Burgundy: The History of the Vignerons: The Villages part I

The wine villages of the Côte d’Or in the 18th Century

By Dean Alexander

PommardReflecting on it, I find it amazing that the descendants of so many old Burgundian families still farm the vineyards, and live in the same tiny villages of the gold coast as their ancestors. Many of these families have lived there for more than two centuries. The Roty’s of Gevrey-Chambertin arrived there in 1710, and have now lived in Gevrey for more than three centuries, and the Mongeard family arrived in Vosne in 1620, just shy of four centuries.

Consider further, for many generations, all but the most wealthy, rarely traveled much farther than the fields that they worked, none of which were very far away. They often did not know the families from two or three villages distant, because to get there, many of them would have had to walk. They lived and died in the houses in which they were raised, and that was often the same house that their mother or father was raised.(1) For most urbanites, this is kind of stationary life is unfathomable. But this long history of a family being precisely in a single place, for so many generations, can only be explained by these people having developed exceptionally strong emotional ties to their village, their family, and to their land.

While to outsiders, the daily life of the farmer can only describe as repetitious and mundane, in the long view, the changes that have occurred on the Côte can be fascinating. Over the span of the past two to three hundred years, these fermier families have had, along with a certain amount of luck, the ability to adjust and adapt at crucial times.

First and foremost, they were lucky. To have had built up enough assets to handle disasters as they came can be a matter of luck. Any ship can sink in the perfect storm. But beyond that, they tenacious, yet flexible enough to endure nature’s worst. Examples of adversity the families of the Côte would face included: multiple, several near-total harvest failures, and more than a couple vineyard losses due to vine killing winters, hail, and flooding. Then there were the major diseases such as mildew (oidium in 1854 and downy in 1887) not to mention phylloxera.

The image of a peasant girl resting, is from the Paris Salon circa 1893.
The image of a peasant girl resting is from the Paris Salon circa 1893.

The political and economic challenges were relentless, included the lengthy French Revolution, multiple governmental changes, and economic and the catastrophes of wars and occupation. Had these families not been lucky, not had assets when they needed them, and not made the right decisions at the right time, they would have left been forced to leave, as many did. (Garnot 2008) Most importantly, they had the ability to make the jump from being simple paysans, meaning the peasant-farmers, who only just subsisted on small plots land, to fermiers who not only owned the land they worked, and more importantly, owned enough land they needed to hire people to help work the land they owned.

Gone from the Gold Coast now are those paysans.  Their small plots absorbed by larger landholders and their labor replaced in the fields professional vineyard managers and workers and supplemented day laborers.

Throughout the late 19th and most of the 20th century, it was an idealized version of these very peasants, who had been economically pushed out of the Gold Coast, by which the French viewed their own national identity.  The French viewed itself as the peasant: a stout, strong, determined, rural proletariat, who farmed the land, feed the nation and were called to war. (Lehning 1995) It was generally felt that the peasants were the backbone of the country. As such, it was with a certainly irony, that much later, during the 1920 and 1930’s, the fermiers of the Côte would begin to market Burgundy and themselves as synonymous with the already existent folklore of the ‘peasant farmer’. (Whalen 2009) This would be their guarantee of quality, their simple honesty, steadfastness, and hard work.

 

print of Gevrey Chambertin from Dr Jules Lavalle's 1855 Histoire et Statistique de la Vigne de Grands Vins de la Côte-d'Or
print of Gevrey-Chambertin from Dr. Jules Lavalle’s 1855 Histoire et Statistique de la Vigne de Grands Vins de la Côte-d’Or

The growth of a village

In an isolated locale, like the wine villages of the Côte d’Or, a census is a very good barometer of the health of its economy. As the economy heats up, as financial folks like to say, the population increases. Conversely, as the economy slows, populations tend to contract accordingly. In 1793, toward the end of the Revolutionary period, the first census of the new republic was taken.  At this time, the population of Gevrey was only 1,193. Over the next two decades, Gevrey’s population would grow only incrementally until 1831, when it would begin to expand over the next 50 years.

