Fred Cossard is one of the new vintners of Burgundy. His wines have an appeal, they're alive and are an intense pleasure to drink, and I felt this trait immediately when I had my first bottle of Cossard, and it was one of his simplest cuvée, a Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire (the professionals say B.O.G. and it is a blend of Pinot Noir & Gamay), and I followed his wines ever since. This was love at first sight for this wine, and I learned later in full depth that Fred Cossard was making his wines on the most natural way, and without any additives including SO2. What counts most here is this particular feel of life and joy that these wines show, ant it happens that it often comes with the winemaking practices and vineyard managements associated with natural wine... At the end, the important thing is what is in the glass, and you just finish these bottles right away, that's all the difference...
Fred Cossard doesn't come from a family of vignerons, his father was in the milk trade. He found his way to the wine world almost naturally if not directly, after studying first in a milk school then doing other things including working shortly as an independant wine dealer. It helped him know the culture of wine in Burgundy, with the different style of wines and he also met many vignerons in the process. Of what he learned in his young years in the milk trade, some things helped him later, like the need of a strict hygiene which is so important for the natural winemaking using no SO2 at all.
After having left the small départementale road for a dirt road, you reach the buildings after a few more hundred meters, after passing a cute trailer under an oak tree [pic on right - you can see the winery in the far on the left]. The facility sits between a tree-bordered stream and the foothill, with a few vineyards further on the slopes. There's a small pond with its shack, a couple of dogs and horses, the whole setting feels great. When I arrived, Fred Cossard was on his way but not still arrived, and Nicolas Testard [in the background on the picture on left] was busy with two people packing pallets of his cuvée Kame which was bound for Japan. Nicolas Testard is a young Beaujolais vintner who works occasionally with Fred Cossard (his own facility is only 100 km away) and I remember having had a very nice Beaujolais Nouveau a couple years ago at Le Vin en Tête wine shop whose name was Lapin. It was from Testard but vinified by Fred Cossard, and from the instant poll of drinkers around me then, it was the best among the 5 Bojos that were offered a try. The Lapin (rabbit) is a fast-running animal, the meaning is that the wine was to be rushed to japan to be drunk there rapidly. Kame means turtle in Japanese, meaning that this Beaujolais is not necessarily for rapid consumption like Beaujolais-Nouveaux are. Like the Cuvée Lapin, it's entirely exported to Japan. This cuvée is also SO2 free. I missed an opportunity here as I forgot to ask for the priviledge to buy a few bottles of these, they were probably very good-value wines...
He explains to me the very beginning of this adventure : he started the Domaine de Chassorney in 1996, he rented a facility in Saint Romain, then in 1997 he could through Mr Jean François, who is a cooper, work in a cellar in the village center, then in 1998 he found a whole house for sale in Saint Romain, whith a beatiful vaulted cellar underneath, and that's where he and his family lived and where he made, cellared and bottled the wines, but the estate was smaller than now. As they grew in surface, he had the opportunity to buy this place which was at the time a disused pig farm, it was very particular, the roof was very low, they had to work a lot on the buildinfg and ground to make it usable, that's why there were few buyers interested prior to him. Among the work they disinfected the place naturally__ he stops and repeats naturally, underlying that for the disinfection of what was to become a winery, he didn't use chemical detergents but worked on the Ph and he did that with a friend, who prepared organic sprayings and bacterias to softly neutralize what the former activity of the pig farm had changed in the building and its surroundings. After running a layer of cement and insulating the building, he had a good-size building where he could do everything on the same level. Now he is digging into the foothill behind the facility [picture on right] to make a 250 square-meter cellar almost fully underground and at the same time on the street level.
For the whites, the fermentation takes place in the casks, there is no racking of the must after the press stage, the press is pneumatic and as it is soft, the juices are very "clean" and can go directly to the casks without prior racking. Fred Cossard says that he lets the juice oxydate quite a long time under the press, before the alcoholic fermentation starts : this alcoholic fermentation creates oxydase in the juice, and in the mean time it will neutralize the primary oxydation, he explains that this process will strenghten the natural immunization of the future wine against the oxydation. He says that when a press is completed, the foam under the press has the color of chocolate, which is anathema for the academical enology.
