The objective of the estate is to produce wines that combine structure and finesse, concentration and charm. This balance must be achieved, while respecting the personality of the terroir and the vintage. To do this, it's necessary to show a great deal of respect at each stage of the wine-making process. And that must start in the vineyard!
Various procedures are implemented to realise these objectives: our viticulture seeks to favour the natural balances and reveal the terroir, yields are kept under control, harvesting is carried out carefully by hand and grapes are sorted prior to our winemaking procedure characterised by minimum interference. This encourages the fineness, the expression of the fruit and the personality of each wine rather than just extraction. Maturing is carried out carefully, with the extensive but controlled use of new casks. The wines are bottled without being fined or filtered.
Have a look at our practices in more detail, from the vineyard to bottling. Each stage is important and has its role to play in the production of a great wine.
Work in the vineyard
Even if the estate has no official certification, its practices are those of organic viticulture: the use of approved products only, the ploughing of the soil, an intimate knowledge of each vineyard plot, precision vinegrowing which seeks to prevent diseases and keep yields under control.These practices are demanding and time-consuming; they aim at a balance between the vines and their environment, the expression of the terroir and the climate specific to each vintage. Sometimes the pressure of diseases is too strong or the environment of the plot is too restrictive: a synthetic molecule may then be used, but only as a last resort, as material or human means are always favoured.
Work in the vineyard
The pruning must meet numerous objectives: to produce grapes, but also to ensure the plant's equilibrium and, if possible, to avoid diseases, particularly those affecting the wood, that have multiplied in recent years.
Of course, if it were just a question of pruning short, so as to maintain a reasonable yield, things would be too simple. On the contrary, in order to ensure that the leaves absorb enough light and that the bunches have enough air, you have to prune long; but obviously, to avoid the vines being subsequently overloaded, it will be necessary in May to eliminate some buds or branches on the canes thus pruned.
To keep the sap-flow within the plant well balanced, you must make sure that "eyes” are maintained on both sides of the row, as these will ensure the renewal of the producing branches.
It's very easy to imagine the extra work: on the one hand, an almost machine-like cut of the secateurs is enough; on the other, it's necessary to intervene at different times with the reasoned management of each vine. In such circumstances, any mechanisation, already difficult, becomes impossible.
This work, moreover, would be wasted if during the vegetative cycle, we didn't go through the vines (up to 4 times), row by row, separating the branches to keep them from becoming entwined: the vine is a creeper and it clings to whatever it can find. So in this case, you have to contradict it. Along the same lines, we realized that raising the height of the foliage and eliminating the leaves at the bottom led to better aeration of the area where the grapes grow and increased ripeness. Indeed, the leaves at the top are more active at the end of the season, because they are younger (a universal principle...), and this occurs at a critical moment, when the leaves play their part in accumulating sugar in the grapes. So it's worth the trouble to plan an extra intervention...
Organic viticulture obviously requires increased attention, too: the products are less effective, which means that you must be more vigilant, continually observe the vines and acquire a keen knowledge of the plots. Keeping the weeds under control is tedious work: no more herbicide, which you must admit was very practical (those of you with gardens will know what I mean): it's necessary to plough five times a year. And the horse is being reintroduced in difficult places, without forgetting the manual interventions at the end of the season, if the summer has been wet...
Our principal preoccupation in the summer, once the vine's growth cycle has begun to slow down, is green harvesting. Of course, by then, we have already taken preventive action. But at the same time, we've allowed ourselves some room to manoeuvre should anything go badly wrong... So it's necessary to be able to readjust the harvest by eliminating grapes either that will not ripen, whatever the circumstances, or that will prevent the others from ripening. This must be carried out discerningly, and there are priorities to respect, given that each vine is different!
The grape harvestThe harvest itself takes place in mid-September, at a date which has been carefully fixed, and everything must be implemented so that when the grapes arrive in the vat, they are as intact, as ripe and as healthy as possible.
The grape harvest
The month leading up to the grape harvest is a worrying time for the winegrower: his capacity to react is limited, given that the slightest climatic variation will have its consequences on the quality of the vintage. The date of the harvest obeys several constraints: to have the ripest and healthiest fruit possible, to take advantage of the best possible weather and to manage the harvest team in the best possible way.