Phylloxera, in its steady march across France, would finally reach the vineyards of the Côte d’Or in 1880. However, rather than the loss of production forcing the population to contract, -as those “in the margins” were indeed displaced by a lack of field work, new inhabitants were arriving, largely replacing their numbers. A whole new industry had sprung up surrounding the fighting of phylloxera. As that battle was gradually lost, these jobs would eventually be replaced by those who would plant the vineyards again. These were people who had trained in the new skills of grafting vinifera Pinot and Chardonnay vines to the hybrid American rootstock. This carousel of workers kept the number of people living in the village fairly constant, but generally, the fermiers, the landholding farmers, many whose family names we recognize today, remained.

The census of 1881 revealed a population of 1,868. Shortly after the turn of the century, economic instability, and low wine prices, and falling vineyard values, would cause the lowest number of inhabitants since the census had begun, with a mere 1,543.  Gevrey’s population would fall even further during the interwar years, for in 1936 Gevrey had a population only 1,486, the lowest it had been after one hundred years of growth. These were grim times, and the fermiers and concerned politicians sought new ways to produce and market wine independent of the negociants that had controlled the industry since the 1750’s. These efforts, coupled with the Europe’s general economic recovery after the Second World War, has sent the population dramatically upward, with new industries which supported the now profitable wine growers and bringing with them hundreds of new jobs. The censuses of 1962 and 1975 marked how dynamic the recovery had been. (census figures: fr.wikipedia.org)

Population of GevreyThe population of the larger town of Nuits-St-Georges, a center for negociant trade in the mid-1700‘s, has been more stable than Gevrey. Nuits expanded through pre-phylloxera times but then remaining fairly steady for almost a century between 1866 and 1954. The town’s population saw minor fluctuations of alternately adding and losing 100 to 400 people, through the end of the Second World War, but these changes were a much smaller percentage of the population than the swings seen in Gevrey-Chambertin. This is likely that because of the town’s size, there was far more business operating in Nuits-St-Georges beyond the direct cultivation of the vines. As an overview: in 1793 Nuits had 2,541 inhabitants. It peaked just before phylloxera 1881 at 3,727 people. Today, after steady growth since the end World War II, (3,285 in 1946), the population now sits at 5,516 in 2008. (fr.wikipedia.org)

Stepping farther back in time

The old villages, tranquil wine smaller villages of the Côte d’Or, with their narrow streets and quaint houses, are quite easy to envision two hundred fifty years ago, during the time of King Louis the XVI, for these are remain small, sleepy, villages. Vosne even today has a population of a mere 427 people, and only 307 people live in the nearby village of Chambolle. Even with the tourists that mill around and support the restaurants and inns of the old, more touristy section of Gevrey-Chambertin, this section of town could not be described as bustling. It would seem as though place must be quite unchanged over hundreds of years. In your mind’s eye, just exchange the slow trod of oxen pulling a cart along the graveled highway for the cars that now ply the paved RN74.  Upon the once cobbled streets of the better sections of the village, add in horses and the staccato of their hooves. Wood-smoke, billowing from the chimneys of a few dozen open hearths; the day crisp, with fall in the air, and the vision should be complete.

But things have changed in these villages. Perhaps the biggest paradigm shift took place when the vines of Pinot Noir won out over Gamay.

(*) larger is relative, but considering the value of the land, and the wine made from it, these are not poor men. (**)The increase of population in the larger towns and villages is best explained by more wealth is created by both vignerons and by the tourist industry, the there are more jobs available to service their needs today. 

 

French peasants depicted in "Fin du Travail" by Jules Breton (1887)
French peasants depicted in “Fin du Travail” by Jules Breton (1887)

Economic battle between of Pinot Noir and Gamay

Winter 1709For many centuries, there was an economic and ideological battle going on between those who were planting the vines that produced the more consistently ripening Gamay grape, and those who would have all vines in Burgundy planted only to Pinot Noir.

For some, the battle was societal. While certainly it was recognized that Gamay could produce a high-tonnage of fruit, while still maintaining acceptable quality (for the masses), the noblesse d’épée (noble of the sword), the noblesse de robe (magistrates and parliamentarians of Dijon), clergy officials, and most acutely, the invested haut bourgeoisie, felt the Gamay wines were coarse and undeserving vineyards of the Côte d’Or. Most importantly, they rightly felt Gamay pulled down the reputation of the Côte in general. Gamay certainly did not add to the noble reputation that the upper strata of society believed the region should be allowed to attain.  Social standing and reputation in the 18th century was hugely important to those in a position to affect it, and cannot be underestimated in the context of where some Gamay should and should not be planted in Burgundy.

