardonnay planted on dark limestone.

In the tasting room, we tried current releases, most of which were disgorged in either March or May of this year.

They tasted good.

We then drove over to a restaurant by the water and drank a magnum of 2003.

Up next, the Champagne madness continues with our visit to the ever enigmatic Olivier Collin of Ulysse Collin!

- Jules 8-1-2013 8:25pm
tags: Champagne, Franck Pascal, Summer, Trips, Zaggy

Summer 2013: Francis Boulard in Hermonville!

Every summer, I always wonder what the "tube de l'été" is going to be. Not because I'm going to like it (I never do), but because it's going to play 8 million times on the radio, so I pray that it at least sounds tolerable. Though FUN Radio's DJ Fred openly claimed it was Jay Santos' Caliente, David Guetta's Work Hard, Play Hard seemed to be the most consistently overplayed smash hit of the summer (if you can survive the musical abomination, the video is actually quite entertaining). Well, as you will soon find out over the next 18 visit recaps, it wasn't caliente at all during our time in France, and we did in fact work hard AND play hard.

After a three day taste-a-thon revolving around Vinexpo, we took a train to Champagne to visit Francis Boulard! We finally got to meet his daughter Delphine, but it was quick since she had to go to her daughter's music recital. After a bit of chit-chat, we headed straight for Francis' best vineyard, Les Rachais!

As you can see in the video below, the entire hill is very densely planted.

This wasn't always the case.

"50 years ago, there were no vines here. You made more money growing raspberries or apples. Most of the land was abandoned after phylloxera. People only started replanting vines in the 60's when Champagne négoces started paying more."

Francis would know, since he's seen been working this land for the last 45 years. Starting in his early teens, he began tending the 14 h split between his father and uncle. For the first 7 years he was a manual laborer.

"I may be on the computer a lot these days, but back then I was spending 100% of my time in the vines!"

Les Rachais is the parcel Francis conducted his biodynamic experiments on in 2001, which convinced him to stop using chemicals in the vineyard. The vines were planted by his father in 1967 from Burgundian selection massales. The site's Chardonnay is mostly at the top, with some Pinot Noir at the bottom; the soils consist of 2m of limestone sand, with a solid limestone subsoil.

Here I am grabbing some for the now famous "Jules holds soil in his hand to highlight the vineyard's terroir" shot.

In Les Rachais, Francis averages a very low 50-55 hl/h in yields.

"Ironically, the Grand Cru vineyards have the highest yields in Champagne, around 120 hl/h."

Much like the rest of France, the last few months have been dubbed "the Spring that never came"; overcast skies, a lot of rain and having to heat the house until early June has been the norm, with the weather leading to very late flowering due to lack of sunlight.

There have also been issues with heavy grass growth due to all the water. Since the Boulard's don't cut their grass in the winter, they've been playing catch-up for the last few months.

"In Champagne, the vines are very low to the ground. Any kind of high grass will cause friction, which makes illness spread dangerously fast."

Here are some pictures to illustrate how low the vines are planted.

The area suffers heavily from cochenilles, little bugs that suck the sap out and weaken the vine.

There is currently nothing in organic agriculture to effectively get rid of them, but off of a friend's recommendation, Francis has had success fighting them off with a spray of fern and garlic.

A recently passed law dictates that you cannot helicopter spray within 120 m of organic vineyards, which is why there are very visible AB (certified organic) signs bordering Francis' vines.

"A lot of people aren't happy about this law."

Francis later explained that he feels the need to have AB certification because more and more growers are now claiming to work "almost" organically as a selling point. So if they have a perfect year, they won't use anything and claim the grapes are organic, but will resort right back to systemics (chemicals that go directly into the roots of the vines) as soon as the weather turns.

"That's where the certification's merit lies. It assures the customer and ourselves that we are fully committed to organic viticulture."

Organic Boulard aside: the Marne's serious lack of manganese often makes the vines look "old, red and sick", but since their conversion to organics, Francis claims the vines look young, green and healthy.

Francis' plowed rows proved a striking contrast to his chemically de-grassed surroundings.

Not too far off, the Chardonnay for "Vielles Vignes Blanc de Blanc" was planted in 1985.

It is next to a small plot of Pinot Noir used for the Rachais Rosé. These were planted in 1980.

After our extensive tour of Les Rachais, we briefly visited the cellar, which used to be a cow stable.

Francis buys his barrels from the only independent tonnelier in Champagne, who luckily enough lives in the same village.

We then tasted and yes, everything was really amazing, with the 2006 Millesimé and Petrea as particular standouts. Speaking of Petrea, Francis' solera Champagne, he's decided to pull the current batch out of production to start a new solera from his certified organic vintages. That means it will have started in 2010, and since Francis wants at least 5 vintages to be blended together before selling it, it's going to be a few years till we see another bottle of this amazing wine.

Unlike some of our growers, Francis isn't really that adventurous when it comes to vinification strategies or experiments.

"It's not really a vinification as much as letting wine ferment."

The only thing he's actively noticed over the years is that he gets more minerality when he uses smaller barrels.

Someway, somehow, 4 hours had gone by and it was dinner time. My favorite tidbit of conversation involved Francis explaining that when you study wine marketing, it is systematically taught to incorporate 20% of a Champagne's asking price into a marketing budget. That's why a lot of fancy, shiny golden pamphlets with a smiling family of suited up Champenois can be found by many tasting tables, and why the stuff is so darn expensive!

"I'd rather put that that 20% back into the vines!"

We love you Francis!

Next up, the Champagne keeps flowing as we check in with Franck Pascal! Stay tuned!

- Jules 7-24-2013 11:10pm
tags: Champagne, Francis Boulard, Summer, Zaggy

Summer Log 30: Laurent Barth in Bennwihr!


If you missed it the first time, a while back I posted Laurent's interview on his profile. It covers the history of the estate, the soils, Laurent's travels and a lot more. On to the recap!

Laurent Barth lives in the small village of Bennwihr, about 10 kilometers North of Colmar. Thought it has been around for centuries, the village was completely destroyed during the struggle for the Colmar Pocket in World War 2. Subsequently, it was rebuilt from the ground up (explaining why many houses look far more polished than most old villages in France). This included housing but also local economies.

The region has always been rich in vineyards, and a group of local vignerons -including Laurent's grandfather- formed a cave cooperative together in the late 40's in an effort to get things going again. The team effort proved a success: Bennwihr's cave developed a reputation for its high quality wines, and did very well in sales. Unfortunately, the growth of the cave coincided with the introduction and standardization of chemical viticulture and mechanization. Today, the wines being produced there are the same you'd find from any cave coop (aka industrial), something Laurent wanted to break out of by starting his own estate.

Laurent has 28 parcels spread over 4 communes, though 80% of his vines are in Bennwhir. The first one we visited was some Pinot Gris planted in 2001.

