There are small wine regions in northern Burgundy which are still largely under the radar compared to their famous brethren beginning with Chablis almost next door, places like Irancy, Epineuil or Tonnerre. This region was also producing lots of wine a couple centuries ago, before the Phylloxera destroyed much of the viticulture at the turn of the 19th-20th century and especially before the building of railways in the early 20th century that could bring overnight massive tank-car loads of wine straight from the Languedoc. After falling almost into oblivion they begin to be back on the map, thanks especially to handful of talented winemakers, among them Nicolas Vauthier who is based in Avallon. Nicolas doesn't have vineyards of his own actually, he works with selected growers from parcels located in different terroirs around Avallon, making what we call usually négoce wines. I've had often a very good time with his wines, they're alive, vivid and also easy to drink with this lovely acidity backbone and this gustative certitude that'you're umistakenly in front of true, no-trick wines.
Born in Troyes in 1970, Nicolas Vauthier was also one of the founders of an iconic wine bar of this city, Aux Crieurs de Vin certainly a rarity at that time in the French provinces, this was, take a seat, in 1998, for sure the earliest natural-wine bar outside Paris, and a precursor even for the Paris ones, just think that Le Verre Volé popped up later than that... 10 years later i, 2008 he launched his négoce winery, buying grapes from selected parcels to growers on this northern-Burgundy region.
Nicolas studied enology in a wine school in Belleville in the Beaujolais in 1989-1990 where he got the usual conventional teaching about winemaking, in short, things you must avoid to do if you want to make real wine. After that he went for a year to the United States, working in a winery where he was also trained into things he'd never duplicate later, this was in Washington state, Washington Hills Winery, in the Yakima valley, this was basically a big factory "making" wine with a 2-million-liter volume where they'd routinely add sugar, acid, and other corrective additives including lots of sulfur. He remembers making rosé wines with color extracts; another thing he recalls is when they bought cheap high-yield Sémillon which they'd blend (to add some taste) with some Muscat and some Gewürztraminer that hadn't finished to ferment (and which cost a little more), they'd block the whole blend with SO2 to keep the residual sugar from being finished, the result being a lightly-sugary wine that was supposed to please the consumer... He says his boss in the winery had studied at UC Davis. Otherwise he toured the West Coast and visited real wineries in California, he remembers a guy who was making weird things (some of it turning to vinegar), the name of the small domaine was Black Canyon, this was in California some 25 years ago, he doesn't know what the guy has become since -- Correction (thank you Mark), this was actually in Washington state, Benton City, Yakima Valley, and the man passed away 5 years ago (see comment section below).
Back from the U.S. where he fell in love with a French woman he met in San Francisco (and who lived 15 kilometers from his home in France), he worked for the then-new wine shop Repaire de Bacchus which was quite bustling at the time with only 15 shops and good connections with vignerons even if they weren't into natural wine, he worked 4 or 5 years there, that's where he met Cyril Bordarier who would open later Le Verre Volé, and Jean-Michel Wilmes whom he already knew before was also a colleague there (he'd open sometime later with him Aux Crieurs de Vins in Troyes).
This Wine-shop chain grew more along the years, buying less interesting wines and himself and his buddies would drink more-and-more interesting wines (this was in 1993-1995) in the few wine bars or shops that had popped up in Paris, like Le Baratin, also the early wine bar shops managed by Jean-Pierre Robinot (This was Faubourg Montmartre), Taillevent also which had a few natural wines in its portfolio. He and Jean-Michel Wilmes would also travel to Jura to visit Pierre Overnoy around 1993/1994, also to Lapierre whom they'd visit and taste the wines of, same with Yvon Métras whom they befriended around the year they opened the wine bar in 1998.
The barrel work above has been done by itinerant artist Ryota Yamashita (now in Australia, Rei says), I've seen his work all over in the cellars of my favorite vignerons beginning with Noëlla Morantin (I shot Noëlla's barrel on the left in summer 2014). Never saw him at work but you can't forget his art, he certainly loves natural wine given all the domaines he chose to work for, he even did a special cask for the wine fair Biojoleynes. Here are a few barrels he sculpted.
