Having survived our first few days setting up Tranche 1 at IWC 2014 in London, we settled down last night to a lovely glass of Beaujolais Blanc, purchased on our recent travels in France at Chateau de Lavernette in Leynes, southern Burgundy. The chateau and estate were originally the property of the monks of the abbey of Tournus and now belong to the de Boissieu family, descendants of the Lavernette family. We visited the Chateau just days before their harvest was starting in September and enjoyed a wonderful tasting with the family. Interestingly, the chateau is at the crossroads of the Mâconnais and Beaujolais wine regions, quite literally as the border cuts their driveway in half. To read more about our visit, see our Burgundy and Beaujolais blog just published.
Their Beaujolais Blanc had lovely juicy white fruit and flower flavours, a soft and creamy mouthfeel with a nutty edge. It went down very nicely on its own as well as with our vegetable pasta dinner.
Guest Wines Tour de France
We had now reached what seemed like miles and miles upon miles of vines, it was truly beautiful! Every available space was lent to viticulture – welcome to Burgundy!
The weather was still being kind to us, with temperatures in the twenties, enabling the skies to clear later in the day opening up a wide vista of vines as far as our eyes could see. What better place to begin our day than at Gevrey Chambertin.
We had an early morning appointment at Domaine Heresztyn and did not want to be late as we knew that we were in for a treat. We were met and greeted by Ewa, who is mother to winemaker Florence Heresztyn, third generation of the family, whose husband Simon Mazzini also makes Champagne.
Ewa spent a little time explaining her family history and how the Domaine has developed over the years. You would be right in thinking this isn’t a very French Domaine name because it’s actually Polish. Jan Heresztyn emigrated from Poland in 1932, eventually arriving in Gevrey-Chambertin where he started acquiring parcels of vines, building up the business to what it is today with his two sons and now grand-daughter. It was a lovely start to the day and helped create a nice ambience in which to taste some truly excellent wines.
Kelvyn particularly liked the more gamey aromas of the Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru 2007, whose grapes came from the parcel of vines right next to the house. Ruth preferred the softer, fruitiness of the Morey-Saint-Denis 2007. It was fascinating to taste the differences between each vineyard site.
Soon we were on our way again, travelling south. So much is in close proximity to the road that name after famous name simply pass by as you drive. It was with awe that we tried to take all this in.
In order to gather our thoughts, we felt that it would be a good idea to stop off and stretch our legs at Vosne-Romanée to walk around its many famous high sloping vineyards. What an ideal place for a picnic whilst bathed in beautiful sunshine, leading to an immense feeling of satisfaction, eating local produce (though the tomatoes were from an allotment in North Shields!) and drinking a glass or two of the red stuff. A lasting memory indeed!
We then drove through the famous Côte d’Or villages of Nuits-St-Georges and Beaune. Stopping off at Nuits-St-Georges as well as making a detour to Meursault, Saint Aubin and Puligny-Montrachet for brief strolls to soak in the atmosphere. It was also great to see the many pickers at work in the vineyards – something that we would be doing in a few days time.
Near to Saint Aubin we passed the sign for the quaint village Gamay (though none of the grape variety of the same name is found here) and recalled a producer from there whose wines we have previously bought at the Paris Vignerons Indépendants Fair, Domaine Gilles Bouton et Fils, and are excellent. Sadly, all was quiet due to harvest so we weren’t able to visit on this occasion but we hope to return again.
On our way from North to South Burgundy, the terrain turned quite flat and agricultural concerns other than vine took precedence before regaining their status as we approached Mâcon. Here, the valley that we were driving through grew more hilly.
After a little bit of driving up and down small winding country lanes, we eventually arrived at Château de Lavernette where we were greeted by another mother of one the wine makers, Anke Boissieu. She made us feel very welcome and gave us a bit of a history lesson whilst we were waiting for her son Xavier and wife Kerrie, who share the wine making between them, to arrive.
We discovered that the Château has been in the hands of the family for some 400 years, having taken over from The Lordship of Lavernette and prior to this, the place had been owned by monks. It also lies on the border of Mâcon & Beaujolais, in fact the driveway of the Château is located in both AOC’s. Therefore, allowing the property to create both these regions’ wines.
Ta-da on the border of Burgundy and Beaujolais
We were met by Kerrie, who took us on a tour of the vineyards, first the Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais section and then onto the vines of Mâcon. Quite a novel experience!
