In spite of a vineyard surface of about 5 hectares, which is small even by Burgundy standards, Dominique Derain's wines have shined well beyond the quiet village of Saint Aubin, in the Côte de Beaune. Like I noticed after tasting his wines at a Bourgogne-wines tasting in Paris a couple years ago [5th picture on this story], Dominique Derain is a joyful man who doesn't take himself seriously, and his wines were particularly exciting and enjoyable. Here is a father of 5 (with 3 wives) whose career has been bumpy until he settled in his own winery and produced uncorrected wines with little or no sulfur that made him known by demanding wine amateurs scattered throughout the world. His rebelness in his highschool years made him hop from school to school in Dijon (Saint Jo, Saint François, Saint Bénigne), and he ended up joining the work force early to enrol at a local cooperage (Meyer) which has closed down since. He then worked for 10 years in different wineries in Puligny, in Meursault (Ropiteau), in Alsace and also at Domaine Laroche in Chablis. He then created this estate with his then-wife Catherine whom he met at the wine school in Beaune. They separated 6 years ago but they still share the facility. When they worked together she was more on the vineyard-management side and he was dealing with the chai and cellar side. The estate's surface began with a mere 12 ares in 1988, then they planted some Saint-Aubin Village white, then purchased 1,3 hectare of Saint-Aubin (red and white), which made a total of 2,8 hectares. after that they planted 70 ares of Remilly. They also sold some of the surface at times because the banks didn't follow up : they were thinking their yields would be 40 or 50 hectilter/hectare like it's usual around here but they never reached these yields and the banks got tired. But they managed to sell these plots to friendly third-parties to whom they would rent the parcels, thus keeping working on them.
46 rue des Perrières, the estate's address, is right under the church along a street running downhill, it's a farm with a deep, open courtyard (the one with the red shutters) which would make a bigger winery feel a bit squeezed but it has the right volume for Dominique's business. Keeping making wine in the center of villages nowadays is more and more difficult for practical reasons as the buildings were originally intended for farmers working on small surfaces without modern machinery, but vintners like him work in many regards in such a simple manner that if their surface is reasonable they still can unfold their wings in there and work comfortably enough, given they can pour a concrete slab for hygiene and make some arrangements.
Working in a cooperage in his early years were not Dominique Derain's first steps in the wine trade : since he was a child he had been helping his father-side grandfather who was living in Saint Denis de Vaux in the vallée des Vaux, a little-known corner of the Côte Chalonnaise near Mercurey. The Vallée des Vaux is a valley with nice villages, a few vineyards and thick chestnut forests. When Dominique speaks about his mother-side grandpa Auguste Raquillet (who lived in Mercurey), he suddenly rolls his r's, and I remember what Joe Dressner wrote about one his own visits where he samely imitated the rolling r's of Michel Juillot, an iconic vintner of Mercurey (scroll down this page to february 11 2011). Dominique says that he is born in the Hospices de Beaune and that why he speaks French, but his parents were from the more rustic Saône-et-Loire and they also would roll their r's, which people in Beaune would pretend not understand. B. who is also born in Burgundy understand these nuances but for my part I learn about these invisible borderd within Burgundy. Whatever, I can assure you that the rolling r's of Dominique are not only fun to hear but authentic sounding, you must have basked in this accent to regurgitate it this way. Whatver, as a child he would help his grandfathers, himself would go mostly to Mercurey while his brother would go to Saint-Denis-de-Vaux. The grandfathers were already old at that time but they still worked, plus they had farm animals, horses and cows and they grew crops and fruit trees. He remember routinely trimming the vines in summer and then napping in the shadow with his grandfather. He loved making wine from this time and this eventually resurfaced later.
We didn't get time to visit the vineyards this time (you spend easily an afternoon in the cellar with Dominique Derain) but we spoke about the arduous issue of finding parcels in Burgundy. Dominique says that vineyards are costly in Burgundy, something like 450 000 € an hectare when you count the planting and other investments. Prices depend also of the terroir, like a parcel of red Chassagne Village will cost 40 000 € per ouvrée. An ouvrée is an ancient surface measure which is still used by growers and vignerons (the name comes from ouvrage and it's literally the surface that a worker could work on for one day) and it makes 4,28 ares or 428 square meters. You find for example, he says, white Chassagne 1er Cru (les Vergers) at 85 000 € an ouvrée. If you remind that you need 23,33 ouvrées to make an hectare, that makes these plots out of reach for simple vintners. On the other hand you can find generic-Bourgogne parcels at 2000 € an ouvrée (for example in Corpeau, on the lows near Puligny), and considering a pièce (a cask full of wine) brings back 500 € you can plan to pay back your investment in about 5 years.
