Friday, February 6, 2015

Tasting the Wine of Dreams - A Visit to Domaine Romanee Conti

Statue of St. Vivant
It is the dream of every wine lover to someday have a chance to visit “the Mecca of Wine” - Domaine Romanee Conti. So when the opportunity finally came for a private tasting at DRC, I couldn’t believe it was actually true. I won’t go into details of how I finally received an invitation. Just know that it took months, and contacting many people – to whom I say thanks to in my dreams every night. However, I should mention, that when I arrived, I was told by our host that a good old-fashioned hand-written letter to Aubert explaining why it would be a dream come true to visit, does, in some cases, open the gates.

The Gates of DRC

And gates there are! There is no sign announcing the entrance to DRC, but a quick search of Google maps will produce an address in the tiny village of Vosne Romanee. The domaine is hidden behind a very tall stone wall with impressive iron gates. It is necessary to push a call button to announce your presence, and then the gates will slowly swing open.

Once inside, there is a sweep of gravel drive, and a collection of stone buildings.  However it is the beautiful statue of St. Vivant, looking like a winged angel and poised over the exquisite vines of her namesake vineyard Romanee St. Vivant, that captures the attention. It reminded me of the fact that the monks of the Abbey of Saint Vivant established this estate in 1232.

There were five people in our party and we slowly approached a door leading to a small and rather basic office and reception area. It was professionally furnished but not grand or over the top. We were greeted by the office manager, who asked us to wait while she summoned Bertrand de Villaine, cousin to Aubert.

Though serious at first, over the next two hours, Bertrand revealed himself to be a very jolly host with a great sense of humor. Dressed in grey pants, boots, and a long-sleeved shirt and vest, he was of medium height, very fit and muscular. His thick hair was cut short and his face was tan from many hours outdoors. I could imagine him in a monk’s brown shift with sandals and rope belt, perhaps descended from one of the monks who guarded the estate hundreds of years ago.

Bertrand’s first explanation to us, reinforced this image. When we asked him the reason the wines of DRC are considered to be some of the best it the world, he replied, “Because the vineyards were a gift from God.” However as our tour continued, Bertrand began to tell us slightly bawdy jokes and revealed his wicked sense of humor. “I’m not a monk,” he said with a huge grin. “I have five kids, so you know I love my wife a lot!”

Farming the Vineyards from God

We spent some time with Bertrand in the Romanee St. Vivant vineyard just outside the front door of the office. He explained that altogether the domaine owns 27 hectares of vines that are biodynamically farmed. Behind us, climbing up the gentle slope, were the famous vineyards of La Tache and Romanee Conti, which we had visited an hour before on our own. Also nearby were their hectares of Richebourg, Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux.

We could see the vines were trained on a low guyot, and cane pruned to 4 – 6 buds, with one cluster per shoot. The spacing is approximately 3 x 3 feet, and average 9,000 vines per hectare in most of the vineyards. However Bertrand told us there are a few which are 10,000 vines per hectare.  Yield is generally 27 hectoliters per hectare (around 2 tons per acre), but many times they only achieve 17 hectoliters per hectare. In 2013, they lost 50% of the crop due to weather issues. 

Rich Soil of DRC
I was impressed with how healthy looking the soil was with rich red-brown clay(marl) and small pebbles of white limestone scattered throughout. Bertrand said the vineyard is the most important aspect of the wine, and as soon as the harvest is finished and the grapes are in the cellar, their only role is to “observe” the wine being made. He explained with a grin, “Being in the vineyard is my favorite part of work, then the cellars, and the office last.”

When we asked him about rootstock and clones, he responded that the rootstock was all of American origin, but the clones were 80 – 95% marsale selection.

Some of their biodynamic farming practices include keeping a garden where they grown the herbs and other plants that go into the biodynamic preps. In addition, they have two horses that plow the vineyards. “Mickey is the name of the oldest horse,” said Bertrand fondly.

Interestingly, he mentioned that frost is actually good for the soil and vines, because it causes the soil to break apart. He said they had not yet had frost in the Spring of 2014, and that it was missed. He demonstrated by picking up a piece of clay and trying crumble it in his hands, but it didn’t break easily. He said if frost were to come in the next few weeks it would help the soil be healthier. This is the first I’ve heard of this concept.

