Thursday, December 7, 2017

Chateau Lafleur: An Overview

Chateau Lafleur occupies 4.5 ha on the famed Pomerol plateau alongside such famed vineyards as Petrus and L'Evangile. The vineyard was purchased in 1872 by Henri Greloud, the great-great grandfather of the current owners Sylvie and Jacques Guinaudeau who took sole ownership of the property in 2002.

Location of Chateau Lafleur in Pomerol AOC
(Source: pillariwine.com.hk)

Location of Chateau Lafleur in relation to neighboring wineries

According to Baptiste and Julie Guinaudeau (son and daughter-in-law of the owners), the complexity of the Lafleur wines are directly attributable to the complexity of the soils and the vines planted on those soils.

The soil composition is as follows:
  • Gravelly sandy-clay in the northeast -- 1.4 ha (3.4 acres)
  • Gravelly clay to the south and east -- 1.5 ha (3.7 acres)
  • Sandy-gravelly soil at the heart of the vineyard -- 0.95 ha (2.34 acres)
  • Gravelly-clayey sand -- a 0.8 ha (1.97 acres) diagonal cross-cutting the vineyard and the site for the grapes making the Pensées de Lafleur wine (second wine until it became a cru in its own right in the early 2000s)
"This very rare association of soils allows us to explain in part the singularity of Lafleur" (Baptiste and Julie).

Moueix, the exclusive distributor of the Lafleur wines, describes this as an incredibly complex terroir with "a veritable patchwork of soils and subsoils of different gravels, loess and clays marked by an iron-rich sublayer." Further, the parcels dedicated to Pensées de Lafleur are "sandier on the surface and less gravelly than the parcels intended for Lafleur. The subsoil is deeper and richer with an important presence of ferric clay."

A map of the vineyard soils is presented below.

Lafleur soils map (Source: handout at
12/4/17 Lafleur tasting)

The second key to wine quality is the vines planted on the estate: 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot. "The priceless genetic heritage of this vineyard at Lafleur, above all our old vine Cabernet Franc, should be duly noted" (Baptiste and Julie). A part of the vineyard is a result of massale selection activity carried out in the 1930s.

A total of 21,000 vines are planted on the estate: 7,500 on gravel with clay; 5,250 on gravel with sand; and 8,250 on clay and gravel soil. Vine density ranges between 6000 and 7500 vines/ha.

All vineyard activities are carried out by hand to include tilling, pruning, and harvesting. Pruning and de-budding are tailored to the age and shape of each vine while hedging, leaf-thinning, and crop-thinning are driven by the climatic conditions of each vintage. No chemical herbicides are used on the estate.

Harvest dates are determined on a parcel-by-parcel basis with Pensées de Lafleur fruit generally harvested last. The grapes are harvested by hand with selection in the vineyard and, following, at the sorting table in harvest-reception. Maceration periods are determined by the characteristics of the vintage.

The wines are racked into barrels immediately after fermentation and remain there for 18 months before they are bottled. The wines are racked every three months during the aging process.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Pomerol AOC (Bordeaux): Where excellence reigns

Two nights ago, Zachys hosted a tasting of the wines of Chateau Lafleur at New York's SC Culinary Suite. I will be reporting on that tasting but, prior to that, will provide background on Pomerol (this post) and the estate (following post).

Pomerol, at 800 ha, is one of the smallest communes in Bordeaux. This home to some of the most lauded Bordeaux offerings is generally grouped with St. Emilion and other neighboring communes into an unofficial sub-region called Libournais. The commune is located 3 km from the city of Libourne and approximately 30 km northeast of Bordeaux on a rolling plateau that slopes to the Isle River at its confluence with the Dordogne.

Pomerol is bounded by the Barbanne stream to the north, St. Emilion to the east, and Libourne to the south and east. The area was originally a part of the St. Emilion AOC but was awarded its own designation by INAO (the AOC governing body) in 1936. A total of 150 producers currently operate in the defined area.




Pomerol is blessed with a mild maritime climate with drier summers and higher daytime temperatures than experienced in other Bordeaux communes. The risk of frost is very low due to the moderating influence of the Dordogne and Isle rivers.

A rough approximation of the Pomerol soil is shown in the graphic below. The composition is a gravelly topsoil with layers of clay and sand with the clay more prevalent in the west and sand more apparent close to Libourne. The subsoil has a high proportion of a ferruginous sandstone which the locals call "crasse de fer." Several types of clay can be found in the soil but the blue clay is the most highly regarded. The Petrus vines are planted almost 100% on blue clay.

Pomerol soil composition with the Pomerol plateau shown in 
gray. (Source: Handout at 12/4/17 Zachys Lafleur Tasting) 
Originally from Neil Martin's book Pomerol.

