This morning I started off with the visit I was both most excited and most concerned about. Jean Pierre Charlot at Domaine Joseph Voillot in Volnay has been through the ringer more than anyone that I am slated to visit. The hail and small crops of previous vintages have impacted him more than most, and he’s also on the wrong end of the spectrum of those affected by this year’s frost.
Canvassing The Damage
Jean Pierre welcomed me into his office and we quickly overcame the fact that there wasn’t much middle ground on our language barrier. A brief chat and then we headed out to the vineyards for a survey of the damage. We go to Volnay 1er cru Champans and all is well. The growth looks great! It’s like nothing happened. Then we go to Volnay 1er cru Fremiets about 300km away and it’s a horror show. The vineyard is devastated.
More of the same as we visit his vineyards for village-level Volnay and Bourgogne rouge. Many vines are barren. Others have a small fraction of the normal growth. Some have produced a second bud, so on top of all the other challenges this frost has presented it also means that growers have to do two harvests one month apart. Think about all that additional work for the winemakers, yet for far less product. As rough as recent vintages have been for Jean Pierre this is the worst.
All told, these vineyards are down 90%. Jean Pierre has 9 hectares of vines in total and he’s lost about 7 hectares-worth in the frost. When you catch him in the moment you see his frustration and concern, and then he simply states it; all that work in the vineyard down the drain, and both his financial and mental fortitude have been pushed to the limit. But then he (more or less) shrugs it off, rhetorically asking “What can you do?” So we head back to the cellar.
The Voillot cellar is a thing of beauty. The mold covering the bottles is off the charts, but otherwise it’s orderly and clean…though clearly not as full as Jean Pierre would prefer. We dig into the 2015 barrel samples and I can safely make the blanket statement that these wines are a fantastic overall quality and express some serious terroir. I look forward to not just tasting, but drinking these wines over the next 20 or so years. These are the epitome of elegance and charm, and they exude a real sense of place. If you’re not yet familiar with these wines do yourself a favor and seek them out.
Other Bourgogne Travels
Following my visit with Jean Pierre I headed north for a photo tour of a number of grand crus in the Nuits. Chambertin Clos de Beze is a particular favorite, but it’s great to see all of these vineyards up close and in person. I eventually made it to the top portion of Clos des Lambraysfor a little lunch of leftover poulet de Bresse, cheese, bread and wine while I soaked in one of the better views I’ve come across so far. Late in the afternoon I visited with Domaine de Bellene in Beaune, which included another look at some 2015s in barrel.
The wines are in various stages of completion with some still working through malolactic and showing a bit of prickly CO2 on the palate, while others are already beautifully harmonious. Overall the whole Domaine operation is quite smaller than expected, and the conversation about running the negociant side of things is illuminating. Particularly the emphasis on slowly growing the options beyond the big name fruit sources of Gevrey, Meursault, etc., as those wines have gotten so expensive in recent years. The Saint-Romain blanc is a standout, as is the Saint-Aubin, an appellation that seems to be well represented on this trip so far.
We also had an interesting aside about premox, which the Domaine admittedly encountered in a couple of their wines a few years back. The consensus seems to be a stretch of time where winemakers emphasized a combo of too gentle a pressing, too little sulfur, too much battonage, and too much oak. Seems about right.
Time for me to hit the sack as I’ve got an early call in Gamay country tomorrow!