Courgis, Chablis (Burgundy)
Here is story on a short visit we made at Alice & Olivier De Moor, this was earlier in april and Olivier was kind enough to give a bit of his time to let us get fresh news and tasting impressions from this hilly corner of the Chablis area.
We managed to learn a lot, among other things on a new hope for esca, also on a scientist of the 19th century named Jules Guyot which I think we should, like Olivier, take time to read.
On the pic on left you can see a drawing reproduced by Olivier with the historical trellising in Chablis : the vine would grow horizontally on the ground with its branches spread (right, seen from above ground) and then at a distance (on left) the branches would grow vertically onto the trellis/posts. These are very important details we should know so as to relativize what we might think is traditional (same for the varieties we often think are immutably attached to a particular region).
Today the domaine Alice & Olivier De Moor has a total vineyard surface making a bit more than 7,5 hectares but they also buy grapes to other winegrowers to make some négoce wines under the name of Le Vendangeur Masqué (means masked picker), like for example this Chablis or this Bourgogne red named Le Rouge d'Etienne. This way, they can select interesting parcels including in other wine areas than Chablis and make wines from new terroirs. I guess the consumer will be happy to find their touch through these other wines.
We first drive to the parcel named Bel Air, it's part of the cuvée Bel Air et Clardy, Clardy being the other parcel located 400 meters away. Olivier says that there's a risk for frost at this time of the year (mid april), and historically there has been documented frost in the region until june 1st. Still they noticed that along the years spring frosts have become rare. And speaking of frost he says, there can be also autumn
frost in october before the harvest.
Bel Air was planted in 1991/1992 (not massal selections here) and they already reached a good size, which is not always a good omen. They farmed conventionall at the beginning in those years and Olivier wonders if the size of the vines as well as the esca casualties in the parcel is related with the farming management of these early years.
Olivier says that the conventional chemicals kill not only the unwanted fungi but also the good ones, and esca could be a consequence of an unbalance in the fungi life in the soil. Olivier says that they begin to find a cure to esca by changing the pruning methods and also by doing some curettage on the esca-affected vine trunks. Olivier shows us here how he does this curettage (picture on right) : they cut the trunk in two with a small chainsaw, this is like a dentist work, you take out the bad fungi behind the esca disease, scraping off the black spots, they're easy to spot once you have split the trunk in two. He says you can see clearly how the black fungi follows the sap conducts and degrades the wood. You can see through pictures on this document about esca (in English) how the inside of a sick vine trunk looks like and you can visualize with the cross sections of esca-affected Sangiovese what they take away when they split the trunk in two. Cutting the trunk vertically in two seems weird but Olivier says that the wood that nurtures the plant is actually peripheral and not in the middle of the trunk.
Olivier says that what looks like an unorthodox method was actually a very ancient way to cure the vines, it just has made a comeback recently, he says the Romans used to split their vinestocks like that and they'd stick a stone in-between to maintain a good ventilation. The oxygen would then naturally degrade the harmful fungi and bring back the vine to life. Now, with the modern tools (he says they use a very special and precise chainsaw) they can do this with a much-better accuracy. You can see on the linked document above (page 13 or 416) a picture of this ancient method, with a stone stuck in the split vine to keep the two parts of the trunk apart. Olivier says the only scientific advance we have compared to the Romans 2000 years ago is that we know now that fungi behind esca secrete harmful molecules that will degrade the sap flow and nutrition of the vine. Olivier says that apart from a now-banned arsenite-based fungicide named Pyralesca, there is only one organic way to deal with esca : do it manually vine per vine with this surgery and cleaning of the affected areas.
Doing this surgery work is a huge, painstaking task Olivier says, because when you look close you see that most vines are affected by this disease. the right thing to do then is follow the progression of the disease and intervene at the right time. He says that what's interesting here is that if you don't intervene, the end of the road for these sick vines is that the graft part dies but oddly the rootstock remains alive, the roots survives and you can even regraft this rootstock, that's something he does also himself.
When you look at the viticulture technique in the Antiquity, he says, you learn that under the Romans it was considered that 100 years was a normal lifespan for a vine, and they could live until 300 or 400, but one important thing to notice is the Romans didn't prune their vines, the vines would climb and encroach trees around without being cut and limited. The vine would never face any pruning or cutting, it suffered none of these repeated wounds during its life, which helped it live much longer. And of course there was no graft at this time, no American rootstock, first you'd say because America was still in-the-waiting to be discovered but also because there was no phylloxera then, it was all franc-de-pied. So from its early life to its end, the vine grew without wounds and cuts, which helps explain why disease couldn't find an easy way in or penetrate the wood.
Olivier has been reading a book written by a French doctor named Jules Guyot, it's an extensive research about viticulture with lots of historic data and information. The title of this scientific work written in the mid 1800s' is La Viticulture du Centre Nord de la France (this man wrote other books on viticulture and vinification). Speaking of the large size and diameter that these unpruned, unharmed vines can reach under the Romans, this researcher found in documents that for example the massive door of the cathedral of Ravenne was made with large planks sawn from vine trunks, this speaks volume on the size of the vines at this time. I guess you'd make painstakingly a small table today with the average diameter of our modern vines.
