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!

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!

Champagne Tour '17 is underway...

Picked up the group in Reims at noon today and we've been rockin' from the start. What a great group again this year - customers from Illinois, Minnesota, and Oregon, and they all arrived appropriately hungry and thirsty! First stop, the always wonderful Le Jardin in Reims...

Delish veal at Le Jardin, overlooking the private park at Les Crayères...

Delish veal at Le Jardin, overlooking the private park at Les Crayères...

Then off to Chavot for a vineyard and cellar tour and tasting with Aurélien Laherte at Laherte Frères. I lover seeing how his passion ignites the minds of our group. It's contagious - the thirst for knowledge, for better expression of terroir...

The group, ready for a true insider's immersion in Champagne...

The group, ready for a true insider's immersion in Champagne...

Aurélien showing Judy & Becky his biodynamic vines on the slopes of Chavot

Aurélien showing Judy & Becky his biodynamic vines on the slopes of Chavot

Then a fabulous a fabulous tasting through 7 of Laherte's 12 different Cuvées, before heading off to dinner at Michelin-starred La Briqueterie...

Oh, and we had some wine. Two stunners from Georges Laval, where we'll be tasting tomorrow. Not bad for a first day. Tomorrow we'll really get at it...

And a good time was had by all. And to all a good night...

And a good time was had by all. And to all a good night...

Reims is the new Portland...

Well, not really. But if you eat a truly great burger, in a hip and stylish restaurant that has no sign identifying it out front, that until 7 months ago was a food truck, you could certainly think you were in the Pacific Northwest. I was tipped to Sacré Burger by a bunch of my vigneron friends over here, What could the French know about something as intrinsically American as the Burger, right? Well, they were right. This baby blows away just about any burger to be had in Portland - the burgers from  Little Bird  and St. Jack are it's equal, but few play at this level, for sure. I had the "Louis XIV" - with bleu d'auverge cheese and carmelized onions. OMG. 10 Euros of pure, indulgent burger bliss.

Sacré Burger indeed!

Sacré Burger indeed!

It's funny, after decades of France deriding us for being "hamburger eaters who put ketchup on their fries" - the hottest thing in France now is high-end craft burgers, and there's always ketchup on the table. Go figure.

IMG_4973.jpg

My group of clients arrive tomorrow morning for our Insider's tour of Champagne, and we will be tasting and eating with a vengeance for the rest of the week. Stay tuned for photos and all the details from the front lines, it's gonna be a good one!

When it's Opinel on the table, I'm in my happy place

When it's Opinel on the table, I'm in my happy place

When it's chocolate truffles from Emmanuel Briet on the table, I'm in my very happy place...

When it's chocolate truffles from Emmanuel Briet on the table, I'm in my very happy place...

Greetings from Épernay!

Note to self (and anyone traveling to Paris this summer) - don't plan to fly in on a Sunday! There are only a handful of immigration officers at work at CDG on Sundays, and the passport line can get nuts. It took me 95 minutes to finally get to the window and get waved thru yesterday. Oh well...)

I arrived to an unprecedented spring heatwave - 95 degrees and 95% humidity yesterday and today - truly unusual for May here. But then so was the the killer frost just weeks ago that wiped out a good chunk of the Champagne crop in several sectors. They're getting whip-sawed here, and no one really knows what to expect from one day to the next. Welcome to the wonderful world of Climate Change.

The 12th-century church on the hilltop in Chavot, just down the road from Laherte Frères

The 12th-century church on the hilltop in Chavot, just down the road from Laherte Frères

I had a nice run along the Marne this morning below Cumières. There's a path that follows the river, and then branches off to follow the canal, and you can run along the tow-path and enjoy the vineyard views, as well as the swans, ducks, and rabbits that are all around. I last ran this path one year ago, and I remember freezing my buns off there last year. Today it was already hot and sweaty at 7:00 am. All bets are are off, indeed.

