Caveau

A personally culled collection of the best of Burgundy & Grower Champagne, delivered to your door.

Caveau Selections -  from winemaker-importer Scott Paul Wright. We're specialists in the best of Burgundy and Grower Champagne, delivered to your door. Join our mailing list, sign-up for our Burgundy and Champagne Clubs, and take advantage of our exclusive pre-arrival offers. Start drinking hand-selected wines from the top artisanal producers at direct-import prices!

Burgundian Indian Summer

Yes, they do call it “Indian Summer’ over here too. “l’Été Indien” is in full swing - we’ve had 6 straight days of gloriously sunny, 70+-degree days, just as the vines are turning bright yellow and earning their name the “slope of gold” (though I actually subscribe to the theory that the name Côte d’Or actually comes from “slope of the east”, but I digress…)

The slope of Pommard. Whoa.

The slope of Pommard. Whoa.

I’ve just started tasting the very fine 2016s at a few of our producers, and will get a serious look at all of them before heading back to Portland in December. The 2016s are really, really good - at least at the top 10% of producers - but there are hardly any wines to be had. It’s a shame that these wines are so good, but from a vintage that produced the smallest crop in modern history. Coming after the classic 2015s, many folks may be tempted to sit out the ‘16s, but I truly believe that would be a mistake. Getting hold of any of the ‘16s will be the true issue - if you can find any from your preferred domaines, snap ‘em up when you can, as they are really lovely wines. Balanced, good fruit, good energy, and they’ll be offering up their best on the earlier side - something that doesn’t happen here all that often.

More beauty - the hill of Corton

More beauty - the hill of Corton

Aside from being one of the absolutely great vintages of the last 50 years, something else notable happened here in 2015. It was the first vintage for a trio of young winemakers who I believe will be among the next generation of superstars here. Mathias Parent at A-F Gros, Joannès Violot-Guillemard in Pommard, and Thibaud Clerget at Yvon Clerget in Volnay all took the reins for the first time in ’15, and they came out of the gate with a bang. The proof, for me, is in their 2016s, which are flat-out gorgeous. Just about everybody made good wine in 2015. To have killed it in ’16 like these young lions is a great sign. The Clerget wines have been my greatest discovery here so far this fall - a domaine that dates back 28 generations - but was just re-launched in 2015 by young M. Clerget and his stellar line-up of Volnay 1er Crus. (Yes, they’ll be part of our Caveau world in the new year - stay tuned for all the action to come…)

Burgundy's new young guns - Mathias, Thibaud and Joannès.

Burgundy news updates...

A couple of significant new developments happening here. One - the announcement that the dossier proposing 1er Cru designation for parts of the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation has been approved. It will go into effect in 2019, and depending on when the papers are actually signed, the wines from the 2018 vintage could be allowed to carry the 1er Cru designation where applicable.

In total, 22 different sites covering 182.4 hectares have been included in the upgrade to 1er Cru, of the over 800 hectares in the appellation. Among the climats included in the upgrade are Ménètrières, Vigne Blanche, and Vers Cras - pieces of which are owned by our longtime producer Domaine Thibert Père et Fils in Fuissé. I'm happy to see these great terroirs get the recognition they deserve, as is the industry at large. We've always known that not all Pouilly-Fuissé was created equal! The new 1er Crus are in all four villages of the appellation - Fuissé, Chaintré, Vergisson, and Solutré-Pouilly. Will prices increase for the new 1er Crus? I imagine they certainly will, but it will be2-3 years before the 1st 1er Crus would be released, so we'll have to sit tight for a bit...

Roche Solutré_2.jpg

The other item that's buzzing here is word that Champagne Louis Roederer has bought the Burgundy Grand Cru Monopole Clos de Tart - reportedly for a staggering sum of 220 million Euros. At 7.53-hectares, that comes to 29 MILLION Euros per hectare, or a cool 11.8 MILLION Euros (or about 14 MILLION $$) per acre - which I believe would set the new record for vineyard land here. Whoa. I don't have confirmation of this yet, but if it's true it is mind-blowing indeed.

Christophe Thibert, proud owner of some newly-designated 1er Crus in Pouilly-Fuissé

Christophe Thibert, proud owner of some newly-designated 1er Crus in Pouilly-Fuissé

In our film Three Days of Glory (coming your way in 2018!), we talk a lot about the rising prices of Burgundy vineyards and the effects of corporate money coming in - I hope and pray that this is not just the tip of a massive iceberg...

Champagne and Chablis, the barnstorm tour, Pt. 1

Fred and Céline Gueguen have a cool new guest house on their estate in Chablis -  2BR, 2BA - which we highly recommend if you’re looking for a nice place to spend a couple of nights in Chablis. We kicked off our whirlwind tour through Chablis and Champagne with a stop at the Gueguen’s on Sunday night. They took us up to the lookout spot at the top of the Grand Crus - a gorgeous view - and then to their newly expanded winery facility across the river in La Chapelle Vaupelteigne for a sneak-preview of the still-fermenting ‘17s. Then down into the cellar to test the entire line-up of the 2016s, which were gorgeous. A very classic Chablis vintage, with intense, bright minerality. We’ll have another allocation of these coming in the spring - and yes, there will be some of their amazing Rosé in the spring too. Oh yeah, there is now some Grand Cru Chablis Blanchots in the Gueguen arsenal as well - stay tuned!

Then it was up to Ville-sur-Arce in the Aube for our first Champagne stop at Jérôme & Valérie Coessens - into the vineyard, into the cellar, and then into their living room for a 4-course lunch that rocked. The Coessens wines - all from the same single vineyard, all single grape, single vintage, are always amazing to taste. I’m a huge fan of his Brut Nature, but the 2014 Coteaux Champenois, the de-stemmed version, was a revelation with lunch. We’ll likely never see any of this in the US - few in America really understand that still wines from Champagne are actually a thing - but the good ones can rival some 1er Cru Burgs. Killer stuff…

Checking out the terroir in the l'Argillier vineyard with Jérôme Coessens. Photo - Martha Wright

Checking out the terroir in the l'Argillier vineyard with Jérôme Coessens. Photo - Martha Wright

Vincent Laval (Champagne Georges Laval), the wizard of Cumières, always blows my mind every time I taste in his cellar. The purity, precision, and depth of his wines just may be unparalleled. Wow. He hand-disgorged his last bottle of 2008 for us, which was gorgeous beyond words. Truly a treat, every minute I get to spend with him and his juice…

Vincent Laval - the wizard of Cumières

Vincent Laval - the wizard of Cumières

The ball of energy and force of nature that is Sophie Cossy tasted us through her lineup and showed us her newly re-designed labels, which I like a lot. She joined us for lunch at Doko Koko in Reims, the new “bistro” from the chef-owner of Racine, my favorite spot in Reims proper. It’s a 29 EURO prix-fixe for entrée-plat-dessert - with two choices in each and you can’t go wrong. Absolutely delicious. And a bottle of Laherte Rosé de Meunier at 45 Euros to boot - I could eat there everyday. I’ll be back at Cossy in November to do the dosage trials for the next release of the Caveau Extra-Brut - always a hugely exciting (and learning) experience…

Tasting the 2011 Blanc de Blancs with Sophie Cossy. Photo - Martha Wright

Tasting the 2011 Blanc de Blancs with Sophie Cossy. Photo - Martha Wright

Speaking of Laherte, Aurélien blew us away with his 12-wine lineup, not counting a few experimental cuvées down in the cellar (including an interesting “pet-nat”, and a zero-sulfur bottling), and then one of the few remaining bottles of his 2006 Vignes d’Autrefois - evolved and complex and very, very fine.