This was all planted in massale and in high concentration. This used to be the norm in the area, but was lost with mechanization.

"It creates more competition between the vines, so the roots have to go deeper to feed themselves."

You've probably noticed that the vineyards are very green with grass. Laurent started converting the estate to organics in 2004 (the first vintage bottled under his name), and for the last 6 years has been using biodynamic composts. He plans on incorporating 500 and 501 preparations over the next year.

We continued to visit by checking out Grand Cru Gewürztraminer planted in 1967 and 1968.

Unfortunately, the vines are suffering a lot of mortality problems from esca here. On that same hill, Laurent showed us some of his Pinot Noir (planted roughly around the same time).

We then drove back down to the village to visit some Riesling planted in 1945.

These are the oldest Riesling vines Laurent owns. Here on the plains, the soils are thinner and have more clay. Up in the hills, Riesling grows in soils with more limestone.

I spotted a vine that had recently died of esca, and for educational reasons decided to share it with you.

The last parcel we visited was a recently acquired 27 ares of Riesling from the Grand Cru Schlossberg, all replanted in 2009.

It's steep up there!

The visit ended with... TASTING! Laurent has a teeny-tiny cellar.

Highlights of the tasting were the Riesling 11's and the Pinot Noir M from barrel (20% whole cluster, darker, more structured). The Riesling VV was off to a very promising start, but still needed some time to age and develop before bottling. The Gewürztraminers, while obviously on the sweeter side of things, were still balanced by very bright acidity and minerality, making them thoroughly enjoyable.


Well, that's it for the Summer Logs! And it only took 5 months! Don't worry though, I've still got a Jean Thévenet interview (one of my personal favorites) and a bonus edition of Old Stuff From the Cellar: On the Road Edition left from our summer excursions. Also, expect a hand full of visit recaps from Italy over December, and many more 2012 Harvest Reports.

Louis/Dressner Selections: We've got internet content!™

- Jules 11-30-2012 9:11pm
tags: Laurent Barth, Summer 2012, Trips, Zaggy

Summer Log 29: Zélige-Caravent in Corconne! + New Profile and Interview!


Up until today's avalanche of information, Zélige-Caravent has been one of those mystery estates for most of our customers. But today, that all changes! Before jumping into the visit recap, please read the new Zélige-Caravent profile and in-depth interview with Luc and Marie Michel to get a firm grasp on who these people are. Moving along...

It's always great when you spend time with someone you barely know and end up getting along like old acquaintances. This was certainly the case during our two day visit with Luc and Marie Michel in Corconne. In the last year and half, we've crossed paths several times at Renaissance des Appellations and Vini di Vignaoli, and obviously spent enough time with them to work out bringing the wines to the United States, but this was our first time visiting the estate and I'm happy to say it was a great visit.

We arrived just around lunch time, and kicked things off by eating at this great, hidden gem of a restaurant called Sous le Chêne. After following an unassuming, unmarked path on the side of the road, you end up in an outdoor space with just a few tables, a makeshift kitchen and swimming pool. Everything is sourced locally/organically and they have good wines, but the most interesting thing about this place is their use of wild, seasonal plants and flowers in most of their dishes. Check out this link to see the summer offerings. Flowers taste good!

After lunch, it was time to check out what Luc has dubbed "the world's tiniest cellar". Before stepping in, I spotted an imminent shipment for PDX wine out in Portland!

The cellar is indeed tiny and in the middle of the village. Out front, there's a blue tree.

Inside, most of the concrete tanks were adorned with Marie's chalk art.

She explained that drawing on the tanks keeps her busy since: "doing a soutirage is long and boring". Before reaching said tanks, some of the grapes are put in this large container to macerate.

As you can see from this picture (that I didn't take), each bucket needs to be manually loaded up there (via ladder). The grapes are either whole cluster or not, and this depends on the state of each varietal, each vintage. Macerations typically last 4 weeks, and only light remontages are performed during this period. A wooden press is then used.

All in all, the Michel's work 12 hectares spread over 24 parcels. The biggest is only 1 hectare! Interestingly, the reason vines are so widely planted here is a bit of an accident. Up until the 50's, all vines were planted on extremely fertile ground, because the poor soils were reserved for olive trees. Then there was the great frost of 1956, which killed ALL the trees. This came as a huge surprise to the locals, since olive trees are notoriously resistant and live a very long time. And because replanting olives exclusively was too much of a long term plan, vines were replanted in the poor soils instead. And lo and behold, people started realizing these were good terroirs for wine!

Speaking of terroir, the soils here are locally called Gravette, which consist of deeply layered rocks in red sand.

Walking over to the vines, Luc pointed out a plot that he'd originally wanted to buy. Instead, the owner decided to rip them out and replant.

"I can't believe they ripped it out before harvesting."

It definitely seemed like a waste; Luc is guessing that Syrah will be replanted in rows here, an unfortunate trend he talks about in detail in his interview. A big reason Luc feels that goblets need to stay is that "Each goblet creates its own microclimate by covering and protecting the grapes".

Because there are so many parcels, I forgot which is which, but here are some pretty pictures.

They don't really do rognage, except for some very light touch ups on some goblets where you couldn't walk through otherwise. Vines tend to go quite high in their land.

Walking through La Sene, a parcel of Carignan and Cinsault, Luc mentioned the changes he'd noticed here over the years:

"This site proves that converted vineyards can benefit from biodynamics. Carignan is really sensitive to odium. When I bought them, the vines were sick: grapes were just falling to the ground. I have three separate Carignan parcels, purchased from 3 separate owners who were all having illness problems with them. Now, all 3 are in great shape."

The next day, we continued our tour of the vines.

On the way there, this guy gave me the stink-eye.

Later on, I found this rock with a leaf that had fossilized in it.

That night, we had a picnic dinner facing a parcel Luc and Marie relunctantly had to rip out.

Here, you can spot the old school method of local planting: one row of olive trees, 3 rows of vines.

"I think the olives trees contribute to the vines and vice versa. They weren't producing anything, and for years we kept saying we needed to rip them out. But when we did, it broke our hearts. We'll definitely be replanting in the future."

We ate simply but well, drank some good stuff and got devoured by mosquitoes. It was a fun night.

Next up, the FINAL CHAPTER of the Summer Logs (finally!!!), our visit to Laurent Barth in Bennwhir!

- Jules 11-23-2012 8:12pm
tags: Interview, Summer 2012, Trips, Zaggy, Zélige-Caravent

Summer Log 28: Mas des Chimères in Octon!


NOTE: Post Sandy madness, a trip to Italy and reorganizing our portfolio tasting have slowed blog updates down over the last two weeks, but rest assured that we are now back to regularly scheduled programming.