Read Ray's piece about this book (Ray is an American who makes wine in Burgundy).
Back on this new/ancient method of treating esca, Olivier says he's been doint it for 2 or 3 years and the results have been good. The earlier you intervene the quickest you see the disease back down.
Asked if he sees positive changes in the region regarding use of chemicals in the vineyard, Olivier says that depending of the year there may be positive or negative moves. For example these days the wholsale rates for grapes is high (many winegrowers still sell to the négoce part of their fruit) and because of that people see an opportunity through higher yields to augment their revenues, and we know that for bigger yields you use chemicals. On the other hand when the rates are low the growers will be inclined to question their viticulture, because from what I understand organic grapes sell for a higher rate.
On another issue Olivier had a vigorous email exchange with Michel Bettane who has been the leading journalist and wine critic in France for decades : Olivier refused to have his wines tasted among a list of conventional Chablis wines, not as a stance to antagonize these winegrowers but because from what I understand this made no sense to him because of the great difference in the winemaking/viticulture philosophy between them. He had samely refused to give samples to the Wine Advocate's Neil Martin for a similar broad-brush tasting last year. Bettane was a bit infuriated at this refusal and both exchanged emails on the issue, the whole thing being published on Jacques Berthomeau's blog, this is very interesting (I guess you can google-translate it if you don't read French). The influential wine critic unsurpringly considers the AOC as taking precedence over what I'd call the uncopromising vineyard-winemaking work of artisans like Olivier.
In the Rosette parcel which you can see in another season on this story, Olivier says that they've not finished to plow yet to keep the grass in check, they began with a light crawler tractor but there's still some surface to do.
This barely one-hectare block is fenced before the harvest because the roe deers from the woods nearby have been increasingly taking a toll on the grapes. They also planted this bloc in 1990.
Driving back to the facility in Olivier's van we walked past this straddle tractor, a Bobard LCC 60, a model that was designed for narrow inter-rows. With a weight of 2,2 metric tons it's pretty light for the soils. It is made in Beaune.
Before this one he had an old straddle tractor but the engine was not very powerful and it ended up broking down, so he chose something a bit more powerful, he was kind of forced to, actually. The problem is that today you can't find new models that are smaller than this one. It looks impressive because he had it custom-made with the highest height possible (you can ask for special requirements when you order such a tractor so that it suits perfectly your needs). He needed a tall machine because on the issue of trimming the top of the vines he is the one who leaves the foliage grow the highest in the region.
I spotted other, much smaller machines inside the facility, be it for mowing, plowing or spraying, including a super-light crawler tractor.
__ "A Ligoter" 2014 Vin de France, table wine (ligoter means "to bind" in French). Taken from a grey metal tank. This was in other vats in the back (no wood for this cuvée) and they just racked it in here recently. Must have been bottled when
this story is published. Will remain unfined and unfiltered, it usually has a lot of gas. Total volume will be around 50 hectoliters.
Beautiful wine, onctuous et all, delicious table wine. Will have a scew cap for closure, it's supposed to be opened and drunk rapidly. They also bottle a gew of them with crown caps.
__ Le Vendangeur Masqué Bourgogne Blanc 2014, made from grapes purchased in the region of Auxerre. The grower is farming organic and taking into account that the former owner was also working organic, it's been free of chemicals for 15 years. Auxerre is among these peripheral Burgundy appellations which are of course less well-known than Chablis and where you still can find nice vineyards and terroirs, and at a much lower price. Was in cask before, they racked it for a soon-to-come bottling because it's also a wine for early consumption.
Very tasty wine, fruity.
We now taste a surprise wine, Olivier walks to a 500-liter Stockinger barrel (the one at the botton/center right if I remember), this is also a Vendangeur Masqué (négoce) cuvée. I first risk Melon de Bourgogne but I'm wrong, although Olivier says that many people blind-guess it as a Melon. To our surprise he says this is Viognier from Ardèche, he buys it through his négoce from Gerald Oustric (Le Mazel). The reason is they wanted to try something else. He and Alice drove to Ardèche to take the juice and they vinified it here, of course it'll be table wine (Vin de France). The name of the cuvée is Caravan, like the jazz standard, there are 3 500-liter barrels of this.
One of the reasons I failed the guessing game is that the nose is very discreet compared to the richly-flowery nose of Viognier wines. Nice acidity. Gerald Oustric told him that in 2014 they had great acidity levels in Ardèche.
We walk to the old vaulted cellar nearby the modern part of the winery, this is a really magic place, I fell like in a church here, with centuries of vinous mysteries under our feet. What a beautiful and elegant architecture in its simplicity.