Bertrand also described how the ancient monks who had worked at Clos de Vougeot, just one kilometer from DRC, had deciphered the message of the soil and terroir of the area. He explained, “In certain parts of our vineyards, you can have amazing differences in soil just a few meters apart. For example in La Tache, we say there is upper and lower La Tache, because the soil is different in two sections.”

Wine Making at DRC

We were told that currently there are 35 people working full-time at DRC. The winemaking process is similar to other estates, with a few key differences. The first is access to world-class grapes from the “vineyards of God,” which are meticulously tended throughout the year.

During harvest the workers begin around 5am each morning and continue picking until around 2pm in the afternoon. The first sorting occurs in the vineyard, and whole clusters are gently transported to the winery, which is just across the street from the main DRC office and cellars.

We walked across the small plaza and entered the cellars through an old wooden door set into the high stone walls that surrounded the operation. Immediately we could see huge wooden foudres and long conveyer belts for transferring the whole clusters into the foudres. Bertrand explained that during crush, large tables were set up within the winery for the second sorting. Generally 14 to 20 people sort the clusters to remove green berries, rotten or over-ripe berries, clusters that are too big, hail damaged berries, and insects. If it is raining during the harvest or there are a lot of insects that year, they set up an additional table for a pre-sort.

After sorting, the whole clusters are gently moved up the conveyor belt to the top of the large wooden foudres where they are destemmed in an electric machine that rests on top of the foudres. The purpose is to protect the individual grapes from oxygen as long as possible. Many are left intact so there can be a small amount of carbonic maceration taking place within individual berries. This was one aspect of the winemaking process that I had never heard of before, because most reports state that DRC ferments as whole clusters.

Barrel Aging Cellar
Natural yeast is used, and the berries are left to start fermentation on their own. A cold soak is not forced on the grapes, but it generally takes about 5 days for fermentation to start. Pump overs are used up to 3 times a day to assist, and when fermentation takes off pigeage is conducted up to 3 times per day by hand or by physically jumping in the tanks some times. Fermentation temperature ranges from 25 – 27 F, with total maceration at 17 – 25 days, depending on the vineyard and vintage.

The wine is pressed in a large Bucher vacuum press and the free run and pressed juice is kept in separate tanks for 24 hours to settle out. Then it is tasted, and decisions are made on much pressed juice to blend with the free run. The wine is then transferred to 95% new French oak barrels, medium toast (they used to do 100%, but have made some minor adjustments). Interestingly they have discovered the Corton vineyard they have recently acquired is not as accepting of oak, as the others. Therefore, Corton now receives less oak.

The wine is aged for 16 – 18 months with no racking, unless certain exceptions warrant a barrel to be racked. ML takes place in barrel, and often doesn’t start until the Spring. Everything is very natural, and Bertrand stated that they do not like to rush things. “Everything in its own time,” he said. Barrels are topped as needed.

Amazingly, bottling occurs directly from the barrel – no blending of all barrels into a large tank first. Therefore, each bottle is quite individual. The finished wine is not fined, but may be gently filtered, depending on the vintage.

Tasting Dreams Deep in the Cellars of DRC

Eventually we descended deep into the cellars of DRC. My first thought after climbing down a steep flight of stairs was “how small this is!” Looking around, we could see barrels of wine lined up around the walls, separated by white gravel pathways. The barrels were not stacked on top of one another, but sat in solitary splendor resting on wooden rails.

Bertrand explained that this was the aging cellar, and that after bottling the wines were moved to another cellar across the road for further aging. He grabbed a wine thief and motioned for us to follow him to a series of barrels marked Echezeaux. We were each given a glass and watched in fascination as he transferred a small amount of the wine from the thief into our glasses.

I was impressed with the brilliant ruby hue of the wine, and the exquisite but delicate nose of the 2013 Echezeaux. As it was May, Bertrand explained that the wine was mainly finished, but a few barrels were still undergoing ML. The texture was very silky on my palate with smooth tannins, crisp acidity and long finish. Notes of black cherry and tea lingered on my palate.

Though we knew the protocol was to spit, it was just not possible because this was our first (and perhaps only) taste of these legendary wines. I explained this to Bertrand, and he nodded with a smile. However, we did pour the remnants of the glass back into the barrel after two sips.