On this picture you can see the altar-like corner of the cellar where we taste the wines, there are postcards, pictures, empty bottles, the Saint-Vincent statue, there's also the Tolmer poster (Epaulé Jeté), the Vive-le-vin-naturel poster designed a century ago, and on the left, an intriguing color drawing that he will use as a poster for the winery. It's a manga-inspired drawing with Celtic and biblical undertones made by a promising young woman named Eleonore Ware (her blog here and more here). This Tentation drawing was for the Bourgogne Rouge. The next poster he'l order will be for the Bourgogne Blanc and it will be designed by Marc-Antoine Mathieu and it will be in black and white. This other artist is working about dream and reality and his poster/label should be a nice surprise.
This said, he is not an anti-sulfur fanatic and relies on analysis to decide what he'll do in this matter. The wines are racked without using pumps, a month before bottling, with air pressure pushing the wine out of the container. If he needs to get rid of the lees during the élevage, he doesn't rack the cask like it's usually done, he just siphoons the lees away, this way he doesn't have to use sulfur as a protection during the process. He uses a simple hose to do that, and when the thick lees he wants to get rid off seem to have gone, he stops the operation. He decants what he took out and pours back the clear part if any, and the wine mostly wasn't touched during this parting of the lees, which makes a big diffence in the wine at the end.
He says that his juices lack nitrogen but yeasts degrade amino acids and that's how sulfur is being made by the wine itself. When they rack the way they do, if they have 15 mg of free sulfur in the casks, they find 12mg when the wine reachs the vats and they have added nothing in between. If the analysis finds a sulfur level of 7 mg, they'll add 0,8 (1/4 of a gram) to get 15 mg, which is the fine level that the wine found by itself.
Note : the 1974 on the pic on right is a joke, this is Saint-Aubin 2011...
Speaking of the vineyard management, Dominique says that he never begins pruning before january 22 because the sap must be in the proper stage, the pruning season lasting 3/4 months.
__ Derain, Bourgogne La Combe 2011, from a parcel in Puligny-Montrachet (30 ares). Clay-silt terroir, no limestone. In puligny there is an area which used to be covered with wetlands long time ago, this is there. The wine is raised in old casks (8 years) and bottled at Easter. When he needs casks he buys them second hand, going to the winery where he tastes the wine still filling the cask to see how it feels. If it's fine (not oaky or not deviant in some way), he'll buy the cask, and if he needs to use a sulfur wick, he'll do it himself. This white has a nice tension and richness in the mouth. B. says that the touch of the wine is gourmand, with fullness without heaviness.
2011 was a particular vintage in the way that the weather was nice until december, so that the wines could complete their 2 fermentations quietly and without bumps. July was not very nice but otherwise from august it was just a straight road of fair weather, and it kept so after the harvest. Everything went smooth and the fermentation finished quickly by itself when on wild yeast it's common that it stops at one point in winter and starts again in spring. The Bourgogne Blanc like the Bourgogne Rouge (the generic Burgundies) are bottled early because they're already seducing and they're better with this freshness and richness. There's 8 casks of this wine, 2500 bottles.
__ Derain Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly 2011. Here the terroir is at the opposite compared to the parcel of the previous wine : while the first was in the plain of Puligny, here the vineyard sits above Montrachet. 70-are surface, 11 casks (pièces or a bit more than 3000 bottles for this cuvée. Bottles 3 weeks ago. The nose is more powerful and inspiring, we're obviously on higher grounds. Terroir of crushed marble stone, marble being the result of a very slow sedimentation of the sea bed. Still, you don't find any fossils here, that's because the sedimentation was so slow. Exposition full south, the parcel is just 50 meters behind Les Chevaliers. Very séveux (sappy ?) in the mouth, makes you salivate, nice substance. Nice wine, B. says too, with iode notes. Just got a pre-filtration, some sort of light filtration.
As he is part of a large group of wineries (35) working on biodynamy (they have sessions to learn and emulate on dynamized preparations for biodynamic sprayings), he noticed that many wineries including some very prestigious like the Romanée Conti work hard to preserve and multiply the selections of their very old parcels, some being 100 years old.
Julien also makes some Aligoté from a 80-year-old parcel.