The Pomerol plateau (the area shaded in gray in the map above) is home to the best producers. Its soil is a complex blend of gravel, clay, sand, crasse de fer, and iron oxide.

The vineyards are planted to Merlot (80%), Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a dollop of Malbec. The current vines are very old and low-yielding. This, coupled with the small surface area available for planting, results in sky-high prices for the wines.

The wines of Pomerol are elegant and distinctive, characterized, as they are, by intense aromas, ripe fruit, and supple tannins. The wines are velvety and fruity in their youth and exhibit flavors of grilled almonds and black truffles in later years. The average yield is 38,000 Hl annually.

A map of the Pomerol wineries is shown below. Wineries of note include Petrus, Lafleur, Le Pin, and L'Evangile.

Pomerol wineries (Source: Handout at the tasting)


Chateau L'Evangile

I will cover Chateau Lafleur in my next post.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Barolo Zone's Bussia MGA (Monforte d'Alba): Too big to succeed?

At 292.3 ha, Bussia is the second largest MGA in Monforte d'Alba (and the Barolo Zone as a whole), bested only by Bricco San Pietro which weighs in at a massive 380.09 ha. The demarcation of this large surface area under a single MGA came about with the introduction of the MGA schema with the 2010 vintage and has not been wholeheartedly embraced by Barolo experts (Galloni, for example, says that the designation is "too large to be meaningful. Masnaghetti (Barolo MGA) sees the designation as an attempt to leverage the famed name by incorporating "... other vineyards which could be considered marginal" under its umbrella.)

The Bussia MGA, as currently designated, is shown within the red oval in the map below.

Bussia MGA is shown centered within the red
oval
But today's Bussia is not the Bussia of yore. Prior to the 1960s, Barolo wine was a multi-vineyard blend but all industry players knew the important vineyards. It was not until 1961 that this knowledge was acted upon and two single-vineyard wines were introduced by Beppe Cola of Prunotto (Barolo Bussia) and Vietti (Barolo Rocche di Castiglione). On the Prunotto website, the Bussia vineyard (the source of this single-vineyard wine) is described thusly:
The Bussia vineyard is one of the most renowned of the Barolo zone, extending across 7.35 ha and is laid out like an amphitheatre, with a southeast/southwest exposure. A small cru, Bussia Vigna Colonello, is located on the interior of the vineyard.  A red Barolo of grand character originates from this vineyard. This wine expresses all of the peculiarities of this territory, offering intense and persistent aromas.
This description would seem to place the source of these grapes in the modern day Bussia Soprano. 

Renato Ratti's Carta del Barolo, published in the 1970s, gave us a glimpse of the notable vineyards in what is today's Bussia MGA. The map, reproduced below, shows a number of Class 2 and Class 3 vineyards and large swaths of open spaces between. Bussia Soprana and Bussia Sottana are mentioned, with Soprano incorporated into a Class 3 Zone called Granbussia. It should be noted that the vineyard referred to in the below map as Fontanile is now called Munie (Masnaghetti).


Table 1. Ratti classification of vineyards that
fall into the modern-day Bussia MGA
Best sub-regions of high qualitative peculiarity Sub-region with special characteristics Historic sub-regions of wine growing

Bussia Soprana Arnulfo

Bussia Sottana Dardi

Fontanile Gran Bussia

Pian Della Polvere


Pugnane


Santo Stefano


The Petrini map of the Great Vineyards of Monforte d'Alba (pp. 152 - 153 of A Wine Atlas of the Langhe) shows three clusters of vineyards in what is today's Bussia MGA. As it relates to Bussia, Petrini states:
To the west, as you turn to Barolo, you will find the vineyards of Bussia. Further south lie Dardi, Pianpolvere, Visetti and Arnulfi ... Bussia is an area that embraces two separate villages, Bussia Soprana and Bussia Sottana. Considered as a whole, Bussia includes some outstanding plots that produce wines with superb sensory profiles, beginning with their very fresh, intense aromas. The great vineyards in this Atlas include Munie and Pugnane with Bussia Sottana, as well as vineyards that surround the hamlet itself and from which it takes its name. Similarly, the vineyard below the houses at Bussia Suprana is named after the little village and ranks in quality alongside the celebrated Colonnello, Bricco Cicala, Romirasco and Gabutti della Bussia vineyards.
In the foregoing, Petrini has expanded Bussia to be all of the vineyards around Bussia Soprana and Bussia Sottana, to include Gabutti. The vineyards to the south are not included in this construct. The Bussia MGA blows away this distinction by incorporating the vineyards to the south under this broad umbrella.

Masnaghetti is convinced that Soprana, Colonnnello, Cicala, Romirasco, and Gabutti should be considered part of one major sub-zone. In his Barolo map, Galloni classifies the vast bulk of the Bussia MGA as noteworthy (the third level of his classification scheme) with only Cicala, Romirasco, and Pianpolvere Soprano rated as outstanding (the second level in his classification scheme).

