Harvest 2016: Young Vines & Chassagne Montrachet
Friday, 7 October 2016 by Ben Browett
I arrived in Burgundy bright and early where I met the ever smiling Burgundian Michel Mallard. Michel, as well as his own family Domaine in Aloxe Corton, has been producing top quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here in Vosne Romanée since the domaine was bought by Francois Pinault. Domaine Engel became Domaine Eugenie, and in terms of quality and reputation, the Estate has never looked back.
You may remember Thomas Parker explaining the geography of the estate on his trip here last year. The domaine is sandwiched between Georges Noellat and Meo-Camuzet and sits just at the bottom of a hill containing La Tâche, Malconsorts, Gaudichots, Romanée Conti…to name a few. Eugenie has no less than 3 Grand Cru sites of its own, as well as its own ‘Clos d’Eugenie’, a little village vineyard attached to the winery which is brilliant value for money if you can find it.
I took in the rolling hills of vines as we headed to Les Brulées, a premier cru site just to the north east of Vosne Romanée. Here I joined a team of 10 pickers and we got to work picking the Pinot Noir grapes from the young vines of the vineyard. All the grapes from the youngest vines are made into a separate wine at the Domaine since they are not deemed good enough to go into Eugenie’s single vineyard labels, one of many techniques designed to increase quality of the final wine. Unlike the Rhône where the temperature remains relatively warm, Burgundy is much more inconsistent. The mornings were crisp and a little wet, discouraging for winemakers with one eye on botrytis, and then sunny and warm in the middle of the day.
The second half of the day was getting the grapes from bunch to vat in the winery via the destemming machine. Not too laborious a task but a taste of what’s to come tomorrow when we start to pick the main Grand Cru sites. With the young vines in the vat, Michel opened up a bottle of Eugenie Vosne Romanée Villages, delicious and great to see the precise fruit style and super long finish that is being produced here.
I was staying with Mathieu whose house next door to the winery and overlooking La Tâche is a nice change from the London scenery I am used to. He kindly opened Eugenie Les Brulées 2011 (a good age to start opening any good Burgundy you’ve got in the cellar or in Octavian) and explained the fascinating vineyard treatment. There is a only a thin layer of soil between the top layer of earth and the rock at Brulées, so before planting new vines, Michel and the team at Eugenie use drills to blast the rock, creating holes for the roots to travel down into. It gives the wine wonderful texture as well as the usual Pinot aromatics, for me, Grand Cru level without the Grand Cru price.
With Brulées still on the lips, I headed to bed as we were rising very early for the 45 minute drive to the South of Beaune. There are worse drives! We passed through Nuits St Georges, Pommard, Volnay and Meursault before stopping at Eugenie’s vines, just before the village of Chassagne Montrachet. We were here to pick the grapes from Eugenie’s vines in Puligny Montrachet and Bâtard Montrachet vineyards and the dozen or so rows of vines of Montrachet just next to those owned by DRC.
I was unsure how plentiful the picking would be, after the disastrous frost and hail which affected the region in April - "the worst since 1981". The reality was, as expected, not many grapes but those we picked looked healthy and Michel is confident that, despite the small quantity, he will produce a good wine. Good luck getting an allocation though!
With picking in The Côte de Beaune finished, it was back to The Côte de Nuits with Mathieu for some more picking of young vines and getting prepared for the arrival of the full team of pickers tomorrow. It was a perfect weather forecast over the weekend, so looked like Michel had got his timing just right, using first-mover advantage to pick the grapes whilst ripe and unlikely to be affected by any adverse conditions. The winemakers round here have had enough of that recently for a decade!