Just a part of the tasting lineup today at Laherte Fréres. Photo - Martha Wright

Just a part of the tasting lineup today at Laherte Fréres. Photo - Martha Wright

The drive west along the Marne out to the tiny hamlet of Launay (pop. Approx. 20!) to visit La Parcelle is always beautiful - and it never ceases to amaze me how “in the middle of nowhere” it really is. Stéphanie Chevreux and Julien Bournazel have an amazing, funky, cool, earthy and biodynamic farm there, and a crooked stone house from the 1700s that they call home. Their daughter Jade may be coming to stay with us in Oregon for a bit next year - she’s the same age as Pirrie and wants to come work on her English. I’m happy to report that with the addition of a new vineyard in Connigis, La Parcelle will soon have more than their normal 900 bottles a year for sale! The new parcel will produce a whopping 300 cases or so - but it’ll be a few years yet until any of that is released. In the meantime, we’re thrilled to continue to get our allocation of 10-15 cases per year of their magical elixir.

Jade, Pirrie, your intrepid importer, with Stéphanie & Julien on the farm at La Parcelle. Photo - Martha Wright

Jade, Pirrie, your intrepid importer, with Stéphanie & Julien on the farm at La Parcelle. Photo - Martha Wright

One of my most enticing discoveries has been the delicious work Julien Launois is doing with his fabulous Grand Cru holdings in Mesnil-sur-Oger. Fruit that used to go the co-op is now being vilified in-house since the 2015 vintage, and in 2016 he started a single-barrel program that is perhaps the coolest innovation in Champagne in recent history. The new label will be called Paul Launois - watch your emails for updates and offers to come. This is world-class juice…

Julien Launois, pouring a just-disgorged 1998 in Mesnil-sur-Oger. Photo - Martha Wright

Julien Launois, pouring a just-disgorged 1998 in Mesnil-sur-Oger. Photo - Martha Wright

Those of you in the Champagne Club will soon be getting your first taste of the talents of Gaetan Gillet and his label Champagne MOST - he’s the incredibly dynamic entrepreneur who became Champagne’s youngest vigneron ever at age 22 a few years back. He’s just moved into the old Mumm facility in Avize, which he’s renovating himself, and has some 30 different single-parcel Grand Cru Champagnes in barrel from the 2017 vintage in his new cellar. We won’t see any of these for a long time, though - he’s committed to keeping his wines 7 years or so on the lees prior to release. He’ll be releasing his 2013s in maybe 2020 - but until then we’ll have some more of his delicious Champers from purchased fruit on the way, stay tuned…

In the cellar in Avize with Gaetan GIllet, Champagne MOST. Photo - Martha Wright

In the cellar in Avize with Gaetan GIllet, Champagne MOST. Photo - Martha Wright

Is there a more congenial, fun, and entertaining host in Champagne than Cyril Janisson at Janisson-Baradon in Épernay? He’s just the best, and his wines are spot-on. His tasting room and shop in the center of town are the MUST stop when you’re in town…

The one and only Cyril Janisson, at Janisson-Baradon in Épernay. Photo - Martha Wright

The one and only Cyril Janisson, at Janisson-Baradon in Épernay. Photo - Martha Wright

In all, a fabulous swing through bubble-land. I’ll be back up there in a few weeks to see everyone I missed this time, and to finish up the next Caveau releases as well. Rock on!

The lemon tart of my dreams - at Le Jardin in Reims. Photo - Martha Wright

The lemon tart of my dreams - at Le Jardin in Reims. Photo - Martha Wright

Running through the terroir

While on morning runs with Martha from Beaune to Pommard and back (or to Volnay or Meursault, depending on how far we want go), it’s been way interesting to discover some of the subtle nuances that make these individual climats (named vineyards) so different. Terroir is made up of so many things, but as you pass closely by the same parcels every day you can start to get a feel for some of the micro-climate nuances that contribute to the differences in the resulting wines.

There’s a spot in the Beaune 1er Crus when the road turns to the east and dips a bit, just below Les Avaux, when you can suddenly feel the temperature drop a few degrees as the wind blows down from a break in the hillside above. You can see exactly where the fog settles in the valley between the two slopes of Pommard, and which parcels are generally above the fog most mornings. You can see which parcels drain well and those where the water pools. You can feel when the wind is blocked and see why that parcel is warmer and likely to ripen earlier. Fascinating stuff indeed. You can see which blocks get the most sun, and thus are the ones to more consistently fully ripen.

I thought it might be interesting to map my run the other morning. I was amazed to see that on a 12-mile run to Meursault and back I had gone through some 48 different climats -

Beaune - les Sceaux, la Creusotte, Teurons, Reversées, Clos de la Mousse, aux Cras, les Avaux, Tuvilaine, Chouachoeux, Beaux Fougets, Boucherottes

beaune.jpg

Pommard - Boucherottes, Epenots, en Largilliere, Charmots, Clos de la Commaraine, Poutures, Croix Noires, Chaponniers, Fremiers, Jarolières

pommard.jpg

 

Volnay - Fremiets, Chanlins, Pitures, Clos des Ducs, La Barre, Bousse d’Or, Carelle sous Chapelle, en l’Ormeau, Ronceret, Champans, Caillerets, Chevret, Aussy, Lurets, Santenots,

volnay.jpg

Meursault - Clos des Santenots, Santenot de dessous, Santenot de milieu, Marcasse, Criots, Peutes Vignes, Corbins, Perchots, en la Barre, Clos de la Barre.

meursault.jpg

Wow. A great run, and a nice study in micro-climates and terroir. Multi-tasking at its finest!

Bad to the Beaune...

We're settling into life here in Beaune - three weeks in and it's starting to feel like we're in a nice rhythm. The apartment already feels like "home", we've got a nice routine with our various running trails and the track nearby, we've got our bakery and food vendor preferences pretty much dialed in, and it all feels really good.

Enjoying some gorgeous fall days here on the Côte. Photo - Martha Wright

Enjoying some gorgeous fall days here on the Côte. Photo - Martha Wright

My girls have found a nice yoga studio just down the block, have checked out one of the local wine-tasting seminars, and Martha took the wonderful cooking class at the Cook's Atelier which is just around the corner. Our friends Marjorie and Kendall have built a thriving enterprise here - I'm so happy for them.

Yes, there IS great pizza in France - at Pizzeria Bufala in Beaune...

Yes, there IS great pizza in France - at Pizzeria Bufala in Beaune...

More thoughts on vintage 2017 here. It was solidly excellent pretty much across the board in the Côte d'Or, with the quantity of the whites down a bit due to the spring frosts, but most people are reporting a "normal" sized crop - meaning what "normal" used to mean before the last decade of tiny crops. The one caveat is that in an attempt to make up for a lot of lost crop from the last several years, some producers may have yielded to temptation and let a too-heavy crop hang, resulting in a potential lack of concentration. The better producers all reported "correct" yields - 2.5-3.5 tons per acre for the Pinot, but I'm afraid there are some who went way overboard. It's a potentially superb vintage, but it seems there will be variability due to excessive yields on the part of some producers.