Nicolas Vauthier had his first winemaking season in 2009, opening his négoce after 10 years in the wine-shop chain. Just before that, he went to work for Philippe Pacalet in Beaune, spending a few months for the harvest and the vinifications, he loved the way Philippe Pacalet worked, buying grapes from selected terroirs while bypassing the vineyard-ownership thing, he wanted to do the same type of work but in the Yonne département further north in Burgundy. Working with Pacalet was also a welcome way to refresh his winemaking lessons after these years at the wine shops, and he also had a first-hand experience in the logistics of such négoce operations, Pacalet having plenty of answers when he had a question.
Here in the Yonne, he has his own picking team also like Philippe Pacalet, except for a parcel where he has an arrangement with the grower. His policy is to do the sorting straight at the vineyard without to have to do it again in the facility, the boxes get only neat bunches clear of faulty berries. Nicolas vauthier works with whole-clustered grapes and the condition of the grapes is thus very important, most of the winemaking job is before the grapes arrive in the chai. For this first vintage he made some spring cuvées while the other cuvées were bottled at the end of 2010 and presented at La Dive in january 2011. He had already a few customers, the wine bar in Troyes of course, plus all his other friends in the natural wine milieu, like Cyril Bordarier of Le Verre Volé who as an early player could help him find venues to present his wines to, and he knew another few people like Rodolphe Paquin of the Repaire de cartouche. There was also a couple of former Bacchus staff, first Alex Mercier, who had opened L'Echanson in Nancy, also Olivier Labarde who opened La Part des Anges in Nice. The first importer was Japan's Mrs Yasuko Goda who passed here in person while on her way to Milan and the deal was done during this first visit.
The tireuse 4 becs on the right (4-spout bottle filler) is his routine tool for small bottlings by gravity. It's made by a company name Pichonneau in the Cognac region, Nicolas says that until recently the Domaine de la Romanée Conti used only this filler for their bottlings. He says the oxidation surface is nil with this system, it's just very efficient and safe, it's easy to clean and you carry it with ease. When he bottles a 600-liter demi-muid he puts a light pressure (0,1 bar) atop the barrel to push the wine gently, using a neutral gas (Argon/CO2). He makes great bottlings, that's what he uses for his magnums.
Speaking about the surface equivalence of what he buys to his growers, Nicolas says that he began with 6 or 7 hectares in 2009 and nowadays (on a normal year like 2015) this was more like a dozen hectares (with yields on average at 35 hectoliters/hectare). He can handle more surface than a vigneron who would make wine from his own vineyards because he doesn't spend time and energy tending them, he delegates this task to the growers except for the picking date and the harvest which he conducts with his own team.
Asked about this vintage 2016 which is very atypical and hopefuly rare, Nicolas says that overall in Burgundy growers lost 30 % of the volume in average but for his own growers in Irancy it's even worse, they picked 10 % of a normal year only. So exceptionally this year they looked beyond Burgundy to source a large share of their fruit, in the Beaujolais and also in the Gard (south of France), and they'll make as a result about 2/3 of their normal volume of wine. He bought 5 tons of grapes in Beaujolais (Gamay) and 10 tons in the Gard (Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Clairette) which he picked near Tavel early september. Usually he's into parcellaire wines but here it'll be more blends. These are nice parcels though, in the Gard it's a neighbor of Eric Pfifferling who tends these old vines and who doen't make wine himself, he used to sell to the local Cop but his grapes aren't paid accordingly to his organic farming, so he switched to sellig to Nicolas for this year at least. It's the first time he vinifies some Grenache except for a couple of micro-cuvées he did in 2014 & 2015 for Stéphane Majeune, one of the founders of the iconic natural-wine Domaine Peyra (closed since), he vinified here the equivalent of 1000 bottled with Grenache sourced at Alain Allier. For those interested into what Stéphane Majeune is doing (I knew he was also co-organizing the salon des Dix Vins Cochons in Auvergne), he's just opened a bistrot with certainly great wines in the northern Burgundy city of Sens, Mauvaises Herbes. Some of you may connect the dots with an iconic cuvée of the long defunct Domaine Peyra...Northern Burgundy rocks !.....