Kerrie explained that the Estate is managed biodynamically, of which both her and husband Xavier are keen advocates. However, Kerrie also likes to inject a bit of a scientific approach into this as much as possible as her background was originally in medicine when she was a native of the States. It is here that she met Xavier when both were studying oenology at Saintsbury in the Napa Valley California.
We later came across Xavier in the winery where he was undertaking final checks and preparations for the forthcoming harvest, which was expected to start after the weekend of our visit.
Both he and Kerrie make the wines, though both have different approaches. For example, Kerrie has purchased some stainless steel tanks and is producing a range of wines from these, whereas Xavier prefers to use the traditional concrete tanks.
However, despite the family being steeped in tradition and Xavier’s endeavour to maintain this, he is not afraid to try out new things, for example by developing a sparkling style Blanc de Noirs ‘Granit’, with 100% Gamay, alongside a more traditional Crémant de Bourgogne and we must say that we thoroughly enjoyed both.
Kerrie showed us around the winery and cellar, where there were some interesting looking ‘saucissons’ hanging from the ceiling, of which one was enjoyed with a glass of vino later on around the table. She also showed us the equipment used for making up the biodynamic mixtures as well as examining the fertiliser that is produced from manure that had been placed in a cow’s horn, the earth was alive with worms and wee beasties.
It was great to while away a few hours tasting the wines from both winemakers and being made to feel very welcome by other family members and their friends on what was becoming quite late on a Saturday evening. We came away knowing that we would return to this delightful Château and its wonderful hosts hopefully sometime in the not so distant future.
Would things heat up as we headed South to the Rhône? ….
Guest Wines Tour de France
Following our introduction to the Champagne region, we stopped the night at a budget hotel in Auxerre (‘oh-sair’), a small port town on the river Yonne just West of Chablis itself and capital of the Yonne département. Upon leaving for our next stop Chablis, we noticed that the landscape became increasingly hilly and rolling and very picturesque. The sun was shining and a temperature of 23.5 degrees gave for a happy mood and readied us to taste some Premier and Grand Cru Chablis.
Prior to embarking on our work for the day, we took in breakfast at the ‘Chablis bar’ bang in the centre of town, where the very friendly staff topped us up with the obligatory croissant and cup of strong French coffee.
Our first stop was at La Chablisienne, which started life as a cooperative winery but has now evolved to bring everything in-house. We were possibly the first customers of the day – well, better to get in early and avoid the crowds!
After being shown a short video on Chablis explaining the different wine appellations, Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru, we were introduced to a selection of wines from each, Ruth immediately picked out a slight cork taint in one of the Premier Cru wines, which was gladly exchanged for another in better shape. Well done – WSET in action!
We thoroughly enjoyed the wines from the range we had and would best describe them as being of good body and substance. There was quite a difference in the flavours and structure of each wine, marking out where it came from, with intensity and complexity growing as you moved through to Grand Cru level. They were all very good wines, however, the Grand Cru Les Preuses 2009 stood out for us, an elegant wine showing lovely apple, pear, fennel, almond aromas and flavours, a true ‘phwaar’ wine!
We also picked up a few recipe cards, suggesting dishes to go with their wines. The asparagus and avocado tart with Premier Cru Montmain sounded pretty tasty indeed!
Next, was William Fèvre, where we were taken through a range of wines selected from the available list by Sylvain (our Wine Advisor), who was very helpful with explaining the chosen wines to us.
The range here was lighter in style, with more subtle flavours, to what we had already tasted but the differences between the wines were still marked in terms of which appellation the grapes came from. The prices at William Fèvre were a step up from La Chablisienne but based on what we had tasted, we felt La Chablisienne was pretty good value for money.
However, we did like their Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc, which had a lovely aroma of fresh green peas (and it happened to be their cheapest).
Just around the corner from William Fèvre, we found Domaine Pinson and were led into a tasting cave (literally!) by the proprietor’s daughter Charlene. We loved their wines with their fuller flavour that still maintained steely acidity. More oomph, in terms of flavour, for a great price. With each tasting we were beginning to understand which characteristics could be attributed to which appellation of Chablis.
We especially enjoyed their Premier Cru Montmains 2011, Fourchaume 2011 and Mont de Milieu 2011, all exhibiting a fuller bodied, richer style of Chablis with good acidity.
The tastings we experienced this morning brilliantly demonstrated terroir in action, although each individual producer had their own style there was no getting away from the fact that the terroir shone though, certain areas had quite distinct characteristics no matter who produced them, for example Premier Cru Fourchaume to the right side of Chablis always had a soft roundness to it, whereas Premier Cru Vaillons on the left side had a more mineral touch.