Back to the wine, and particularly the white wines : Once in the casks to ferment, they get no stirring at all during their cask time. He considers that the stirring has often to do with the fact that the vignerons added lots of lab yeasts in their juice to speed the alcoholic fermentations, which as a consequence brought down the lees in the bottom very quickly. With a non-interventionist fermentation on the wild yeasts, there is a natural stirring going on by itself in the juice thanks to this micro-fermentation which will take 3, 4, 5, sometimes 6 months in total. Everything is in suspension in the juice and they keep turbid. To go into the detail, after they fill the casks, they cut the access to the oxygen by using special plastic bungs (also made by Vect'oeur in Beaune), because it seems that the usual silicon or wooden bungs with the usual piece of cloth supposed to airtight the whole thing are actually potential transmitters of TCA, TeCA, oxygen and other undesired aromas.
His very first vinification tries were in friend's chais and then at his then-mother-in-law, in 1984-1985 and he learned all the way until the setting-up of the Domaine de Chassorney in 1996.
We leave the winery for a short visit through the vineyards. The wines made by Chassorney are Bourgogne Rouge, Bourgogne Blanc, Saint Romain Rouge, Saint Romain Blanc, Auxey-Duresses Rouge, Auxey-Duresses Blanc and Savigny les Beaune. He used to get grapes from in Nuits-Saint-Georges but not anymore. He has only rented vineyards (9-year or 18-year baux ruraux), he says that he began with no financial backing and renting was the solution. Now he may look for vineyard to buy but the prices have shot up for a few years.
He also set up this Négoce with his wife Laure., it allows them to make many other Appellations but with the same spirit than with Chassorney's wines. They buy the grapes and the grower has a road book for the vineyard management (organic of course), plus they themselves also work in these vineyards.
As we drive through the vineyard landscape, Fred Cossard notes that many workers already prune the vineyard in spite of this very cold weather, as we spot the white fumes here and there. he says that it's not good for the vine, and at Chassorney, he does the pruning later in the season, first it's less harmful for the vine, then he chooses the best time, when the sap goes up early march.
He makes certain biodynamic-style treatments on the vineyards which are not exactly the ones Steiner advocated. We pass a vineyards on a slope and he points to it saying that this one is plowed with the horse because the slope bends on the wrong side for a tractor. He says that he does the earthing-up under the vines later than the others so that it spares several tractor sessions. We pass a 75-year-old Chardonnay vineyard, with vines very close to each other (he says it's 10 000 vines/ha). Further, he shows a vineyard that he remembers having planted in mayb 1998 (on the 20th & 21th he says) : he remembers exactly because he missed an enduro motorcycle race (world championships) in Nuits-Saint-Georges that weekend but as this was the perfect moon to plant he couldn't assist and he doesn't regret it because the vineyards yields very beautiful grapes.
We drank some wine at the end of this visit but check on this Burgundy tasting for tasting notes.
Fred Cossard's wines are exported to several countries and particularly to Japan.
Speaking of cinema, there was this sad news recently that Eric Rohmer died. His movies are surprising the first time you see one (I didn't catch with them immediately myself), they're quiet, there no music background, no visual tricks , the characters are filmed in long sequences while they interact between themselves with their feelings and emotions. And though, these movies are so much alive and fresh, and they leave a vibrant aftertaste (all this has vinous resonances). Eric Rohmer gets many compliments today but during his life he has been a bit shunned by the intellectual circles in Paris for being resolutely out of the flock and somehow conservative in spite of his taking part in the Nouvelle Vague of the young French film-makers in the 1950s'. His movie about the French revolution shows him as a rare voice to consider this revolution more like the mother of all totalitarian ideologies than the originator of the vaunted Declaration of Human Rights.