Bouzeron (Burgundy), march 16. Domaine Pamela & Aubert De Villaine.
Angers, in the Loire, is oddly where we tasted several of Aubert de villaine's wines. This was at the "Return to Terroir" gathering last january, and Pierre de Benoit who today heads the Domaine, showed both earnestness and insightfulness when speaking about his viticulture philosophy and the interactions between the vines, the soil and the wine. Plus, his Bouzeron Aligoté, in spite of being tastedafter sweeter wines from Alsace, was a good surprise : A dry and fresh wine with purity and minerality, another reminder that Aligoté can be something more than its categorized reputation of a cheap fresh white wine.
Bouzeron, in Burgundy, is the only Appellation (created in 1998) with Aligoté as its single grape variety. Bouzeron is a village located in the Cotes Chalonnaises between Chalon sur Saone and Beaune, slightly on the west, in a hilly landscape.
Like we often do when we like what we taste and have the chance to be face to face with the vigneron, we asked for a visit, the materialization of which came earlier than usual.
The winery's facilities are settled in an old house with its outbuildings in the middle of the village, and we met Pierre de Benoit there. Speaking of Aligoté, he says that while Aligoté outside of Bouzeron is usually of the "green Aligoté" type, here in the Bouzeron Appellation, it is exclusively of the"Golden Aligoté" type. Pointing to the vineyards on the other side of the valley (on a slope named "La Digoine", a climat) where the estate grows Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Aligoté, he says that in the estate, Aligoté is mostly planted on higher slopes where the soil is poorer, with only 70cm of earth and clay/limestone, which explains the minerality. high density (10000/hectare) and goblet pruning help also to hold down yields at a low levels. A 20 points difference in the yields, from 70ho/ha to 50 ho/ha brings lots more minerality, more richness in the Aligoté. They also began massal selections last year on 57 vines so as to select the best of them for cuttings and replanting.
The total vineyard surface is about 21 hectares : 10 ha in Bouzeron Aligoté, 4 ha in Pinot Noir (Cote Calonnaise "La Digoine", Cote Chalonnaise "La Fortune", Mercurey "les Montots") and 6 ha Chardonnay (Rully "Saint Jacques", Cote Chalonnaise "les Clous").
Pierre de Benoit, after taking a couple of glasses and a winethief, shows us the chai with the pneumatic presses and the tronconic wooden vats (upper left pic). That's where the grapes arrive after being hand-picked and sorted out on the vines and on the grape bin. No mystery, he says, the good grapes are what make good wine. Usually one third of the grapes are destemmed (for both whites and reds), the remaining stems allowing an efficient draining of the juice in the pneumatic press. Reds go then into the open-top wooden vats [upper left pic] for the alcoholic fermentation, and when it has started, the tops are covered with a plastic sheet to retain CO2 and protect the juice without having to use SO2. This process is made possible with the organic farming because the indigenous yeasts are alive and active.
After the cap has tumbled, it is brought into the press with shovels, and both free-run juice and press juice are blended in a stainless vat with some stirring to spread out the fine lees. After a few hours' rest for sedimentation, the juice goes down by gravity into the casks in the cellar where it will stay 12 months.
That's where we go next : a long, wide cask-cellar with a few big capacity foudres (4000 liter) .
__1 Bouzeron Aligoté 2005. From a vat (part of Bouzeron stays in vats, part in wood). just finishing its malolactic fermentation. Maybe some reduction. nice yellow, turbidity. Reduction with organic farming is usually the omen of a good millesime. Elevage on its lees, living off the oxygen. Light tickling in the mouth, with also a nice richness. This millesime will be more expressive than the 2004 (the latter will open itself after a few years). Harvest in 2005 lasted 10 days, against 18 days in 2004 (a rainy harvest which resulted in strict sorting). They stir less and less, and consider stopping doing it. They are considering other techniques like energizing the wine (when racking) with flowing through special-shaped ceramics, as such trials have been made in Alsace as well as in Chateau Ausone. The romans also are known to have used these techniques.
__2 Bouzeron Aligoté 2005. From a foudre. Not turbid, taken from the top of a big cask. Speaking of the yeasts, he says yeast diversity is important in organic viticulture. And the cellar microbial life is equally important, even though it is hard to quantify it . The cellar yeasts may be the ones in charge when grape skins have been washed out of the yeasts on rainy harvests. The wine here is rarely fined : only when there is some proteic instability.
__3 Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise "les Clous" 2005. Chardonnay with an elevage in new 40-hectoliter foudre. The foudres are so big that the cooperage (Francois Freres) had to build them right in the cellar (this was last year). Turbid wine (has been stirred). No wood imprint in the wine. He says a few weeks ago when he tasted it, there was still a light woody side. Malolactic fermentation on its way.
__4 Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise "les Clous" 2005. From a smaller (old) cask. Clear wine. From another part of the climat. Malolactic ferm is more advanced here. Less gas due to more air-exchange. More on citrus and white flowers aromas, B. says.
__5 Rully "les Saint Jacques" 2005 (white). A clear Chardonnay with green reflections. A pleasure even if a little bit too cold (our hands can't warm up the glasses). Low yields : 25 ho/ha. On a very different soil compared with the Bouzeron. Bouzeron Aligoté grows on a clay-limestone slope. "Les St Jacques" Chardonnay (planted in 1990) grows on a not very slopy plot at the bottom of the hill, on clay/limestone/silt deeper soil. Very nice wine with a structure. Pierre de Benoit says their organic viticulture makes them watchful of anything that could happen in the vineyard, so they learn to know the rows well, to look at the vineyard often, to be able to do the appropriate thing quickly if a threat shows up, like oidium in 2004. Also, the vineyards here being often on slopes, they look on ways to tear up the grass without up-rooting it (like they do when they plow) with the goal of limiting the erosion.
__6 Bourgogne Cote Chalonnaise "La Digoine" 2005 (red). From a cask that has not been racked since early october. Fruity nose for this Pinot Noir. Crushed strawberries, cherry notes. Structured. Not a high extraction wine.
__7 Mercurey "les Montots" 2005. From another cask [picture upper right]. Other terroir. Different expression of the Pinot noir. Structured. Opulent frame. Gamey wine, he says. He adds that beyond the variety that we can feel here, this wine will need additional years to let the terroir, the climat express itself. That's why in Burgundy it is important to let the wine age. Malolactic fermentation is over here, he says (no perceptible gas).
__8 Bourgogne Cote Chalonnaise "La Fortune" 2004. We taste this one from a bootle in the tasting room upstairs. Suppleness. I'll buy a few bottles of this one (8 Euro/bottle), this will be even greater in a couple of years.
Before parting, Pierre de Benoit drives us to a vineyard plot where a "tacheron" is busy pruning and burning. The tacheron ( name comes from "tâche" or task in english) system is common in Burgundy and consists in task contracts with independent workers for the differents things to be done in the plots. The climat here is "Les Saint Jacques", a plot of Chardonnay bordering a wooded plot on Rully Appellation and planted in 1990. Michel Kruschwitz (who is of east-german origin-Iena) is pictured here near his wheeled-bin stove.
Every year in April (April 9th in 2006), Bouzeron hosts a festival centered on Bouzeron wine and "jambon persillé", that is, cooked ham terrine with parsley, a charcuterie delicacy typical of Burgundy. Lots of animations in the village streets with stands to taste the Bouzeron wines. French name of the event is : Fête du Bouzeron et du jambon persillé.