Visiting the Dardés in Octon is always a pleasure. We've been working with them since Guilhem's first independently bottled vintage (1993), and over the years they have become great friends. This summer we were able to catch up on life, do an extensive tour of the vineyards and taste upcoming releases from 2010 and 2011.

After freshening up and unloading our bags, we walked to the center of Octon to try some recently bottled wines in the official Mas des Chimères Caveau.

Because of a strong tourist presence year round, on premises sales are a huge part of the Dardé's business. Guilhem really likes selling wine this way: tasting and explaining each cuvée directly to the consumer, seeing their immediate reactions and knowing they are walking out happy is a very rewarding process for him.

After finishing up with a particularly chatty couple, Guilhem locked the doors and we began tasting.

2010 is a lighter, less austere vintage than 09, and the 11 Oeillade we tasted was playful and fruity. The 2010 Caminarèm had a beautiful nose, nice fruit and my tasting note says it was "really cool". The 10 white has great acidity, and a late harvest Muscat Petits Grains (don't ask for some, they barely make any) was a nice suprise.

As with most wines from the south of France, it's not uncommon to find alcohol percentages reaching 15%, particularly with the reds. The secret is making sure that this alcohol is balanced with acidity, fruit and structure as to not overpower the wine. Or as Guilhem puts it:

"Having fresh wines at 14,5 is not an art, it's a mystery!"

Mystery or not, the wines are indeed quite fresh. But unlike some of his neighbors who might be using winemaking techniques like carbonic maceration to lighten the tannic structure and alcohol, Guilhem's goal is simply to produce wines that reflect his terroir:

"We're evolving a little bit but I'm still trying to stay Languedoc. I want to drink my wines in 10-15 years."

We also talked about the great joys of working with the unknown:

"I think it's great how little we know about how our soils work. The best part of working organically is that it forces you to be attentive."

Lunch consisted of cheese pizzas, an ongoing joke on Guilhem's part. You see, as a kid I was a very picky eater, and on our first visit I refused to eat anything Palma had prepared. In such, they were forced to go grab me a pizza. In the last 20 years, I don't think I HAVEN'T eaten a cheese pizza on a visit to Octon. Anyway, after a DELICIOUS lunch, it was time for a long walk through the vines.

The landscape around the Salagou is defined by intensely red sand and clay (from all the iron and oxide in them).

The first site we saw were Cinsault vines. In this parcel, Guilhem has progressively been replanting in selection massale with picks from the last three years.

Guilhem pointed out problems he's having with these wild grasses growing between vines.

If you don't take care of these the competition becomes too much, and they are a pain in the ass.

Next were some Carignan vines which are rented.

Though they are in rows, this parcel was originally trained in gobelet. Unfortunately, the guy who was renting them prior cut the arms of the vines off to get in there with his tractor. Even then, the work was too hard for him so he gave them up.

"He worked these vines just long enough to mess them up!"

We continued our stroll over to some Grenache plantings.

Guilhem is completely discouraged by this particular area because he is surrounded by neighbors who are going ham with excessive chemical use. Here is a picture from a neighboring vine:

And another from a new planting:

"I might sell it one day; I'm sick of being surrounded by chemists."

Besides the lack of even a single blade of grass, you might have also noticed the irrigation tubes in both above pictures. While Guilhem has never irrigated, it is now the norm in the area. This surprised me since I hadn't noticed irrigation systems once in the Roussillon, but Guilhem explained that the vineyard's proximity to the Salagou lake means that most vignerons are goin' ham with abusing all that available water. Many even irrigate the day before harvest!

"And if they had access to water like this in the Roussillon, they'd be doing it too!"

The final parcel we checked out were some Terret vines that had been worked chemically for years.

In the three years Guilhem's been converting them, this is the first time he's actually seen grass grow here.

After our long walk, we had a beer in Octon's center square. Zaggy was very tired from it all.

Later that night over dinner (no cheese pizzas!), the conversation was going strong. In a particularly quotable (and somewhat paraphrased) moment, Guilhem said something like:

"My son was 4 and had never been sick. His first year in elementary school, he was ill all the time. He was exposed to all types of germs and bacteria that he was never exposed to before. And if you're not full of antibiotics, you learn to adapt, to survive. Paul's been fine since. It's the same for the vines!"

Next up, our two day visit at Zélige-Caravent! Expect a full profile, visit recap and interview with Luc and Marie Michel!

- Jules 11-15-2012 10:10pm
tags: Guilhem Dardé, Mas des Chimères, Summer 2012, Trips, Zaggy

Summer Log 26: Bruno Duchêne in Banyuls-Sur-Mer


Bruno Duchêne is the the man. From the minute he greets you with his big smile and booming laugh (his deep HA HA HA sounds like Falkor from Never Ending Story), you just get good vibes from the guy. Anyone who knows him well will tell you the guy is pure energy. And as we discovered at lunch, Bruno doesn't just party: he is the party. But more on that later...

Before meeting up with Bruno, our top priority was to find a leash for Zaggy, which had been lost at some point during our Oratoire St-Martin visit. Cruising around Banyuls, we eventually found a pet shop that lured us in with its amazing wall art:

After finding a great red leash for Zag-Zag, we met up with Bruno on one of Banyuls' main strips. Banyuls-Sur-Mer is a beautiful and very touristic town on the edge of the Roussillon. It borders Catalonia (all the signs are in French and Catalan) and was built on the coast of the Mediterranean sea. As an A.O.C, the region is known for its fortified, off dry Grenache based wines. Bruno only makes dry wines however, and as a result they are labelled under the Collioure AOC (a neighboring commune whose grapes can also legally be used in Banyuls production).

His wines have quickly gathered cult status in the States for their pure expression of terroir and extreme gulpabilty. Moreover, as with most things culty, quantities are extremely limited and the wines are almost impossible to find outside of New York City (although some nice retailers who ship out of state will gladly provide you with some). While I would love to tell you that we do this only to boost demand and make these trophy wines, the truth is simply that Bruno is currently working on a tiny scale. His 4 hectares produce very low yields, and the barrels below represent his ENTIRE ANNUAL production.

The area you can see in that picture covers roughly half of Bruno's "cellar", which in reality is little more than a temperature controlled garage. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's by far the smallest place I've seen wine being professionally made in. But as the old adage goes, you make wines in the vines, not the cellar…

Speaking of the vines, Bruno owns 4 hectares spread over four parcels. They are all on schists, but each parcel has different altitudes, expositions and climates to keep things interesting. Originally from the Loire, Bruno arrived to Banyuls in 2000. Quickly realizing that he wanted to spend the rest of his life there, he quit his job as a wild mushroom distributor, bought some vines and produced his first vintage in 2002. Driving up to the vines, I asked him if it was hard for him to find land as an outsider.

"A good attitude goes a long way! It worked out perfectly."