View from the roof-deck of my apartment in Épernay

View from the roof-deck of my apartment in Épernay

It's beautiful, but awfully quiet today - Sundays and Mondays see most things closed in France, and the smaller towns and villages can seem deserted. They're not, it's just that everyone is inside, hanging out with family, shutters closed to keep out the sun and the heat, and it is oddly tranquil.

I'm off to grab a burger (yes, hamburgers are the hottest thing in France these days) at Le Prestige Burger here in Épernay. More as it happens...

 

We did it - Boston Bound!!!

It was truly a team effort, and I never would have made it without the support of so many. It still hasn't really sunk in that I'll be on the starting line at the Boston Marathon next April - the realization of a dream I've been working toward for years. Now I realize that I just hadn't been working hard enough. After some disappointing attempts and a couple of injuries that prevented me from getting to the line healthy in recent races - I was determined to give it my best shot this time. And I knew I needed some help.

Enter Nike run coach Steve Edwards (husband of Shalane Flanagan, America's #1 marathoner), who drew up my training plan, coached me through a thousand miles, got into my head, and taught me so much. And most amazingly, he came down to Eugene to run with me and make sure I was locked in on the pace I needed. I ended up running a new personal best by some 20 minutes and getting that BQ that had eluded me for so long.

The happy marathoner. Now where's the Champagne!

The happy marathoner. Now where's the Champagne!

I've always been one to tend to go things alone. Asking for help has never been easy for me. I always knew there was strength in numbers, but until now have never really reached out for it. It takes a village, indeed. (Especially when the one needing the help is me, the village idiot!)

Our friends in Burgundy know the power of community - it's been inspiring to watch them band together this spring to join forces to combat the spring frosts that have been ravaging the French vineyards again this year (see earlier posts below).

I was choking back tears as I collapsed into Martha's arms after the race. I was feeling joy and exhaustion for sure, but the overwhelming feeling was that of gratitude for the amazing support I'd been given by so many throughout the entire process. Thank-you Martha, Pirrie, Steve, Molly, Julia, and all of the team at Nike Run Club Portland - I'd be just another busted-up Boston-wannabe without you.

Celebrating in style with a treasure from Laval. Cheers!

Celebrating in style with a treasure from Laval. Cheers!

997.6 down, 26.2 to go...

As I write this, it says 997.6 miles - that’s how far I’ve run in training over the last 17.5 weeks of this cycle. Ice, rain, sleet, snow, mud, wind - I get up, I lace up, I run. I’ve got a few more easy miles this week, and then 26.2 miles Sunday morning in Eugene as I attempt to qualify for Boston 2018. Boston - the holy grail of marathons, and the only one that requires runners to qualify. It’s been my huge goal since I started running seven years ago.

IMG_4936.jpg

I’d like to thank the Portland waterfront, the Eastside Esplanade, the Springwater Corridor, Terwilliger Hill, Leif Erickson trail, Hollister Trail, the Nike WHQ track in Beaverton, the Lincoln High School track, the Columbia High School track in White Salmon, The Hood River waterfront, the Twin Tunnels trail, the Columbia Riverfront trail, and the Deschutes Railbed Trail - on which I’ve churned out these last 1,000 miles. Thanks to all the runners whose waves, thumbs-up, and nods acknowledge another member of the tribe on the path along the way.

I’d like to thank all the great Nike running gear that protected me from the elements in this dreadfully wet and cold Oregon winter and spring. Thanks to the Nike+ Running Club, app, and Apple Watch. Thanks to the Saucony Freedom shoes that sometimes make me feel like I could run forever.

Thanks to miracle sports-massage therapy specialist Molly Vershingel at Providence Sports Care Center for the amazing tune-ups.

Speed run at the Nike track...

Speed run at the Nike track...

