Roger C. Bohmrich, Master of Wine
June 4, 2020
In the first part of our conversation about up-and-coming or overlooked winemakers, we considered a select few from Bordeaux and the Rhône. In this second chapter, we take a look at two others, Burgundy in this video and England in another. We are not yet traveling freely as before, so this is a vicarious experience until the world reopens. These articles are hardly meant to be all-inclusive. Instead, the names represent an unrelated and abridged collection with a definite personal slant. For the small growers highlighted here, the number of bottles of any one wine may be frustratingly limited. Still, all of these labels are likely to demand a thorough internet search. Think of it this way: the greater the challenge, the sweeter the reward.
France – Beaujolais
Many may think of this region as a humble subset of Burgundy, rarely rising above simple, inconsequential wines to be drunk early. But, quietly and gradually, another face of the Gamay-based reds of Beaujolais has been showing itself. Of course, there have been leading lights such as Domaine Marcel Lapierre, run by son Matthieu, who charted a soi-disant “natural” course, usually involving very limited application of sulfur. Today, in a region which is still struggling with an image shaped by Beaujolais nouveau, there are many dedicated vignerons who are making excellent wines. This applies above all to the ten Crus, flag bearers for the region. Sadly, many of these labels do not find their way to the U.S., second largest export destination for Beaujolais despite taking less than 6% of the total output (Inter Beaujolais, 2017-2018).
One such apostle is Paul-Henri Thillardon, who has said: “I want to change Beaujolais’ image” (Shaw, 2012). He set up his domaine with a mere 3 hectares (7.4 acres) in 2008 at age 22 and was later joined by his siblings. They made the move to biodynamics and now farm 12 hectares (nearly 30 acres). Nearly all is in Chénas, the smallest of the Crus with around 237 hectares (585 acres) under vine (Inter Beaujolais, 2017-2018) in the north of the region. The Thillardons now favor whole clusters from organically cultivated vineyards. They chill the grapes, rely on naturally occurring yeasts. Fermentation is semi-carbonic, popular in various forms in this region. Some SO2 may be used, particularly a small dose at bottling. Natural, yes, but clean natural. They are proving that Beaujolais can have depth and even complexity while retaining the smooth, sensual feel and beguiling fruit that make the best examples such delicious drinking. The Thillardon wines are somewhat more expensive than average; then again, they are hardly average in quality. If you have not tasted a Cru Beaujolais recently (or ever?), let this Thillardon “Vibrations” 2018 be your inspiration (Fig. 4). This cuvée comes from younger vines in a specific lieu-dit. It may not be Pinot Noir, but it is still Burgundian in style with captivating, unadulterated fruit. [The 2018 is tasted live in the video.]
France – Bourgogne/Côte de Beaune & Côte de Nuits
Burgundy wines have such a lofty reputation that it is no longer possible to find undiscovered appellations in what used to be called the Côte d’Or. Only the Hautes-Côtes retain a degree of mystery. It is politically correct today to differentiate the northern and southern sections of this storied escarpment rather than speak of one single and longer Côte. Our travels take us first to Santenay on the Côte de Beaune, where Pinot Noir covers 85% of the vineyard surface. The denomination may lack the cachet of Volnay or Pommard, yet its wines, red and white, can offer enticing fruit, flesh and substance in the right hands. And overall, they are still affordable. One producer who is making a name for himself is David Moreau (Fig 5). He works five hectares (a little over 12 acres) of village and premier cru sites including 50+ year-old vines in Clos Rousseau and Clos des Mouches (Fig. 6). There are also the premiers crus Beauregard and Beaurepaire (Fig. 7), which yields both white and red wines. Santenay “Cuvée S” comes from an old-vine parcel in the center of the village on thin soil over limestone. There is a strict sorting of the red grapes before destemming; the white grapes are whole cluster pressed and often undergo prolonged fermentation. The sites themselves and old vines make the quality, not gimmickry in the cellar. Still, the hand of the vigneron is there to guide the outcome. The reds extend to a Côte de Beaune (from the Beaune slope) and a Maranges.
Another up-and-comer, Chanterêves, is based in Savigny-lès-Beaune and dates from only 2010. The house is the creation of Tomoko Kuriyama and Guillaume Bott, who work hands-on as a team (Fig. 8) at this Maison de Vin, a fitting term for their model. Theirs is a fascinating and undoubtedly unique skill set. They are partners in marriage and winemaking.
The pair proves how accomplished wines can be even if grapes are purchased from other growers. The wide range of appellations comes almost entirely from the Côte de Beaune and features, among others, Saint-Romain, Pernand-Vergelesses La Morand, Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet Les Morgeots (Fig. 9) in white. Reds take in Volnay Les Lurets, Pommard and Les Damodes from Nuits-Saint-Georges (Fig. 10). Red grapes are no longer destemmed; white grapes are foot trodden and pressed for an extended period. Critics such as William Kelley have waxed poetic about their offerings: “I have enjoyed some magical bottles from Chanterêves: wines with filigree tannins and hauntingly floral bouquets that captivate all the senses” (robertparker.com, 2020).