On our way to Préhy and Saint Bris, we took to the hills that offered wonderful views across the valley and stopped for a lovely picnic lunch just outside Courgis with stunning views of the vineyards stretching out around us!
The afternoon was spent at Domaine Jean Marc Brocard in Préhy, where we were given an excellent and informative tasting in lieu of a tour, which wasn’t taking place due to the busy activity of harvest.
It is an impressively large winery, nestled next to the small church Sainte Claire that stands proudly amongst the vines, a picturesque scene indeed.
Three generations produce the wines on sale here, with third generation Julien gradually taking over the reins from father Jean-Marc. Father-in-law, Emile Petit, also produces an Auxerrois range of wines at the Domaine. Julien is pursuing biodynamic practices and his range of wines all reflect this along with a modern slant to his bottle labelling. The main range of wines continues to be produced by father, Jean-Marc, which also now includes several biodynamic wines. In tasting both father and son’s biodynamic wines, we noted similar characteristics that carried over between them, which we found really interesting.
We enjoyed tasting a wide range of the wines from Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites and were especially impressed by Jean Marc’s Premier Cru Vaulorent 2011, honeydew melon, grapefruit, round and buttery and Grand Cru Les Preuses 2010, white flower blossom, honeyed melon, lovely richness, as well as Julien’s Premier Cru Les Vaudevay, fruity green fig character, flinty and fresh. All these wines were biodynamic.
This was followed by a trip to Saint Bris but unfortunately the cellar at Domaine Groisotwas closed to appointments. However, we were able to see that they were busy washing out the press after a busy morning harvesting. We therefore decided to wander around the town and soak up its grand buildings and an ancient past.
The day was pressing on but we felt that it would not be right of us to go away from Chablis without trying some of the reds available. So we went to Irancy on the hunt for their take on Pinot Noir. We found a good example of this at Benoît Cantin. Sonia, the winemaker’s wife, talked us through a few of their wines, including a rosé, before showing us around the winery, all excellent stuff! A gorgeous little place nestled between hills and well worth a visit.
Their Irancy “Palotte” 2010 combined Pinot Noir with 10% of the local grape Cesar and showed savoury, forest floor aromas alongside the red fruits.
Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to call in to Les Caves de Bailly, with their impressive cellar, as it was already quite late in the day and we had a long journey ahead of us in order to reach Burgundy before darkness in the hope that finding the budget hotel would be less difficult than the previous night!
The journey to Dijon was pleasant, with a noticeable change to the terrain – steep inclines and rocky outcrops suddenly jutted out from the earlier gently rolling landscape.
It was our first try with a ‘Fast Hotel’, cheap but with a welcomingly cheerful receptionist, who was happy to make us a pot of green tea late at night as there was nowhere to get a hot drink (coming back to the lack of kettles in French hotel rooms again!). And so ended another great day. We both came away from Chablis feeling that little bit more knowledgeable about the region and its wines.
So, would we feel the same upon entering Burgundy’s other half?
Guest Wines Tour de France
Leaving home at 7am we hit the road, sad to leave our little Tibby behind but excited at our French adventure ahead, plus we knew his lordship was in good hands with his very own support crew!
After a very easy drive south, we arrived at the Eurotunnel port. Having never experienced this before it was quite exciting and amazingly easy. We were even early enough to catch a train one hour earlier than booked. It’s a strange experience driving onto a train, then travelling at 110mph underwater without actually moving the car! If you haven’t travelled by Eurotunnel, we would recommend it. The return cost just over £100 and although it takes time driving to Folkestone and then onto your French destination, the fun is in the journey and this is day 1, not just a day lost to travel – we also got to see a bit more of England and of France as well!
We arrived in the northern Champagne region in the early evening. It has a noticeably flat landscape and besides the obvious vine, other types of agriculture featured such as potatoes and sunflowers. Although a lot of the Champagne vines were on slopes, many seemed to be on flat land. We would be hard pressed to say that the surrounding countryside matched the grandeur of the drink itself. Often, it seemed to be more in contrast: one dimensional and flat!
Also not reminiscent of our “atypical” picture of Champagne was the location of our Hotel Première Classe (yep, living the dream!), which was located within a business park on the outskirts of Reims (not pronounced ‘reems’ but ‘rance’ as we were corrected). Compact, decent and clean but most importantly, within budget (though French budget hotels are pricier than their English equivalent). Why waste good money on expensive accommodation when there’s Champagne to be bought (which surely must be in our budget, right?)!
The following day we headed to Ay, South of Reims on the outskirts of Épernay, and our appointment at René Geoffroy Champagne House.