For centuries there was a vocal pressure to eliminate Gamay, and although it was banished by Philip the Bold in 1395, peasants continued to grow on the slopes through the end of the 19th century. In Morey“Of the 160 hectares under vine,” Auguste Luchet wrote in 1858, “90 are planted to Gamay.” Later in the text, he would write: “Gevrey has about four hundred hectares of vineyards, half in Gamay and one in Pinol (Noirien) mixed with a little white.”

According to Marion Fourcade, an associate professor at UC Berkeley, there were “periodic local ordinances” eradicate Gamay in vineyards of the Côte d’Or. In her paper,“The Vile and the Noble” (2012), Fourcade briefly mentions that those who pushed to expunge Gamay alleged its cultivation promoted various unspecified “health dangers”. As an economic problem, Gamay’s critics charged that its cultivation contributed to an increase in the fraudulent bottling of Gamay as Pinot Noir, or alternately, it was accused that Gamay was illegitimately blended with Pinot Noir. This no doubt occurred. But, as previously believe in the preceding centuries, Gamay was, in general, unworthy of the region.

LavalleDr Jules Lavalle, in his 1855 book, “Histoire et Statistique de la Vigne de Grands Vins de la Côte-d’Or, which was revered by many, calls Gamay “common,” and “ordinary,” claiming Gamay had “invaded hilltops and flatlands all around”. (Forcade 2012)   “God knows how awfully active the vulgar plant has been in driving away the fine plant, and what progress it makes every day! Our ancestors would have been appalled!” As translated by Fourcade.  In Charles Curtis’s translation of Lavalle (in which I did not find the aforementioned quote) in his book the “Original Grand Crus of Burgundy”, Lavalle writes “The vines planted in Gamay cover more than 23,000 hectares,(1) which one meets under the name of plante Mâlain,  plante d’Arcenant plant de Bévy” Additionally Lavalle condemns that “The yield can often extend to 50 and even 60 hectoliters per hectare.”

The choice to plant Gamay was surely decided, however, not by the ideological mindset, or by social consciousness, but rather by the wealth of the vigneron. The poor farmer could simply not afford the high-stakes gamble of Pinot Noir presented, with its pitifully small production of 18 hectoliters per hectare (Lavalle 1855), and its inability to consistently ripen its fruit completely  The peasant could not afford a single failed vintage, that the high-risk Pinot Noir grapes delivered this result on a fairly consistent basis.*

Moreover, Pinot, with its thin skin was particularly prone to rot and disease, it was far more difficult to make into a competent wine. In some years, Pinot vines would produce a completely unsalable crop. The wealthy landowning farmer (a fermier – as opposed to a vigneron) could take such a gamble with virtual impunity, because when it the Pinot crop paid off, the dividends of producing a great wine, far outstripped the losses incurred by poor to very poor vintages. The incredible demand (and payday) for wines from great vineyards, in these great years, continues to this day.

(*) It is not without note that the little ice-age, (which dates are contested) is generally thought to have begun in the 1300’s, and ended around 1850. Additional weather variations occurred, with extremely low temperatures materializing with disastrous effect in 1660 1709, 1740 and 1794/1795 and the last in the year 1850.

Grains are still a major crop in the Cote d'Or
Grains are still a major crop in the Côte d’Or. Here, adjacent to vineyards that produce Bourgogne Rouge on the outskirts of Gevrey, wheat, rye, corn and barley are regularly planted and harvested. photo googlemaps.com

The paysan of the Côte, a poly-cultiveur

While we think of only vines on the slopes of the Côte d’Or, the vineyards of the early to mid 18th century, were typically a polyculture. It was common for the vines to share the slopes with animals, fruit trees, and vegetable plots, depending on the site. (Swann 2003) However, as the 18th century progressed, economics would begin to crowd out polyculture off of the slopes.

Below the vines of the great vineyard slopes, upon low-lying fields, grew all manner of foods, particularly grains. Rye which grew well on the poor soils of northern France, corn, wheat and barley were widely grown; and in personal gardens next to their houses, the peasants often grew vegetables. It is well documented that the lower third of Clos St-Jacques was planted to alfalfa until 1954, but it is likely that it had been home to many different crops over the centuries.