__ Bourgogne Chitry 2014, from a cask of course (old cask). The wine is still turbid but he thinks the malolactic is finished. delicious round wine, tastes very well. This will will have a total élevage time of one year in the cask, plus 3 months in a stainless-steel vat after racking. Olivier says his goal is not filter the wine, and first the casks allow a swifter decantation, the lees sedimenting faster in these vessels, and the 3-month decantation time in the vats will further the decantation with what remained in suspension. I'll add that the naturally-cold temperature of the cellar helps to. For the racking they do it as smoothly as possible, tilting lightly the barrel at the end to get the last drops, before the turbid part. They keep the lees for the state administration as they're requested to give them, the French wine administration having them distilled them for industrial alcohol.
__ Chablis L'Humeur du Temps 2014, from a 225-liter cask too. THe parcel is 1 kilometer from here, between Courgis and Chablis (By road, Chablis is 7 km away from Courgis). This wine Will samely stay one year in barrel plus additional months when racked.
__ Chablis 2014, a cask from the Bel Air part of the blend 2014. Nose : more vivid. Tastes very saline, very nice. They use a sulfur wick between the vintages but they do their best before filling them again to clean them properly so that no so2 remains trapped. From then on, no so2 will be added, they'll just add a bit before bottling. He says that he thinks they could bottle without so2 but in this case there could be a phase after the bottling where the wine could move a bit, as it is neither fined or filtered, this wouldn't mean the wine would turn bad but only that you'd have ideally to wait some time to have it find its marks.
More on this so2 issue, Oliver works a lot on this question and for example they tried to have part of the same wine bottled without so2 and the other part with the usual (and very modest) adding, and oddly, the wine that aged the better was the batch that got no so2 at all. He says that it's hard to explain but the so2 at the same time protects and destroys something in the wine.
__ Chablis 2014, the Clardy part from Bel Air et Clardy, from a cask. Very expressive nose with white flowers notes. Nice mouth for sure, delicious. Olivier says that the clay here on Clardy is more interesting than on Bel Air, with white clays that are easy draining. The slope is also a bit steeper. He says that in 2014 they got better yields than the prvious years, they made 40 ho/ha (2013 was 23 ho/ha on average in the domaine). Asked about the norm in the region, he says he doesn't know the yields people make exactly but the Chablis appellation allows to go to 60 ho/ha, and like in Champagne they can actually pick 10 ho/ha more on the condition that they keep the juice fopr a latter, less productive vintage. In my opinion there's no doubt many winegrowers take advantage of these AOC rules to raise the bar at the maximum. This 10 ho/ha extra allowance was set up by the AOC authorities in Chablis as an experiment first and now it's for good.
__ Bourgogne Chitry 2013, in bottle. Bottled in december 2014. They planted these vines in 1995.
__ Chablis L'Humeur du Temps 2013 (bottle). Very clear in spite of being unfined and unfiltered, that's
the long élevage for sure. Smells like more mineral. He says that Rosette was blended into the cuvée because the volume was too low, and it may have brought this more-mineral feel. They managed to make a 50-hectoliter volume that year, but with two hectares. On the table of the tasting room Olivier show us the book by Jules Guyot, the term of Guyot pruning comes from this man but he didn't really invent it, he just documented it after doing his research. Jules Guyot was at o,ne time Ministre de L'Agriculture, but I notice that it was light-years away from the modern/progressive/socialist MPs and ministers like Claude Evin and Marisol Touraine, it seems the French republic was walking on its feet then (and drinking much more hearty wine)...
__ Chablis Bel Air et Clardy 2013, bottle. No notes.
__ Saint Bris 2013, Sauvignon, bottle. Blend of sauvignon blanc (75 %) and sauvignon gris (25 %). Sauvignon Gris is less caricatural, compared to a classic sauvignon Doesn't smell typically like a sauvignon. The parcel is 10 km from here, limestone soil with lots od brown clay on the surface and white clay deeper in the ground.
__ Bourgogne Aligoté 2012, Plantation 1902. These are really very old vines. there is a strange feeling to taste wine from a variety that remains downlooked by the mainstream market and which at the same time comes from vines that old, the Aligoté suddenly earn an
aristocratic prestige which it is (wrongly) denied when young. A bit turbid because this bottle was among the last, it got some turbidity from the bottom of the vat. This is sold out now, this is one of the last bottles they have. On a normal vintage (when everything goes fine) they make 12 hectoliters of this.
The wine is super good, the old lady has done a great job, so onctuous and fresh.
__ Chablis Rosette 2008. The bottle looks a heavier model. Serious nose here, elegantly aromatic. Mouth : very classy.
Olivier says that 2008 was a year with high acidity, they picked all along october in a sunny weather with strong northern winds wich hardened the skins and concentrated the acidity. This was by the way beginning to get cold, with frost risks. Speaking about harvest frost, Olivier recalls having heard his grandfather saying that one he picked on All Saints' day (in november) and there was snow in the vineyard. The reason for these late harvests was that they had other farm works and went to pick when they could, and the picking was done by small family groups of 5-6 people.
Here are a few retail prices for these cuvées on the Internet.
Aurelia from Canada, tasting enthusiasticly (in 2010) the Aligoté 2008.