The Côtes du Couchois (named from the small town of Couches) is one of these largely-ignored Burgundy Appellations, it borders the Côte Chalonnaise on its north-western wing (another lesser-known Appellation). A mountainous area with a mix of woods, cow prairies delimited by hedges, quiet villages and vineyards, the Cotes du Couchois is wildly beautiful, and driving along its steep and narrow side-roads is just a pleasure by itself, especially compared to the busy plains of Beaune. Alain Hasard began his wine activity in St Sernin du Plain in the Côtes du Couchois, where he and his wife Isabelle started their winery in 1997. The house, which they found before the vineyards, was located on the Place de l'Abbaye square in Saint-Sernin and the name of the estate was found : Champs de l'Abbaye, a play with chants (the songs for which the abbeys are well known) and champs (fields). Alain Hasard was not raised as a vigneron, he wasn't even from Burgundy and he discovered wine and gastronomy while working in restaurants in Montpellier as a student. To make it short, this all led him first to become a caviste, near Paris first and then in Limoges, but ultimately his discovery of Burgundy made him want to start a new life there making wine. The landscapes of Burgundy, the people working in the vineyard, he says with a smile, touched both of them as they came to live in Beaune, there was some sort of sensuality in this region that they wanted to be part of. They looked for a landing spot and chose the Côtes-du-Couchois. Alain Hasard was to be the one that would put in the spotlight this little-known part of Burgundy. In the early years, Isabelle who was a trained nurse, kept her job in the hospital to help pay the bills. The humility of the Côtes-du-Couchois Appellation (compared with the better-known zones of the region) made the area a very affordable start, and Alain Hasard began with 4,5 hectares of Passetoutgrain, i.e. Gamay and Pinot Noir.
Aluze sits on a tumultuous geological crossroads and faults with strikingly different subsoils. Trias clays similar to the Couchois on one side, Hercynian rock table on another, and on the eastern side of Aluze, Oxfordian marls from the mid-Jurassic era, which are thick with limestone. All these different soils yield completely different wines.
Walking back to the village and the winery, he says that Aluze is home to 7 vignerons living off their winery but only two of them bottle their wines, the other sell in bulk either to the Negoce or to the nearby Buxy Coop (which is btw a rather good coop). He says that while on the whole they met a relatively good welcome in the Côte Chalonnaise (where another passionnate vintner was viewed as a plus for the Appellation), it was much more difficult in the Couchois where they were resented as being too different by the other vignerons. He says that people over there somehow felt through this difference of work & philosophy that their own high-yield, intensive farming and the related vinification-practices were doomed in a near future. The fact that this confused and painful awakaning was caused by an outsider was an additionnal ordeal for them.
The red grapes are 100% destemmed and during the vat stage there's a pumping-over per day, also a cap-punching in the beginning of the fermentation and then they stop the cap-punching when the alcohol level is right because it brings more extraction which is not what he is looking for. They evolved in their vinification style. Also, he had learned to vinify in Côte-de-Beaune wineries where very refined terroirs like Savigny could allow whole-clusters vinifications, because the stem maturity was often so perfect there. But on the clayish terroir of the Couchois he had to adapt because the phenolic maturity was not always optimal, plus clay brings more tannic wines, so from 2001 they bought a destemmer to Olivier Merlin and soon destemmed the whole harvest. 2003 was another decisive turning point in his vinification practices : this exceptionnal heat-wave year brought dark, black grapes with concentrated juice, so he decided to have no more than 5 to 6-day fermentation stage. Plus it was hot and fermentations started right away and he devatted with still sugar in the juice, but he didn't want more tannins. He lost some juice-volume but got the best quality of it and this vintage was very beautiful with lots of freshness at the same time. So, in the following years, considering that the substance is always concentrated due to the low yields they have (25 hectoliter/hectare, far below the 58 ho/ha allowed) on their vineyards, he decided to keep these short fermentations that he initiated in 2003.
Let's taste the wine, he says :
__Bourgogne Aligoté 2007 (white). Vineyards near Aluze (which is really at a crossroads of Appellations). Lemon. Vine-peach also, he says. Refined nose. Some acidity, but with richness and viscosity. The Aligoté was the last vineyard that he harvested in 2007. Still, he says, this is not the best time of the year to taste the wines. He says that there are two time of the year when the wines taste best, it is may-june before it gets too hot, and at autumn. I feel ananas in my empty glass, or some exotic fruit. This Aligoté is the only wine that he vinified in stainless vats. As it's a wine to drink young, he feels a stainless-vat vinification fits well and helps the neat minerality to express itself. He says that what made him adopt biodynamie was when he came through certain wines, for example Noël Pinguet's (Domaine Huet), or Nicolas Joly's (Coulée de Serrant) which had a minerality and a purity that were exceptionnal. He thought then, if biodynamie is behind these wines, that's the way I want to work my vineyards.
