Burgundy Diary part 3: the Revival of Pousse d’Or, a Neat Invention, and the 2013 vintage

I remember the wines of Pousse d’Or from the early nineties as being among the most elegant in Volnay, with an indefinably delicate expression of Pinot Noir. Then with Gérard Potel’s death in 1997 the domain somewhat fell out of view. A visit this week explained the history and demonstrated its return to full form.

Patrick Landanger, who had been an engineer and inventor, bought the domain in 1997, and started by employing a régisseur (general manager). But it was very difficult to sell the 1998 vintage: many of the contacts with clients had been personal, and there wasn’t much confidence after Gérard Potel’s death. “Patrick was told that if he wanted to regain confidence he would need to make the wine himself. So he went to oenology school… The first vintage he made was 1999, which was well received,” explains commercial manager Marleen Nicot.

There’s been major investment here in a new building that houses a gravity-fed winery. It’s built into the side of the hill, with three levels to allow berries to come in at the top, go down into the barrels, and then down again for bottling. “We are happy to have the slope of Volnay here and to able to the work by gravity,” says Marleen.

Production is focused on red wine. There are 17 ha today, which is significantly more than in 1997, but the only white wine comes from a vineyard that was purchased in Puligny Montrachet. The heart of the domain remains the premier crus from Volnay, but Patrick has extended the domain first farther north on the Côte de Beaune with two vineyards in Corton, and then into Chambolle Musigny with some village wine and four premier crus. If Volnay is the most elegant appellation of the Côte de Beaune, Chambolle is its counterpart on the Côte de Nuits, but you don’t often get the chance to compare wines from these two appellations coming from the same winemaker.

Patrick has not stopped inventing. All the barrels of red wine have a glass structure on top that looks like a decanter. Called a ouilleur (from ouillage, which means topping-up), it’s a device that keeps the barrel completely full. A polythene top with holes and a flap allows gas be expelled, but air cannot enter. So the head space above the wine is filled by carbon dioxide that is released naturally from the wine. It means that opening the bung for topping up is required less often. You can also see whether malolactic fermentation is proceeding without needing to open the bung.

For all the premier crus there is one third new oak, one third one-year, and one third two-year; grand Crus have 40-45% new oak. Larger barrels (350 liter) are used for the white wine – Patrick prefers to reduce the oak surface – and oxidation will be lower. (I wonder if that will help to avoid premox). Ouilleurs are not used for the whites because of the need for battonage.

PousseDor-BarrelTW1The ouilleur reduces the need for topping up

We tasted the 2013s from barrique. The name of the Volnay Bousse d’Or reflects the refusal of the authorities to allow the same name to be used for both the domain and a premier cru, and the wine gives a precise, yet intense impression that will be very Volnay-ish as it develops. Two more premier crus from Volnay are in the same general style. Clos des 60 Ouvrées has a bit more punch and structure, but is less generous at this stage. People who like wines younger generally prefer Bousse d’Or; those who prefer to wait may prefer 60 Ouvrées. Clos d’Auvignac is concentrated and structured. The Chambolle Musigny’s seem a little rounder, a little more feminine, rising from the village wine with fruits that are lighter than the Volnays, to the premier cru Charmes, which is more restrained but promises to move in the direction of finesse and silkiness, to Les Amoureuses, which adds a touch of spice and a glossy sheen; then moving to the grand cru Bonnes Mares there’s just a bit more roundness and power, that indefinable difference that marks the grand cru. The 2013s have been successful here, and my two favorites of the moment are Bousse d’Or and Amoureuses, but in the future it would make a fascinating blind tasting to compare the exression of terroirs in the premier crus from Volnay and Chambolle Musigny as they mature.

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Even the Bad Times are Good: Mastering Sauvignon Blanc in Sancerre and Bordeaux

Visiting France in the Spring of 2013, it seemed likely it would be a difficult year: it was cold everywhere and bud break was substantially delayed. Things never really caught up during the growing season. Harvest was small and just about achieved ripeness.

The previous year had been difficult in many places: conditions in the Loire and in Bordeaux were somewhat similar overall, with rain in July, dry conditions in August and September, and then rain again. Harvested earlier, the whites may have come off better than the reds in Bordeaux. At the eastern edge of the Loire, Sancerre and Pouilly Fume produced quite rich 2012s, better than 2011 where there had been problems with rot.

At tastings of the 2012 and 2013 vintages in Sancerre and Pessac-Léognan, I was struck by the comparison between the regions and the vintages. The whites from Pessac offer a fascinating contrast with Sancerre. They range from 100% Sauvignon Blanc, which should be more or less directly comparable, to wines with up to 50% Sémillon. The more common use of oak in Bordeaux tends to soften the wines; and where new oak is used the flavor profile is quite distinct at this young age. Where Sémillon is high there is more of a nutty texture.

But Sancerre is no longer as distinct from Bordeaux as it used to be: the consequence of greater ripeness is that there are Sancerres where the fruits point more to peaches and apricots than citrus. Today, effectively Bordeaux and Sancerre each show a range of styles, with quite a bit of overlap. The old image of grassy herbaceousness has definitely gone.

Bordeaux tends to be citrus driven when there is 100% (or close to it) Sauvignon, with only occasional notes of grassiness. With Semillon the fruits become rounder and more stone-driven. But Sancerre is achieving a similar effect through greater ripeness. The richest Sancerre might be confused with Bordeaux; and some of the 100% Sauvignons in Bordeaux might be confused with Sancerre.

There seems, at this stage anyway, to be more of a distinct difference between 2012 and 2013 in Pessac than in Sancerre. In Pessac, acidity is noticeably more pressing in 2013, with fruits tending towards lemon and grapefruit, whereas 2012 gives more of a stone fruit impression.

In Sancerre, I noticed a great difference as to whether the current wine on offer was the 2013 or 2012 vintage. The difference was not so much in the intrinsic quality of the vintages (barrel samples show that 2013 was actually quite successful in Sancerre) or even the fact that the 2012 had had a year’s extra aging. The real point was that producers whose current vintage was 2013 had bottled it after no more than about four months on the lees; whereas producers who had not yet bottled 2013 and whose current vintage was 2012 had usually given the wine around eight months on the lees. The extra complexity from longer exposure to the lees was really evident. Is this the major difference between the artisanal and commercial approach?