Very few ‘vignerons’ during the 18th century actually worked solely with the vine, and those that did, according to historian Benoit Garnot, were in decline in the 18th century. He laments bleakly that “the tired qualification ‘winemaker’ seems to be socially rewarding.” (Garnot 2008)

Busby wrote, in 1840, that in vignerons in Chambertin would rip out dying provignage vines (which only survived ten years or so), and let the land fallow while being planted to sainfoin, a cover crop that flourishes on calcareous (limestone) soils. Planting sainfoin had dual benefits: it not only would the crop rejuvenated the topsoil with an infusion of nitrogen but it also the sainfoin was a good feed for their grazing animals. Those vignerons that had a cow or two, had them tended by a communal herder who took them to field for the day and returned them to the owner at night.

Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Vineyard laborer resting, 1869
Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Vineyard laborer resting, 1869

The fall harvest season was unrelenting and well-reported as being extreme in the exhaustion it created.  By the end of August, all of the rye, which was an important crop in the poor soils of north-eastern France, and the summer wheat, had already been harvested. Also already harvested were the other major crops, which included barley, colza, which is also known as rape, or rapeseed, was grown for lubricants, and hemp  (not to be confused with its relative cannabis), was also grown for seed, oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper and, in this north-eastern region. (U.S.Gov. Printing Office 1888) This would give the paysan a month for the grape harvest, before the planting of winter wheat, which would begin straight away in October, after pressing and barreling of the new wine.

Centuries of stagnant agricultural practices

It is widely accepted that during the ancien regime, few improvement in farming had come to France. The tasks of the cultiveur were done in the least expensive manner; just as their fathers and grandfathers, and as well their great-great grandfathers had farmed the same land.

To the English agronomist Arthur Young, who visited Burgundy and elsewhere in France on the eve of the revolution, the inefficiencies of French agriculture was “quite contemptible’. He was so critical of French farming methods as to say that even the large capitalist farms were “villainous cultivated’. As far as investing in capitalization farming given the French methods, he declared “If I had a large tract of this country, I think I should not be long in making a fortune’.(Swan 2003)

Change was painfully slow, despite attempts by Dijon to push the people to adopt them. The problem really came down to money, and the peasants had none to invest in the changes necessary. A Burgundian representative to the National Constituent Assembly, during the first stages of the Revolution, explained the failure of previous attempts at agricultural reform:

“Oh you who complain of the intractability of the peasant when he refuses to adopt your new ploughs, your new seed drills…your deep furrows, your doses of fertilizer that are four times greater than what he can afford, before tripling his expenses in the uncertain hope of a tripled harvest, begin by putting him in a state of being able to buy clogs for his children.”

 

wheat fields Van Gough

 Up Next: The Villagers of the 18th Century

 


Additional Notes:

(1) Life was short and death rates of children under the age of ten were high. Because of this, and the general lack of excess money homes traditionally multi-generational. There will be much more about life and death on the Gold Coast in upcoming chapters.

(2) Charles Curtis, in his book “The Original Grand Crus of Burgundy”, takes these hectare figures, printed in Lavalle, at face value, and proceeds to discuss how they might be accurate. However, I feel, that they are as just as likely, a misprint,  so far off from the hectares, as they exist today, even taking into consideration the loss of so much vineyard land, post-phylloxera, that was never replanted around Dijon. One might also view these figures to be considered a fabrication, as a call to action against the Gamay scourge. Words are weapons. Because there appears to be no other at the ready figures of Gamay and Pinot Noir acreage planted in the Cote d’Or to compare Lavalle’s figures with, I choose to bypass the issue altogether. It isn’t all that germane enough to the already too wide of a scope of these writings, to deal with something I can’t bring to an adequate conclusion about. There are other fish to fry.

