It's been 18 years that Alice and Olivier De Moor have begun making wine from vines that they patiently planted, all the while in the beginning, working in the vineyards of other established growers. Chablis, like Champagne and Sancerre, wasn't touched by the crisis that marred other wine regions, the downside being that you virtually can't set a foot in the region or find vineyards for sale. Basically, Chablis is out of reach if you're someone without financial backings, but with a few well-oriented bare slopes owned by Olivier's family and the plantation rights that came with them, there was way to maneuver with some hard work and the desire to make wines that stand out. Since after WW2, Chablis has become a sought-after brand with high export figures which means sales are almost guaranteed whatever the quality of the winemaking. The downside is that there are no available vineyard for sale, or if there were some, it would be at sky-high prices. Although Chablis has an exceptional terroir underneath, we can say that the annuity-revenues culture of this wealthy region, with the high demand for Chablis all over the world, has not encouraged artisan-minded initiatives. Paradoxally, beginning with a small surface and having to plant their own vineyards helped Olivier and Alice look for different wines. Both Alice and Olivier are trained enologists, but what they learnt in the wine school was not always a help for the little-intervention wines they tried to make, so in their first years on the job (the first bottling was in 1994) they tried different things on their own.
Like you can see on this Chablis Appellation map, Courgis is almost at the south-western edge of the area, the good thing being that it's not fully monoculture-looking over there, you also have woods and hedges. The village itself is a very quiet, non-touristic spot located high on the slope with good views over the vineyards. Courgis is where Olivier's family had its roots, and Alice and Olivier's cask cellar is located right underneath his grand-parents village house.
Alice and Olivier De Moor still work today on about 7 hectares of vineyards (the vineyard on the picture is not one of theirs), they replanted a small parcel in Chitry recently but otherwise they've kept the same surface. To remind how it all began, Olivier began to plant vines on family land with plantation rights in 1989, starting the winery for good in 1995. Unless they had these unplanted family-owned slopes, it would have been hard to begin something in the area, because unlike in Anjou or in the eastern Pyrenean, vineyards are out of reach for young, debuting vignerons. To make ends meet, Olivier and Alice worked part-time for other growers while they were setting up their winery, they kept doing the pruning and other à la tâche vineyard-management service for others until 1998. When their own vineyards were old enough, they centered on their own surface.
The Rosette vineyard is very sloppy, and Olivier works on it with a small, low caterpillar which weighs only 800 kilograms. The orientation is south/south-east. Because of the slope on the left towards the woods, they have shadow one hour earlier, something he was worried about at the beginning, but he thinks now that it's not really a problem : They're taught in the wine school that the more light, the best it is, but he thinks that what is really important is to have temperature amplitude, for example between night and day or between morning and evening. The amplitude is very good for aromatic synthesis
The inter-row width is 1,2 meter here, in Chablis it's usually 1 meter. He planted these vines himself in 1990, choosing the 1,2-meter width because he used to borrow the tools of his former grower-emploer who was himself planted with this width. The Chardonnay vines are very low here, to look for the heat reverberating from the ground, it's traditional in Chablis. The low vines also allow a good margin to let the foliage grow high. They try to let the vine grow without excessively trimming it : when the shoots are overtly extended, he now makes a gentle knot between several leafy shoots without breaking them so that they stand together. The goal is to keep this thin, high foliage so that there is a good ventilation underneath for the grapes, a good photosynthesis and also some well-managed shadow, because even in Chablis, the grapes can grill under the sun. also, avoiding to cut the apex is better for the balance of the plant, the challenge being not to encourage the apex to grow excessively and not hurting it.
The lower part of the parcel is trained on Cordon de Royat, because on the upper half it's only marl/clay with tiny oysters shells, the rich earth having flowed down the slope. The upper slope is trained on Guyot Double Asymétrique, the usual Chablis training mode. He actually vinifies the upper slope and the lower slope separately but he blends the two at the end because oddly the resulting blend tastes better than the separate cuvées. Still, there's such a difference between the maturity of the two that they make two pickings, with 10 days between them. The picking is hand made, by 15 people including the box carriers. Last year the harvest started september 7 and ended october 15, but that was because of the unusual conditions of 2011, usulally it's less overstretched.
On the pictue on left, you can visualize the striking difference between an organic vineyard and a non-organic one (in the far).