__ Derain Saint-Aubin Village 2010, our first red here. The 2011 is still in casks and will be racked right after the harvest 2012 so that the new wine will be flowed there (without pump as explained above) without the need of using a sulfur wick. He often does that when possible. 90-year-old vines. Aromas of cherry stone, dark cherry, almond too, says B. He says that this Pinot Noir has the wildest aromas of the estate. Along the parcel there are various bushes and trees like nerprun with its small red berries and épine-vinette, another type of bush with small berries, and they all certainly participate to the wild aromas of this wine. They're supposed to be poison but he sucks these berries once in a while since he's a child [that may explain his health and good mood]... The wine is bottled since december and it begins to reveal itsel, he says. Good length. During the fermentation they do some pigeage with the feet or even the knees, and they feel the wine this way, the temperature for example, the texture, by also drinking some juice. The fermentation vats in here come all from his grandfather, they were renovated by Marc Grenier, that's why there's his plaque on the vats.
Speaking of the winemaking of the reds, he routinely mixes destemmed grapes and whole-clustered grapes, in what the French vintners call the mille feuille scheme, with successive layers alternating whole-clustered and destemmed grapes. The first layer is destemmed to get juice and they also finish with a destemmed-grapes layer. They usually let the well ripe grapes whole-clustered. To separate the stem from the grapes, they've been using for years an old lid made apparently from wicker and wood, you just brush the clusters on it and the grapes come through it, down into the fermenter (pic on left). Dominique says that what is very important is to have the grapes reach the chai in perfect conditions, and for that he uses boxes (and hand picking of course). He could have more supplness in his Saint-Aubin by using only whole-clustered grapes but he like the structure he gets through this multi-layers mode.
In 2010, the summer was a bit like 2011 except that it wasn't warm, it was cool all the time, which gave wines with tension and minerality. In 2011 they had the same weather but warmer temperatures, especially at the end. 2011 was very dry from janurary to june, then 6 weeks of rain around july, then fair weather. In 2011 he waited til september 6 because the grapes lacked sugar, and as he doesn't use lab yeasts designed to bring specific aromas, he relies only on the grapes and has to wait for the right time. Speaking of conventional winemaking and vineyard management, the vignerons of the region had big trouble : they like usuall fertilized the vineyards in january, these fertilizers nitrify with water and the growers count on the winter/spring rains to do the job, but in 2011 there was no rain at all between january and june, and rain came in july at the beginning of veraison : that's we can call a disaster scenario. They had to harvest in august because the grapes were rotting on the vines, filling the gondolas with unripe grapes that were mostly rotting. He picked his own grapes 3 weeks later and they were fine except for the millerandage caused by the water on the flowers.
On Mercurey, he has a plot of 100-year-old complanted vines, Pinot Noir with Pinot Beurrot, that's now rare but was quiet mainstream longtime ago to have several varieties planted together in the same parcel. The total planted surface on Mercurey is about 700 hectares. The Pinot Beurrot is still included in the appellation status dating from 1935, so he could replant them if he had to uproot them one day. This vineyard comes as said above from his grandfather. Now, one of the reasons why growers have uprooted the Pinot Beurrot part in their Pinot Noir was because they wrongly think that a dark color is better, and as Pinot Beurot (named also Pinot Gris) is clear, that brings the color in the wrong direction in their eyes (even if with only 15 % of the given plot). He says that many vignerons would be ready to add even a darker color than their Pinot Noir, and without giving more details he says that in his younger years while working for other estates he witnessed by himself the adding of some Alicante Bouschet (a dark-red variety) in the Pinot Noir to get a more suitable (in their mind) color. It's still being made, with funny variants, the Côte de Beaune using Alicante-Bouschet and the Côte de Nuits prefering Syrah. But to rewind a little more, until around 1980/1981 before they were uprooted, there were a few coloring hybrid varieties that were still planted across the region for this color purpose : the Baco Noir, the 55, Gamay Fréaux. These plots were officially legal because they were given to the employees for their wine needs, but some of the grapes conveniently found their way to the chai and the Pinot-Noir fermenters... Dominique Derain says that amateurs actually like his Pinot Noir even if its color is light, and his Mercurey 2011 is sold out. He says he's just making the wines like his grandfather did, and people love the result. He remembers the wines of his grandpa, there were so light that they sometimes looked like some Jura Poulsard, an almost rosé wine.
We tasted some wine in the cask cellar (pictures above), a wonderful place with a vaulted ceiling which was built several centuries ago. there are 2 such vaulted cask rooms, you can see above the first one with Dominique's bottle cellar in the far end (with many bottles from fellow vintners), and the second one with barrels only.