Next we moved to the barrels of Grands Echezeaux, which delivered with amazing accuracy its reputed style of bolder tannins and larger mouthfeel than the regular Echezeaux vineyard. The aroma was stronger with black fruit and earth, and on the palate the wine had more concentration, huge velvety texture and tannins, and a strong masculine feel to it. Notes of black cherry, coffee, and anise lingered on a very long finish.

Finally Tasting La Tache
Next, trembling with anticipation, I followed Bertrand to the barrels of La Tache. For years I had dreamed of tasting this wine because my last name “Thach” is correctly pronounced “Tache (tosh).” Therefore, I felt a strong affinity to the wine, and was convinced it would be my favorite.

La Tache did not disappoint. In the dim light of the cellar, it flowed into my glass in a glowing ruby stream, and the perfume of raspberries and violets filled the air. Reverently putting my nose to the glass, the berries became more complex with mixed spices. On the palate it was probably the most elegant wine I’ve ever tasted. It was delicate but concentrated with silky texture and tannins, fine acidity, and a kaleidoscope of complex flavors ranging from red and black berries, rose, black tea and allspice. The finish was very long and satisfying.

As we moved from the barrels of La Tache to Romanee Conti, I felt very satisfied. Finally I had tasted the wine of my dreams, and was confident that nothing could ever eclipse that taste. I was wrong. Who knew that Romanee Conti could taste even better?

Perhaps it was the hype around Romanee Conti that had put me off. I’ve never been a fan of jumping on the bandwagon of what everyone else proclaims to the best. So my first sip of this wine came as a shock. It was a darker ruby that La Tache in color with a more pronounced nose of berries, violets and spice, but on the palate it was even more elegant with huge concentration and an extremely long finish.

As my companions were oohing and ahhing over the wine, I stood there trying to analyze what made it so great, and in doing so nearly consumed all of the wine in my glass. It reminded me of a perfect combination of the best Russian River pinot noir I’ve ever tasted, rich with flavors of raspberry, spice and violets, but with the added magic of a core of the pulsing minerality and complex earthiness of Burgundy. It seemed to embody the best of new and old world pinot noir in one exquisite glass. Perhaps it really was made by God?

Bertrand woke me from my reverie by asking, “Don’t you want to be part of this barrel of Romanee Conti too?” I looked over and saw that everyone else was gently tipping the remainder of the wine in their glasses into the hole of the barrel. Peering into my glass, I was embarrassed to see there was only one drop left.

“It is alright,” Bertrand said with a grin, “even if you only have one drop, you will still be a part of this barrel.”  He motioned for me to come over and I slowly shook my one drop into the barrel. “Now you are all apart of this wine,” he said. “Where ever it goes around the world, you are a part of it.”

As he said this, I wondered who would eventually buy the bottle of wine in which my one drop was mingled. Though some people may think the Burgundian custom of pouring wine from your glass back into the barrel is strange and perhaps unsanitary, this is not the cause. Because the wine is so rare, every drop is needed to top the barrel and protect the wine from oxygen. Also, because they are using so much new French oak that “drinks the wine,” is it is necessary to preserve with more wine. Finally, the alcohol in the wine will kill all human germs that may linger on the glass.

“So where are the rest of the barrels of Romanee Conti?” one of my companions asked.

The answer surprised us.  “Because the harvest from 2013 was so small, we only have these 13 barrels of Romanee Conti for the whole world.”

What? Thirteen barrels for the whole world! This was earth-shattering news.  Bertrand went on to explain that this was the reason they were so careful to whom they sold the wine. “We don’t want a complete vintage to end up the dark cellars of a few rich collectors,” he said. “We want the wine to be shared by many people around the world. This is why we allocate so carefully.”

One of my companions then told Bertrand of how his store in California was allocated 4 bottles per year of DRC wine. He explained that most of the time the bottles were purchased by a group of winemakers who pooled their money so they had enough to afford one bottle and they each had a sip or two. Bertrand smiled at this story and said, “This is the type of thing we like to hear.”

As we left the cellar, I asked Bertrand how difficult it was to deal with the fickleness of Mother Nature -  that in some years brought them bounty, and in others, such as 2013 with all its hail and frost, decimated the harvest by 50%.

His response was poetic, and brought a sense of calm and peace to my soul. “When we work in the vineyard, we go with the flow. If the year brings hail, frost, or sunshine, we accept and know this is what is supposed to happen for this vintage.”