 

 


 

Reference Sources for Burgundy: History of the Vignerons: The Villages parts I – IV 

La Côte-d’Or à vol d’oiseau: lettres écrites à M.L. Havin, après la récolte, Auguste Luchet 1858

Gevrey-Chambertin: notice historique, topographique et statistique, suivie de promenade à Fixin, by Henri Vienne 1850

Journal of a Tour through some of the vineyards of Spain and France, James Busby, Sydney 1833

Peasant Proprietors and other selected essays,  Lady Frances Parthenope Verney Longmans, Green, 1885 –

L’état de la recherche sur la vigne, le vin et les vignerons en Bourgogne au XVIIIe siècle, Benoit Garnot,  2008

The Peasants and the King in Burgundy, Hilton Root, University of California Press, 1992

Evolution du Métayage en France, L. Durousseau-Dugontie, Impr. Crauffon, 1905

Centre d’Histoire de la Vigne et du Vin, Charlotte Glain-Fromont,  Bulletin de liaison Bulletin 30 janv-fev 2012.pdf

 LES Climats du vignoble de Bourgogne Dossier de candidature à L’INSCRIPTION SUR LA LISTE DU PATRIMOINE MONDIAL DE L’UNESCO Janvier 2012

Communities of Grain: Rural Rebellion in Comparative Perspective Victor V. Magagna Cornell University Press 1991

Infant and Child Mortality in Eighteenth Century France: A Function of Income? Hajime Hadeishi,  Bureau of Economics Federal Trade Commission, cliometrics.org 2010

Harvest Failures, Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson, 2015 Alphahistory.com

Cattle and Dairy Farming Part 1 United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce  U.S. Government Printing Office, 1888 –

The Peasantry in the French Revolution P. M. Jones, Cambridge University Press, 1988

Peasant and French: Cultural Contact in Rural France During the Nineteenth CenturyJames R. Lehning Cambridge University Press, 1995

Insofar as the ruby wine seduces them’: Cultural Strategies for Selling Wines in Interwar Burgundy,” Contemporary European History 18.1 Philip Whalen (2009)

The Vile and the Noble: On the Relation between Natural and Social Classifications in the French Wine World, Marion Fourcade,  Sociological Quarterly 2012

Aristocracy, Antiquity, and History: An Essay on Classicism in Political ThoughtA. A. M. Kinneging Transaction Publishers, 1997

Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment By Michel Delon, Routledge 2013

Provincial Power and Absolute Monarchy: The Estates General of Burgundy 1661–1790 Julian Swann, Cambridge University Press  2003

History and Climate: Memories of the Future? Phil D. Jones, A.E.J. Ogilvie, T.D. Davies, K.R. Briffa Springer Science & Business Media, Apr 17, 2013

The Decline of Childhood Mortality Kenneth Hill. Department of Population Dynamics School of Hygiene and Public Health Johns Hopkins University 1990

The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography Graham Robb W. W. Norton & Company2008

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2011 Domaine Terres Dorees, (Jean-Paul Brun) Beaujolais L’Ancien

Jean Paul Brun's Domaine Terres Dorees near the Southern Beaujolais village of Charnay. While not a privileged address, Brun is making some superb Beaujolais from across the region.
Jean Paul Brun’s Domaine Terres Dorees near the Southern Beaujolais village of Charnay. While not a privileged address, Brun is making some superb Beaujolais from old vines here in the Beaujolais des Pierres Dorees, and from plots in Crus Beaujolais Villages he has purchased over the years.

I suppose saying the name of the firm that imports Jean-Paul Brun’s wines will say as much about the wine, right up front, as I can in a paragraph. It’s Louis/Dressner, the king among the proponents of “natural” winemaking. Pick a wine from Dressner’s portfolio, and it’s bound to be one of the least manipulated wines you will find in the marketplace. Indeed this is the case of Domaine Terres Dorees: Brun farms biodynamically, typically does not capitalize (- his wines hover around 12%+ alcohol,) uses indigenous yeasts, often does not use SO2, or uses the most minuscule amount. Instead, he relies on encouraging residual CO2 to remain in the wine during bottling to protect it as it ages (which may require decanted the wine before drinking.)  With diligence and meticulousness, the wines of Domaine Terres Dorees are routinely phenomenal.