That quote embodies Bruno's easy going nature perfectly. Never a worry in the world!

Anyhow, we only visited Bruno's biggest parcel (2.5 h), because he felt it would give us the best idea of the work he does.

"You're going to understand everything!"

As you can see in the picture below, all Collioure vineyards are planted on the steep, mountainous hills and face the Mediterranean.

Bruno produces three red wines: La Luna, Pascole and Anodine (Anodine is only available in magnum). Unlike most estates, the three cuvées come from the same terroirs, but Bruno bottles them separately to highlight different viticultural practices. For La Luna, he lets grass grow free.

Pascole is partially plowed by hand.

Finally, Anodine represents the areas that are impossible to work mechanically and where the soil work has to be done 100% by hand, except for a tiny plot where a horse has room to till and plow.

He also makes a white -Vall Pompo- from Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. All his parcels are co-planted in red and white, and because of optimal weather conditions, he only performs 3 powdered sulfur treatments a year and never uses copper. The old vines are 80-100 years old, and Bruno has replanted the other half over the last decade.

Bruno replants everything by himself, which is pretty uncommon these days: it's a very tough and precise process, so usually a vigneron will hire a pépiniériste to do this work, or at the very least heavily assist in it. Everything is selection massale, and he does it the old school way: planting an american rootstock, then letting it grow for 3 o4 4 years before grafting the French foot.

"Only the elders still know how to do this, and they taught me how to do this. When you plant this way, the vines are here forever."

Sounds like those elders really appreciated Bruno's good attitude!

Another question I had for Bruno: how does wind affect your work?

"There is always air coming from the sea."

Winds from the water and/or the mountains are ever-present: over 200 days of the year are "extremely windy", with the Tramontana usually to blame.

Heading back into town, I noticed something that had stayed on my mind since George Descombes pointed it out in Brouilly: a clear difference in color between neighboring vines, apparently an easy way to tell if they are being treated chemically or not.

Basically, the darker green vines on the lower right are the result of repeated herbicide use, while the lighter, brighter ones on the top left are what healthy vines look like when left alone. Since I'm not a vigneron, I won't speculate any further, but I must say that the difference in color is undeniable...

Driving back into Banyuls, Bruno got very excited telling us about his upcoming project. Along with a dozen or so other partners, Bruno has spearheaded buying an old, soon to be disenfranchised building from the cave cooperative. It's in the heart of town, and will provide stocking rooms for a large number of vignerons, as well as 5 independent cellars (including Bruno's). We got to visit:

As you can see, it's huge. The partners plan on opening a bed and breakfast, as well as a restaurant/wine bar in the space.

"I was about to be debt free for the first time in almost twenty years. Not anymore! But you know what? An opportunity like this will never happen again, and I'm so glad I was able to find this many people to invest. The goal is to create a community spirit, a cave cooperative of independents!"

It's important to note that only 200 of Banyuls' 1800 h are farmed and vinified independently. And while Bruno understands that the little guys need to have each other's back, he's not doing this to spite or challenge the cave.

"These vineyards are extremely difficult to work. If it wasn't for the cave still being able to sell a lot of wine, I can't even begin to imagine how many of these vines would become abandoned overnight."

We went back to the cellar just before lunch to taste the 2010's. All the wines are sans souffre this vintage, and everything was tasting great, blah blah blah...

Lunch was at the great restaurant/natural wine bar El Xadic Del Mar. We ate like kings, and started with this:

But that was only the beginning. Bruno started ordering bottle after bottle. And since he knows everybody in town -warm greetings kept erupting from him every 10 minutes- it got to the point where he was pouring some our wine to them, they were pouring their wine to us. Look, there's even photographic evidence.

By the time cheese was done and Bruno ordered a bottle of Banyuls "for dessert", we were all wasted. We actually had to spend 3 hours drinking coffees and Badoit on the water before I felt comfortable enough to drive home. This was happening the whole time though, which was quite entertaining:

Next up, we start our Languedoc takeover with Yannick Pelletier!

- Jules 10-9-2012 7:09pm
tags: Bruno Duchêne, Summer 2012, Trips, Zaggy

Summer Log 25: Tom Lubbe/Mattasa in Calce


Every time I see Tom Lubbe, I play a game in my head counting how many times he'll say 'fuck'. My theory is that he spends so much time speaking French in the beautiful little village of Calce that whenever another anglophone -particularly one like myself- comes around, it's open season to let loose a repressed torrent of English expletives. The other thing I do every time I see Tom is laugh my ass off. I think this video -minus the overly dramatic, completely out of place classical music- aptly captures his great sense of humor:

Tom is also the only vigneron we work with who is 100% fluent in English and French: in this we share a bond, a secret hand-shake of sorts involving a very special brand of Franglais/Frenglish that only 'our kind' can really understand. And over the three days and nights we spent in his village this summer, I got the chance to know Tom a lot more. Beyond all the laughs and good times, Tom really is a very intelligent and opinionated man, making conversations with him a genuine pleasure.

A New Zealand native who grew up in South Africa, Tom's first visit to the Roussillon was in the late 90's. As he explains in his Louis/Dressner interview:

"Over 12 years ago I was working for a wonderful woman -Louise Hofmeyer- in South Africa who had the only estate (Welgemeend, which she has since had to sell) there and then using exclusively indigenous yeasts, working with lower yileds and little or no new wood. As I wanted to work with Mediterranean varieties, Louise recommended I do a stage at Domaine Gauby in Calce, which I did. Gerard Gauby invited me to come back for three more vintages as cellar helper during which time I met his sister with whom I am now married with two children."

When Tom and Natalie found out they were going to have their first child (who they called Jules, proving they have excellent taste in names), they decided to get married. Tom, who'd originally planned to take what he'd learned in the Roussillon back to South Africa, decided to stay in France. Still determined to have his own estate, he started Matassa in 2003. The first vintage was actually vinified and aged in Tom's living room!

"The kid, the wine...It was the first year of our marriage, and almost our last!"

Living room wine wasn't exactly sustainable, so the Gauby's donated their old cellar to Tom for 2004...

After our first night in Calce, we set off to visit Tom's vines. The first site we visited was a 1,5 h parcel of 80 year old Macabeau on schist soils.

The parcel is called La Jasse. In this area, Tom recently planted olive groves.

"That's my retirement plan 20 years from now."

As we walked through the vines, the famous Tramontane winds were soft but steady.

"The Tramontane is THE most defining part of this terroir. When it's soft, it's a good thing. But it can be very strong and blow for up to two weeks at a time."

This often leads to vines being broken. On average, 30% of the crop is lost to the Tramontane each year! Next up was a 120 year old parcel of Macabeau called Poux d'en Nougé.

After that, we drove to the parcel the Marguerite cuvée comes from.