A Taste of Golden Sunshine Before We Departed

During the last part of our two hour visit to DRC, Bertrand took us to visit the bottle aging cellar. It was also quite small, but very beautiful with the bottles stored in tall cases for one year before they were labeled and boxed for shipment.

Bottle Aging Cellar
However, we soon discovered it was not necessarily the bottle aging cellar we had come to visit, but a small dark room in the back carved out of the natural limestone with gravel on the floor. In the center stood a tall wooden barrel that served as a table, with a flickering candle set upon it.

Bertrand motioned for us to stand around the barrel table, and then slipped off to the right where he bent down and grabbed an unmarked bottle from a pile of shiners in a dark corner of the cave room. He placed the bottle on the table and uncorked it with a flourish, and then poured it into our glasses. In the dim candlelight the wine glowed with hues of yellow and flashes of white gold. “Guess what this is?” he asked.

Bringing the glass to my nose, I could smell fresh apple pie, butter, and allspice. On the palate the wine was creamy, with more yellow apple, pastry, mixed spices, and very generous well-integrated toasty oak notes. It was so rich and concentrated, it reminded me of dessert. At first, the thought of a rich over-the top Marcassin chardonnay flashed across my palate memory. Surely this couldn’t be from the Sonoma Coast? But then the crisp acidity and electric core of limestone minerality asserted itself – Burgundy. This must be DRC’s Montrachet.

It turned out to be the single barrel they make each year of Batard Montrachet, and only share occasionally with visitors to the cellar. “This is the 2007 vintage. I call it my little pastry,” smiled Bertrand as he watched our shocked expressions. “Doesn’t it taste just like a pastry dessert?”

I agreed, and just then one of my companions fell on his knees in the gravel and exclaimed, “I have died and gone to heaven.  Thank you God and Bertrand for letting me taste this wine.”

We all laughed and helped him up to his feet again. Then we took photos with Bertrand and thanked him, and the others who had helped us receive an invite to DRC, for making all of our dreams come true. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Last Night in Paris and a Video Highlighting Our Adventures

Our Group in Paris
(May 23 & 24, 2014) The next morning we boarded the bus for the 3.5 hour drive from Beaune to Paris, stopping once along the way at another large French gas station to grabs some snacks.  We arrived back at the Mercure in Paris around 1pm, and everyone was happy to be back in a modern hotel with working wifi.
The afternoon was free time, so some people opted to take a nap, whereas others took the metro to Versailles, the Louvre, and many other Paris locals.  It was our last night in Paris, and everyone made the most of it.  Some people chose to stay up all night, reasoning that they could always sleep on the plane ride home.
The bus departed for the airport at 7am the next morning, and after managing the hurdles of checking in at CDG, we all managed to make our 10:40am non-stop flight home to San Francisco.  We arrived rather bleary-eyed at 1pm PCT the same day, tired by happy to be home.
One nice aspect of international travel is, no matter how much fun you have when you are traveling, there is nothing better than coming home to California!
Our Video on the Highlights of Champagne, the Loire & Burgundy
When we arrived home, many people sent some of their favorite photos of the trip.  These were compiled into a 7 minute inspirational video.  Please watch it here.  Enjoy!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Visiting Romanee Conti and La Tache Vineyards With a Stop at Clos de Vougeot Wine Museum