To allow a higher foliage, Olivier planted these adjustable metal poles (picture on left) thanks to which he can change the wire height. As we left, olivier told me that the lichen that you can see on the vines (pic on right) is very sensitive to the type of treatments, and the conventional vineyards nearby have none of it. By the way, conventional vineyard farming has evolved these last years and you can see vineyards that looked plowed, but when you look closer you see that the ground has also been treated with weedkillers, it's as if the growers looked for the attractive look of a plowed vineyard all the while keeping sprayning weedkillers. We call this type of gimmick tromper l'ennemi in French (fool the enemy) but a closer look doesn't lie, and you can see the typical mosses of weedkiller-saturated soils among the plowing debris. This way, I guess, they can bring their customers for a visit and give the false impression of living soils...Also, the recent trend is to use milder weedkillers but sprazy 3 or 4 times a year instead of one, so that you can see grass here and there year around, but on a soil still deeply damaged by chemicals.
About the weather conditions so far in 2011, while until march it was very dry with a shortage in winter rainfall, it started to rain heavily in april and well into may, 150 mm of rain (plus 50 mm since last friday), 200 mm in all which is a lot. They've been through the frost without damages, same for the hailstorm, the 10-km stretched vineyards allows to split the risks anyway. The technicos as the viticulture technicians/consultants are called in France, advise to treat in prevention of oïdium and mildew, not only because of the rains but as soon as the vine gets 7 to 8 leaves, as a prevention against future occurences of oïdium, a disease which is less well-known than mildew. Oïdium likes the temperature amplitudes as well as cool temperatures and as it has a long incubation delay, it is often treated too late. The only possible treatment on an organic vineyards regarding oïdium is sulfur. Otherwise earlier in the season he sprayed plant decoctions, actually essential oils with plant extracts, but the next sprayings will be copper and sulfur.
there's another parcel which is plowed by horse, it's on Chitry and the name of the plot is Chatillon, planted partly in 2000 and partly in 2009.
Working with the over-the-row machine is not very easy when the grass is high. Fromthis vineyard, you can see both Chitry ans Saint-Bris-le-Vineux in the far. They also have vineyards in Saint Bris: 40 ares of Sauvignon (making a Sauvignon de Saint Bris) and a very old vineyard of Aligoté (60 ares) from which they make a cuvée named Plantation 1902 because the documents say this Aligoté was planted in 1902. Aligoté was pretty common in the region, it can yield nice wines but it was alas left on the side by growers and vignerons in Burgundy. Read Alice Feiring nice piece about Aligoté. What is sure, it's that like for these neglected varieties making their comeback in the Loire, when you've had such an Aligoté made by conscientous winemakers, you remain forever under the charm of this variety.
__ Bourgogne Aligoté 2011 (from vineyards in Chitry). Unfiltered bottling, around may 3rd. Very nice substance with fruit. A naturally-made wine that goes down so easily, I'm not sure unaware tasters would think this is Aligoté. And the yields on this vineyard were higher than usual : 60 hectoliters/hectare, proof that you can make a nice wine with good yields. The vineyards here are young : 15 years old. the bottle is closed with a crown cap, because it could get perly, plus it's supposed to be opened young. They added 2 grams of SO2. They made 800 bottles of this unfiltered version only. Costs 8 € tax included. Bottled in heavier bottles because of the unfiltered, turbid wine. You can find this unfiltered Aligoté (if not sold out) at Le Verre Volé in Paris. Nice easy-drinking thirst wine.
__ Bourgogne Aligoté 2011, filtered version. 8000 bottles, bottled a week before, andclosed with screw cap, for the first time. I'm prejudiced against filtered wines and expected a severe drop in gustatory qualities but I'm positively surprised, there's a nice, full mouth. Costs 8 € also. 2 grams of SO2 also. Like the unfiltered version, there is maybe 4 grams of residual sugar, but with the filtration it shouldn't referment, and they used normal bottles. Unfiltered wines are the norm at Alice & Olivier De Moor, but usually the wines are dry when released, and they are clear, everything having had time to sediment in the bottom of the casks. The screw cap was a first try for them.
__ Bourgogne Aligoté 2011, from a Cask, in the vaulted cellar. Another cuvée of Aligoté ! From the same 15-year-old vines. Picked 10 days after the other Aligoté, they made 3 pickings in this Aligoté vineyard. Will be bottled toward the end of september 2012. The cask is an old one dates from 1992 (20 years). This wine is more saline and mineral, with floral notes, very nice balance feel. Will make 7000 bottles in all. Will be bottled unfiltered, like 95 % of the wines here (the filtered Aligoté tasted before was an exception). Olivier says that it was complicated this year (2011) for the Aligoté : the vines were more generous in yields but there was a wider gap between the harvest time of Aligoté and Chardonnay.