This lieu-dit - Muscat de Max- is a monastery parcel, which means it was originally planted by monks over a thousand years ago. It's an old field blend of Muscat D'Alexendrie, Malvasia and Muscat Petit Grain, all on limestone soils. The vines are at least 90 years old. Also planted here, a kooky grape called Datier de Baruch:

"They look like little bananas or chili peppers. I have no idea where they originally come from, and my best explanation is that they were planted as a joke."

Moving along, we then drove to a 2,5 h parcel of Grenache Gris, Coum des Lloups (Valley of the wolves).

"But if that is a little too Costnerish, the vineyard itself is known as Tattaouine after the town in Marocco, not the planet in Star Wars."

P.S: I made the Star Wars reference, not Tom.

P.P.S: This is the second time a Kevin Costner Dances With Wolves joke was made by a vigneron and featured on this blog.

This is biggest parcel Tom owns. It's a field blend of mostly white grapes, but everything is co-fermented and vinified in white. 3/4 of the Matassa Blanc come from this site. The soils are schist with limestone subsoil.

The last parcel we visited, Romanissa, was the most visually stunning:

These 130 year old vines are on a super steep coteau, and barely produce 15 hl yields. Mechanical work is impossible, and the prior owner sold it to Tom for next to nothing. The Romanissa cuvée comes from here (DUHHH!), and is made with the Lledoner Pelut grape. This varietal is an old school Catalan strain of Grenache. People told Tom it was useless, but he knew better; the skins are very thick, so they are incredibly resilient against illness.

The visit ended with a trip to the cellar to taste some 2010's and 2011's.

After the grapes are brought into the cellar, Tom foot-trods them into the press. This way, he can pack it to maximum capacity and perform a very slow press. The cellar is not temperature controlled. Sulfur use varies vintage to vintage, but typically 10mg are added at press, with a possible additional 10 mg after malolactic fermentation. Tom rarely sulfurs at bottling.

My personal highlight was the "Blanc" (70% Grenache Gris, 30% Macabeu) which I found stunning: a crazy poppy seed nose and unique taste. Alexanria, a 100% Muscat Petit Grain cuvée was one of the craziest things I tasted the entire trip (that's a good thing), and the Rouge was excellent as well. As Maya "Mayhem" Pedersen aptly pointed out, the wines -due to Tom's intentionally low yields (15hl/h on average!)- have this incredible concentration that I've rarely experienced elsewhere. To me, these are some of the most iconoclastic wines in the portfolio.

Our next visit takes us to Banyuls to say what up to Bruno Duchêne! Stay tuned!

- Jules 10-4-2012 7:59pm
tags: Matassa, Summer 2012, Tom Lubbe, Trips, Zaggy

Summer Log 21: Oratoire St-Martin in Cairanne (+New Interview!)

This visit at L'Oratoire de Saint Martin took place in July, 2012.

Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Maya Pedersen.

Click here to read the rest of this post...

- Jules 9-10-2012 10:43pm
tags: Oratoire St-Martin, Summer 2012, Trips, Zaggy

Summer Log 18: Dard & Ribo in Mercurol


After a packed three days of visits, it was the 14th of July so no one would have us. So we decided to celebrate France's independence with HUGE STEAKS!

We had a few neighboring families from the village to help us out, but it was still a bit overboard. As a good samaritan, I ate an entire one (almost).

The next morning, it was time to pack and kick off our two week road trip through the South, starting with Dard & Ribo in the commune of Mercurol. We were really early, so we decided to visit the neighboring towns of Tournon and Tain-L'Hermitage.

The two towns are separated by the Rhône river, but you can walk across the bridge pictured above in five minutes. The river also separates two departments: Tournon is in Ardèche (where Jean-René Dard was born) and Tain-L'Hermitage is in the Drôme (where François Ribo is from). As you can see, Tain-L'Hermitage has a great view on some of the steepiest, best placed Hermitage vines. The main drags are very touristy, but getting lost in the little side streets was a lot of fun. We also saw this very strange Kebab place:

"Hygiene, Quality, Service". MMMMMMMM, appetizing!

The Ardèche is also a huge player in French apricot production, and this time of the year is the peak of the season:

After killing some time, we set off to the small village of Blanche-Laine, where Dard & Ribo have their cellar.

In the 8 or so years we've worked with these guys, no one has ever met François Ribo; René-Jean takes care of everything on our side of things, and apparently François does the same for certain customers. So, you guessed it, René-Jean was our host. I would describe him as a lovable grump: he grumbled about us visiting on a Sunday ("and the day after the 14!"), but then spent 5 hours carefully showing us the vines and tasting through the 2011's. He likes to complain a lot, but it's always with a hint of amusement; he also has a great sense of humor and would be a shoe-in as a New Yorker. He's actually never been to the U.S, and says the only reason he would come is to have a "real American burger".

The first vineyard we visited was a parcel of Hermitage.

Roussanne, Marsanne and Syrah are co-planted together here. And while the Marsanne and Roussane are a bit hard to distinguish from one another, René-Jean grabbed some leaves to show how to easily spot the vines of red (left) and white (right).

Besides size, the white vines' leaves are more undulated, and their "butts cross"...

Their Crozes-Hermitage vines are at the very edge of the appellation. They are 20 years old, and were planted by René-Jean and François; when they took over in 1984, the preexisting vines were nearly 100 and unproductive. They ripped them out but were still able to get some selection massalles out of them, which is what was replanted. This particular parcel is one of many (but not all) that François works with a cable pulley and horse. The soils are deep, granitic sand.

The way they acquired this parcel is a cool story. Both the guys were participating in a traditional night of singing and dancing, with the party constantly moving from farm to farm. At around 2 AM, they found themselves drinking at an old farmer's house. In passing, he mentioned his imminent retirement and how he was hoping to sell his vines. Hungover, they woke up early the next morning to sign a contract with him. No one could understand why the guy was so adamant about selling his vines to two young nobodies who were just getting started, but he must of seen something special.

We also spotted some vines René-Jean is picking out his massalles for replanting:

Even in the Northern Rhône, there has been a lot of rain this year and therefore a lot of illness. This has forced them to do more treatments than usual. At the time of our visit, they'd done 5, but most in the region were well above 15. They were also hit with hail three times, which did some damage.

Our next stop was at les Karrières.

This parcel has the particularity of being on kaolinite soils. This is the same clay that is used to make porcelain, and just a few minutes from the vines, kaolinite is mined for just that.

We also checked out a parcel in Crozes-Hermitage called les Bâties.

Over the course of the visit, René-Jean kept bringing up his constant struggles with Inter-Rhône, an organisation designed to promote every aspect of wine in the region from A to Z. They claim to exist in order to maintain a certain quality in the vineyards and in the cellar, but according to what René-Jean told us, it seems like little more than a legal, administrative imposition of laws and regulations attempting to uniform an entire (rather large) region. The latest incident: Dard & Ribo recently got a 17 euro fine for letting too much grass grow...