Chablis suffered massive losses again this year - we'll be heading up there on Sunday to see Fred & Céline Gueguen and get all the scoop. Then we'll spend all of next week in Champagne. The word there is that the Chardonnay was superb, but quantity was less than hoped for. The Pinot Noir and the Meunier suffered from some serious mildew and rot attacks late in the season, and had to be sorted severely. Aurélien Laherte reports sorting out nearly 50% of his Meunier in Chavot.

Only in Beaune -  DRC La Tâche and Romanée-St. Vivant at the supermarket!

Only in Beaune -  DRC La Tâche and Romanée-St. Vivant at the supermarket!

What makes the better producers better? Diligence, vigilance, never being willing to just "let things go" - the best of the best are on TOP of it at all times, dedicated and focused and determined. While running through the vines from Volnay back to Beaune on Sunday morning, we ran into my old boss Robert Drouhin, head of Maison Joseph Drouhin here since 1957. Robert officially "retired" in 2003, but there he was at 8am on a Sunday morning, out inspecting his blocks of Beaune Clos des Mouches post-harvest, taking pictures and trying to figure out why one block had leaves that were turning redish-brown well before the others. The man in his 80s, and he's still ON it. Quite an inspiration - no slacking allowed!

My final resting place? Martha has instructions to scatter my ashes here - Musigny to the right, les Amoureuses to the left... Photo - Martha Wright

My final resting place? Martha has instructions to scatter my ashes here - Musigny to the right, les Amoureuses to the left... Photo - Martha Wright

My co-producer-director David Baker and I are making nice progress on the final phases of our Three Days of Glory documentary - nothing is locked in yet, but it's looking like we may be having a sneak-preview screening (of a "nearly-finished" film) here on Nov. 19th - more details soon...

OK, if we must...

OK, if we must...

Action up and down the Côte...

It’s been pretty much non-stop action since the Paulée at Huber-Verdereau. Between settling in to a new rhythm of life here in Beaune, all of my normal work activity, work on our movie, running every morning (Beaune Half-Marathon coming up in November), and some exploring in Dijon, there have not been a lot of dull moments.

Thiébault Huber - rockin' the 6-liter at his Paulée

Thiébault Huber - rockin' the 6-liter at his Paulée

Oh, and I had Musigny for breakfast on Saturday. Doesn’t everyone? François Millet at Domaine de Vogüé in Chambolle invited me in for a quick taste of the newly fermented ‘17 Musigny just out of the press, and then a taste of the ’15 Musigny which had just been bottled in May. The ’15 is an astonishingly great wine - a 97-98-pointer in my book. Destined to be one of the great de Vogüé Moose bottlings of all time. I hope I’m around in 20 years to see it get really interesting. It was fascinating to taste two different tanks of the ’17 - one from 25 year-old vines, one from 40-50 year-olds - there was indeed a clear difference. More concentration, more subtle power from the older vines. The length is amazing, younger and older vines alike. The length is there from day one in the truly great wines. Un grand merci, François…

Just-fermented Musigny straight from the vat. Your intrepid importer, hard at work...

Just-fermented Musigny straight from the vat. Your intrepid importer, hard at work...

I’ve been doing a lot of research to try and pull together the final pieces we need for Three Days of Glory, our documentary feature that we should be releasing in early 2018. I’ve been able to get access to the archives of the city of Beaune - they have everything, including the original city charter, on parchment, from the year 1203. Whoa. I’m hopeful we’ll have the film close enough to finished to have a pre-release screening here in Beaune over the Trois Glorieuses weekend in November…

Wine list from the 1924 Hospices de Beaune auction banquet. They were drinking fairly well...

Wine list from the 1924 Hospices de Beaune auction banquet. They were drinking fairly well...

Spent a fun day in Dijon en famille, and then Pirrie and I went to see the Dijon v. St. Étienne soccer match. I was underwhelmed by the energy level of the crowd. Most of the European matches I’ve been too have been in loud, boisterous stadiums - but the Dijonnais crowd basically sat there silently for the entire game. Maybe I’m spoiled by the great spirit of the crowds in Portland at the Timbers games. The Timbers Army needs to come teach these Burgundians a thing or two!

At the stadium in Dijon. Fun match, dull crowd...

At the stadium in Dijon. Fun match, dull crowd...

Season 6 of one of my favorite TV shows ever - Engrenages - started this week. I got hooked on it on Netflix back home (it’s called "Spiral" in English, and the first four seasons are available for streaming in the US. I highly recommend it if you like well-written, well-acted police/murder mystery stuff…)

Audrey Fleurot - one of the stars of Engrenages

Audrey Fleurot - one of the stars of Engrenages

Eating and drinking well in France doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Sometimes there’s truly nothing better than a classic “Sandwiche Mixte”….

Jambon, fromage, beurre. Paradis.

Jambon, fromage, beurre. Paradis.

And finally - you know you’re in a small town when the lead story in the newspaper is about dog poop…

Dog-poop - is it out of control in Beaune? (Not that I've seen - this is really clean city...)

Dog-poop - is it out of control in Beaune? (Not that I've seen - this is really clean city...)

La-la-la-la-la-la-la-lair-uh...

Last night was the end of harvest Paulée at Domaine Huber-Verdereau in Volnay. A very tired but happy crew chowed down on a feast of Choucroute Garni brought down from Alsace by Thiébault's parents, a fabulous chocolate-strawberry-genoise-whipped cream gateau, free-flowing Crémant and a 6-Liter Methusalem of the domaine's 2005 Pommard.

The '05 Village wines are starting to show beautifully. This was a stunner...

The '05 Village wines are starting to show beautifully. This was a stunner...

And then everybody broke out in song. The songs at these domaine Paulées are not the same ones you hear at the Paulée de Meursault or the Chevaliers dinners at the Chateau de Vougeot - they are decidedly quite raunchy. I'm always amazed to see the grandmothers and old aunts and uncles in the room passionately singing along, to lyrics that are patently unprintable...

Some of the harvest crew putting on a skit at the Paulée, including Thiébault's son Matthieu at right...

Some of the harvest crew putting on a skit at the Paulée, including Thiébault's son Matthieu at right...

It's all over but the singing here, for the most part. On our run from Beaune to Pommard and back this morning I saw only one crew in the vines. Virtually all of the fruit is now in the wineries and fermentations are getting underway. The relief at finally having a proper-sized crop is apparent on every vigneron face you see. There are many who weren't sure how they were going to make it through, but with this 2017 harvest they now have a lifeline. I'm so happy for them.

One tired and happy vigneron...

One tired and happy vigneron...

We're a week and a day into settling into daily life here in Beaune, and it's going really well. The routine of a fresh baguette and the paper every morning seems already fully ingrained, as does the apéro at the end of the afternoon. When in France...

