Voillot looks on in frustration at Fremiets Vineyard in Volnay

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.
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.

Voillot looks on in frustration at Fremiets Vineyard in Volnay

Voillot looks on in frustration at Fremiets Vineyard in Volnay

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.

The harsh reality.

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!

Part I

1. Why Burgundy?

The great wines of Burgundy satisfy the body and the soul. This is not to say other wines, indeed many other wines, don’t; but the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of the Cote d’Or do so in a unique and inimitable way. But it’s not really about the varieties here; it’s about the specificity of the land. The song of the grapes is nowhere bettered than in the vineyards of Burgundy. The medium is the message here, and the medium is the earth.

And the wines sing with subtle gusto and a surprising finesse-filled force. It is, in some final analysis, the complexity and the generosity of the wines of Burgundy that makes them my favorite wines. The music enters the heart and mind simultaneously. The emotional and aesthetic commitment the best wines ask is stunning and it is precisely because they ask us to feel and speak that they reach so deeply into our hearts and minds. The parallel, of course, is that the old vines reach equally deeply into the limestone and marl to retrieve the inner harmonies of the land.

Whether notes or letters, Burgundy generates a dialogue, indeed it generates language.

Burgundy is a place, and its heart, the Cote d‘Or, is only thirty miles long and about half a mile wide. You could walk it in a day, though it might take longer because you would likely be; as I have been, happily distracted by the peace and the beauty of the vines lacing around the old stone houses like green and gold scarves.

And because of the power of the Burgundian terroir – the sun, slope, and soil, among other things – the earth’s soul as it were, is also in every bottle. And this is how we come to truly know Burgundy, or any wine, and that is by drinking it, by being open to its seductive and haunting pleasures: the place-ness of Burgundy is in every bottle, and while it is always best to visit the wine regions we love, Burgundy is shipped; thanks to all the gods, to the far reaches of the world, if in miniscule quantities, including Paul Marcus Wines.

Burgundy, it seems, allows us a bit of time travel.

2. Where in the world is Burgundy?

The Cote-d’Or is in central eastern France. If you happen to be driving from Paris, allow about three hours. If you’re going in the right direction, and have a hankerin’ for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, you should be heading southeast through Auxerre, toward Beaune, the wine capital of the Cote-d’Or. If a steely Chardonnay is what you want then Chablis is the place for you and you need only go about two hours along the same route, this time exiting at Auxerre. The Cote Chalonnaise, Macon, and Beaujolais are all a bit farther south along the same route.

3. Is Burgundy difficult to figure out?

Yes. And no.

Its essential nature is easy, and the wines are complex, but Burgundy is the most complicated of France’s wine regions and it is also, in some ways, the most difficult to understand.

For example, Karen MacNeil, author of the very useful The Wine Bible, lists eight grands crus in Gevrey-Chambertin, but Allen Meadows, author of the Burgundy-only newsletter, Burghound, claims there are nine, while the long time Burgundy aficionado Clive Coates says; “There are eight or nine grands crus…” I’m going with nine because you will find nine different names out there in the market. To wit, you will find both “Charmes-Chambertin” and “Mazoyeres-Chambertin” in any (sensible) wine shop that deals in Burgundy, though they have been listed by Matt Kramer as “one and the same vineyard.”

Furthermore, a few of the premier Crus in Gevrey-Chambertin have alternate names, yes, alternate names; for example Petite-Chapelle can also be called Champitenois and Issarts, Plantigone.
This, in a region where there are over eighty growers of the famous 117 acre Grand Cru vineyard of Clos Vougeot. In theory we could have eighty wines in the shop that all say “Clos Vougeot” though some might be labeled, “Clos de Vougeot.”

Easy, right?

4. How do I drink Burgundy?

Fill your glass. Repeat.

Only slightly more seriously: drink your Burgundy s l o w l y.

It is vital to drink the best wines over time. You want to interact with a great bottle of wine for as long as possible. No good wine will show you everything in thirty minutes, let alone allow you to understand all it has to offer.

The better the wine, very generally speaking, the more complex the wine and so, the longer it takes to discover. I think it’s best to give the particular bottle of wine you’re drinking plenty of time to open up, and, if you like it, get a few more bottles to drink over the years.

5. Will Burgundy age?

I’ve heard it said, in wine classes no less; that Pinot Noir does not age. This is maddening because so many pinot noirs do age; indeed they do so fabulously well. I’ve had wonderful, even fruity Pinot Noirs from the 1950s that were stunningly complex while still offering primary flavors. Furthermore, many white wines from Burgundy can age effortlessly for decades.

6. Why are the wines of the Cote d’Or so dang expensive?

Because it’s a tiny region and the farmers who tend the vines have very little wine to sell and there is no (significant) way to expand production. A producer might only make one barrel or less (25 cases) of any one wine. That’s twenty-five cases, or fewer, for the whole world. Not a lot to go around. Here’s a breakdown of the various levels of Burgundy to give you an idea of the rarefied stratification of the Cote d’Or:

Burgundy that is simply labeled “Bourgogne” the lowest level of classified Burgundy (either red or white) makes up 52% of the total wine production. This is wine that can come from anywhere in the legally demarcated region of Burgundy. Village level Burgundy makes up a further 35% of the total production and the wines have only to come from within the village boundaries. That means 87% of all the Burgundy produced in the Cote d’Or is not even vineyard-specific. Which is remarkable because Burgundy is all about the relationship of the site and the bottle. Premier Cru Burgundy makes up another 11%, meaning the wines labeled Grand Cru make up a microscopic 2% of the total wine production.