Massive thanks to coach Steve Edwards, whose guidance, inspiration, and workouts have taken me to places my body never knew it go. That a 2:30-class marathoner would spend his valuable time with an old clod like me is mind-blowing. I run because I want to get the best out of myself, for sure, but also because I just don’t want to let my coach down.

Thanks most of all to my family, who by now are quite sure that all I do is run, work, and sleep. They have encouraged and supported me every mile, every morning, and listened to my endless running-related ramblings with great patience.  Sometime before 11am this Sunday, I look forward to collapsing into my wife’s arms, with that long-cherished Boston Qualifier finally in my pocket. Wish me luck!

Burgundy mans the battle stations...

In what seems like cruel and unusual punishment, the threat of killer frosts has loomed over much of Burgundy multiple times this spring. Twice the week before, and twice again this week, the temperatures were due to dip below freezing in the early morning hours - just at the time of year when the young shoots and new leaves are at their most vulnerable. Unusually warm weather in March and early April had pushed to vines to a vigorous and early start, only to be subjected to the possibility of an early death due to rare spring freezes. Last year's April 27th frost cost Burgundy dearly, with up to 80% crop loss is some sectors. That was considered a freak occurrence - after all Burgundy hadn't suffered a damaging frost since 1983. It may no longer be freakish it seems...

Last week, when the first threats arrived, the vignerons armed themselves with gel candles and smudge pots, which they placed strategically in and around parcels that were most susceptible to the oncoming frost. That's Domaine Huber-Verdereau's Clos du Colombier in Pommard above, with candles aglow in the early morning hours last Thursday.

By the time the frosts were looming again this week, there were no gel candles to be had - virtually all of France's wine regions had been under the threat of attack and the supply of the bougies had been exhausted - none were to be found anywhere. So, huge groups of vigneron neighbors banded together and trucked in massive bales of straw - from as far away as Lyon in some cases - to place around the vineyards and light them on fire, thus raising the temperature hopefully just enough to protect the young buds, and to provide a cloud of smoke over the vines so the morning sun could not burn the fragile leaves and emerging clusters. It must have been quite a sight.

Burning straw bales in Savigny-lès-Beaune

Burning straw bales in Savigny-lès-Beaune

Early reports we're getting are encouraging - they seem to have warded off the worst of it, but some damage has been suffered. Thierry Violot-Guillemard reports losing an entire parcel of Bourgogne below Pommard - they sadly just didn't have enough straw to cover everything. Fortunately, there are no more frosts in the forecasts for the coming week, and the threat may finally be over. At least for now. We can start to worry about the hail next. (Actually, they've already had a couple of small hail episodes, with only minimal damage reported. Whew... Winegrowing in Burgundy is not for the faint-hearted, that's for sure...)

 

 

Mon Dieu, not again...

A potentially devastating frost hit Burgundy, Champagne, and several other French wine regions two nights in a row this week. You may recall that last year on the morning of April 27th a freak frost hit Chablis and the Côte d'Or, killing 50-90% of the potential crop. With temperatures forecast to dip below freezing in the early morning hours of Wednesday and Thursday this past week, many vignerons mobilized whatever weapons they had at their disposal to fight to save their crops.

An unusually warm and early spring this year meant that the young buds were already out and fully vulnerable. Most of the producers who have been devastated by small yields in 6 of the last 7 years could not survive another big blow - in fact many may not survive as it is.

It's still to early to tell, but it appears they have mostly dodged the bullet this time, or at least avoided the worst. Reports are that parts of Chablis may have lost 50%+ and some in the Côte de Beaune have suffered serious losses, though it is nowhere near as widespread as in 2016.

My friend Thiébault Huber in Volnay was out in his vines with his team all night both nights, keeping watch on the thermometers and lighting gel candles in the vine rows to raise temps a degree or two into the safety zone. Thiébault reports they have won the battle this time, but cautions that more potential frosts could be on the way, and they're not out of the woods yet...

Some villages in Champagne were also hard hit - but most reports are that they too have escaped a major disaster. please join me in keeping fingers crossed.