Burgundy & Champagne Harvest update 9-14-17

Most folks on the Côte de Beaune are now done, or will be finishing up in the next 24 hours. Pretty much the same story up in the Côte de Nuits as well - they started a bit later, but most are wrapping up shortly. The weather has been unseasonably cold the last 3 days, so the grapes aren't getting any riper at this point. The cool weather has helped keep good acidity levels, and everything was already quite ripe, so things have really worked out well. Chardonnay yields are down a bit, but still way up over the last several miserly years, and the Pinot yields are excellent across the board. The tanks and barrel cellars will finally be full. Whew...

Hasn't really changed much since the MIddle Ages (though no one dresses so nicely for pigeage these days...)

Hasn't really changed much since the MIddle Ages (though no one dresses so nicely for pigeage these days...)

After another rough year in Chablis, harvest started this week, and the grapes that they have seem to be in very good shape and have reached good maturity. Some sectors were nearly a 100% loss due the spring frost in April, while others escaped fairly unscathed. Down south, two hail events hit Fleurie very hard in the Beaujolais, for yet another year. Yikes. Most of the Crus lost a fair amount of crop this year again, which makes me very sad (and reminds me to stock up on whatever '16s and '15s I can find!)

Loading les caisses in Clos du Colombier for their quick trip to the winery

Loading les caisses in Clos du Colombier for their quick trip to the winery

Champagne, being such a far-flung region with dozens of micro-climates, has some folks already finished up, and some just getting into the thick of it now. Word from Aurélien Laherte  at Laherte Frères this morning is that they've finished up, with the Chardonnay being the star of the vintage for sure (have heard that from multiple sources), and that the Pinot and the Meunier needed pretty severe sorting to cull out the rot that had developed from all of the rain events prior to harvest. Those who sorted diligently will make excellent wines, as the ripeness levels were very good. Those who throw everything into the tank may not be so successful. It'll be a good year to separate the better growers from the rest.

Between vineyard visits and getting some nice runs in every morning in the vines, I've also been getting a good amount of time in on editing our documentary film "Three Days of Glory". It's getting very exciting - we've got a composer working on all the original music for the score as we speak, and we're getting the footage tighter and tighter as go. We're at a point where I can see the end in sight, and I really love how it's going. A special sneak-preview here in Beaune is a distinct possibility for this November. More as it happens...

Tonight is the end-of-harvest Paulée dinner at Huber-Verdereau in Volnay - Pirrie worked on the harvest crew this year, so she really deserves the celebration tonight. We're all looking forward to a fun night of Bacchanalia and Burgundian drinking songs, and god knows what else. The last time I was here for Thiébault's Paulée, in 2010, everybody got naked and went down the block to moon the village baker at about 3am. Never a dull moment here - more as it happens...

Perhaps he had a bit too much at the Paulée in 1865?

Perhaps he had a bit too much at the Paulée in 1865?

Live from Burgundy - harvest update 9-10-17

Sundays are always eerily quiet in France, but right in the thick of the harvest it's a different story all together. Action continued hot and heavy everywhere today, with a lot of our producers planning to finish up in the Côte de Beaune over the nest 2-3 days, and some folks here are already done, as we've seen the harvest Paulées beginning in Meursault, Volnay and Pommard.

Thiébault Huber and crew with some gorgeous fruit headed for the winery...

Thiébault Huber and crew with some gorgeous fruit headed for the winery...

Today was the first chance I had to get up to the Côte de Nuits, where in the last few days massive picking has happened. Virtually all the Grand Crus were pretty much fully picked out - La Tâche, Romanée-Conti, Musigny, Bonnes Mares looked to be all done. There was a parcel or two of Romanée-St. Vivant still hanging, and the DRC crew was picking one of their pieces of Richebourg as we cruised by this afternoon. We saw one crew in action in Clos de Bèze, but the rest of the Gevrey Grand Crus also looked to be done. Hundreds of crews were in action in every village, with most people picking their Village and Bourgogne parcels today.

It's not every day you get to see the DRC crew picking Richebourg

It's not every day you get to see the DRC crew picking Richebourg

Sophie Meunier-Confuron says they'll finish everything tomorrow or early Tuesday at the latest at J-J Confuron. Perfect picking weather today - sunny and cool - had all the crews out working long days to bring in as much as they can under ideal conditions. Tomorrow looks great as well, so we may see lots of folks bringing in the last of the '17 fruit in the next two days.

The literal fruits of their labors...

The literal fruits of their labors...

Got in a nice 10K run this morning, from our apartment in Beaune out through the vines and into Pommard and back. Ran into Caroline Parent and her dad François overseeing the crew picking their Beaune les Boucherottes this morning - stopped for a second to kiss everyone on both cheeks and then continued the run. Then saw Thierry Violot-Guillemard gunning his 4x4 through the streets of Pommard on the way to his cuverie. Burgundy is, at the end of the day, a small town...

Daughter Pirrie is picking Pommard Clos du Colombier with the Huber-Verdereau crew today, and will surely be one tired girl when she goes to school tomorrow in Beaune with Thiébault's daughter Clara. Martha also got into the action with secateurs in hand - what a trip! Have we really only been here 4 days? The non-stop adventure continues, stay tuned...

MIss Martha in the Clos du Colombier

MIss Martha in the Clos du Colombier

On the front lines - harvest is on in Burgundy!

We arrived Wednesday evening, and headed off first thing the next morning into the vineyards to check in on harvest first-hand. It hasn't really sunk in yet that we're here for 3+ months, rather than my usual 3-4 week trips, and that at some point we'll actually get to settle in and "live here".

The Buisson-Charles crew harvesting in Meursault yesterday...

The Buisson-Charles crew harvesting in Meursault yesterday...

In the vines, I'm happy to report that all of my producers are smiling a lot and very happy. The quality looks to be superb everywhere, and everyone is picking grapes at good maturity, nice balance and rich flavors. There will be no need for anyone to chaptalize - add sugar - anywhere here this year. Most importantly - the quantity is abundant. FInally. Yay! There's a big fat crop of reds coming in, though the whites are a little lighter overall, having suffered more from spring frosts this year. After 7 straight years of minimal crops, this bumper crop is hugely welcome. There will now be enough wine to sell for many of the small producers to be able to stay in business - if they can survive the brutal 18 months ahead.

B-C vigneron Patrick Essa sorting his Meursault Millerans in the vineyard

B-C vigneron Patrick Essa sorting his Meursault Millerans in the vineyard

Every vineyard road is jammed cheek-to-jowl with the ubiquitous white vans that transport the pickers from parcel to parcel, and every road, alley and driveway is packed with tractors and trucks transporting the just-picked fruit to the wineries. The Côte de Beaune is alive with action - virtually every producer was out picking these last three days from Beaune to Santenay and all points in between.

I was a proud papa, dropping daughter Pirrie off to join the Huber-Verdereau harvest crew in Volnay this morning, where she'll be working alongside Thiébault Huber's daughters Clara and Constance and his son Matthieu and a group of 15 friends from across Europe.

Pirrie and the Huber-Verdereau crew in Volnay this morning

Pirrie and the Huber-Verdereau crew in Volnay this morning

The Côte de Nuits is just getting started, and will be in full action all of this coming week - all is looking healthy and abundant up there, save for the sections of Morey-St. Denis that got hit by hail last month. And for Champagne - despite a difficult end to the growing season my producers are reporting sensational quality - Vincent Laval finished up yesterday at Georges Laval in Cumières and as absolutely thrilled.

