As B. and I we were around Beaune recently, we paid a visit to Philippe Pacalet, not that we unashamedly disturb him every time we pass by, but B. wanted to buy a few bottles of his red Burgundies and he kindly invited us to taste several of his 2007 reds, which are still spending elevage time in their casks. There has been some speculations about what 2007 would look like and while barrel tasting is not easy, we were eager to have a foretaste of this millesime. Philippe Pacalet says that in 2008 the harvest began september 20th for "his" vineyards (as you know, he doesn't own vineyards but rents them) and lasted until october 5th, with an interruption of 2 or 3 days in between. It used to be that the harvest began early september, but the weather conditions forced them to wait, which puts the already-scheduled tasting events of october at a time when he should still be at the winery to check the unfinished fermentations. In 2008, the harvest began september 20th when in 2007 it was the 5th. Oddly, this year he was one of the earliest to harvest. He made Primeur wine (Nouveau) again like these past 5-6 years with his uncle Marcel Lapierre on a few Beaujolais vineyards that they take together for this small production, which is entirely exported to Japan. We don't taste these Beaujolais this time because they're already bottled and packed on pallets bound for Japan. But I remember when we tasted last year's that I loved these three, very-different Beaujolais-Nouveaux. This year the trick was that the malolactic fermentation was over on a friday and they had to do the bottling the following tuesday.
Speaking of rented vineyards, Philippe Pacalet says that the word rent is used for convenience but he actually pays for the harvested grapes and like everywhere in the region the fee is calculated as if he took in the highest yields allowed for the region, which he of course never does. He regularly gets new vineyard plots while he lets others go, for reasons like the prices tend to soar excessively. The steep price hike is because the Négoce lobbied to inflate the prices, the goal being to get rid of smaller structures, and even if he is not particularly targeted by the move, he has to adapt. Just consider that the prices for purchased grapes went up 40% in 2 years on some Meursaults and 1ers Crus, the average hike being 25% to 30%, and as he pointed out, he has to pay for 49 hectoliters per hectare in the villages Appellations even if he takes in only 35ho/ha. Plus, on the last three years it was more 30-hectoliter than 35-hectoliter per hectare, with the stretched flowering of the vines, because they couldn't pick as much as they would have liked.
Back to the wines : these 2007 reds have been lightly stirred recently : they scrapped (gratter in French) the bottom of the cask with a tool, to move the lees a bit. This was just before the harvest for the earliest. Because the lees have settled and the wine hasn't finished its elevage yet, they move them to further the lees/wine exchange for a couple more months. They use a dodine for that (a stirring stick), to just scrap a bit the bottom of the cask. Before this light stirring, the last time the wines were moved was when the casks were rolled into this main cask cellar last march. There's an interesting story about this rolling of the casks : It happened to be a necessity imposed by the cellar layout when they shared Michel Couvreur's cellar (Michel Couvreur is a Belgian-born négociant known for his high-end whiskies) in Bouze-les-Beaune : they vinified at their Gevrey location at the time and subsequently moved the casks to Bouze, rolling literally the casks to a truck and then again from the truck down to Michel Couvreur's cellar. This operation, which was sort of imposed by their distant and stretched facilities, happened to perform well in the wine, so Philippe Pacalet wanted to keep this rolling-of-the-casks stage even though everything was now centralized in Beaune. He had already noticed the benefits of such cask rolling when he was working at the Romanée Conti with Mr Roch, as they also used to roll the casks accross the village after the agreement was obtained to have them spend their elevage time in another cellar.
Let's taste the wines :
__Philippe Pacalet, Gevrey-Chambertin 2007. Nice color , lightened by turbidity. Nose : already opened, camphor aromas. Fruits, Morello cherry, some pepper. Fresh and vivid in the mouth. B. smells some incense in her emptied glass. Nicolas Luquet says "now comes the best time to taste the wines in the casks, after more than a year of elevage, the best moment being when the wines are racked before bottling". He says with a smile that for each cask, the last couple of buckets fill slowly drop by drop and tasting this wine that was so close to the lees is a priviledged pleasure... For the information, they fill a vat with two casks at a time and lift this vat upstairs with the service elevator, where it is lifted with a self-propelled elevator above the blending vat so that the wine gets racked by gravity.
__Philippe Pacalet, Nuits-Saint-Georges 2007. Stirred before the harvest. Expressive, nice aromatic structure. Nice Pinot-Noir nose, with pepper. Floral, peony nose, says B.
__Philippe Pacalet, Pommard 1er Cru. Darker color. 4 casks of this wine. Intensity in the mouth. Well structured. B. notes the nice end of the mouth, with floral, encense aromas. They had originally a Premier Cru "les Chanlins" and since 2006 they have also this vineyard, "les Arvelets". Philippe Pacalet comes back from the office, he says he just received an English-written letter from a Canadian import company to which he sold several cases of Meursault, they wanted him to send back a signed statement, a sort of guarantee against whatever could happen to the wine, which he considers a vague notion which opens the way to an excessive leverage by the buyer. He says he refuses to sign such letters which amount to blank checks as they could virtually oblige him to take the wine back if the labels are scratched or the bottles mishandled. He sells his wines "départ de cave" at the winery's door, and if buyers use the right transport and take care of the wines they have no worry to have. Our conversation digresses about another wine importer (who didn't ask for such a signed statement), Joe Dressner, and his dog Buster...
__Philippe Pacalet, Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Bel Air 2007. Cask #103. Clear ruby. Nose : beeswax, encense says B. Philippe Pacalet says that in the early months this wine tastes always as if diluted, it needs time to take its place, it is a special wine in this regard. The vineyard is on the east, on a cold, rocky soil, with lots of minerality. Ruchottes (the climat) is nearby but on the south-east, on a gentler slope with a soil which is more debris and earth than rock. Bel Air is steep. There's a small but passionate following for Bel-Air wines among wine amateurs.
__Philippe Pacalet, Charmes-Chambertin 2007. Another beautiful Pinot-Noir nose, pepper. Small red fruits. Pacalet notes the rose aroma too. B. likes its "dodu", fleshy feel in the mouth. Joyous feel in the mouth. Pacalet's reds are always vinified whole-clustered, no detail is made, he considers that the stem is part of the process and brings a basis and the necessary substance, of course it implies more work including in the vineyard and you can't cheat when you don't destem. Also the whole clusters take more volume in the vinification vats, which is why many vignerons decided to destem to avoid having to buy more vats.
__Philippe Pacalet, Ruchottes Chambertin 2007. The wine was transferred in another cask (but with its own lees). Philippe Pacalet notes that the move was already beneficial for the wine, from what he tastes now. There has been a positive protein/tannins exchange between the wine and the lees. It brings a freshness and fixes the aromas, with the additional benefits of a proteinic stability, which makes a very stable mouthfeel accross time. I love its nose. Blueberry, blackcurrant, amber. Long mouthfeel.