"You need to let it grow when it rains this much. If you work the soils, you spread more illness."

But this is only a minor offense. Recently, the Dard & Ribo wines were tasted by an Inter-Rhône pannel who told them their wines were deviant and atypical, and now they're busting their chops about the winemaking, trying to send a guy over there to see what they're up to. This from the same institution that allows chaptalisation, acidification, and just passed the use of wood chips!

Unrelated but just as ridiculous, the cave cooperative of Tain just converted to organics, so they called Francois to tell him "watch what you're putting in the vines" so it wouldn't overlap into theirs. I guess they didn't know Dard & Ribo have been working organically since the 80's...

"But they never called us to tell us: hey we're using chemicals. Watch out!"

The same cave later got mad because the A.O.C forbade them from spraying the organic treatments via helicopter.

Crozes-Hermitage factoid: did you know that 70% of Crozes-Hermitage's vineyards are on flat land? In fact, up until fairly recently it was used as a bistro wine served at the counter. Traditional Crozes red was always light and pleasant, but in an effort to build up the region's reputation, many vignerons began making fuller bodied, more extracted and heavily oaked bottlings.

"Crozes was never meant to be a serious wine. It's supposed to be easy to drink."

In the cellar, we got to taste all the 2011's.

As many of you know, Dard & Ribo are amongst the pioneers of sans-souffre winemaking in France, and the reds have been this way since the 80's. For the whites, René-Jean explained that up until a few years ago, they'd always used to add a little bit of sulfur at press. But over the last decade, they have developed a technique where they rack the juice after press WITHOUT doing a débourbage. As the wine ferments, the gross lees are physically pushed out through the top of the barrels. This means they have to constantly clean up the overflow until fermentation is over, but this way, no sulfur! Once the fermentation is done, they then rack the wine.

We also got to taste Rouge Divers, a Crozes-Hermitage nouveau!

This bottling, which they've been doing since 2005, consistently infuriates their neighbors and probably Inter-Rhône if they knew about it. Why?

1. It's a primeur, so it is released in January. Not very serious Crozes!

2. It's in a transparent Bordeaux bottle, which is not typical of Crozes! And look at that color!

3. There is a big stamp that translates to "Drink Now" on the label. That's just not serious Crozes!

That was the visit. I wanted to do an interview, but René-Jean's lady-friend showed up and things just progressed into drinking some 2010's and hanging out. There was so much I wanted to ask, but I'm sure there'll be another opportunity. As we were about to leave, I stepped out for a second to check on Zaggy. Just then, a very tall, curly haired man with glasses was parking his tractor. Having no idea who it was, I politely said hello and went back in. It turns out it was François Ribo! By the time we'd figured out it was him (after all these years, Denyse wanted to meet him), it was too late: he'd gotten back on the tractor to work some vines! The mystery continues...

Next up, our visit with young up and comer Elodie Balme in Rasteau! Recap + interview!

- Jules 8-27-2012 9:04pm
tags: Dard & Ribo, Summer 2012, Trips, Zaggy

Summer Log 16: Domaine Renardat-Fâche in Mérignat


Elie Renardat-Fâche is huge! If he was American, people would ask him if he plays in the NBA all the time. Fortunately, he lives in the tiny mountain village of Mérignat, population 100! Located in the heart of the Bugey, this relatively obscure region of France is known for its sparkling Cerdon. Universally referred to as "breakfast wine" by happy go lucky (and borderline alcholic?) fans of the style, Cerdon is the result of a méthode ancestrale fermentation, and is always light in alcohol, high in sugar and giving in fruit. But great Cerdon also packs the heavy minerality and acidity to really uplift the bottle.

Domaine Renardat-Fâche is widely considered to be one of, if not the best Cerdon currently produced, and the way we started working with them is a cool story: at a birthday dinner for my grandfather at the original Daniel (now Café Boulud), Daniel himself came out to wish Sam a happy birthday and to complement him on his son's accomplishments (my grandpa was very proud that day). This was around the time Daniel was prepping his second restaurant, and for the opening, he told Joe he wanted the Cerdon that legendary chef Alain Chapel was serving in Mionnay.

Joe and Denyse didn't want to call Alain Chapel's restaurant just to ask what their Cerdon was. So Joe, as a pioneer of the world wide web, found a link to an Australian restaurant in the Bugey called Le Boomerang (France's first and only Australian restaurant, which sadly closed a few years ago) and asked owner Rose-Marie Perkins if she had any leads. She told him that she worked with someone else, but that Chapel's Cerdon was from none other than, you guessed it, Alain Renardat-Fâche! Joe got in touch with him, and the rest is history.

SIDE NOTE: We actually ate at Le Boomerang once, and had ostrich steaks. I remember it being really good.

Our visit started in the Renardat-Fâche tasting room, which brought back vivid memories from my childhood.

At the time, my sister and I were obsessed with Cerdon because, well, it's SO DELICIOUS! We'd drink as much of it as our parents would allow (which was probably way above the average of NONE), at any chance we could get. Anyway, while scoping the room out and remembering my youth, I spotted this oddity:

Turns out they've been making a Chardonnay for years, but it's always been in tiny supply. It also turns out that 2006 was the last year they made it, so I guess that's that.

2012 factoids: Budding was very good but unfortunately, it's looking like a low yielding year for the Poulsard. The Gamay suffered from a lot of mirandage, a term that does not exist in the English language but means tiny berries as a result of difficult flowering. No hail, a bit of frost... And if you didn't know, after a six year conversion the estate is finally certified organic as of the 2011 vintage! Also, for the first time EVER, Elie is offering up MAGNUMS! He feels that you can actually age these a bit, which is rarely the case with 750's. Made to order, so contact us if you're interested.

Our next stop was to the cellar, where Alain and Elie broke down the incredibly technical nature of making Cerdon: everything starts at harvest, where they intentionally don't pick at optimum ripeness (10-11% potential). The grapes are destemmed, then fermented in temperature controlled, stainless steel tanks. After press, they add 40-50mg of sulfur and let the wine go through a slow, 3 week cold maceration. Elie has experimented not using sulfur this early on, but the length of maceration has always led to oxidation...

A spontaneous, semi carbonic fermentation occurs, which they stop at around 6% alcohol. After that, they lower the temperature of the tank between 0 and 20 degrees celsius. This helps block the fermentation without sulfur, a major innovation in methode ancestrale winemaking (Elie brings up not-so-found memories of his grandfather's extremely sulfury Cerdon in his interview). Alain and a few of the guys he went to school with were the first to use this technique in France.