The legendary steak with Époisses sauce at La Ciboulet in Beaune. Hey, a guy's gotta eat...

The legendary steak with Époisses sauce at La Ciboulet in Beaune. Hey, a guy's gotta eat...

It is a rather bizarre feeling being here while natural disasters are battering other parts of the world, some very close to home. I grieve for our beloved Columbia River Gorge, where over 30,000 acres are on fire and so much natural beauty is being destroyed. Hurricanes, earthquakes, it's a very sad and sobering time indeed...

You can take the food trucks out of Portland, but you can't take Portland out of the food trucks. A killer burger from the "B Comme Burgui" truck, which hits Beaune every Friday night. And some killer Fleurie from Julien Sunier, of course!

You can take the food trucks out of Portland, but you can't take Portland out of the food trucks. A killer burger from the "B Comme Burgui" truck, which hits Beaune every Friday night. And some killer Fleurie from Julien Sunier, of course!

Stay tuned for more action from the front lines here, as it happens...

And the coundown is on...

As announced a couple weeks ago, we're leaving for France on Sep. 5th - so just days away until we embark on our 3+ month adventure in Burgundy and Champagne! Harvest 2017 is beginning as we speak in some spots - a few folks have already started picking down in the Mâconnais, and our producers on the Côte de Beaune are telling us they should get going in earnest on the 5th or 6th. In Champagne they're also looking at the first week of September in most sectors, so we'll be arriving right at the start of the action.

I'll be helping out at several of our domaines during crush and vinification. There's nothing like getting your hands dirty in the winery and on the sorting line to really get a good overview of the vintage. I'll likely put some time in at at least 6-8 different estates up and down the Côte, and I'll be reporting here with all the pics and updates.

Combating the frost this spring at Domaine Huber-Verdereau in Pommard...

Combating the frost this spring at Domaine Huber-Verdereau in Pommard...

2017 is looking to be the abundant quantity vintage they so desperately need in Burgundy - and the quality is expected to be superb as well. Not since 1999 has Burgundy been on the receiving end of above-average quantity and top quality at the same time. All of our producers are smiling in anticipation of a harvest that could save their bacon. The Pinot crop looks heavier than the Chardonnay overall, the whites having been hit harder by the frost episodes early in the season. In all, everyone is optimistic at this point, and it will be exciting the be there and be a part of it.

While on the ground over there, I also hope to be able to pry loose some additional allocations of the magnificent 2015s for you - we've already sold everything we could get our hands on earlier this year. Sometimes just by physically being there, a few more cases can magically become available - at any rate I'll be there to try and score as much as I can for you.

Can't wait to get back to La Dilletante in Beaune, my home away from home...

Can't wait to get back to La Dilletante in Beaune, my home away from home...

Stay tuned for all the action. I can already tell you we've got great offers coming your way next month from Georges Laval in Champagne, Domaine Thibert and Frédéric Gueguen in Burgundy, and what I think is perhaps the most exciting Champagne find we've made yet...

Le Hamburger - the hottest thing in France, bien sûr! This one at Sacré Burger in Reims rocks...

Le Hamburger - the hottest thing in France, bien sûr! This one at Sacré Burger in Reims rocks...

Back home, for a while, anyway...

Since returning from France in late June it seems I've barely been home. We took a family trip to L.A. to see friends, then another trip to Augusta to see my grandkids, and then on to Asheville and the mountains of North Carolina for Martha's annual family reunion trip. Will now finally get to settle in and enjoy this magnificent Oregon summer for a bit, before heading back to France in September.

Lots of news from across the pond. Both Champagne and Burgundy are looking at very early harvests this year - many Champenois are now thinking they'll start picking in the last week of August, and most in Burgundy expect to start in the first week of September. The warm early spring, followed by a dry, hot summer will make this the fourth exceptionally early harvest in recent years. Every year is now an outlier, it seems - there truly is no "normal" anymore.

The frost events from April caused damage in parts of Chablis and some lower-lying areas of the Côte d'Or, but fortunately the loss was mostly minimal. Champagne producers in the Aube were hit again, with some heavy losses reported there - but only on a case-by-case basis. A nasty hailstorm did massive damage in the Beaujolais, with most of the top Crus (Fleurie, Morgon) suffering big losses in the 50-80% range. Yikes! Then another hailstorm hit the Côte de Nuits, but affected mostly the village of Morey-St. Denis - where chunks of Clos St. Denis and Clos de la Roche were hit hard.

All of these "freakish" events have somehow become the new normal, it appears. Many of our producers are telling me that they are flat-out planning for yields that are 50-65% less than what they used to expect. The average crops of the last 100 years can no longer be counted on - it's a whole new ballgame now. The good news is that despite the small quantities, the quality of Burgundy across the board has never been more consistent than in the last 15-20 years.

                         Coming to a Champagne Club package near you this fall...

                         Coming to a Champagne Club package near you this fall...

In addition to conducting our Burgundy and Champagne tours last May & June, I was also busy finalizing deals with a few new producers to add the Caveau family. It's too soon to let the cats fully out of the bag, but we can tease a little bit...

                                                              This will blow your mind. Stay tuned...

                                                              This will blow your mind. Stay tuned...

Post-production is moving along well on our film project - Three Days of Glory - with hopes we'll be able to do a special pre-release screening in Burgundy this fall, and then launch it stateside in 2018. I'm stoked about how it's looking as we continue the editing process. No one has ever taken the viewer into the inside, unseen Burgundy before, and I'm excited for you to see it - hopefully soon!

More deliciousness from the Côte...

So far, the wine of the trip for me was the '97 Meursault Goutte d'Or at Buisson-Charles - absolutely stunning, and mind-blowing how youthful and alive it was at age 20. No surprise, really - the B-C bottles seem to age gracefully and practically forever.

Louis Confuron-Meunier in the J-J Confuron cellars

Louis Confuron-Meunier in the J-J Confuron cellars

We continued our adventures with a great stop at J-J Confuron. Nice to see Alain & Sophie's son Louis stepping up and taking on more responsibility. He'll follow his dad one day, and those are massive shoes to fill. They got hit pretty hard by the frost in '16 - there will be no Chambolle 1er Cru in '16 - the tiny bit they harvested from Chatelots and Feusselottes will go into the village wine this time.

Lunch with Alain & Sophie at Confuron

Lunch with Alain & Sophie at Confuron

The whole family joined us for lunch, with Sophie's mom cooking for the whole group, daughter Perrine and her pup Java joining in as well. Alain grabbed a '94 Romanée-St. Vivant from the cellar that was absolutely gorgeous - an amazing wine from a relatively forgotten year that blew us all away.

Java the pup

Java the pup

Tasting with winemaker François Millet at Domaine de Vogüé in Chambolle-Musigny is always a very special event, and his 2016s in barrel were absolutely gorgeous. The results of the crop loss due to the frost were well in evidence, in the rows and rows of empty barrels stacked up in the main cellar, with the adjacent cellar completely empty as well. The visual really hits home. In all, they lost 70% of their production. The good news is that the wines are fabulous, and that the Musigny Blanc will finally be declared as Grand Cru after 23 years in purgatory as Bourgogne Blanc.