Below is a map of the Bussia MGA and, following that, brief descriptions of each of the sub-zones.


Arnulfo
Named after the pharmacist who bought the property in 1874. Vineyard exposure is south and southwest, with west exposures in the lower sections. Elevations range between 250 and 320 m. The sole grower in this sub-zone is Costa di Bussia

Bussia Soprana
As mentioned previously, Masnaghetti seeks to group the sub-zones around this vineyard into a larger whole. Petrini speaks to a classic designation -- Gran Bussia -- where the wine contained a proportion of fruit from each of the vineyards (Poderi Aldo Conterno does bottle a Gran Bussia wine, for example.). The Bussia Soprana Valley is protected by the high hillside "running from the village of San Giovanni di Monforte to Boschetti at Barolo" and produces fruit of uniform quality. The character of the wines reflect a "common origin in their restrained fragrance, austerity, and structure ..."

The producers in this zone include: Fratelli Barale, Bussia Soprana, Domenica Clerico, Francesco Clerico, Aldo Conterno, Alessandro e G. N. Fantino, Poderi Luigi Einaudi, Prunotto, Rocche dei Manzoni, Oreste Stroppiana, and Terre del BArolo

Bussia Cicala
This vineyard is located in the upper part of the Bussia Soprana Valley and the vines form a bowl with aspects ranging from southeast through southwest. The slope is sheltered from the wind. Clayey calcareous soil which is rich in calcium carbonate and iron.

Bussia Soprana
Four hectares under vine. Barolo from this zone has "excellent structure and crisp, clean aromas that evolve over time into tar. The prominent tannins merge with other elements to produce a wine of outstanding character" (Petrini).

Colonnello
This vineyard has a southwest aspect. The wine has the elegance and harmony of the Barolo commune and structure and power of Serralunga (Petrini).

Gabutti
Five hectares under vine with southwest to west exposures at 355 to 395 m elevation. The west-facing plots are highly prized due to being sheltered and being warm enough to ripen the Nebbiolo.

Romirasco
Seven hectares at 400 m with southwest exposures. Wholly owned by Aldo Conterno. Clayey calcareous soil which is rich in calcium carbonate and iron. Similar soil to Cicala but less brown.

Bussia Sottana
Classe as having excellent characteristics by Ratti. Southwest-facing with elevations ranging between 280 and 340 m. Producers here include: Batasiolo, Damilano, Giacomo Fenocchio, Conterno Fantino, La Boca, Monti, and Armando Parusso.

Dardi
This is a 7-ha vineyard with the best plots being above the village. The topmost point of the vineyard is known as Mondoca. The wines are "classic Barolo, mineral at times with somewhat rugged tannins. The Mondoca wines are "fuller, complex, and less subtle." Producers include: Francesco Clerico, Angelo Germano, Alsssandro e G. N. Fantino, Oddero, Poderi Colla, Prunotto

Munie
An 11-ha vineyard with west to southwest exposures and elevation ranging between 250 and 330 m. The lower part of the vineyard is known as Bofani while the upper portion is called Funtanin. Wines of great elegance and finesse are produced from this vineyard. Producers include: Batasiolo, Cascina Ballarin, Franco Conterno - Sciulun, Conterno Fantino, Giacomo Fenocchio, Livia Fontana, and Armando Parusso.

Pianpolvere
One of the most highly regarded and homogenous crus in all of Monforte d'Alba, according to Masnaghetti. Unquestionably one of the most privileged spots for Nebbiolo in the Langhe, according to Galloni. The wines are tannic, mineral and possessed of less fruit than neighboring crus. Pianpolvere Soprano, which is differentiated from the broader Pianpolvere, has fleshier wines. Producers are Fratelli Adriano, Famiglia Anselma, and Pianpolvere Soprano.

Pugnane
This vineyard is a continuation of the hill descending from Munie. Nine ha in size with west and southwest exposures. Soil is richer than Munie's. Producers are Giancarlo Boasso, Cascina Pugnane, and Mario Marengo.

Visette
Six ha with south and southwest exposures. "Wines have a mineral character and are at times somewhat tannic."Producers are Fratelli Moscone, Attilio Ghisolfi, and Terra del Barolo.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Barolo Zone by the numbers

The raw data presented in Masnaghetti's Barolo MGA provides an opportunity for a more detailed comparative analysis of the Barolo subzones. I attempt such an analysis in this post.

Methodology
The relevant data were entered into a spreadsheet with columns being associated with subzones and rows associated with relevant characteristics. Some of the information provided in the Results comes directly from Masnaghetti (MGAs, for example), while others come from summations of columns and/or rows, averaging of columns and/or rows, and calculations of ratios. All calculations were completed using the embedded spreadsheet tools.