Clos de Vougeot
(May 22, 2014) – Our last appointment of the day was at 4:30 at Clos de Vougeot, the ancient wine farm of the Cistercian monks who studied the soils of Burgundy and recognized the unique terroirs that could be found just a few meters apart.  It was their early work that helped to determine the Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards of the area.
The sky was darkening with threatening rain clouds as we approached, making the medieval structure look even more forbidding. We entered and toured the old cellars and everyone was amazed at the three ancient wooden wine presses that were each as big as a house. Next we saw a film which described how the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin acquired the Château in 1945, and turned it into the seat of the Order.
At La Tache Vineyard
At La Tache Vineyard
On the way back to Beaune, we turned off at the small village of Vosne-Romanee, home of the famous DRC – Domaine Romanee Conti, which produces the most expensive wines in the world. Our goal was to visit the world-famous vineyards of Romanee Conti and La Tache, but the bus couldn’t make it down the narrow streets.  Therefore, it deposited us in the central square and we walked about 5 minutes until we saw the famous cross of Romanee Conti.  Fortunately the rain held off so we could take some photos.
Worshipping at the Romanee Conti Vineyard
Worshipping at the Romanee Conti Vineyard
Next we walked through the vineyards with their graceful rock walls until we found the small stone plaque that read La Tache.  Here we paused for more photos, marveling at how each of the small vines in the vineyard could produce a bottle of wine that averaged more than $3,000 per bottle.
Back on the bus, we drove about 20 minutes until we were back at our hotel. Everyone dressed for our last group dinner that was taking place in the Le Panorama restaurant overlooking the vineyards. Though we had heard many positive reviews about the restaurant, our experience was rather disappointing in that the multiple choice menu we were promised did not appear, and instead of being served the pinot noir of the domaine, they served us a flabby pinot from Vin de Pays d’Oc in the Languedoc region, but with a label from a local Burgundian producer. When we complained, they brought us a cheap regional Bourgogne that was thin and acidic.
Magnum We Shared at Bar du Square
Magnum We Shared at Bar du Square
Therefore, abandoning the dessert of floating islands that most people disliked, we congregated in the lobby to share a toast of cremant in which each person described a highlight of the trip. Then most of us deserted the disappointing restaurant and headed into Beaune for a last night on the town and a very fun time at the Bar du Square.  This spot is where most of the local winemakers go, and it became a favorite haunt for many in our group all three nights we spent in Beaune.

Friday, January 9, 2015

In Search of the Perfect Pinot Noir in Cote de Nuits at Dufouleur, Vougeraie& Trapet-Rochelandet

Tasting in the Cellars of Dufouleur
(May 22, 2014) – As the day before was devoted to chardonnay, it was only fitting that our third and last day in Burgundy was devoted to pinot noir. Therefore, we headed north of Beaune to the famous Cote de Nuits where the largest percentages of Grand Cru pinot noir vineyards are located.
First stop, at 9am, was Domaine Dufouleur in Nuits St. Georges, where we met with the charming Maximilien, Export Sales Manager. Established in 1848, Dufouleur is both a negotiant and an estate. They farm only 25 hectares, but produce over 1 million bottles per year with their negotiant role. An interesting fact about their cellars, which were originally built in the 17th century, is that there is documentation that Napoleon actually visited there.
Therefore, when Max led us down the stairs to the dark cellar lit by candlelight where we had the winetasting, everyone glanced around wondering where Napoleon had stood.  To commemorate this special piece of history, Dufouleur has named their entry level pinot noir, Cuvee Napoleon.  It was only fitting that we started with this wine and a toast to the self-proclaimed emperor who always believe that the Cote de Nuits created the best wine in the world.
We ended up tasting a total of 9 wines, starting with 4 pinots noirs, then moving onto 4 chardonnays, and ending with a Cremant de Bourgogne.  A favorite of the crowd was the 2011 Gevry-Chambertin with dark cherry and complex notes of tobacco and spice.
Biodynamic Herb Garden at  Domaine de la Vougeraie
Biodynamic Herb Garden at
Domaine de la Vougeraie
Our 10:30 appointment was at Domaine de la Vougeraie, where we met with the Estate Manager Pierre and Benjamin, Assistant winemaker. Benjamin immediately took us to the biodynamic gardens in the back of the estate and we were very impressed to learn that all of the herbs growing there went into making the teas used in the biodynamic preps that are sprayed on the vineyards.  Vougeraie has 40 hectares of vineyards, and is the sole owner (monopole) of a rare section of chardonnay in the Clos de Vougeot grand cru vineyard.
Next was a tour of the cellars where we learned how they craft both the chardonnay and pinot noir. At Vougeraie they do often includes some stems in the pinot noir fermentation, which is conducted in large wooden foudres with both pigeage and pump-overs.  Natural yeast is used, and total maceration usually takes 15 days.  They use a large basket press, and then age in small oak barrels (30% -60% new), that they make themselves, for 15 – 18 months.
We tasted three wines:  2007 Vougeot Premier Cru Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot, 2009 Nuits St. Georges Les Damodes and 2004 Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot. Many in our group took the opportunity to purchase the final wine, which had a perfumed nose of black cherry and great structure.  It seemed to be a good deal at $53 euros per bottle.
After lunch in Nuits St. Georges, we drove to the charming village of Gevry-Chambertin for our 2:30 appointment at the small winery of Domaine Trapet-Rochelandet.  Here winemaker and co-owner, Marie Cecile, explained the winemaking process and allowed us to taste her excellent wines.  As she only spoke French, Francy jumped in to translate for us.
The domaine owns 7 hectares of vines, primarily pinot noir, but also some aligote – the other white grape of Burgundy.  In addition to enjoying the lovely Gevry-Chambertin’s she made, everyone was excited to try their first Aligote wine at Trapet-Rochelandet.
Domaine Trapet-Rochelandet
Domaine Trapet-Rochelandet