Another name warranting interest is Philippe Pacalet. His star has been ascending in France, and critics elsewhere are certainly aware of his wines. His label is distributed in the U.S., but Pacalet’s wines may not (yet) be on every Burgundy lover’s must-have list. Admittedly, annual sales of barely more than 4,000 cases spread across 27 appellations or so in both red and white suggest how little is available. He worked with his uncle, the aforementioned Marcel Lapierre, in the late 1980s, and this experience undoubtedly set him on a path of non-interventionist winemaking. Some call Pacalet a “natural” producer, but that may not do him justice. He established himself as a négociant in 2001 and has had time to perfect a distinct methodology. He describes himself as a “révelateur” or “revealer” of terroirs. His selections cover the distance from Chablis to Moulin à Vent, homage to his days with Lapierre. Even further south is Cornas, solitary representative from the Rhône. Pacalet farms ten hectares (less than 25 acres) under long-term contract and harvests the grapes himself. The red grapes are kept whole and crushed by foot over three to four weeks. His focus is on indigenous yeasts and handling without SO2 together with extended lees contact in barrel uninterrupted by racking. Barrels are rolled to “stir” the lees. Bottling takes place when the wine tastes as it should and after transfer by gravity. There is no filtration. La Revue du vin de France recently upped their ranking of Pacalet in their Guide Vert 2020, saying that his wines offer “unbelievable” smooth, soft palates and complexity (larvf.com). All this comes at a price to be sure, and the range starts near $100 per bottle in the U.S. for the village-level wines such as Nuits-Saint-Georges or Pommard (May 2020 prices). There are premiers crus such as Pommard Les Arvelets (Fig. 11) and several grands crus, notably Corton-Charlemagne (Fig. 12).
There are two Côte de Nuits-based growers on our list. Domaine Duroché has a variety of parcels in Gevrey-Chambertin (Fig. 13). This is hardly a new estate as Pierre Duroché is the fifth generation and took charge in 2005. The story here is how things can change when a generational transition occurs. The domaine counts 8.25 hectares (just over 20 acres) in the village including morsels of four prized grands crus: Charmes, Latricières, the barest sliver of Griottes, and a one-quarter hectare fragment of the inimitable Clos de Bèze, planted in 1920 (Fig. 14). Everything seems carefully judged from moderated extractions to judicious new wood, less than one-fifth. The wines remain undisturbed for 13 to 15 months in barrel, without racking or fining. They are bottled unfiltered. These are elegant and harmonious expressions handled with care; they are anything but flashy and made up. [The 2017 Gevrey village is tasted live in the video.]
Another noteworthy estate in a village, Chambolle-Musigny, with many standouts is Domaine Felettig. It belongs in the category of established, since it dates from 1965, yet somehow remains under the radar for many Burgundy devotees. Some say it rose from the mist just this past decade under the direction of Gilbert and Christine Felettig. The domaine’s holdings now total 13 hectares (32 acres). In true Burgundian fashion their plots are spread over 100 parcels scattered in Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée and both Hautes-Côtes. The heart and soul of the estate, however, is Chambolle-Musigny, with nine separate bottlings. They prefer to be known as facilitators, not makers of wine as such (a description often heard in Burgundy). Organic practices dominate in the vineyard and they opt for a cold soak adapted to the year and origin. New oak is an enhancement, typically one-half for the multiple premiers crus and the lone grand cru, Echezeaux (a mere 600 bottles). Less than a third new wood is the norm for village appellations. The Vieilles Vignes cuvée is an amalgam of numerous locations in Chambolle pictured in brighter red on the map below (Fig. 15 & 16). This bottling offers us another window into the 2017 vintage from an ascending star which is shining brightly [tasted live in the video].
One might say that Burgundy enjoys such status and allure that it hardly needs a boost. Every serious grower will tell you that they seek to express the terroir, playing down their own contribution. Notwithstanding the many illustrious names which excite collectors, there are both newcomers and a younger generation who may look at Burgundy with fresh eyes. Even in this classic region, discoveries await wine buffs willing to go beyond familiar labels. Odds are the risk will be worth it, certainly when it comes to the producers mentioned here.
The author has no business or financial connection with any of the producers cited in the series of Rising Stars & Hidden Talents articles. They are selected for their intrinsic merit, interest and relevance.
The author wishes to thank the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) for use of the video entitled “The vineyard of Bourgogne seen from the sky,” extracts of which appear in the video version of this essay.
See www.bourgogne-wines.com for further information and resource material.
Shaw, L (6 Jan 2012), The Beaujolais Boys, www.thedrinksbusiness.com.