A treat from the de Vogüé cellars, enjoyed with lunch at Le Millésime in Chambolle

A treat from the de Vogüé cellars, enjoyed with lunch at Le Millésime in Chambolle

Around the corner at Gilbert Felettig's cellar - they were hammered as well in '16. Same story, massive losses, but what they did make was beautiful. The Felettig lineup of Chambolle 1er Crus is a fabulous lesson in terroir. I love them all, but am somewhat partial to the unique minerality of Les Carrières, a quasi-monopole of the domaine. Gilbert wrapped up the tasting with the first wine he had made all on is own, the 2002 Feusselottes. In a word, yes please.

Empties stacked up at de Vogüé

Empties stacked up at de Vogüé

We were running late on Friday, so only got to spend a quick half-hour with Alexandrine at Marc Roy in Gevrey. SInce the death of her mom a few months back, Alex has been a one-woman show, running everything in the vineyards, cellar, and now the office too. All with a 14 month-old baby girl as well. All the girls and all the wines are lovely here, and we can't wait to see Alex here in Oregon this summer for IPNC.

More Foie Gras? OK, if we must...

More Foie Gras? OK, if we must...

As is our tradition, we wrapped up the tour with a farewell dinner in Beaune at the legendary Ma Cuisine. The food was spot-on as always, and proprietor Pierre was in fine form, as were the wines. We started with a 2010 Meursault Perrières from Vincent Dancer, then a Mag of '06 Volnay Fremiets from Comte Armand, and then a rockin' good 1961 Volnay from now-defunct negoce Maison Poulet. Wow - a 56 year-old village wine, elegant and alive and mesmerizing. It was a very good night.

Rockin' good '61 Volnay

Rockin' good '61 Volnay

Mother nature gave as a beautiful morning for market-day in Beaune on Saturday, and then a pique-nique in the Clos du Colombier vineyard before everyone grabbed their trains to depart. In all, another great week of wine, food and camaraderie, and I can't wait to do it again - hopefully with you joining us next year!

Pique-nique in the Clos

Pique-nique in the Clos

The group, at the cross in front of Romanée-Conti

The group, at the cross in front of Romanée-Conti

Terrorizing Burgundy from top to bottom...

Non-stop action here on our Burgundy Insider's Tour 2017 - from Chablis to the Mâconnais and all points in between. I have been keeping our group busy, happy, and well-fed, with noses deeply into their stemware as we taste our way up and down the Côte.

In the vineyards with Fabio at Chateau des Rontets

In the vineyards with Fabio at Chateau des Rontets

The group in front of the arch at Chevaliers-Montrachet

The group in front of the arch at Chevaliers-Montrachet

Great meals along the way so far at Castel Tres Girard in Morey, Bistro du Bord de l'Eau in Levernois, Auprès du Clocher in Pommard, Le Cellier Volnaysien in Volnay, and 21 Blvd. in Beaune, not to mention lunches in the cellars at Domaine Thibert in Fuissé and Frédéric Gueguen in Chablis - and we've still got three days to go!

In the cellar with Caroline Parent at A-F Gros

In the cellar with Caroline Parent at A-F Gros

In the cellar at Violot-Guillemard in Pommard

In the cellar at Violot-Guillemard in Pommard

The 2015s everywhere are exceeding the already lofty expectations - truly an epic vintage, one for the ages. Despite the miniscule crop in 2016 in most spots, the quality is also superb. I, and the producers, of course, are saddened by the scant few bottles of delicious juice that will be available next year.

The hands of the master - Thierry Violot-Guillemard

The hands of the master - Thierry Violot-Guillemard

Tastings so far at Domaine Thibert, Chateau des Rontets, Thierry Violot-Guillemard, A-F Gros, Huber-Verdereau, Frédéric Gueguen and Buisson-Charles - with Confuron, de Vogüé, Felettig and Marc Roy still to come this week. We do what we must...

Magnums, Jeros, and Oban the dog, curled up in the cellar at Violot-Guillemard

Magnums, Jeros, and Oban the dog, curled up in the cellar at Violot-Guillemard

Live from Volnay...

Greetings from Volnay! Since leaving Épernay I’ve been in the Aube to visit Jérôme Coessens, and down to Beaujolais to see the Sunier brothers, and am now settled in here in my longtime home-away-from-home. My group of customers arrives today and we begin our week-long Insider’s Immersion tour of Burgundy this afternoon - watch this space for all the pics and updates from throughout the week.

Gorgeous late-afternoon sun over Volnay

Gorgeous late-afternoon sun over Volnay

The new Issue of Burghound is just out, covering the 2015 & 2014 Côte d’Or whites. Massive kudos to Patrick Essa at Buisson-Charles in Meursault for monster scores on his entire range -

Meursault VV 90, Meursault Vignes de 1945 91, Charmes 93, Goutte d’Or 92, Bouches-Chères 93, Puligny Caillerets 91, Chablis Vaudesir 91, Chassage La Romanée 92, Corton-Charlemagne 95! Bravo and well deserved - these are some of the most beautiful whites in all of Burgundy, and I’m proud to have been working with them for 11 years now…

Apéro in the Aube at Champagne Coessens

Apéro in the Aube at Champagne Coessens

Lots of chatter around town about the future of many small domaines - what will happen next year when they have virtually no wine to sell from the minuscule 2016 harvest, and how will they hang on after seven small crops in a row? There is certainly action to come, and most of it not good for the small grower.

Julien & Antoine Sunier - the Bad Boys of Beaujolais

Julien & Antoine Sunier - the Bad Boys of Beaujolais

The good news is that a bountiful crop is currently hanging in the vineyards throughout the Côte d’Or - the spring frost ended up being not so damaging this year - with some growers losing maybe 10-20% at most. Everyone is talking about the amazing solidarity of all of the vignerons, who came out in the hundreds to help each other on the nights of the frosts this April - see previous posts here for more on that.

In your in-box next week - keep an eye out...

In your in-box next week - keep an eye out...

I’m looking forward to a great week - stay tuned for all the action…

 

Burgers and Biodynamics

I'm just back from visiting the amazing Stéphanie & Julien at Champagne La Parcelle in the teeming metropolis of the Hameau de Launay, pop. 22. They're out on the western half of the Vallée de la Marne, with their goats, their rustic farmhouse, and their 1,000 bottles per year of exquisite Champagne - from their .40ha (1-acre) Biodynamic vineyard on the steep hillside of Barzy. The big news is that they've bought a second vineyard, in the nearby village of Connigis - .28ha (about two-thirds of an acre) of old vine Pinot Meunier. 2016 was their first harvest on the new parcel. I tasted the new vin clair from barrel and found it outstanding - equal to in quality but comprehensively different from their first parcel (a bit weightier, more vinous, yet refined and elegant through and through.) 

In the "cellar" at Champagne La Parcelle

In the "cellar" at Champagne La Parcelle

Stéphanie & Julien own a viticulture service that farms 100ha organically or Biodynamicaly all over Champagne for dozens of clients. A couple of new clients have recently wanted to convert their vineyards to Biodynamics, and have cut deals with Steph & Julien to give them part of their harvest as part of their fees. So soon we will see even more wines from them, under a "La Parcelle-Partagé" (shared parcel) label. I heard chatter about some Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs in Avize, and a couple other goodies. Stay tuned - good things come to those who wait...