A map borrowed from Decanter.com of the Beaujolais Crus. Note that Terres Dorees is quite a distance away, but still in the Beaujolais appellation.http://www.decanter.com/people-and-places/wine-travel/530454/beaujolais-six-estates-to-visit
A map borrowed from Decanter.com of the Beaujolais Crus. Note that Terres Dorees is quite a distance away – 100km from the Crus (top left map) but owns various plots in Cru Beaujolais appellations. http://www.decanter.com/people-and-places/wine-travel/530454/beaujolais-six-estates-to-visit

 

Jean-Paul Brun, Robert Parker, and the Natural Wine Debate

Brun started his winery with 3 hectares of family owned vines, and over the last 35 years has continuously added to his vineyards, bringing his current landholding to a sizable 25 hectares in Beaujolais des Pierres Dorees (in far south near Lyon) and 5 hectares of Cru Beaujolais scattered across various villages. Domaine Terres Dorees produces roughly 300,000 bottles / 25,000 cases per year. What is notable is for a winery of this size to produce wines which are not only biodynamically farmed, but produced in virtually an organic. That’s no easy feat, with so many of vats and barrels to monitor at any one time. Brun claims in the interview on the Louis/Dressner site, that he is not against using SO2. He says he’d much rather see people make good wine by adding sulfites, than produce bad wine because they couldn’t control the results of not using it, which is so often the case. Winemakers who don’t use SO2 and then make flawed wine, “discredits sulfur-free wine,” as a category, Brun says forcefully.  By extension, I take that to mean the work he is doing. Jean-Paul adds “For these guys it becomes less about making great wine and more about being part of a “cool” movement.” (see Side Bar, Counselors for more on this subject)

 

2011 Domaine Terres Dorees, Beaujolais L’Ancien $16

This wine is alive, and so vibrant! You can tell just by the color, but it’s the nose that hits you first, even you as you pour the wine. It virtually shoots out with high-toned cranberry, cherry fruit, and then finally clove and cinnamon notes eventually take over… (these are the tell-tail aromas of stem inclusion, although reports are that he de-stems.) In the mouth, the wine is light in weight yet spreads out broadly. It has an expansive texture that is soft, caressing and willowy, yet tingles with energy and vibrancy. The flavors just keep resonating, with rich black cherry, plum, and fresh, dark, black-skinned grape notes.  Brilliant winemaking for a “simple” Beaujolais to be sure, but then this is no mass-produced plonk either. A serious winemaking team put this effort together, using a good vineyard source, and farmed in an exceptional manner.

Don’t count out the fact that it is a natural wine*.  I have noticed a bright vibrancy that well-made ‘natural wines’ have in common. It is a unique characteristic that other wines, that have had SO2 added to them don’t share.  In the mouth they so fresh and alive, and an extra measure of expressiveness. Could this commonality be no more than the CO2 on the palate?  Whatever it is this had that unique characteristic in spades. Highly recommended: 91 points.

Reading Between The Lines

L’Ancien often indicates an old traditional methods of winemaking, but not in the case with Brun’s Beaujolais.  Here it refers only to the vine age. They are certainly over 50 years old according to some sources, though the Louis/Dressner site says 80+ years. Regardless of the age of the vines, there is little about the way Brun makes wine that is traditional for the often mass-produced wines of the Beaujolais appellation. Even though I am absolutely sure I tasted stem contact in this Beaujolais, it is written that he favors de-stemming. Destemming is fairly unusual in Beaujolais. Perhaps he de-stems his more prestigious crus, but not this l’Ancien?  In any case, there is a bit of cold maceration to set the color, which helps give it its dark color despite its relatively low ripeness of 12% alcohol.  It is also written that he releases late for Beaujolais, preferring to give extra time in the barrel, more that 18 months, to soften up the tannins. Again, I suspect this regime is for the Cru Beaujolais, and I am sure this lower tiered Beaujolias l’Ancien only saw any oak, it wasn’t for long. It was very fresh, even now after a year on the market. The 2012 has already been released in the US Market.

This wine comes from his vineyards that surround his winery in Beaujolais des Pierre Dorees, – way down South in Bas Beaujolais. Pierres Dorees means stones of gold, referring what is colloquially called “yellow sandstone” that dates back to the Secondary Era (between 30 and 70 million years ago). This “sandstone” is more famous for its use in building the golden stone architecture of the area than it’s presence in the vineyards – since in the past no one took the wines made there very seriously.  Sedimentary rock that has or more 50% calcium carbonate in the form of calcite  (which often comes from the fossilized remains shellfish) is considered limestone, and less than 50% is considered sandstone. It is well documented that the entire area was covered by oceans millions of years ago, having left many deposits of the calcareous (chalky) remains of sea life across the growing area. Some people have casually written there is a limestone sub soil there. But that kind of bedrock really sits below Domaine Terres Dorees and the rest of Beaujolais des Pierre Dorees?   That’s a good question.