A great treat for serious Burgundy geeks - there's a new map of the 6 great Grand Crus in the village of Vosne-Romanée, detailing who owns which sections of Richebourg and Romanée-St. Vivant (it's easy for the other 4 - they're all monopoles.) You can order it through the fabulous Athenaeum in Beaune, or pick it up there on your next visit (I'll be grabbing mine when I'm back over in June, for sure.)

On the big screen, on the water, and in the Caveau...

Lots to update you on here, starting with the latest on Three Days of Glory, our documentary feature film on Burgundy. We wrapped filming at the end of November, and slowly but surely are paring down the hours and hours of footage. We had over a dozen hours of interview footage alone, and now have that down to about 4 hours of the best stuff. Next step is to get that down to about 90 minutes-worth or so, at which point things will really start to take shape.

The Chateau du Clos de Vougeot

The Chateau du Clos de Vougeot

We’ve got some amazing stuff in the can. No previous Burgundy film has assembled the talents of Aubert de Villaine, Allen Meadows, Dominique Lafon, Véronique Drouhin, a dozen more key players, and had insider access to the Hospices de Beaune auction, the Paulée de Meursault, and the Chevaliers du Tastevin. I’m super excited - we’re targeting to have the film ready for a world premiere in Burgundy this fall - stay tuned for all the updates…

Induction ceremonies for the Confrèrie des Chevaliers du Tastevin

Induction ceremonies for the Confrèrie des Chevaliers du Tastevin

Our annual tours of Burgundy and Champagne are already full for this year, but we’ve just hooked up another opportunity for you to come wine and dine in France with us! We’re hosting a wine cruise on the Seine from Paris to Normandy Nov. 2-9, and I’ll be doing on-board seminars and a Burgundy & Champagne dinner. We’ll be visiting Monet’s home at Giverny, exploring magical villages along the river, and doing it all in style on a small, luxury cruise ship. We’d love to have you join us! For all the detailed information, and to book your cabin - click here.

Come cruise with us!

Come cruise with us!

I’m really looking forward to seeing you here at our Portland Caveau on April 8 & 9 for our annual spring tastings and pick-up events. We’ll be pouring great selections from the spring Club packages, and will have lots of nice bottles in stock and ready to go home with you.

The Spring and Summer pre-arrival season is about to begin - keep your eyes on your email for a steady stream of offers coming your way, including the amazing 2015 Burgundies from all of our favorite producers. When you see something you want, I highly recommend you act quickly, as everything has been selling out in record time.

As always, thanks for all your continued support. We’re blessed to have you as a customer!

 

A bombshell in Burgundy...

The venerable Domaine Bonneau du Martray - owners of a spectacular 11-hectare parcel of the Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne (the same parcel donated to the church by Emperor Charlemagne in the 700s!) - has been sold to american billionaire Stan Kroenke, owner of the LA Rams, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Rapids and Colorado Avalanche sports franchises (as well as my favorite soccer team, Arsenal in London.) Jean-Charles le Bault de la Morinière and his family had owned the domaine for over 200 years, and announced the sale yesterday. The price was not disclosed, but it was surely stratospheric.

All of us in the Burgundy community are stunned, to say the least. For one of the only domaines to have remained in the same family hands from before the French revolution to suddenly get snapped up by foreign, corporate money - certainly nobody saw it coming. Is this just a fissure in the rock, or is it another large step toward the changing of the face, if not the very soul, of Burgundy?

A few years back a Chinese businessman out bid a consortium of local vignerons (and vastly over-paid) for the Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin. Then luxury-goods magnate François Pinnault bought Domaine Réné Engel in Vosne-Romanée (now re-named Domaine Eugénie), then last year the LVMH conglomerate purchased Clos des Lambrays. And now Bonneau du Martray!