Whatever, he loves working with Grenache, he tries to work it like Pinot Noir, and from his start in the natural wine culture he was impressed by what he felt was the closeness between great Pinots and Great Grenache wines, he remembers a tasting they made at Gramenon with Philippe Laurent back then, probably in 1996 or 1997, drinking great bottles from Prieuré Roch and great bottles from Gramenon, tasting alternatively these pinots and grenaches and at the end they didn't know which variety was which... So he's very excited with what this Grenache here will yield, after being vinified à la Bourguignonne, he doesn't know yet what all the blends will be, but he already likes one of them where he put 1/3 Clairette, 1/3 Cinsault & 1/3 Grenache, with the Clairette (half in grapes, half in juice) having a maceration with the rest, he loves the tannin from the whites in general. Asked about buying in the Loire for that year, he says they also suffered this year so the best option was to look south.
Speaking of the grapes sourced in the Beaujolais this year, he picked them around october 24 or 25 in L'Arbresle, north east of Lyons, in sothern Beaujolais. These were beautiful old vines on sandy soils, with ripe breeies making barely 11 % potential, he's very excited looking forward for the resulting wine. He travelled twice there to check the ripeness and decide of the picking date. The picking was done by the growe who has a good team doing the sorting on the spot.
This large, roomy chai was built in 2013, in 2011 he had vinified in a cramped chai which was the original building and it pushed the fermentation temperatures upward, which he doesn't like because it tends to yields extraction in the wines, to he decided to build this large temperature-controlled warehouse. At the beginning of the fermentations he keeps the atmosphere, the air in the buuilding set at around 10 C (50 F) so that the start is on a moderate pace, and then later like when we visited he puts the setting at 20 C (68 F).
Regarding the grapes in the Gard the boxes were stoked in a refrigerated warehouse before hitting the road in a truck during the night, so the 500 boxes were kept safe from the heat.
Then chrnologically he had still some picking in northern Burgundy, in
the Yonne département, in spite of the harshly downsized volume. In the Irancy area usually he makes 7 or 8 fermenters out of the 7 or 8 parcels here in the region, but this year all the grapes together filled a single fermenter, he jokes he'll call the cuvée "Fond de Terroir (bottom of terroir). He made 18 hectoliters of Irancy instead of the usual 150, that was a steep drop. From the Coulanges parcels he got a bit more but that was also very difficult with the mildew and the parched bunches with the few days of burning sun in the end of august, the bunches having often an atrophied side (the one that got the full sun exposure) and a surviving side that was hidden from the direct beams.
This year there will be no whites alas because of the season problems and small volumes, no Aligoté in particular, the shoots froze almost 100 % , you couldn't even spot a bunch there, same for the Chardonnay which got hit by the frost and then the hail (on april 27). Just wait for next year, and enjoy a visual tasting of an Aligoté with Aurelia in Quebec (scroll down to the bottom of this page).
Here two staff are busy forking out a maceration of Coulanges grapes, coming from two parcels, Côte Neuve & Chanvan (climat names). Nicolas explains that first they let the juice out of the tronconic fermenter and then they take the grapes out with a box, filling the basket press next to it (I'll learn later that most of the juice is free run, they extract only a small part from the press stage). Coulanges, or Coulanges-la-Vineuse (its name which comes from the namesake village south of Auxerre hints at a long vinous history...) is a minor Appellation of Burgundy, it is little known even in France but it's certainly a part of Burgundy where you might access to parcels and start making wine without heavy financial backings.