There is a reference point that helps us: the length of the vegetative cycle. Traditionally, people talk about 100 days after flowering (oh yes, the vine has flowers too: without them there would be no fruit! They're very small flowers, so not very spectacular, but they give off an absolutely bewitching scent). But this traditional reference point lacks precision: from when do you start counting? Our observations, made on the basis of rigorous counting, would seem to indicate a period of 97-8 days, rather, once the flowering is completely finished. Obviously, that will vary according to the vintage.
The object of the game - and believe me, it resembles one - is to obtain grapes of maximum ripeness. However, we don't believe in over-ripeness, which some will seek for in the name of hypothetical phenolic ripeness, with grapes harvested 5-7 days after the end of the vegetative cycle: in our opinion, the resulting wines lack aromatic freshness and tend to be boring. Nor will we ever harvest on the basis of the acidity: Burgundy remains a northerly region and there's no shortage of it.
The optimum ripeness for Pinot Noir in Burgundy is situated somewhere around 13% ABV. At this level, you generally obtain a good concentration of the sugar, which allows you to produce voluptuous wines, and there's still enough acidity to preserve the freshness. Phenolic ripeness, the real ripeness of the fruit (through observing the skin, the pips, etc.), as opposed to the simple concentration of the sugar, is an attractive notion, but one that is difficult to determine. It can be approached by observing the vines and tasting the grapes and the juice.
The weather represents the big element of uncertainty in the month of September. Observations gleaned over the years provide us with some points of reference: the average number of hours of sunlight, the amount of rain which falls during the month leading up to the harvest. Keeping these statistics doesn't help to reduce the feeling of powerlessness that you experience in the month of September; at the very most, it's a diversion... The winegrower becomes dependent on weather forecasts, that he may listen to several times a day, despite their poor reliability.
You need to be able to put back the date of the grape harvest if a period of fine weather sets in, even belatedly: in that way, you benefit from a concentrating effect. On the other hand, you have to bring it forward if a depression is forecast. If it's wet, the spectre of rot is on the prowl, and there's no time to lose in the struggle between rot and ripeness; it's then a question of either picking not very ripe grapes or losing significant quantities of the harvest.
Nature can play other tricks to add a little spice to the process: an inexplicable difference in ripeness between the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir, a last-minute invasion of parasites...
Managing a team of grape-pickers is a delicate task: suddenly the number of people goes from 10-12 to 100. A good atmosphere is necessary, and many have been with us for a long time, but you have to get everyone, people who don't know one another and who don't know the job, to coexist and work together
People's goodwill is frequently called upon when the harvest date changes and everyone must remain available in spite of their professional and family constraints... When it rains, we don't harvest as it's essential not to bring in wet grapes, but that's not good for the pay... And when the weather's fine, it's difficult to explain why we are waiting...
Life is intense during the month of September, the scenario of the ripening vintage is rewritten several times, tension mounts and culminates when the grapes are picked, decidedly the high point of the year.
The means of harvesting, far from being neutral, plays it role in quality, just like the way the vines are trained and the wines are made.
First of all, the harvest must necessarily be manual, for the simple reason that it's not possible to sort a harvest done by machine, and unless the vintage is homogeneous (which is rarely the case) that can prove disastrous.
The grapes are therefore sorted on a table in the winery before being put into the vat. Sometimes we might also ask the pickers to do pre-sorting in the vineyard. In general, we try to avoid this, because they don't always do it discerningly and also, we want the picking to take place quickly; it's a quality factor.
In the winery, there's a team of 6 to 12 people at the sorting table, usually supervised by JNM, who remove the damaged or insufficiently ripe grapes. The proportion thus eliminated varies between 5 and 20% according to the vintage or the appellation.
Another basic principle, also incompatible with the use of the machine, must guide harvest: bringing into the winery grapes which are as intact as possible. We therefore use crates that contain between 15 and 20 kg of harvest to avoid too much pressure being exerted on the grapes. They must then be transported gently: the crates are loaded onto a tipper truck, which will shake the grapes much less than a trailer hooked up to a tractor. These trays have holes in them: the juice which escapes due to the weight of the harvest, which nonetheless is kept to a minimum, is thus eliminated, which is a good thing, as it has had time to oxidise during transport.