This is what so many of us in the Burgundy world worry about a lot. Burgundian vineyard land has become the most valuable on the planet, and at the Grand Cru level it is only people or companies with way too much money who can afford to purchase these properties. There's no way they'll see a return on their investments for 50+ years - these estates are being bought as trophies. The estates end up in the hands on non-wine people - and from what we've seen of the various luxury goods groups purchases in Champagne, the wines have clearly not seen much benefit from their new deep-pocket owners.

It's no secret that large number of small family domaines are struggling in Burgundy these days, after a difficult run of small harvests that have left many families barely clinging on. A number of these cash-strapped estates are likely to be sale targets in the near future, and we can project with pretty good authority that the new buyers will not be mom-n-pop operations.

Burgundy is more than a place - it's a culture and it's a mind-set. It is something very precious and unique, and seemingly now precariously perched for continued erosion. We have not yet heard why Bonneau du Martray sold - my best guess is that various family members wanted or needed to cash out, and French inheritance laws make things ridiculously difficult and expensive to pass assets to one's heirs. Regardless of the reason, it's a sad loss.

I had the pleasure of working with the domaine for a few vintages a while back, and there is not a classier, more elegant gentleman than Jean-Charles. I saw quotes from him today in various French publications indicating that the sale "for a man of the soil, like him, it was so very sad". It will be interesting to see and hear more as the full story comes out.

All of this is not to say that Burgundy as we know it is going to disappear anytime soon - but I wonder where this all leads 20-25 years from now. More as it happens...

 

Thanks for another amazing year!

First, let me thank you sincerely for making 2016 such a dynamic and exciting year for us. This was only our second year under the Caveau Selections banner, though we’ve been at this since 1999. I am infinitely grateful to you for your support of our producers and their wines. At the end of the day it’s all about small family businesses, people working hard at something they passionately believe in - often without a safety net - and sharing the fruits of those labors with friends and family. We’re proud to be part of that chain, and are very thankful that we get to make a living doing what we love.

We were stoked to introduce you to some new members of the Caveau family this past year, including Stéphanie Chevreux & Julien Bournazel of micro-Champagne producers La Parcelle (only 96 bottles for the entire US - you won’t find this one in your local shops!), and the massively exciting Gilbert & Christine Felettig in Chambolle-Musigny - one of the great Burgundy finds of the last 20 years. I’ve got a few more new additions in the works for 2017, both in Burgundy and Champagne - so keep your eyes on your email for all the scoop to come.

Gilbert & Christine Felettig - stunningly beautiful wines in Chambolle...

Gilbert & Christine Felettig - stunningly beautiful wines in Chambolle...

We also introduced our new “House Wine” Clubs just last month, and your response and enrollment has been positive snd swift. Thank You! We currently have slots open in all of our clubs, so please shoot us an email if you’d like to get on board before the next round of shipments in the spring.

There were so many firsts for us this year -  the most significant being our first customer tours of Champagne, and of course starting production on our first film, Three Days of Glory! It has been awesome to join forces with filmmaker-author David Baker and get this project rolling. We are presently getting the editing process underway, with literally hundreds of hours of footage in the can and all the pieces of a great documentary in our hands. Now we have the arduous task of making a cohesive and compelling film out of it all. With luck we’ll be ready to debut the movie in November - we’ll keep you in touch with the process all along the way.

It was quite an eventful year on a personal and family level as well. 2016 saw my 2nd-oldest daughter Ally get married in April, my oldest daughter Lindsay made me a grandfather for the 2nd time with the birth of her daughter Leah in November, and Martha & Pirrie & I had a great trip to Sweden in June to search out my roots and meet scads of relatives there for the first time. And then my beloved Chicago Cubs won the World Series! I can now die happy…

It was not a banner year for the planet or humankind. Endless war, violence, vitriol - we are living through difficult times, with no solutions on the table that promise to turn things around anytime soon. All of which serves to remind us that the most important thing -  time with those we love -  is fleeting and precious, and we truly need to cherish every moment. Friends and family, good food and wine - put those all together and the result is about as good as it gets in this life. I wish you a year full of that goodness, and thank you for letting us be part of it for another year.