With the carbonic maceration, Nicolas says that the malolactic starts quite early usually, before the primary fermentation has ended, already inside the intact berries you have a degradation of the malic acid and then the bacteria take the relay. He says you can apply this fermentation process to all sort of grapes, be it Mourvèdre or Carignan for example, and the result is pretty nice, even though people decry the carbonic side of the wines, he still considers it's an obvious way to vinify, without using outside energy or tools, you just put whole-clustered grapes in a vat and wait.
This was an unexpected surprise and certainly an odd perspective for someone coming to a Burgundy winery to end up tasting some Beaujolais Gamay : Here is the big fiber vat on the right with the load of Gamay which Nicolas sourced in L'Arbresle, it was quietly reaching the end of its fermentation when this visit took place, with density levels of 1015 or 1010. This wine will not even make 11 % but rather something like 10,5 %, very exciting prospect, I look forward for the thirst wine it will become... It was pressed 10 days ago. For the anecdote, the vigneron who sold him these grapes makes wine himself but conventionally, he does thermo-vinification like often in the Beaujolais (and in other French regions I'm afraid) and with the selected-yeast he adds, it takes only 3 days for the fermentation to finish.
Here the juice worked very slowly, loosing 5 points per day, this juice/wine tastes still like new wine or bernache, with this gorgeous sugary mouth and yet some alcohol coming out from behind. Nicolas says that he smells some reduction notes or even egg notes when he walks along the fermenter sometimes, although there has been no SO2 added, could be some sulfur remains from the vineyard sprays that combine to yield these smells but he's not worried, plus gamay is a bit reductive during the fermentation. Asked about the acidity levels here he says he doesn'tknow, he didn't have this batch analyzed, plus he isn't ordering many lab analysis and the lab is far away (Beaune,Chablis is closer but they're into whites there)...
Speaking of how desteming became the norm not so long ago, Nicolas says that one reason was that after WW2 in France, when yields increased sharply through the development of "modern" viticulture and the use of fertilizers, the vignerons were facing a capacity shortage in the chai to store their augmented volume of grapes (and they still weren't rich enough yet to buy overnight the additional tanks they needed), so they destemmed to gain room in the vats, because as you know whole-clustered grapes occupy a more voluminous space. Destemming or also crushing were favored tp help distribute the excess volumes.
Nicolas fills our glasses with a mystery wine [pic above] he took from another fermenter that looked protected from temperature swings with a blanket. Flashy-red color, interesting... It's Grenache-Cinsault-Clairette (1/3 each), the wine is vivid with a fruit-forward expression. 15-day maceration at low temperature (max 20 ° C or 68 F), half of the Clairette was in grapes, half in juice. The color is very light because of these factors (low temp, slow fermentation).
I like the white-tannin feel in the mouth brought by the Clairette, Rei Goda also likes it, he jokes that he hopes Nicolas will keep making this blend next year, to which Nicolas emits another joke, like he'll open a 2nd vatroom in the south of France... He says he loves the white/red blends, it brings a welcome freshness to the southern wines as well as a different type of acidity. Here too it can work, he says in 2014 he made a maceration blend of half Chardonnay half Pinot Noir and it was beautiful, he says that's a tricky excercise, you must taste everyday, he remembers feeling the distinct tannins, the one of the red and the one of the white, and when the white tannin begins to tilt to a more biting expression, this means you have to stop at this point and press.
All the while giving a look at the devatting and preparation of the press load in the chai, we kept tasting more juice, this time, Nicolas brings us a pour from another vat, this time this is a part of his future Coulanges blend, a batch that made 16 % potential because of the grilled, parched berries on one side (the other berries concentrated then the sugar). Now, he says, the alcohol being finished it actually reached 15 % only, but it's still unusual for this parcel and region. I like the nose here, he finds it a bit "too much" but he says that what's nice with this year is that as they blend the different parcels, the excessive alcohol here will be compensated with the other batch which makes an average of 11 %. The wine is quite delicious, love it, it doesn't lok like 15 % actually, maybe because of the acidity, the wine is onctuous and vivid
We now taste the Syrah from a small wooden tronconic vat, it's a 10-hectoliter vat and the Syrah was in a fiber tank before that for the maceration. He'll not blend this one and will probably bottle it as an easy-drinking Spring wine. He sourced these grapes in Bagnols-sur-Cèze in the Rhone (Chateau de Gressac). Very onctuous, still sugar in there. He says when they devatted it it was very black olive and pepper, they tried to devat when the tannin was still very supple. The 12-hectoliter fiber vat they used before the tronconnic works very well for carbonic, they call it le sousmarin (the submarine) because it's horizontal and long like a submarine unstead of the usual vertical, it's good because there's no compacting of the grapes with this shape.