They knew I was coming, so they baked a cake!

They knew I was coming, so they baked a cake!

Stéphanie presented me with a slice of this fabulous fresh-baked cake - made with fresh duck eggs from her backyard and Demeter-certified Biodynamic wheat from a local artisan mill! It was absolutely fabulous. The greatest treat, however, was a taste of their single barrel "Le Bouc" Champagne, of which we'll be getting 18 bottles - the world's largest allocation, this fall. I can't believe they actually opened a bottle for me, in that there were less than 300 made. Not only was I incredibly honored, I was flat-out blown away. It was quite possibly the best wine I've tasted on the entire trip, and perhaps one of the best of my decades-long tasting career. It is a bottle I'll remember as long as I live. We'll be offering the La Parcelle wines on pre-arrival in about two weeks - watch your email!

Le CheeseBurger at 231 East Street in Reims

Le CheeseBurger at 231 East Street in Reims

I was able to wrap up my "Burger tour of Champagne" at lunch today, with a stop at 231 East Street in Reims. It's the local outpost of a small chain around the country, with high-end ingredients that shoot for the burgeoning "Craft Burger" market in France. I just read that one out of every two sandwiches sold in France today is now a burger - 15 years ago it was one in twenty!

The 231 East Street burger was quite good - excellent in fact, though the faux-American decor and the bizarre soundtrack of cheezy cover versions of American Top40 hits from the 60s-80s was a little weird. They are trying to be "typically American", though we have nothing in the US that looks remotely like it, of course. It's probably like what the French think when they come to our 'Authentic French Bistros" in the US.

The best burger here by far was at Sacré Burger in Reims, with 231 East street in 2nd place and Prestige Burger in Épernay just behind. All are certainly better than the average non-chain burger back home, for sure. None of them get the fries right, ironically. No one seems to be double-frying them, so they lack the crisp, carmelized outer edge, and end up greasier and soggier than we're used to. We should send these folks to Little Big Burger in Portland to get the low-down on the fries...

At any rate, I have two more potential new producers to see here before heading down to Burgundy tomorrow - my Burgundy tour group arrives on Sunday, and we'll be tasting our way through Chablis, the Côte d'Or and the Mâconnais for a week. Until then - somebody please bring me a salad...

Hunting season on the Côte des Blancs

With the tour wrapped up, I've been spending the last three days on the prowl. Hunting for something exciting on the Côte des Blancs - home of the undeniably greatest terroir for Chardonnay in Champagne, and home to over a thousand small growers who farm with nasty chemicals and sell all their over-cropped grapes to the negoces. The grape prices are the highest in Champagne, and the grapes are the in the highest demand, so there's little incentive for a lot of growers to put in any more than the minimum of effort. That's why there have been very few interesting small producers to emerge from the Côte over the last 15 years - the period when grower Champagne has been exploding everywhere else.

Le Mesnil-sur-Öger -  for many it's the Montrachet of Champagne

Le Mesnil-sur-Öger -  for many it's the Montrachet of Champagne

The tide is now turning, I can feel it. As you drive from Cuis to Cramant to Avize to Öger to Mesnil-sur-Öger, you can sense it. Behind the old stone walls and down the narrow alleys the next phase of the Grower Champagne revolution is brewing. Things are buzzing on Instagram. The cool wine shops and restaurants have a couple of new labels on the shelves and on the lists...

I've seen four potentially outstanding new producers already - thanks to introductions from my friend and genius winemaker Aurélien Laherte at Laherte Frères, who has had his nose to the ground for me for the past year or so. What's interesting is that the guys I'm meeting have all taken over family domaines that used to sell everything to the negoces, or were part of the village co-ops, and with the change of generations they're making a clean break. Most are still selling wines made under their parents' era, but soon will be releasing the first bottles of their own juice. What I'm tasting has got me salivating. Watch this space for all the exciting details as things start to come together over the months ahead...

Apéro on the roof-deck in Épernay

Apéro on the roof-deck in Épernay

I'll be heading off in the morning to the western Marne Valley to go see our smallest producers - La Parcelle (3 barrels, that's it!), and then back to the Côte des Blancs to check out another of the young lions. Yes, I do love my job...

On the trail for more morning run alongside the Marne...

On the trail for more morning run alongside the Marne...

Champagne Tour '17 - epic greatness...

Wow. Whoa. What a trip! Our Champagne Tour 2017 is in the books, and it was a great one. I am blessed to have the best customers on the planet, and the group who joined me here in Champagne for our annual Insider’s Immersion tour was quite simply a wonderful group of folks. Customers from Chicago, Minnesota, and Oregon this time around, and man, we had a blast. We ate, we drank, we ate, we drank, and then we ate and drank some more. And then we got up the next day and did it again. (And I also managed to get in some nice runs along the Marne river - you gotta do something to keep all that foie gras from clogging your arteries too badly!)

Kicking off the tour with the group at Le Jardin

Kicking off the tour with the group at Le Jardin

We kicked off our adventure with a welcoming lunch at Le Jardin in Reims, out on the terrace on a perfect day, overlooking the stunning park and grounds that are all part of the Les Crayères complex. Had some nice Agrapart Blanc de Blancs, which was really nice with my veal medallions.

One of the great French moments is that feeling every morning when you’re walking out of the bakery with a fresh baguette in your hand, and you realize it’s still warm from the oven and the crust is perfect and you’ve got that great butter and jam waiting in the kitchen at home and you know that life is good and it’s going to be an awesome day. But I digress…

We kicked off our tasting adventures at Laherte Frères in Chavot, where Aurélien Laherte took us through the vineyards and cellar, and then seven of his current release cuvées. As always, the Les Beaudier Rosé de Saignée blew everyone away.

In the cellar with Aurélien Laherte

In the cellar with Aurélien Laherte

Dinner was at Michelin 1-star La Briqueterie - where the best foie gras of the week was a perfect match for the Georges Laval Rosé Brut Nature - one of my favorite wines on earth with or without the foie.

The next morning we hit the road to head up to Jouy-lès-Reims to see Sophie Cossy, and spend time in her vines and in her tasting room (where I do my blends and dosage decisions for the Caveau Champagnes). Sophie is truly a force of nature, and her energy and enthusiasm is always inspiring. Her range was showing really well, and the Extra-Brut “Origine” and the 2008 Vieilles Vines were the hits of the day.

In the vines with Sophie Cossy

In the vines with Sophie Cossy

Then it was lunch at the magnificent, lush, elegant, refined, and breathtakingly delicious Michelin 3-star l’Assiette Champenoise. It was great to see chef Arnaud Lallement again after our two trips last year and the amazing meal he did for us at our Paulée in Burgundy back in 2015. On this day he was in rare form. Every dish dazzled - but the main dessert course - with strawberries and honey mousse was a candidate for dish of the tour. We washed it all down with three bottles of the Laval Rosé Brut Nature (I sense a theme here) - a truly unforgettable meal.
Note to self - schedule about 4 hours for lunch at l’Assiette - not a place to be in a rush!)