At this point the yeasts are dormant, so they gently filter the wine before rebottling and letting it referment in bottle. In Champagne, a wine can be disgorged because it is dry, but since there is so much sugar left in a bottle of Cerdon, they always keep the storage cellar at 5 degrees; otherwise, the yeasts would become over-active, resulting in deviant wines and exploding bottles. Also unlike Champagne, bottles are stored standing up rather than on their side.

If they were laid down, the bubbles would become bigger, stronger and more violent and that would not be a good thing. Out of curiosity, I asked if it wouldn't be simpler for them to just have all of the wine in one big vat instead of bottle by bottle. Alain responded "of course", but that they don't do it for two reasons. The first is that historically, a French sparkling wine had to ferment in bottle. But more importantly, all the fruit aromatics of the Gamay would be lost.

They then empty each bottle by C02 and gently filter out the deposits left from the re-fermentation. This is done 8000 bottles at a time, with everything poured into a blending vat. The content in the vats represents a blend from 5 or 6 separately vinified parcels, bringing balance and elegance to the final wine. In the end, they make sure the final fermentation is never over 7,5% alcohol, because even at 8% you'd lose a lot of fruit. The blended wine is then rebottled and corked. Did you know that Champagne corks look like this before they are bottled:

Who knew?

Seeing what Alain and Elie are doing in the cellar makes it easy to understand why their wines qualitatively stand out of the pack. Few go to such lengths to produce this style of wine in the region; though it technically can't be labelled as Cerdon, the majority of regional sparkling, sweet, low alcohol wine is being produced with hefty doses of sulfur to halt fermentations and using the chermat method to add carbonation. These practices are is large part responsable for why the region has developed a bad reputation in France.

After our oenology lesson, we set off to our first vineyard site!

We began by visiting this 3 hectare parcel, which happen to be the first vines Alain bought when he was only 14 years old! It is steep!

Because they don't use herbicides, these inclines make soil-work decisions very important

"We're only 5 years into working organically, and it's still a learning process. We're the only ones to plow here, and maybe this year we should have done less…"

The vines are spread over 25 zones of the village, and range from 250 to 500 meters in altitude. Combined, the parcels face every type of exposition possible. Everything is hand harvested.

A big part of why Alain and Elie's Cerdon is so unique is that they are among a tiny percentage of vignerons who blend Poulsard into their Gamay. Other than the Jura, you won't find Poulsard anywhere else. Still, it only represents a tiny part of Bugey's vines: only 8 hectares are planted, and the Renardat own 3. Though it was traditionally planted in the region, Poulsard is fragile and low yielding so people ripped it out to favor the more productive Gamay.

We continued the visit with Elie wanting to show us an "experiment" they'd started in the Spring. It involves a trial with biodynamics on 10% of the estate: 4 parcels have been split 50/50 between organic and biodynamic viticulture to observe any differences.

Only a few months into the comparison, the major thing Elie has noticed is that on the biodynamic vines, the leaves seem to naturally spread out more and curve themselves inward to better absorb the sun.

Why? That's beyond them. Alain, who has always been a man of science, has been pleasantly surprised by the whole experience:

"I don't understand it, but I see the results and it makes me want to pursue things further."

Elie then pointed out:

"Human beings have lost the inherent instinct of being in sync with nature. An animal knows when a storm coming, where to find the food he needs... For some it's never left, but it's something most of have progressively lost. But I believe it's slowly coming back."

We finished the tour of the vines, then got to taste a bunch of pre-blended Cerdon before eating lunch. I was very excited, because Elie had promised me that we would taste the dry, still Gamay they make for personal consumption. I'd actually been thinking about it for over a year now (when he'd mentioned it in his interview). It did not disappoint: 11% alcohol, light and fruity but it still has a cool expression of terroir that differed from the Beaujolais. It was quite easy knocking back an entire magnum; Elie is actually considering bottling and selling small quantities of it in the future, and I certainly hope he does!

After lunch, Maya snapped some pics of the Renardat-Fâche's dogs Rapunzel and Guinevere:

Who's next on deck? Big man Franck Peillot, that's who! Stay tuned.

- Jules 8-20-2012 11:10am
tags: Fictional Animal Names, Renardat-Fâche, Summer 2012, Trips, Zaggy

Summer Log 12: Damien Coquelet and Georges Descombes in Morgon


In the little hamlet of Vermont, if you follow this very narrow pathway, you will find yourself in George Descombes' front yard.

Right as we were pulling in, none other than Damien Coquelet was hopping off his tractor to take a quick break before getting right back on to spread a treatment on his vines. After greeting us, he went to go grab Georges in the house, and we were ready to start the visit. The first question was the obvious one: how's 2012 going? It's been a challenging vintage around their parts: they've suffered from hail and frost since early May, but the big fight has been with mildew. With the same sunny/rainy day alternance that the Desvignes are experiencing, they are averaging one sulfur treatment a week against mildew, which is way above average for them. While they remain confident that it won't affect quality, it's looking like another small harvest.

Unfortunately, Damien had to go get some tractor parts replaced and then hit the vines, so we barely got to see him. Fortunetly, we were in good hands with Georges, who gave us a thorough tour of most of his vineyard sites. We hopped into his 4x4, and drove through the Morgon vines by the house before doing the same in Régnié.

The bulk of our time spent in vineyards was in Brouilly, where Georges owns a good amount of land. Our first stop in the Cru was a very old vineyard, the first piece of land Georges inherited from his grandmother. The vines are close to a 100, and a lot of them are missing; they actually just got a complaint from the INAO about it "not being dense enough". On top of that, the yields are tiny, so they are seriously considering tearing them out.

After visiting the flatter vineyards, it was time to put the 4x4 to use to check out the first ultra steep Brouilly site.

But that was nothing compared to where Georges was taking us next:

At 500m in altitude, George has a a quasi monopole of this hill.

It is STEEP!

Here's what it looks like from the bottom:

From the top, it's a beautiful view:

Also at the top, this mini parcel is one of the steepest in Beaujolais.

When Noella Morantin came to visit him last year, she said that she could never work these vines because they gave her vertigo! Georges uses a tractor to spray treatments on parts of the hill, but large portions of it, for example the bit from the above photo, cannot be worked mechanically. In fact, when Georges acquired them in 1993, he didn't own a 4x4 yet, so he'd walk to the top with bags of sulfur to do the treatments!

"That only lasted a year though! It made buying a truck a major priority!"

For soil work, they have a system similar to Julie Balagny's which I explained in the last post.

As we drove back to the house, Georges filled us in on some imminent changes, as he is planning to downsize his 18 hectares. He's getting rid of 1,5 h of Beaujolais villages because the conditions are too "harsh to work organically" (he didn't elaborate), but also giving about 3 h of his Morgon vines to his 20 year old son Kevin, who will work alongside his father for a few years before becoming completely independent like Damien.