Here we're near a small tronconic fermenter full of whole-clustered Gamay Teinturier from Irancy (northern Burgundy), a type of Gamay used in the past to darken the color on the wines (including the Pinots Noirs from Burgundy). these are very old vines (about 80) which makes this Gamay Teinturier very interesting. When young it makes wines that are kind of "rustic" but when old you get more refineness with a beautiful fruit, he finds this very interesting. He says you only find old vines because no one plants this variety anymore (they rather tend to uproot them). Nowadays conventional winemakers don't need this type of Gamay to make their wines darker, they have all the range of color-enhancing additives and also the thermo-vinification which pushes up the extraction and the color. Nicolas says that the elders used this type of Gamay to make Ratafia, it allowed them to make red Ratafia because here the juice is also red, not only the skin. Nicolas has us taste the intact grapes, pretty lovely, it's indeed fermenting inside...
The grapes have been there for 2 or 3 weeks and they were to press them the following days, they'll use another, smaller press for this tiny batch. He says anyway after a long maceration 80 % of the juice has already gone out of the berries and there remains 20 % of the whole juice to be pressed. They'll use this old mobile press on bare metal wheels that was made by the établissements Cherreau in Beaune, around 1930 with already an electrical motor. Raymond Cherreau back then invented many modern winemaking machines and tools, including a "revolutionary" machine that would heat the grapes before the vinification (see the picture of the weird machine on the top of this page). Burgundy-based American winemaker Ray Walker also uses such a press. The wheels are designed just to move from fermenter to fermenter, no need of tires.
Nicolas says that they found this basket press abandonned in a field where it had been staying for 15 years, the wood parts were of course unrecoverable and he just changed them, it's now ready for another century of pressings...
Here is a wine that isn't supposed to exist, that's a try that Nicolas made which he calls a vin de moisson or harvest wine, this is the wine that farmers and growers would make in the pas for themselves and the farm workers for the long, hard-working moisson days, a light-alcohol wine that would perfectly bear the name of thirst wine today. Nicolas did id the oldway, like elders remember having done in the mid 20th century, by putting water (not tap water, but spring water) in the marcs (pomace) of the grenache-cinsault-clairette plus a bit of sugar, having in the end a 3 or 4 % wine. This wine is just de-li-cious, Rei are very affirmative on that, that would excite the consumers we all know, that's for sure. It looks more like 7 or 8 % in the mouth, it's vivid, so fresh and goes down like a velvety treat (se boit comme du petit lait)... Too bad it's for personnal use, it would sell like crazy, if that's really the cheap workers' wine folks had in the countryside a century ago they were indeed very lucky, I understand now the stories about them drinking wine all day and content of their hard-working life... Nicolas says they added yesterday 6 liters of fresh lees (from the whites) and they'll bottle it this very day in the afternoon with crown caps and it will make a little bit of pressure inside, making a fresh bubbly for their summer consumption. He says he thinks that it's the way Henri Maire made his famous Vin Fou in the early years in Jura. This is the first time he makes that, the pomace smelled so good when they emptied the press, he couldn't resist making with try with a bit of water.
We're now in the cellar tasting a few wines from 2015. This previous vintage was a pretty good one including in terms of volume, partly because he got more parcels to work from, he made a total of 420 hectoliters when the maximum he had ever made before was 300. The larger volume allows him to work on the élevage when the wines need it.