I was blown away that Vincent Laval agreed to see the group for a tasting - his cellar can barely hold 10 people! We were running late, and I was fearing he’d be pretty chapped, but in the end it all worked out. The group was treated to tastes of the ’15 Brut Nature, ’12 Haute Chèvre (the rarest of the rare), and the ’15 Rosé Brut Nature. Are there any finer non-dosage Champagnes anywhere? I don’t think so…

Clotilde Chauvet was away in Italy on a marketing trip, so her brother Nicolas greeted us for a tasting and cellar tour at Marc Chauvet next. Nico hand-disgorged a bottle of the new cuvée of Brut Sélection for us, so we could taste it side by side with the previously disgorged and dosaged version - a great learning experience for the group. The Chauvet 2009 Initiales is really stunning, with great acidity and beautiful fruit richness - a killer balance.

I love the small-town (Pop. 25,000) vibe of Épernay, but I must say the lack of anywhere really excellent to eat is a bummer. There are a few good places here, but nothing exceptional. All the really special spots are in Reims these days. Grillade Gourmand has always enjoyed the best reputation in Épernay, and it is pretty good, but nothing more. The wine list is clogged up with mostly mediocre negotiant juice - we did have some nice Agrapart “Terroirs” Blanc de Blancs that was a big hit with our dinner Thursday night.

We kicked off Friday morning with a tasting at Forget-Chemin in the village of Ludes on the Montagne de Reims. The always engaging Thierry Forget does a tremendous job taking folks through his philosophy and techniques and facility and wines - and he’s a huge soccer fan to boot. (His ring-tome is the Champions League theme song - I was impressed!) All the wines in the Forget-Chemin range have a streak of purity and precision running through them, but none more so than his top of the line Special Club bottling. He poured the 2010 - a truly great bottle, followed by the soon-to-be-released 2012, which is probably the best wine he has ever made. OMG. Elegance and intensity all in one beautiful package…

With Thierry Forget (striped shirt in center) in Ludes

With Thierry Forget (striped shirt in center) in Ludes

Is is sacrilege to say I enjoy Michelin 1-star Racine in Reims even more than 3-star l’Assiette? The food is certainly as amazingly good, perhaps even better on some dishes, and without the pomp and circumstance that go with the 3-star circus, I like the vibe a lot better. I was excited to get back to Racine and see their new location - they moved in the last few months to bigger space just a few hundred yards from the original. I was also very excited to learn that they’ve kept their previous location and opened a new bistro in it - Doko Koko - which does a prix-fixe 29-Euro Appetizer-Main Course-Dessert for lunch and dinner. Run, do not walk, to reserve your table!

The shortest and simplest option for lunch at Racine is the “Sûgo” tasting menu, which, with assorted amuse-bouche courses and extra sweets, runs to 10 dishes in all. I do not say this lightly - it is one of the great meals, and great values in fine dining, you are ever likely to encounter. Do not miss an opportunity to eat there. It is flat-out great. Kudos to chef Kazu and his wife Marine - they are knocking it out of the park in food, ambience, and service.

A Laherte Frères trifecta with lunch at Racine...

A Laherte Frères trifecta with lunch at Racine...

One of the great little secrets in Champagne is how good the wines are at Marion-Bosser - where vigneronne Elodie Marion is the 4th generation to run the estate - every generation has had a woman in charge. Hautvillers has got to be the most picturesque and charming village in Champagne, and Elodie’s tasting room just around the corner from the famous Abbey (home of Dom Perignon and the “cradle of Champagne”) has a great vibe. We tasted through another great range of wines here, with her 2008 Millesime absolutely leading the pack.

Elodie Marion in Hautvillers

Elodie Marion in Hautvillers

Dinner Friday night was at a simple little bistro that I love - La Gare in Mesnil-sur-Öger. The food is just good,  but i love it for the fact that they have the lowest price on the planet I’ve ever seen for Salon - one of the true benchmark Blanc de Blancs. The 2006 is currently on the list - still a baby, but what a stunning baby indeed.  And the Champagne list is exclusively Côte des Blancs BdBs - from a very tasty array of producers. Yum indeed.

After a week in cellars of producers who make a few hundred, or at most a few thousand cases, it is interesting to take the group to see the dog & pony show at Moët & Chandon in Épernay - the Disneyland of winery tours. They truly do an excellent job of hospitality, and the LVMH group is the best in the world at luxury marketing, but it’s really too bad about the wines. An illustrative experience, for sure.

Lunch was at the reliably good La Banque in Épernay with bottles of Pierre Peters and Marion-Bosser Blanc de Blancs, and then it was on to an afternoon of sparkling entertainment with Cyril Janisson at Janisson-Baradon in Épernay. Cyril and his brother Maxence are the 5th generation of the family to run the estate, and we were treated to a visit by the 4th generation when his dad popped in. Cyril was in rare form and had everyone in stitches of laughter for over an hour. The wines are no laughing matter however - especially his new cuvée 7C - another of the exceedingly rare Champagnes to use all 7 permissible grape varieties (Pinot Noir, Meunier, Chardonnay, Petit Meslier, Arbanne, Fromentau, and Pinot Blanc.) This one and the Laherte Frères Les 7 are the only two you’ll likely ever see (and they will both be in our Champagne Club package this fall - hint, hint…)

In all, it was a truly spectacular adventure, made even more so by the great group of customers who made the pilgrimage this year. Please let me know if you’re interested in being a part of it next year - we’d love to have you join us!

Now I’ve got a few days in Champagne to scope out some potential new producers to add to our portfolio, and to see a few of our existing vignerons that we weren’t able to see on the tour. Then I’ll be off to Burgundy to meet another group of customers for our 7th annual Insider’s tour down there. More tasting and eating and tasting and eating to come. Oh, and I managed to pick this gem up at 520 Vins in Épernay, my favorite Champagne shop in the world.

And here's your intrepid importer, off to hit the running trails along the river and get ready to do it again in Burgundy...

Lunch at Racine in Reims

Words do it no justice. Nor do pictures, but they'll have to do for now. One of my favorite meals on the planet. We had their shortest menu for lunch - 10 courses all in.

A truly epic meal. Accompanied by a Magnum of Laherte Frères Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, Laherte Frères Rosé de Meunier, and Laherte Frères 2010 Les Empreintes. Yes, please.

Details and commentary to follow. Now off to more tastings and, of course, dinner...

We are trained professionals, don't try this at home...

What an amazing day. Non-stop from 9am to midnight. I'll go into details in a future post. For now, just to summarize:

  • Vineyard tour and tasting with Sophie Cossy in Jouy-lès-Reims
  • Michelin 3-star lunch at l'Assiette Champenoise. Whoah.
  • Tasting in the cellar at Georges Laval in Cumières
  • Tasting in the cellar at Marc Chauvet in Rilly-la-Montagne
  • Dinner at la Grillade Gourmand in Épernay

I think the group is liking this. They are too full of Foie Gras and Laval Rosé to properly express themselves at the present time, however. I'll leave you with some pics for now...

Now that's what I call lunch. Washed down with three bottles of Laval Rosé Brut Nature, and a Mag of Bereche Reserve just for good measure. Good eating, and good night!