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Celebrating Chardonnay in Cote de Beaune - Meursault, Montrachet & Santenany

Our Group in Meursault at Caves Ropiteau Freres
(Wed., May 21, 2014) The remainder of the day was dedicated to exploring the homeland of Chardonnay, so we headed south out of Beaune to the famous villages of Meursault, Puligny Montrachet and Chassange Montrachet. The first stop was lunch in Meursault where everyone came to realize that you can’t rush a meal in France. So though we were a little late for our next appointment, we managed to make up time later.
After lunch we had an appointment at Caves Ropiteau Frères at 2pm where we met with winemaker, Nicholas, who provided a quick tour of the cellars and explained the fermentation process for their chardonnays. He described the battonage process of stirring the lees in the oak barrels, and then we had a chance to taste 3 wines in the visitor’s center:  2010 Meursault, 2011 Chassagne Montrachet, and a 2009 Volnay.
Enjoying the Grand Cru Vineyards of Burgundy
Enjoying the Grand Cru Vineyards of Burgundy
Next we drove through the tiny village of Puligny Montrachet and turned right to follow the small paved road that led through some of the most famous vineyards in the world. We stopped at three Grand Cru vineyards to take photos:Le Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet,and Batard-Montrachet.  It was thrilling to gaze out over the incredibly lovely view of thousands of chardonnay vines with the small villages in the background. One of the nice aspects of Burgundy is that most of the famous vineyards have rock walls around them and signs or pillars announcing the name of the Grand Cru vineyard.
We continued south through Chassange Montrachet and a few minutes later arrived in Santenay.  Everyone was amazed at how small and how close all of these famous villages really are. In Santenay we met with John Capuano, owner of Domaine Capuano Ferreri. He was tall, charming, and only spoke French, but fortunately Brielle was able to translate for us.
John explained that the domaine was quite small with only 12 hectares and producing 6500 cases per year, of which they export 35%. They are a relatively new winery in Burgundy, having only been established for 50 years, whereas most of the others we had visited were at least 200 years old or more.

Singing to the Chardonnay Vines
We tasted 5 wines here, and John delighted us by pulling some 2013 wine from barrel as he was completely sold out of the 2012 with the exception of one chardonnay. The highlight was tasting a 2013 Santenay Chardonnay that was lean with honey and spice notes, and then comparing it was a 2013 Premier Cru Chassange Montrachet vineyard that was only a few meters away from the Santenay village vineyard.  The difference was amazing, because the Chassange Montrachet was more full bodied, with apple and oatmeal notes. However John said the same winemaking techniques were used, and the only difference was the terroir. A truly eye-opening experience about Burgundy and how a few meters apart can make a huge difference in taste and quality of appellation.
Tasting at Domaine Capuano Ferreri
Tasting at Domaine Capuano Ferreri
That evening was another free night in Beaune, and most everyone wandered into town to check out restaurants, bars, and the beautiful architecture of the ancient walled city.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Warm Welcome to Burgundy by the BIVB and Domaine du Clos Frantin