__ Coulanges Grôle Tête 2015, from a demi-muids (a 600-liter one), this wine hasn't been racked yet. Part of this cuvée has been bottled in Spring for a vin de Printemps and this 2nd part has got a longer élevage with a slightly different vinification, more Burgundy style. This batch will be bottled in magnums only, without racking, the 1,5-liter bottles being filled by gravity along the demi-muids. This was to be done in the following weeks, for a total of 400 magnums. You should find the wine at the Cave des Papilles which has a pretty large range of magnums (all natural wines). He makes magnums only when the vintage allows it. He adds a good joke that is told in the Beaujolais : Magnums are good when you're two people....but when the other person doesn't drink.
Enjoyable mouth with the usual freshness and natural acidity found in these latitude in the wines. Nicolas says that in the region the nights are cold, it's a good area for the balance.
__ Coulages 2015, from another 600-liter demi-muids, another climat, a parcel named Côte de Grouet (not sure of the spelling), it's an upper-slope parcel, very different from the previous one (which was on the lower slope/side of the appellation zone). Here the soil is well drained, more arid in summer. These vines are the first clones historically, the 114 or 115 which were planted in the 1970s' (he says the Yonne département had lots of replantings in those years, that's when the rebirth of the wine area was kicked off, from what I understand. The structure is indeed more obvious in this wine, the previous was an immediate pleasure and this one has a more solid frame, it can go further and stand straight.
This cellar is pretty natural and has no air conditioning or temperature control, it is half buried and while it was fresh when I visited, in summer Nicolas says the temperature goes up to 18 ° or 19 ° C (64-66 F), it's not an issue for the wines, even for sulfites-free wines. This has to be underlined because many people think that so2-free natural wines must absilutely be kept all the time in a narrow temperature window, this doesn't work like this actually. Nicolas says that there's an inertia meaning that the temperature swings take time, it's not overnight that it goes up to 18 C, and if the air reaches that level, the wine may be behind. In winter the teperature goes down to 11 C maximum (51,8 F). He says the wines are not that fragile, they learn oxidation with the must and somehow after that they're less prone to suffer from oxidation. Speaking of topping up the barrels he says he does it every 15 days, and he also hoses the ground regularly with water to keep the humidity.
__ Coulanges Chanvan, a mis-slope parcel on a very steep inclination, quite stony on the surface also, in an area with still a lot of bushes, hedges and orchard (the region has a long tradition of orchard farming, like many other excellent wine regions. It's the 2nd year he works with this parcel and he likes it, the vines are relatively young, they're 10. Nice fruit in the mouth bit a bit of astringency in the side. He'll blend the different casks together (he has various sizes for this batch) and keep the whole cuvée 2 or 3 months (minimum 2 moons usually) before bottling it (probably in january).
__ Coulanges 2015 Chaplis, very young vines of pinot noir on a 20-are parcel, 8th leaf (huitième feuille). Beautiful vividness here, lovely wine. Nicolas says the growers don't know which clone they have here, the berries are very small with also overall yields that are very small, like 25 hectoliters/hectare, just enough to fill a feuillette, which is the transaction unit in Chablis and makes 132 liters (read this informative page on the barrels' volumes depending of the French wine regions, they also bear different names). Sorry, no notes, too busy chatting but I'm sure I loved it too. I just noted that the empty glass smells like crazy, very beautiful and exciting...