We got back to the house, where we got to taste through Damien and Georges' 2011's.

They have a really cool tasting room full of old school Beaujolais memorabilia.

Notice the saussicons hanging from the rafters.

The 2011's, some of which are already bottled, others that were tank samples (Damien's V.V cuvées), are unsurprisingly showing great. To reiterate what I'm been saying in the last four visit recaps, 2011 Beaujolais is da bomb. We got to rediscover Damien's "Fou du Beaujo", something we'd tasted for the first time at the Dive Bouteille in January:

If you ever wondered what kind of incredibly professional notes we take while on these trips, you can spot Maya "Mayhem" Pedersen's apt observation: "awesome label" to the left of the bottle. In my professional opinion, it's hard to disagree.

While tasting, a few interesting conversations ensued. The first was about "organic wine" which officially exists now. Up until now, wine could only be made from organically grown grapes, but new European laws have passed stating that the wine itself can be organic, meaning there were no chemical additives added. However, since preselected yeasts and enzymes are not chemicals, they are fair game. Also, up to 150 g of sulfur can be legally added in bottle; Georges typically uses less than a gram at bottling, if any... Even thermo-vinification , an increasingly popular technique in the Beaujolais, is allowed.

I wasn't familiar with thermo-vinification, so Georges explained: it involves heating the grapes whole-cluster up to 158 degrees, cooling them down, then pressing the juice. So instead of doing the traditional semi-carbonic maceration, which takes 40 days on average, you can get similar results for color in 48 hours. It is beneficial in that it saves a ton of time and space, but it also gives the wine a displeasing, cooked taste. One thing's for sure: it's doesn't involve chemicals!

These permissive laws for winemaking strike Georges as rather strange, since the same associations are very strict about viticulture. In fact, he had to leave us halfway throughout the tasting because he had an appointment with an Ecocert official; we later found out that she made him visit EVERY SINGLE vineyard site and thoroughly investigated the cellars for any chemical products. This leads him to believe that "organic wine" is little more than a misleading title to boost sales. And while I won't deny that it's a positive thing for the consumer to know that no chemicals were used in the winemaking, it's clear that many qualitative factors were not considered when drafting these laws.

We ended the tasting with Georges' son Kevin pouring for us. He's a nice kid, and he's looking forward to his first harvest with the family this September. It was fun tasting the Descombes V.V wines from barrel with him, since he had no idea which was which.

"I think this one's Morgon. Or maybe Brouilly..."

I'm not sure which was which either, but they were all good.

Next up, our visit with the legendary Sylvie Esmonin in Gevrey-Chambertin!

- Jules 8-7-2012 1:35pm
tags: Damien Coquelet, Georges Descombes, Summer 2012, Trips, Zaggy

Summer Log 07: Domaine Louis Desvignes in Morgon


Waiting on some pictures from Françoise Tête, so I'm scrapping chronological order and recapping our visit in Morgon with Louis-Claude, Claude-Emmanuelle and Louis-Benoit Desvignes instead.

The Desvignes all live on the same block in the center of Morgon. We swung by Louis-Claude's house to say hello, since we couldn't get in touch with Emmanuelle.

Even in his mid 70's, he's kept his raven-black hair (no word yet on if it's "au naturel" or not...). He came to greet us at the front door with some intense news: Louis-Benoit had suffered a light fracture and multiple stitches on his index while planting a new parcel in Javenières that morning. Emmanuelle had driven him to hospital, which accounted for her not picking up her phone earlier. Louis-Claude had better luck reaching her, and she told us to meet them in the Javenières parcel where it all went down.

We hopped into the Louis-Claude mobile and drove over to the beautiful Jarvenières parcel.

Louis-Claude's grandfather purchased these: they are all planted on sand and limestone in the traditional Beaujolais goblet style. Most of them are over 100 years old!

The other vines that complete the parcel were planted in 1989 and 1999. The Desvignes, who work organically, are the only estate to work the soil here, which they feel is a pity since it's such a great terroir.

Emmanuelle and Louis-Benoit -arm slung with a bandaged hand-, greeted us at the bottom of the hill where their team of two was actively planting 2000 vines over .8 hectares of land.

When I asked if they were in selection massalle, Emmanuelle looked at me like I was crazy.

"Of course."

We started chatting about 2012, and Louis-Benoit informed us that they were struggling with mildew: in the "tropical climate" they've been experiencing, rainy and hot, humid days have been trading off since March; this is a perfect recipe for mildew to grow and spread.

"Not only that, but you spray a treatment on a hot day, then it rains and washes everything off and you have to start all over again."

Though there is no legal repercussion in organics for retreating with copper as necessary (and the Desvignes are, even at this rate, well below the authorized treatment levels), Louis-Benoit worries that constantly re-applying too many copper treatments might do more harm than good in the long term. This is one of countless struggles one faces in a challenging vintage, organic or not: at the end of the year, you need to harvest grapes, and it is the vigneron's responsibility to protect his vines as he sees fit. In a statement that echoed Thomas Morey's in an earlier visit, Louis-Benoit pointed out that guys working conventionally were struggling just as hard as they were, and in many cases their vines were looking way worst.

After our tour of Jarvenières, Louis-Claude drove us to the Côte du Py site on the way to the cellar.

We couldn't access the vines because we needed a 4x4 vehicle to get there, but to give you and idea their vines are by the house in the middle of the picture.

In the cellar, we started by tasting many of the separate lieu-dits that go into the Voûte Saint-Vincent cuvée, including Les Champs, les Plâtres (aka plaster, because after it rains it gets hard like...), le Pré Jourdon, Peru (how exotic!) and Roches Noir. The decisions on the exact blend vary from year to year and are done entirely on instinct. Bottling also varies by vintage, and this year the Voûte Saint-Vincent and Jarvenières will be bottled around harvest. The Côte du Py, on the other hand, had just been bottled, and was tasting great. 2011 turned out to be one of the few regions in France to experience an excellent vintage (with almost everyone else's varying from good to very good). The Desvignes wines always need time, but you can already taste the expressive, concentrated fruit and balanced tannic structure in the tank samples.

FUN FACTOID: The Desvignes use a deep fryer to melt the wax for the the top of their very limited Les Impenitants.

We ended strong by revisiting the 2010's. They were delicious. Our dog, and Official Canine Companion (O.C.C) Zaggy took a liking to Louis-Benoit and took a nap on his lap for the entire tasting.

I wasn't kidding about that index! For those of you that don't know, Louis-Benoit is an avid drummer, and he was bummed because he was supposed to perform at a 14th of July concert. I told him it might be time for him to start messing with some drum-machines...

Next up, I'm not really sure but definitely somewhere in the Beaujolais. A la prochaine!

- Jules 7-23-2012 9:34pm
tags: Desvignes, france, Summer 2012, Trips, Zaggy
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