Hospice de Beaune in Burgundy
(May 21, 2014) – We awoke to a warm day in the low 80’s with partially cloudy skies, and were made to feel very welcome in Burgundy by a presentation provided by the BIVB.  They actually came to our hotel and provided an excellent slide show describing the special terroir and AOC’s of the region.
Wine Tasting with Christophe at Domaine du Clos Frantin
Wine Tasting with Christophe at Domaine du Clos Frantin
Next we boarded the bus and drove to Nuits St. George for a cellar tour and tasting at the Domaine du Clos Frantin.This is one of several estates owned by Maison Albert Bichot.  We were greeted by the estate manager, Christophe, who provided an overview of the organic vineyards and then toured us through the cellars.  He said it took 10 years to prepare the vineyards to be organic, and they have now been officially organic for the past 2 years.
Christophe is primarily a red wine maker, so he provided a fascinating overview of how they farm their 35 hectares of pinot noir. After sorting in the vineyard and again at the winery, the grapes are destemmed but not crushed because he likes them to have a bit of carbonic maceration within the individual berries. He said he rarely uses whole cluster, and destems 99% of the grapes.
We tasted 5 excellent wines here, including two village wines:  Gevrey-Chambertin “Les Murots” and Nuits-Saint-Georges, as well as Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru “Les Malconsorts and Richebourg Grand Cru.
At the end of the tasting when we presented Christophe with our SSU gift, he reciprocated by teaching all of us how to do the traditional song of Burgundy wine lovers, from the Chevaliers du Tastevin.  It is a simple and fun song using the words “La, La, La, La,” with lots of clapping and hand waving.  After watching Christophe perform it perfectly, we all practiced it again, and everyone felt energized and happy from the chant.  See an example at:
Wine Tasting at Domaine du Clos Frantin
Wine Tasting at Domaine du Clos Frantin

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wine Tasting at Chateau Chenonceau and Chablisenne

The Loire River
We spent the night in the small town of Amboise with its ancient castle, pedestrian walkways, rose covered houses, and colorful cafes all nestled along side the Loire River.
The next day we drove the short distance to Chateau Chenonceau, the famous castle that spans the River Cher and was the home of both Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici.  We had 1.5 hours to tour the castle and magnificent gardens, and though it was raining a bit, it was still an enchanted place.
Chateau Chenonceau
Chateau Chenonceau
At 10:30 we all met in the wine cellar for a private tasting.  Called La Cave de Domes, it is in the AOC of Chenonceau and was started in the 15th century when Diane de Poitiers was living in the castle.  They have 12 hectares of vineyards in front of the estate and produce around 6,000 cases, which they sell 100% direct to castle visitors.  We tasted a sauvignon blanc, a rose of grolleau and a cabernet franc.  All were well-made, and served with delightful appetizers of goat cheese, pork pate, and brie.
Toasting with Rose Wine at Chenonceau Wine Cellars
Tasting Rose in the Cellars of Chenonceau
After the tasting, we climbed aboard the bus and drove 3 hours to the small town of Chablis in Burgundy.  We stopped halfway so everyone could experience how fancy the French gas stations are along the freeways – very large with multiple stalls of clean bathrooms, and small grocery stores and restaurants.
Visiting La Chablisenne Coop in Chablis, Burgundy
We arrived in Chablis just in time for our 3:30 appointment at La Chablisenne, one of the largest and most famous cooperatives in France.  We were welcomed by the winemaker, Vincent, who described the wine-making process and led us through a tasting of 6 wines.
Everyone was fascinated to learn about the special Kimmeridgian soil of Chablis, which is a combination of limestone and ancient shellfish.  He showed us a large sample of the soil and pointed out to small seashells imbedded in the slightly yellow rocky substance (see photo).
Chablis Winemaker with Kimmeridgian Rock
Chablis Winemaker with Kimmeridgian Rock
Chablisenne was started in 1923, and today they have 250 winegrowers who sell their chardonnay must (harvested, destemmed and crushed in advance) to the coop.  Altogether they farm 1300 hectares and produce around 9 million bottles of Chablis per year.
We left Chablis around 5pm and arrived in Beaune around 6:30 to check into our hotel, the Le Panorama situated in the vineyards about a 20 minute walk from the center of the walled town.  After quickly unpacking most of us headed back into town to eat in the many scrumptious restaurants of Beaune.We  proceeded to taste through these areas starting with a 2012 Petite Chablis which was delightfully crisp, fresh and lemony.  Next was a 2012 Chablis with high acid and salty minerality.  The 2011 Mont de Milliuer Premier Cru that followed had seen 25% oak and was more complex, but the two 2010 Grand Cru’s which followed were both amazing, with layers of complexity, mineral, lemon, and a very long elegant finish.  They were the 2010 Gran Cru Blanchot and Chateau Grenouile Grant Cru.