__ Bourgogne Aligoté 1902 old vines. The 55-are (or 40/45 if you count the missing vines) vineyard was planted in 1902. From an old cask too. Very clear wine, has already sedimented. They never stir their wines. Nice presence in the mouth, with even more depth even if more austere and less outwardly expressive at this stage. The vineyards are located near Saint Bris le Vineux, but only the Sauvignon can get the village Appellation there. They should make 1800 bottles this year, usually it's more like 1500 bottles, but here also the yields were higher in 2011. Will cost 16 to 17 € in wine shops.
Alice and Olivier didn't augment their vineyard surface but they began to make wine from purchased grapes, buying from neighbors who work organicly, people like Thomas Pico, also from Courgis, Vincent Thomas and Athénais de Béru. They're making their 2nd red vintage using these purchased grapes. Pinot Noir made by the De Moors, I'm getting excited...
__ Bourgogne Chitry 2011. Chardonnay blend from two parcels, the one plowed with the horse and the flat one plowed with a tractor. Total surface : a bit more than 1 hectare. From a cask too. Still a bit turbid or oily. Vivid nose with white flower notes. Very mineral, to my feel. Elegant. The soil, composed of marls and hard limestone, the soil on these plots is very stony like on Chablis. Should be bottled at the end of 2011. No stirring of the barrels at all, this is the norm here. They tried stirring in 1996, at the start, but they didn't like the results on the aromatic side, like these brioche notes, and they stopped stirring right away. There's also citrus notes in there, Olivier says. Tastes well, he says, they're happy because this wine took time along the years to find its place and personality, and since 2009 it has found it's path, they can see that vintage after vintage. It has to do with the vineyards and their rooting balance.
__ Bel Air, Chablis 2011. From a cask too. The other part of Bel Air et Clardy. 9 casks of Bel Air. Now they also have demi-muids (500-liter barrels) that they buy new twice a year from the Stockinger Fassbinderei (cooperage) in Austria. The wine is golden clear. Intensity on the aromatic side with grapefruit notes, good ripeness feel. Classy mouth with length. The wine will be racked by gravity at the end of the tear, then spend 3 months, blended in a vat below. When they rack cask after cask this way, they just have to check that the pipe doesn't drain when they finish a cask : they clog the tip with the finger and plunge it in the next barrel, that's the smoothest racking possible... For the bottling they use a service company which comes here with a bottling line, except for the small cuvée that thery do themselves by gravity.
In 2011 they harvested earlier than usual these Chardonnay Bel Air, because they had some grapes they had to get rid of, but still they had 13,8 ° natural sugar so it was fine. While summer was grey and not so nice, the late season was sometimes hot. From what he thinks, this vintage 2011 should yields nice things on ther Chardonnays in the Yonne. Alicve and Olivier feel that because people knew the yields were more comfortable than usual, they didn't rush to pick and took more risks than usual, that's why they'll get better results.
__ Chablis Rosette 2011. From the lower-slope part, which has a different soil and of course more water. Taken from a 600-liter Seguin-Moreau demi-muid. The wine is already cleary and clean. This wine has a striking wet-stone smell. Balanced wine. Olivier says that the lower-slope Rosette is traditionally more flattering, here with citrus-jam aromas.
__ Chablis Rosette 2011, upper slope. 350-liter cask. More on the sugary side here. Rounder because of the sugar. 8 to 10 grams remaining, but the wine is still very clear, no turbidity. It should restart fermenting with spring temperatures (at least he hopes it will restart soon, he says with a laugh).
__ Chablis Rosette, upper slope too, another cask (228 liters, traditional pièce Bourguignone), this time it's dry, no residual sugar. The nose is refined and elegant. There's a stony feel, like wet stone, here. At this stage, all these wines have seen no SO2 at all, they'll just add a bit at racking, about 3grams per hectoliter. Speaking of cask volumes (they also have 135-liter ones), they're thinking to use bigger wooden foudres too, with volumes like 25 or 30 hectoliters. It wouldn't be a tronconic wooded vat but it would look more like a very big cask. François Frères make these, or Stockinger could also make one. the idea is pass the racking stage : the wine would be blended already in the foudre and would go directly from there, after the needed élevage, into the bottles. Olivier says that even using the gravity to do the racking from the different casks of a blend to the vat below, there's a tasting difference between the two stages. They noticed that in the way, things are missing in the final blend, things that they enjoyed wjhen they tasted the wine in the different casks.