Nicolas says that during the harvest he opened some of his own wines from 2009 & 2010 for the pickerrs (these guys are spoiled...) and he noticed that these wines were so nice; he laments that in the natural-wine milieu people tend to drink the wines to early when there's even more to enjoy after a few years. Sometimes he gets a call from a wine bar to recount him the nice experience they got from an older vintages of his, and he likes that, like recently Septime in Paris, they had opened a magnum of Epineuil 2010 and it tasted beautiful. I remark that indeed as these wines that have either no added SO2 or very little, they really evolve in the good sense of the word, as opposed to a conventional wine soaked with SO2 where there's little to hope in terms of evolution. Nicolas recounts a comical event organized by the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne, the official window of Burgundy wines) where they organized a tasting centered on older vintages to prove the aging ability of Chablis wines... He adds that when you know that conventional Chablis is literally soaked with SO2, like minimum 100 mg/liter, it's a joke to dare to speak of aging ability, you get a frozen/dead product on day one and years after it will be dead just the same. And you have these wise heads nodding, the nose in their glass : yes, these wines age very well indeed... And of course nowhere in the articles of the mainstream wine-media or on the BIVB website you'll see any allusion to the SO2 levels in these wines.
__ Irancy les Beaux Monts 2015, from another barrel. Comes from a small combe, very steep slope on the upper half of Irancy, the climat with these 30-year-old vines gives always easy-drinking wines, he says, with supple tannins and without a big substance. It's so steep over there that you can't go down with a box of grapes on the shoulder, you have to take support on a post or something. They usually make some sort of tobogan, it's easier. It's a 2-hectare parcel, with rows at 1,1 meter from each other, density of 8500 vines/hectare and they pick half of the surface, the grower takes the rest. Very nice fruit, seductive wine.
Speaking of other vignerons in the region, Nicolas says that some are opening their minds in the good direction, like these growers from Coulanges who visited him and were asking for advice, they were conventional but already on the right track, Nicolas looks at their vineyard management regularly and they're basically almost organic. For exammple in 2015 they only sprayed twice. 2015 was of course a good year to downsize the spray frequency but few in the region have gone that far, to only make 2 sprayings during the whole season, around in the area people would do, say, 10 sprays instead of the usual 14... Speaking of sprays (which are often copper/sulfur), Nicolas says that 2015 was the first year where the lab didn't find measurable amounts of SO2 in this 2015 wines. Which tends to prove, as he most of the time doesn't add any SO2 in his wines (especially in 2015 where the grapes were healthy), that when you find small amounts of SO2 in natural wine, it often comes from the sulfur sprays that somehow make their way into the wine through the grapes' skins.
__ Irancy les Ronces 2015, from a 500-liter demi-muid. This is a parcel sitting above "les Beaux Monts", 45 ares exposed full south, surrounded by woods (many grapes eaten by roe deers), which he vinifies since 2010. An early-ripening parcel. The wine is fruity with a noticeable freshness reminiscent of bushes, and a sugary edge which he credits to the peculiarities of the vintage (2015). Usually I made an effort to pour the rest of my glass in the barrel, like we all usually do, but here I didn't, which doesn't mean the other wines weren't great....
__ Irancy La Croix Buteix 2015, from a normal volume cask (pièce). this is a beautiful climat planted with 45-year-old pinot noir that is located just above la Palotte. This terroir overlooks the Yonne river on a cliff, with little earth, like 30 centimeters only and then plain limestone, the vineyards over here are often complanted with a bit of César. La Pallotte and La Croix Buteix are separated by a road, with a bit more sand in the soil of the latter. Terrific aromas, with a spicy edge with a good tension. Speaking of SO2 2015 is certainly a vintage where he'll add no sulfites at all. Otherwise in other conditions he may add between 0 and 1 gram, but he notices that even half a gram is not neutral, it tightens the wines, and if he feels he can skip it, he doesn't add anything.
Nicolas explains us about an odd tool sitting on a barrel in the cellar, it is designed to help a lone worker to finish emptying a barrel, for example for a bottling or a racking : you can visualize how it works, positioned like on the picture above, with a steel stake resting on the wall and two sitting on the top of the barrel, you just turn the crank on the right and it will slowly tilt the barrel by pulling its back, thus letting the remaining juice flow without shocks. The worst thing when you reach the bottom of a barrel is having sudden movements mix the sediments with the wine, and this tool is doing the job without needing another worker to help. They don't filter their wines here and it's important to leave as much as possible the lees/sediments in the bottom.