The harvest, la vendange, had commenced the day before with attention being focused on the red grapes – the rosés were first in line, and although he was rather busy with all the harvest activity going on, we got to meet the man responsible for these wonderful wines, none other than Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy.
Anne, the Champagne House secretary, gave us a tasting and showed us around the winery. We were also lucky to witness the traditional Coquard wooden presses in action, pressing the grapes harvested that morning, with the dark juice flowing into stainless steel tanks on the floor below, gravity-fed as this is a more gentle procedure.
It is difficult to have a favourite of those we tasted as the quality of all was excellent, the Brut Expression, 50% Pinot Meunier, 40% Pinot Noir & 10% Chardonnay, was light and fresh whereas the Brut Volupté 2006, 80% Chardonnay & 20% Pinot Noir, was richer, spicier and wafted those recognisable Champagne yeast aromas.
This producer also makes a limited number of still Pinot Noir wines (Cumières Rouge Traditionnel), which is interestingly a non-vintage blend of grapes from 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2009. He also makes Pinot Meunier still wines by the bottle, unfortunately the latter was sold out but we did pick up the Pinot Noir, which we are looking forward to trying.
Afterwards, we decided to take a leisurely stroll around Ay. It was an amazing feeling walking around and seeing so many world famous Champagne houses in close proximity to one another in such a small quiet village, surrounded on all sides by vines.
You really don’t appreciate just how big the Champagne department is until you take a drive from Montagne de Reims to reach the Côte des Bar, a mere 20km from Burgundy, where we were destined for our next appointment at Louise Brison in Noé Les Mallets.
A three hour drive took us from flat open plains, through forest and idyllic villages to reach this Estate in the Aube department. We arrived fairly late in the afternoon, though Julie (Assistante Commerciale) was aware of our drive and had kindly agreed to wait beyond her usual closing time to receive us. And glad of this we were as we were treated to some excellent wines.
Julie displayed her wealth of knowledge for these Champagne’s and took her time so that we could really appreciate what we were drinking.
We were impressed to learn that every wine produced here is vintage, apart from the rosé, bottles from each year dating back to 1991 were on display and available to purchase all at very reasonable prices.
We particularly enjoyed tasting the Brut millésime 2007, 50/50 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, which had a lovely balance of fruit and toasty notes, and the Cuvée Tendresse Blanc de Blancs millésime 2005, 100% Chardonnay, which had a much more expressive nose displaying creamy fruit and hazelnut richness.
The harvest had not yet started here but was due to commence the coming Monday. It was fascinating to witness the procession of caravans and mobile homes that were being parked up next to vineyards creating small villages in themselves, in readiness for this event.
We definitely came away from Champagne with far more questions left unanswered and the desire to return to explore this region in far more detail than our quick whistle stop tour.
We were now on our way to our next destination. Though not in too much of a hurry so as not to take in Essoyes, a quietly picturesque village that the impressionist artist Renoir loved, spending many summers of his life here with his wife (originally from this town). Taking a walk around “Du Côté des Renoir” and seeing first hand where some of his inspiration was gained it was entirely understandable why he loved it so and in gratitude to this, the village displays various Renoir creations as large murals on the side of buildings all over the village. There was certainly an air of something serene and peaceful here.
Darkness soon fell upon us and unfortunately so did a diversion that took us miles out of the way of our original route. Feeling like we were driving blind in the dark with the fuel indicator creeping down lower and lower and no sign of a petrol station for at least 50 miles or so, we were preparing ourselves for a possible night of sleeping in the car (still looking on the bright side, we did have Champagne!). Running on empty, we finally found somewhere to fill up that accepted our credit card, having earlier discovered that certain petrol stations only accept French cards (silly us for mistaking France as being a part of Europe)!
Finally, after getting lost in yet another business park (in our defence, apart from lack of any signage, they also look the same), we found our budget hotel. Though, what is it with not providing a kettle at these places? Tea = civilisation! So off to bed we went to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for taking on Chablis.
Follow us to Chablis next …
Kelvyn hopes to inspire your taste buds with his recommendations during the month – July.
Eastcott Estate 2009, 11.5%, IWSC Silver Medal Award Winner 2013, made from 100% Seyval Blanc. Think strawberries and cream, strawberry bonbon, with a hint of apricot and brioche. Perfect for our current English summer. Go get some at Eastcott Vineyard.
Herbert Hall Traditional Method Brut 2010, 12%. Lovely mousse, apple citrus freshness entwined with biscuity aromas and flavours. Check for stockists at Herbert Hall.