__ Derain Saint-Aubin Le Ban 2011. As said, from a barrel deemed to bottled in december. Still a bit turbid but very nice, vivid color. A bit of reduction. I take some of the gas away by covering the glass and shaking it. Fruity and fresh wine. Ampleness in the end of the mouth, B. says.
__ Derain Saint-Aubin Le Puits 2011 (we're back in the tasting corner in the cellar). Bottled opened the previous day. 12 ares, 500 bottles. The last red Saint-Aubin Le Puits, the "Monopole" we were speaking about. Very nice wine, that would be a pity indeed to erase this last red parcel there... The vines are 23 years old, they're a massal selection from the parcel of Le Ban. Somptuous nose, B. says. Supple and crunchy, with refined tannins. Length.
__ Derain Pommard les Petits Noizons 2011, a village often assimilated to a 1er Cru. 70-year-old vines on average, on 60 centimeters of red earth with ferrous soil, and limestone rock table underneath. It's a top terroir, he says there's a great energy in this soil. Bottled at Easter. More discreet on the nose, this is Pommard. Very refined and elegant, goes down very well when I remember some very-tannic Pommard. Tight texture, says B. Blueberry, tobacco leaf.Dominique says that with the biodynamic vineyard management, he gets higher acidity on the wine, and a stable acidity, referring to the sudden drop of acidity that conventional wineries witness and which is caused by the use of potash fertilizers. Potash creates a fictitious acidity which disappears after the fermentation. The yields here are about 28 ho/ha for this wine. The color of the wine is not "typical" in the appellation-system sense, but his Pommard are made without forced extraction or higher fermentation temperatures, that's all.
__ Derain Gevrey-Chambertin 2011. From a 108-year-old parcel (20 ares) and a 8-year-old one (10 ares), the two being vinified together since 2009. Altogether they make yields of 35 ho/ha. Plowing helps these vines in this regard, no fertilizers of course. He got this parcel in 1995. This zone of Gevrey is know by elders as where you could find the vins medecins, meaning that the wines made there could enrich the other wines with substance and structure. Very beautiful wine. Spicy notes. Dominique says that he loves this terroir. Ripe-cherry notes, blackberry. White pepper too. Chewy feel.
__ Derain Voile Not, Vin de France (table wine). Made from Bourgogne Blanc (Chardonnay) La Combe 2005. Bottled in january 2011. It was time to bottle it because the angels in this cellar seemed to have siphooned more than their share : they bottled 100 liters only from an initial volume of 215 liters. He had filled the cask with a finished (completed fermentations) wine devoid of SO2 and the veil had fully settled on the Chardonnay 15 days after the filling. They didn't touch the barrel for years even to taste the wine, and they really didn't taste the wine until in december 2010, when he drilled a hole beneath the wine surface so as to have a taste without damaging the veil, it tasted good and after looking at the moon calendar, they set up a date to bottle the cask. So they literally did nothing on this wine, the cask was like in Jura in an attic, cold in winter and hot in summer and here is the miracle years after... Very nice wine indeed, intense and deep. Gingerbread, spices. Nice concentration. It has the roundness and softness of Chardonnay. No SO2 at all here of course. B. notes cocoa, pistachio, gingerbread. For the anecdote, the cask is now gone at Michel Couvreur (the whisky maker in Burgundy) and it's full of whisky now. Here is a happy barrel that seem to follow a bright carrer...
Dominique Derain exports about 55 % of his wines, to the United States (Jenny & François - Integrity Wines), Japan (Oeno Connexion), China (Shanghai, Frank Pecol - Hong-Kong, la Cabane à Vins), Taiwan (Jean-Marc Nolant), Australia (Living Wines) Belgium (R & Rhone), the U.K. (les Caves de Pyrène), Italy (Les Caves de Pyrène), Denmark (Pétillant), Sweden (Vin & Natur), Norway, Russia (Biowine), Canada (Quebec, Rezin), Germany, Switzerland (Le Passeur de Vin).
In Paris, among other venues, you can find the wines at Caves Augé, Lavinia, Le Verre Volé, Le Vin en Tête, Que du Bon, la Cave des Papilles, Crus et Découvertes, Mi-Fugue Mi-Raisin, La Crêmerie. le Garde Robe...
The picture below was inspired by B. who saw a similarity between these two expressions and began to shoot Dominique's portrait there.