VinificationTemperature control is the fundamental contribution that modern techniques have made to our craft which has otherwise remained very traditional. It enables us to produce wine with "charm”, even if an over-standardised style of vinification would quickly lead to trivialisation.
The grapes are left to macerate at a low temperature (about 15°C or 60°F) for 3 to 5 days before the juice begins to ferment naturally. During the fermentation, temperatures are controlled (but not directed), so that they do not go above the critical threshold of 34-35°C (around 95°F), beyond which the activity of the yeasts might slow down or even stop.
At the beginning, we practise what is called pumping over, in other words pumping the juice from the bottom of the vat so as to spray the grapes which are at the top. Then towards the end of the fermentation, we begin to carry out pigeages, which means forcing the berries (the "cap”) down into the fermenting juice. This presses them slightly and liberates the seeds and thus the tannins.
It's better if this fermentation cycle, which lasts from two to three weeks, comes to an end gradually, and the concrete vats, which guarantee more reliable sterilisation from one harvest to the next than wooden vats, help us to maintain warmer temperatures that decrease slowly.
Not much extracting is done, nor is the harvest processed or pushed around too much: very little sulphur, very little chaptalisation or acidification, with pigeages only at the end of the fermentation.
In this way, the individuality of each wine can express itself..., but the grapes must be of excellent quality to begin with!
MaturingThe game is not over at the end of the vinification. The way in which the wine is matured in casks, during which time a second fermentation (malolactic, "la malo”) takes place, can greatly influence the presentation and stability of the wine, and thus its ageing potential.
Whether to use new oak casks or not is an important decision: a cask enables a wine to oxidise gently through the pores of the wood, which stabilises it, but also brings aromas that blend together with those of the wine..., or become dominant. A cask that has already been used leaves less of a "mark” on the wine, but after a few years, loses its powers of aeration, as the pores and the chinks between the pieces of wood gradually become blocked.
If you decide to put a wine in new casks, the toasting, the type of oak (origin, technical characteristics) must be adapted to the appellation, not to mention the proportion used. Adapting the proportion of new casks to the vintage is not reliable; the character of each wine as it emerges over the years is a far better indicator.
Other circumstances are also very important: when and how quickly the malolactic fermentation (not induced) takes place, the interaction with the lees, managing the rackings and the degree of aeration you want your wines to have... Each stage must be carefully thought out.
BottlingThe last stage, but not the least: after that, no more intervention is possible! So it's necessary to make sure that each cuvée is correctly "tuned”: its aromatic openness, how it performs on the palate, the protection it needs, without forgetting the choice of corks, the bottling conditions, etc.
The wines are racked, the different casks of the same appellation are brought together in a tank 3 to 4 weeks beforehand and the bottling takes place after a maturing period in casks of seventeen months on average (the wines of year 1 are bottled between January and July of year 3).
During this period, they are tasted several times in order to judge their readiness: we know them, we know what they are capable of achieving and can judge whether they need extra aeration, more time, etc... Some technical parameters (temperature, levels of CO2, SO2, etc.) are also monitored.
Generally speaking, the period for bottling is determined in advance according to the lunar calendar... But you must be able to adapt to the weather (never bottle during a depression), to the availability of manpower, etc.
The wines are bottled by gravity without any filtration, a longer (the clarification takes place naturally and over time) but much more respectful process. With the occasional exception (particularly for the whites), there is no fining, as the wines don't need it for their stability. In this way, they suffer no trauma. Always the same general principal at the estate: respect the raw material, treat the wine for what it is, a living substance which demands consideration.
A modern bottling chain enables us to take all the necessary precautions in order to ensure high-quality corking and thus the good ageing of our wines: washing and inerting the bottles, a vacuum between the wine and the cork to avoid high pressure, equal levels of wine. The corks are carefully selected and strict specifications are imposed on our suppliers. Ah, corks! They are such a source of worry for the vine-grower and the wine-lover... Their ability to ruin the work of several years is particularly frustrating; year by year, we reinforce our controls.
After the bottling, the vine-grower's work is finished, so to speak: it's then up to the wine-lover to ensure optimum storage (15°C or 60°F) maximum) and drinking conditions, but that's another story...