__Rully White 2007 les Cailloux. Not far from Aluze also. 0,5 hectare, 25-30-year old vines. Only wild yeasts like for all his vinifications of course. Nice nose, with toasted notes says B. He never filters his wines. In 2007 the wines were a bit hazy so he clay-fined them, which he didn't do in 2006 for example. He says that he is non-interventionist but jokes (that's when he burst in one of his typical laughs - picture on right) that like in education (with five children, he knows...) non-interventionist doen't mean lawless and sometimes you have to put some order. Speaking of his children, aged from 7 to 21, 2 boys, 3 girls, they all work now and then in the vineyard (because they're forced to, he adds with another laugh). B. notes that there's a nice aromatic lenght in the mouth, in spite of the moderate attack in the early mouth. Alain Hasard feels more bergamot, anise and ginger in this wine rather than toasted notes. About the casks, he changed his ways since they left the Cotes-du-Couchois. Over there they used up to 60% new casks. Here in the Côte Chalonnaise (except with the Mercurey but he is on his way to reduce new wood there too) they put it down to 30% maybe. And he works on that question, including about the type of toast and the cooperage style. He works with 4 cooperages, François-Frères, Tonnellerie de Mercurey, Seguin-Moreau and Dargaud-Jaeglé. He found for example that the oak coming from the Jupille forests in the Sarthe département has a very thin grain texture that is very soft on the wine. In the Couchois, they had texture wines and they tried to make rounder wines. In the Côte Chalonnaise, the wines are more spirited, aerial and the wood has to be more in the background (were's speaking of the reds here).
__Côte Chalonnaise, Clos des Roches (Pendantes) 2007 (red). Bottle opened a couple days ago. Very beautiful nose, complexity. Small red fruits like raspberry, spices, santal also (B.). He says that the best would be to wait 2 years at least even if 6-7 years would be even better. The future will say it but they may last 30 years, who knows...2007 was a year with a beautiful summer-like april, and a milder later season. Yields were 30-35 ho/ha that year on Clos des Roches. Empty glass : encence and santal, obviously.
__Côtes du Couchois, Le Clos 2007 (red), planted at 12 500 vines/hectare. Pinot Noir of course. Complexity on the nose. The last bottles, they sold these vineyards. Blackcurrant, Blueberry. B. feels tobacco leaves. Some tannins here, but it's OK and the temperature of the wine is cold. Very dark wine. I'll tell you later where some of these last Hasard Couchois bottles can be purchased (in Paris at least), but let me go there first... Public price here : 15 Euro.
__Mercurey la Brigadière 2007. Half-hectare Vineyard on a soil composed with white (Oxfordian) marls and debris. Very clear Pinot Noir, compared with the Couchois. Very complex and beautiful. Floral notes. B. feels chocolate too. Nice chew. Minerality edging on salinity. Second harvest of this vineyard. What he likes in this Mercurey is this graciousness. Public price : 18 Euro. Speaking of his cuvées, he made for example 11 cuvées from 6 hectares in 2007, that's why he has so many wooden tronconic open-vats compared with the small size of the estate. In 2008, having sold the Couchois (3 cuvées there) and purchased an additional Côte Chalonnaise, they made 9 cuvées. Speaking of this Mercurey, he says that his Les-Gardes plot on the Côte Chalonnaise has exactly the same type of soil. What strikes him with the Mercurey wines is the extreme legibility of the terroir, a trait that is very strong in Burgundy he says, you literally read the terroir in the wine.
speaking of the copper sprayings, he uses very low doses and adds that an organic-farming research center, the SEDARB, which is based in Auxerre in Northern Burgundy is having research programs about minimum-dosage spraying and how low it is possible to go with still a good response of the plant. But this research is a bit late and he (and other organic pioneers) has been already using for 5-6 years fo the low copper-dosages that they are testing only now. Viticulture is the farming sector which is converting the fastest to organic in France, he says, and there was a 16% increase in the surfaces turning to organic last year. At the Champs de l'Abbaye, they joined the Ecocert certification. They had looked for the Demeter certification a few years ago but it was too costly, especially when they didn't have much money. Now he would like Ecocert to create a separate certification, independant from the usual biodynamie certification-structures. Also he says that part of what is taught as being Rudolf Steiner's biodynamie comes actually from Maria Thun teachings. Maria Thun was a gardener growing vegetables and some of her techniques may not apply to hardy plants like vines. Also he doesn't necessarily respect the fruit-days of the moon-calendar for the pruning of the vines because as there are only about 7 fruit-days per month, you need either to have many workers to do the pruning or start very early in the season, both ways being unpracticable. Also, the Steiner's model was based on a farm entity with all its diverse life, animals, multi-crop growing etc, which is rarely a reality today.