 

most likely a natural wine may be more accurate.


 

Read an outstanding and colorful interview with Jean-Paul on the Louis/Dressner website. Be sure to click on the small gray words Read More below the word Interview to open it up – it’s not as obvious as it should be.

 

Side Bar, Counselors

SB 1: Can We Just Get To the Truth? 

There are conflicting accounts of Bruns methods (as well as for the total area of his holdings) with multiple sources stating various and wildly conflicting things. Where possible, I have used direct quotes from Brun to determine the “facts” I report here.  However, here is a typical dichotomy: Brun in a Louis/Dressner interview from 2011 alludes to not using sulfur at all, but the Louis/Dressner producer profile says he uses minimal SO2. It is entirely possible that since the website info was written, Brun had since stopped using SO2 altogether, and the Dressner website simply hadn’t been updated.  Other exporters site Brun is a natural winemaker, not using SO2. One website rawfair.com is written as if it were a Torres Dorees press release:

Le Domaine des Terres Dorées represents 30 hectares in Southern Beaujolais and 15 hectares in the Beaujolais crus. The soil is calcareous in the South with hints of iron and the stone is a golden color hence its name: Pierres Dorées means Golden Stones. Here we labor the soil, we protect the vines with copper and sulfur.”

While the Dressner site says the holdings are smaller at 40 acres, and quotes Jean-Paul Brun in the interview saying he has 5 hectares in among the Cru Beaujolais appellations.

So much wine reporting is done with casual exchanges of information, often being translated from one language to another. Then, with is so much room for error and misinterpretation, the information, gets propagated by multiple sources, be they wine writers, bloggers, retailers, and the general public, appearing all across the web as fact.  The original source material is buried by this regurgitation, and there is no reference to when the information was written, or even if it was correct in the first place.

 

SB 2: The Natural Wine War of Words

That couldn’t be underscored more poignantly than by Robert Parker’s recent essay (if you can call it that) “Articles of Merit: There is No Reason and The Truth is Plain To See”, which was published on erobertparker.com. In what quickly devolves into a rant,  he scorns the vocal natural wine proponents who rage against the mainstream wine world, and call mainstream winemaking over-ripe, cookie cutter, commercialized, and soulless. Of course Parker is routinely blamed for most of these vinous atrocities, and who can really blame him for letting loose?  Parker shoots back at the natural wine crowd: “just how absurd this notion is becomes evident when the results are oxidized, stale, stink of fecal matter as well as look like orange juice or rusty ice tea being poured into a glass and passed off as “authentic”, “natural” or “real” wine.”  Parker goes on and on, skewering and lambasting. And while he has many good points, it ends up sounding like bitter, drunk typing.  Clearly the battle lines are squarely drawn, with the hipster/artist natural wine folks on one side decrying wine’s industrialization, and their cries for natural wine with purity and untethered expressions of terroir; and the rest of the wine world, just trying to put a good glass of wine in their glass.  The reality is there should not be a war of words here, and I’m sure Jean-Paul Brun is shaking his head in frustration.

2011 Chateau des Capitans -Georges Duboeuf, Julienas

Chateau-des-Capitans-Julienas-BeaujolaisRight up front, I have to say I’m a big fan of the 2011 Beaujolais. As pure as the 2010s are, the 2011 are that much more, and I can’t put enough of a price on purity. Some will find the 2011s too light, but they simply aren’t letting the wine flow to them.  Julienas is one of the more delicate of the Beaujolais villages. The Duboeuf Julienas flower label was remarkably beautiful, so floral with sublime lavender notes. The ’11 vintage as a whole is all about uber-pure cherry fruit, and long, but caressing, acidity. This single estate, Chateau des Capitans is quite a bit deeper, and richer, but still the Chateau des Capitans has on two previous occasions been wonderfully aromatic.