Part II

Getting Specific: Gevrey-Chambertin

A name from Gallo-Roman times, Gabriacus, first noted in or around 640 AD, for the village of modern-day Gevrey-Chambertin, a wee tot of a village in the heart of the wine Mecca of Burgundy. Gabriacus, a town where vines have been grown, grapes harvested, wine made and drunk for many, many centuries. In fact 120 vine stocks were found in Gevrey-Chambertin in 2008 dating from the 1st century BCE. Now that’s history.

In 1847 Gevrey appended the name of its most illustrious vineyard, Chambertin, which is named after the monk Bertin (Champ de Bertin). It seems somehow fitting that over the past forty years the population of this village has only increased by about 100 people (the population in 2008 was 3,084 and in 1975 it was 3,001) because the practice of wine growing and winemaking has changed very little over the years.

So there are, depending on whom you ask, thirty-three or thirty-four Grand Crus in Burgundy’s Cote-d’ Or, 8 or 9 of those, again depending on who you ask, are in Gevrey-Chambertin.

Gevrey-Chambertin is the largest of all the Cote’s villages and is also the place where, again, depending on who you ask, the highest expression of Pinot Noir is reached on Earth.

So where can I get great Burgundy?

Duh. Paul Marcus Wines always has a great selection of world class and affordable Burgundy! To get more specific information about any of the following wines, come in and ask one of the staff members at the shop.

Here, at a 30% discounted rate, is The Super Summer Six-Pack:

(a) 2011 Dom. Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin “La Combe Aux Moines,” 90.
(b) 2011 Marchand-Tawse Gevrey-Chambertin “Les Fontenys,” 100.
(c) 2011 Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertin “La Justice,” 83
(d) 2009 Dom. Bachelet Gevrey-Chambertin V.V., 90.
(e) 2009 Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin V.V., 80.
(f) 2004 Dugat-Py Gevrey-Chambertin “Coeur du Roy,” 125.

The full list price is $568.00, but for this offer you can have these gems for $395.00!
A huge savings for some of Burgundy’s best wines, so treat yourself!

Further Offerings from the Rack & Cellar:

1. 2011 Dom. Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin “La Combe Aux Moines”
90. / 12 available
2. 2011 Dom. Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin “Petits Gazetiers”
85. / 6 available
3. 2011 Dom. Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin
55. / 6 available
4. 2011 Marchand-Tawse Gevrey-Chambertin “Les Fontenys”
100. / 12 available
5. 2011 Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertin “Clos Prieur”
84. / 12 available
6. 2011 Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertin V.V.
75. / 12 available
7. 2011 Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertin “La Justice”
83. / 12 available
8. 2011 Dom. Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin
98. / 11 available
9. 2010 Sylvie Esmonin “Cote de Nuits-Villages”
40. / 4 available
10. 2010 Dom. Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin “Charmes-Chambertin”
180. / 6 available
11. 2009 Dom. Bachelet “Cote de Nuits-Villages”
60. / 2 available
12. 2009 Dom. Bachelet Gevrey-Chambertin V.V.
90. / 15 available
13. 2009 Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin
54. / 12 available
14. 2009 Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin V.V.
80. / 7 available

15. 2009 Bachelet Gevrey-Chambertin V.V.
90. / 15 available
16. 2006 Dugat “Charmes-Chambertin”
434. / 3 available
17. 2006 Dugat Gevrey-Chambertin
128. / 5 available
18. 2006 Dugat Gevrey-Chamberitn “Lavaux St.-Jacques”
287. / 3 available
19. 2006 Denis Mortet Chambertin
675. / 3 available
20. 2006 Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin “1er Cru”
248. / 3 available
21. 2006 Burget Gevrey-Chambertin “Mes Favorites”
75. / 12 available
22. 2006 Lecheneaut Gevrey-Chambertin
70. / 3 available

* The 2005 vintage deserves a special note. It is one of the all-time great vintages in Burgundy in the last two decades. Though you can enjoy them now, these wines will age gracefully for another twenty years – if you can wait that long! These are powerfully structured wines though they do not lack finesse or subtlety. The ‘05s are disappearing fast and this is a great collection of world-class wines. Don’t miss them!

23. 2005 Guy Castagnier “Charmes-Chambertin”
145. / 3 available
24. 2005 Guy Castagnier “Latricieres-Chambertin”
155. / 2 available
25. 2005 Confuron-Cotetidot “Charmes-Chambertin”
151. / 3 available
26. 2005 Confuron-Cotetidot “Lavaux St.-Jacques”
123. / 8 available
27. 2005 Confuron-Cotetidot “Mazis-Chambertin”
161. / 12 available
28. 2005 Dugat-Py Gevrey-Chambertin “Coeur du Roy”
189. / 2 available
29. 2005 Dugat-Py Gevrey-Chambertin V.V.
142. / 12 available
30. 2005 Guillard SC Gevrey-Chambertin “Platiere”
62. / 12 available
31. 2005 Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin “1er Cru”
218. / 3 available