__ Bourgogne red, from a vineyard in Tonnerre (belonging to Vincent THomas, I presume). As said above, Alice and Olivier purchase grapes from several vignerons, the two others being Thomas Pico and Athénais de Béru. This red Burgundy comes from a vineyard in Tonnerre, but it isn't a Bourgogne Tonnerre in terms of Appellation, because Bourgogne Tonnerre is white, it's made of Chardonnay. So, this red is just a generic Bourgogne (Burgundy). It's a small cuvée, they make 800 bottles a year from this vineyard. It all started as Alice met Vincent thomas regularly because on wednesdays they buy organic vegetable baskets (these paniers de légumes are a growing trend these days), and while they chatted, they learnt that Vincent could sell red juice. As the employee of Alice and Olivier, Etienne Robin, spent 10 years working at Yvon Métras [quite a good reference], they asked him if he was OK to make red wine again, and he sais yes. This way, Alice and Olivier get acquainted with the winemaking of reds. It was made through a small carbonic maceration followed by a Burgundy vinification, with 2 or 3 punchings, then put into casks at the end of alcoholic fermentation. The wine while relatively clear, has some tannins, there is indeed a tannic structure here (more than in 2010, Olivier says). THe nose is exciting also. Nice cew. That's the 2nd vintage they make reds.
You can find these reds in Paris at Kevin's Autour d'Un Verre (Kevin has many wine rarities) and at Le Dauphin.
Picture on left : the Niko chenillard (light caterpillar).
__ Bourgogne Aligoté 2010, Plantation 1902, old vines (1902). There's really a rocky taste here, on the positive side of the term. A pleasure to drink, the rare expression of a down-looked variety.
__ Chablis L'Humeur du Temps 2010. They make this wine since 2004. For the anecdote Parker tasted and noted this wine from its 2nd vintage. Nice freshness, 2010 was a cold year and you found more freshness on the grapes compared with 2009 and 2011. Fresh but not green. This is a blend of several plots.
__ Chablis Bel Air et Clardy 2010. Green reflections in the glass. More richness and more powerful. Here like for the former wine, there has been some sorting to take the botrytis out, they kept the brownish grapes which brought a welcome overmaturation notes in the aroma range. There's a jammy side but also the fresh citrus side of Chablis. Bottled in december 2011. Balanced wine.
__ Chablis Rosette 2010. As opposed to the former wine, here the grapes were in perfect conditions, no botrytis to sort out. so here we're fully into the Chablis aromas with citrus and the likes. Some eucalyptus on the nose too, seems to me, or some empyreumatic notes. This wine, they say needs more time to find its place compared to Bel Air et Clardy. The mouth is more structured, this is because of the clayish type in the soil. This Rosette vineyard get better through the weather ordeal year after year : when it's hot for example, its foliage keeps standing healthily while on Bel Air the leaves tend to bend down. This is because the Rosette clays keeps evenly some moisture while the draining soil of Bel Air is quickly dry. Several of these bottles were opened 7 days before (and just closed back summarily with their own cork, and they're just fine...
The pictures on the sides show this incredible ground-press system that I pictured already 6 years ago : On the left you can see the street door at the far end, the first vaulted room cellar being in my back. You can see the intentionally-tilted floor in front of the door, that's where the grapes would be feet crushed, pressed in other words, the juice flowing through the wall along the gutter on the left and probably filling a cask afterthen, maybe after a short débourbage. You can see on the picture on right how the flowing juice would flow through the wall inside a specially-designed stone gutter. Amazing. Olivier told me that as you had to pay, 100 or 150 years ago, for the mobile-presses use (which were owned by wealthy vignerons), people had found this pressing mode that cost nothing, and it was used, he says, untill the full length of WW2...
As said above, Alice and Olivier have two children.
Alice & Olivier De Moor wines are exported to Japan (Racines), to the U.S. (Louis Dressner), to Canada (Quebec, Le Marchand de Vin), to the U.K. (Caves de Pyrène, Berry Bros & Rudd), to Italy (Velier), Denmark (Rosforth & Rosforth), Norway, Sweden, Australia (Tasmania, Living Wines), to Russia (Grandi Vini) Switzerland and Spain.
Read this interview of Alice and Olivier by Jules Dressner (click on "read more").