__ Irancy blend of 2 parcels (2015 again), taken precisely from this cask above. Nicolas dubs these parcels Les Vieilles Mémères, these are venerable old vineyards, 80 to 93 years old. It's the 1st time ha makes this cuvée, it will be named Les Vieilles. This was the first parcel he picked in 2015, with a 15 % potential. Very beautiful wine, with a vibrant concentration and refined tannins, lovely wine. This will racked this autumn and bottled early 2017. All these wines including the rich ones with a higher alcohol have a steady natural acidity and they can age well.
We taste separately the 93-year-old parcel in another cask, the parcel was uprooted after that. Same beauty, feels even more acidic, I love that. Nicolas says that there were many missing vines and when there are too many it makes no point to replace them because you're diluting the old-age nature of the parcel. Terrific wine, when you smell the empty glass you get the instant understanding of this gem of a wine.
__ Irancy les Mazelots 2015, from a pièce (normal volume barrel). The parcel is on its way to be promoted 1er Cru. In Irancy there are 42 climats and 6 of them (including les Pallotes) have been selected by the vignerons of the AOC for a 1er Cru promotion, the answer of the wine authorities is pending. Vineyard age is plit in 3, some younger than others, with an average of 25. Tastes very well
__ Epineuil 2015, climat les Vals Noirs, from a barrel. This area has the northern-most pinots noirs of Burgundy, not far from the border of Champagne and Burgundy. Higher altitude also, at 250 meters. He works with this parcel since the start, in 2009. In the mouth it's refined with tannins that are very silky, a delight already without waiting more.
__ Epineuil 2015, sample taken from the Grenier vat (but same cuvée, he has only one parcel of Epineuil). This parcel (les Vals Noirs) sits along a road going to Chaource, with a soil thick with yellow, manganese clay; It's interesting to taste from the two types of élevage, the barrel and the large-capacity vat. Here the wood imprint is very nuanced (not that I noticed any marked woody character on the barrels). He'd like to work more with large-capacity foudres in the future. He may recover some of the Grenier vats that had been purchased originally by the Domaine Lemaire Fournier (scroll down to the 4th picture), he knows a guy in Ardèche who had recovered two of them when the winery closed down and doesn't use them anymore.
Nicolas also makes a BGO, Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire is one of the least-know (and humbly minor) appellation of Burgundy, this is often a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, I remember a few years ago my amazement when I discovere for example the delicious BGO made by Fred Cossard for a special cuvée sold only at Caves Augé, from that day I'd never look down a BGO again... Nicolas sayqs that what is interesting with using Gamay in this region for a BGO is that these are often old vines and that, because this is Gamay, growers don"t sell the grapes at a high price. And because it is deemed a minor AOC the wine authorities don't even bother to annoy him with asking for tasting a sample, they just leave him alone [in short, a dream of a situation for an AOC].
__ César 2015, an odd variety found here and there in Burgundy. 40-year-omd vines. Very dark wine, obviously not a pinot noir. One pièce (cask) only. Comes from the parcel of La Croix Buteix, with pinot noir planted with 10 % of César, the César vines being at the end of the rows. They say you can't make a mistake at picking time, first they don't ripen at the same time (César is very late) and the bunches are big and jump at your face, they'd add that certainly to augment the volume and add color. Il like the wine, but Nicolas isn't very excited about it. Rei finds it similar to the Barbera of Piedmont. This César makes only 12 % even though they picked it later, there was only 17 boxes total. He'll bottle the wine by gravity directly from the cask.
I have yet to check all the importers but for the United States it's Jenny & François (N.Y.) as well as Percy Selections (San Francisco), for Japan, Racines, for Australia, Andrew Guard; Holland Wijn Vriend; United Kingdom, Les Caves de Pyrène; Switzerland Le Passeur de Vin;
For a white, taste this aligoté with Aurelia with her delightful Quebec accent...
Read Aaron's visit report on Nicolas Vauthier.
A few prices for the wines