Eisele Vineyard is one of the oldest single vineyard estate bottlings in the Napa Valley. Based near Calistoga on hillside plots, the soils for the top bottlings are based on an alluvial fan. After early plantings of Zinfandel and Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon was planted here in the early 1960s. The first bottling of these Cabernet plantings that bore the name Eisele Vineyard came in 1971 when a young Paul Draper (of Ridge fame) made the wine. While now impossibly rare to find, these legendary bottles are apparently still youthful, fresh and balanced, a testament to the terroir here. Subsequently plantings of Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and even a little Viognier have filled out the 15 hectares.
Wednesday was the last day of picking with a full team at Eugenie. Fortunately, there was not far to travel after breakfast at the Domaine, as we were picking the village vineyard Clos d’Eugenie which is attached to the winery. This half a hectare plot is made into its own label, separating it from Eugenie’s Vosne Romanée village wine which is made from different vineyards in the village. The enclosed vineyard sits just five metres from La Tache and Michel believes the quality here is a step above what one would expect from Bourgogne villages.
Saturday heralded in the first day of the harvest with a full team of pickers at Eugenie so I was up before sunrise, boots on and secateurs at the ready. Following a quick coffee and meeting the team, who had arrived from different parts of Burgundy, it was straight off to Echezeaux. This 37 hectare Grand Cru site is split into different sections with more than 45 different producers owning a share. Eugenie’s 0.5 hectare parcel sits in ‘Les Orveaux’, a fantastic site just above Clos de Vougeot. Michel mentions to me that he’s excited as, for him, this is the main and most important stage of the production. ‘Once the wine is in the vat, there are little things you can do. But making sure you have the best grapes possible going into the tanks, that is the most important’.
September is harvest time in France so I headed down to Burgundy and the Rhone Valley to spend some time with friends of Farr Vintners who also happen to make some outstanding wine.
After a little break on Sunday with only a short day at the Domaine, we ran a full day of analysis on the wines on Monday, when I was also helping to start pumping over the wines that were releasing their juices in order to promote oxygen contact and feed the yeasts. This was done gently for some cuvees where there is a desire not to add sulphur until after fermentation, but even light pumping over filled the air with the wonderful aromatics of ripe fruit. The colour from the destemmed berries is already a vivid red, with the whole bunch always slower to turn as the juice also flows through the stems, with less direct contact with the skins at first. The “baies par baies” cuvee was the slowest to yield any juice, and it was as much as we could do to get enough liquid for a sample, so slow is the extraction of juice from the berries!
Following four days of intense harvesting and selecting at the Domaine, the time I had left in Burgundy allowed me more freedom to see the other side of the process, taste some more wines, and relax a little bit.