This is the second bottle (the one I had decided to review)  of Chateau des Capitans isn’t showing as aromatically as the previous bottle. It is not obviously off.  Still, the nose is significantly more dead, and a subtle wooden-ness suggests that it may be very-slightly corked. Even off, the Capitans display  its dark cherry fruit, and nicely robust structure excellent balance, rounded but elegant mid-palate I’d give this a mid to high eighties score. But the 2011 Capitans from a good bottle is better than that though, and this bottle is missing its very exciting aromatic dimension.  No score.

Chateau des Capitans is one of four estates in Julienas alone that the the firm Georges Duboeuf owns or controls. Des Capitans is “at the heart” of the  hamlet of Capitans, and its single hectare  of vineyard surrounds the 19th century Chateau. With a south-southeast exposure, the vineyard gets good ripeness.

Tasting Note 2010 Domaine Jamet, Syrah

A Sensational Substitute for Jamet’s $125 Cote Rotie

Domaine Jamet, is one of the old-guard, traditional Cote Rotie producers. Following in the footsteps of their father Joseph Jamet who retired in 1991, his two sons Jean-Paul and Jean-Luc have stayed very traditional to their approach to winemaking.  Their regimen is typically consists of de-stemming a portion of the grapes, while leaving a significant portion as whole clusters. The stems give spice and tannins to the wine, as it ferments in stainless tanks. After fermentation, the must is pressed, and barreled down to older, neutral oak barrels. While the brothers have worked together as co-managers  for over 20 years, it seems they have parted ways in 2013.  Jean Paul will continue to produce the wines at Domaine Jamet, while his brother will begin making wine with the family’s parcel in the Cote Rotie Lancement lieu-dit (named vineyard).  I guess, after 50 years of sharing bedrooms, toys, bikes, girlfriends, tractors, it’s just gotten to the point that they’ve just had enough of one another.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Like many Cote Rotie producers, Jamet has to look farther afield for high-quality grapes to augment their small production from Cote-Rotie. Collines Rhodaniennes is a large IGP area (the EU term for Vin de Pay), to the east of the Northern Rhone appellations of Cornas and St. Peray. Of the red grapes planted there, Syrah is the main player, just as in the Northern Rhone, but also Gamay is grown in healthy amounts – though not by Jamet. Like the Northern Rhone, the cool air rolls down off the alps, creating continental climate that so distinctly influences the Northern Rhone with its long growing season, and  just-riped Syrah grown there. 

2010 Domaine Jamet, Syrah, Collines Rhodaniennes

235565This is strikingly Cote-Rotie-like, with its beautiful floral aromas of iris, geraniums and lavender, as well as smoked beef, soy, grilled baguette, a touch of plum and black cherry wrapped up with creamy notes. In the mouth the wine is lean, a little more so than a top-flight Cote-Rotie, but its flavors are spot-on.  Not to mention, its low 12.5 percent alcohol give it that authentic Cote-Rotie cool-fruit character. It is a lean Syrah, but it’s not too sharp. Creamy notes and the well-integrated flavors of cured meats and subtle cherry-blueberry fruit broaden-up the palate, saving the back-end of the wine with a nice level of richness.  The wine culminates with a soft finish allowing the florals to float across the palate where they alcoholize and give the wine a very pretty lift. This 100 percent Syrah is aged in very neutral oak barrels, 6-10 years allowing the resulting wine to stay very pure and beautifully aromatic, with excellent balance.

The Bottom Line: 91 points for the cognoscenti. This is a very impressive wine, but certainly not for everybody. If you love Cote Rotie, or any aromatic red this is a beautiful choice. For people who understand this kind of wine. Considering Jamet’s Cote Rotie’s cost roughly $125 a bottle, this is a great insight into the Jamet-syle, and is worth the $29 price tag.

Jamet has a significantly large 17 hectare plot in Collines Rhodaniennes, (according to importer Robert Kacher’s website), so presumably there should be a fair amount in the marketplace. Winesearcher.com doesn’t reveal this to be the case however. Finding it may entail a search, or a request from a knowledgeable wine merchant to obtain it, but for Cote Rotie enthusiast, this would be well-worth the trouble. Some 2011 has already hit at least one retail shelf on the East Coast (and should be delicious), though latent bottles of the 2010 still should be out there somewhere.