Published by Gavin Monery on 11/05/2017
Climbers have Everest, surfers have Hawaii and winemakers have Burgundy. The Cote d’Or… where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can reach perfection, haunting our memories and hurting our wallets.
Walking into a Burgundian cellar as a young winemaker was daunting. I had come from Margaret River, an area famous to Australian wine lovers, but as it turned out, almost unheard of in Burgundy. When the locals asked where I was from, the answer elicited nothing more than a simple Gallic shrug. I guess when you live in the Louvre you don’t care much for the graffiti outside.
The Burgundians are as complex as the wines they make; eccentric, generous and loyal to a fault. Often they have spent generations living in tiny villages where feuds are inherited like vineyards and the constant stream of tourists means they can be slow to warm to outsiders. However, once they’ve decided you're alright, you’ll find they have warm hearts, quick wits and a more than passing affection for wine.
The vineyards are even more of a conundrum than the people; a complex web of soils overlaid with a classification system refined into tiny parcels, all of them making subtly different wines, even when only yards apart.
Working in Burgundy can be both an exercise in frustration and a revelation. Smaller negociants are at the mercy of growers and courtiers, who control the prices and availability of fruit each year, while the unusual system of fermage often restricts the amount of control a winemaker can have.
In order to ensure that the quality of the raw material is of the highest standard, it is a necessity to work with people you know and trust. Pinot Noir is a fickle grape to grow and unforgiving to make even when conditions are good; there’s no point making it harder than it needs to be!
My first harvest in Burgundy was 2009, a year blessed with so much sun the wines could have come from California, while my second in 2010 was a different animal entirely; cooler and more traditional, giving wines of freshness and elegance. I skipped 2011 to work in the Rhone and when I returned in 2012 I knew enough of the place and people to attempt making some wine of my own.
I called in some favours and was able to buy a few tonnes each of Puligny-Montrachet and Gevrey-Chambertin, from well managed vineyards with low yields of healthy grapes. By this time I’d been making wine for 12 years, but nothing had prepared me for standing over a vat of wine that had taken my life savings to make; I was ecstatic but my wife was somewhat less pleased. In any case we had a little part of Burgundy that was ours, bubbling its way into wine, and we named it Le Reveur.
The growing season in Le Reveur’s second vintage of 2013 was typical of Burgundy, with a late spring, cool summer and grapes reaching full ripeness in October. Whilst producers find these conditions more challenging, it’s often in these cooler vintages that Pinot Noir excels. A long growing season allows for the slow accumulation of sugars, flavours and tannins, meaning grapes can be harvested when perfectly balanced, while in warmer years the sugars can race ahead, creating an overly ripe style.
In my opinion, the best Pinot Noirs have a certain wildness about them, with aromas of cherries, redcurrants and a savoury, spicy undertone. They should be juicy with fresh acidity, mouth filling texture and some subtle tannic grip. I am hoping I have captured these classic qualities of Pinot Noir in the Le Reveur wines and, while they are drinking well now, they will age gracefully for ten years or more.
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