As you may know, my other huge passion apart from Burgundy & Champagne is music. Having spent the first 30+ years of my working life in the music biz, it’s a huge part of me. I left that career behind in 1999 to follow my wine muse, but there is literally an endless soundtrack playing in my head, if not throughout the house on the Sonos speakers. I was 10 years old when the Beatles hit the US in 1964, and the world was forever changed.

I admit to listening primarily to the “old stuff”, and don’t find a lot of current artists all that exciting. Of contemporary artists I do especially like First Aid Kit and Sia. I’m also hugely intrigued by a couple of new artists that I expect to surface in the next year - watch out for Swedish singer-songwriter Skött and a scandinavian duo called Good Harvest - I see a lot of potential for both of them.

Mostly I keep mining the vast catalogue of older stuff. Now with Spotify and Apple Music there are endless discoveries to be made - old demo versions, alternate takes, previously unreleased tracks - a treasure trove of goodies from fave artists of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

I was late to really getting into Bob Dylan, only becoming a hard-core fan in the last 10 years or so. That’s probably because I was always attracted to things a bit more tidy and polished. I didn’t start appreciating the more ragged and raw until later in my musical journeys. Once you start to go down the Dylan black-hole, you may never return. There’s so much material, so many thousands of recordings. It’s a fascinating journey through the mind and career of a truly genius, truly crazy human being. It isn’t always pretty, but there’s a lot to learn down there.

For me, the holy trinity of all-time greatest songwriters is Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Springsteen. I’m often tempted to put Paul Simon and Brian Wilson at that same level - their best songs certainly compete with the best of anyone’s. I know a lot of music geeks and journos who feel that Paul Simon is the best of them all. Ultimately it’s a matter of personal taste, to be sure.

In the past year I’ve really enjoyed reading the new autobiographies from Springsteen and Brian Wilson. Bruce’s is incredibly well written and illuminating. Brian’s is stunning in his candidness of discussing his lifelong struggle with mental illness. Springsteen also reveals his battles with depression and a history of family mental health issues. I’m quite sure it’s no coincidence - so many of the greatest artists from all disciplines walk that razor’s edge of genius vs insanity on a daily basis.

They say that 2016 was the year the music died. We lost so many great artists - the giants Prince and Bowie looming above all. For me personally, the biggest loss was Glenn Frey, as I’ve discussed in these pages before. I still can’t pick up my guitar without strumming through a chorus of New Kid in Town (possibly the best song ever written about the entertainment industry? That’s the subject of another column to come, perhaps.) I was also deeply moved by the passing of comedian Garry Shandling, one of the true genius comedic minds ever. I can (and do) endlessly watch the Larry Sanders Show dvd collection. Nothing has ever made me laugh harder.

So here’s to a great 2017 full of music, wine and laughter. Cheers!

 

Three Days of Glory, six months of post-production...

We were thrilled and honored to open up the new issue of Oregon Wine Press and see this great feature story on our filmmaking efforts! Huge thanks to Lyn Archer of BinNotes for doing such a nice job on the piece.

The best day of the year - the Paulée!

The best day of the year - the Paulée!

I've had a chance to start going though just a tiny fraction of the footage we shot all last year, and it is really exciting. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but I believe that the final cut will do justice to the magic, majesty, and humble grace of this place and culture we know as Burgundy.

This weekend we turn our attention to Champagne, for our annual Holiday Champagne Tasting and Celebration! We're looking forward to seeing you here on Sunday from 12-4p for a great line-up of Grower Champagnes open for tasting, and all of our remaining inventory of Burgundy & Champagne on display and ready to go home with you for the holidays (or to end up in the stocking of someone you love!)

Thanks for all your support - and here's to a festive holiday season for all!