Results
The chart below shows the distribution of wineries in the Barolo Zone. A total of 246 wineries are shown across the zone when the Masnaghetti numbers are summed. There is an average of 41 wineries per subzone, that average being padded significanty by the La Morra (62 wineries, 25% of the total) and Monforte d'Alba (53 wineries, 22% of total) contributions.

Chart1. Wineries in the Barolo Zone, by subzone. A total of 246
wineries and an average of 41 per subzone.

Chart 2 below shows the distribution of MGAs (cru-equivalents) across subzones. Barolo, La Morra, and Serralunga d'Alba have almost similar numbers followed by Castiglione Falletto with approximately half of their MGA totals. All of the remaining subzones fall into the 11-or-less category.

Chart 2. MGAs in the Barolo Zone, by subzone. A total of 177 MGAs
and an average of 29.5 MGAs per subzone.

Chart 3 shows surface hectares by subzone. La Morra and Monforte d'Alba are markedly larger than the other subzones but, if you look at Chart 2, has fewer MGAs than La Morra and Serralunga d'Alba, giving an indication that its MGA must be hefty.

Chart 3. Surface hectares by subzone. A total of 8,084.84 ha across all
subzones and an average of 847.47 ha/subzone.

Chart 4 shows the area under vine by wine and total on the left side of the chart and the percent of each subzone under vine on the right side. The numbers used here are from Masnaghetti's 2013 data. A total of 2,426.83 ha is under vine in the zone with an average of 437.81 under vine per subzone. A total of 1,984.17 ha is planted to Nebbiolo for Barolo with an average of 330.70 ha per subzone planted similarly.

Chart 4. Area under vine by variety on left and percent of each subzone under vine to the right.
Chart 5 shows that with the exception of Monforte d'Alba (29.77%), Novello (34.32%) and Roddi (45.75%), all of the subzones devote in excess of 50% of their surface area to the growing of grape vines. In the case of Castiglione Falletto, the percent devoted to grape-growing exceeds 100% and I am unsure as to whether this is an anomaly or a mistake on the part of Masnaghetti in presenting the numbers. I will pursue this with Mr. Masnaghetti at next year's La Festa del Barolo.

Chart 5. Percent under vine by subzone
Chart 6 shows areas devoted to the varying wine types as a percent of the areas under vine. Barolo is far and away the prime wine but there is not insignificant contributions from the other wine types in the Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, Serralunga d'Alba, and Verduno subzones.

Chart 6. Varieties planted as a percent of land under vine.
All of the Masnaghetti caveats concerning the data carry through to this exercise. Also, the reader is reminded that averages are just that and can be skewed by extremes at both ends of the scale.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tasting selected wines of Barboursville Vineyards (Barboursville, VA)

The white wines we tasted at during our visit to Barboursville Vineyards were brought to our table as a single flight, each wine identified by a marking on the base of the glass. Luca (Paschina, GM-Winemaker) arrived shortly after the wines did and we delved into an hour-long conversation. It was only at the end of that conversation that I had the chance to sample these wines briefly before we turned to the reds.

Luca and Frank and my (to this point untouched) white wines
The Pinot Grigio showed a nice brightness with no flab; the Sauvignon Blanc showed green bark, nice acidity, and great weight on the palate; the Chardonnay showed sweet fruit and tropical notes, and a disconnect between elements; the Vermentino was unfocused with salinity and salted sour cherry on the palate. But the star of the whites, I felt, was the Viognier.

In my previous post on Barboursville, I related the fact that the winery had switched from the traditional Northern Rhone production for this variety to:
  • Fermentation in stainless steel
  • Avoidance/suppression of malolactic fermentation
  • 9 - 12 months aging in stainless steel
  • Lees stirring in the SS tanks.
This approach has paid off "bigly." The Viognier Reserve 2015 has perfect weight on the palate (as opposed to the weightiness associated with traditional Viognier), perfect balance, and a rich, creamy mouthfeel and finish (the result of the lees-stirring).


Switching to reds, we tasted the 2015 and 2010 vintages of the Cabernet Franc. The 2015 showed red fruit and some green bean. On the palate, ripe, bright fruit, salinity, and a lengthy finish. The 2010 showed smoke, tar, green bean, and red fruit. Sweet red fruit, salinity, savoriness on the palate.


Of the 2014, 2011, and 2009 Nebbiolo Reserves, I preferred the '09. It showed olives and a bit of tar on both the nose and palate and with a bright acidity on the latter. I felt that this vintage also showed the best concentration of the three.


We tasted the 2012 (50% Petit Verdot, 50% Merlot), 2010 (60+% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) and 2004 (70+% Merlot) Octagons.


The 2012 showed coffee, berries, cedar, and baking spices on the nose. Medium-bodied on the palate with a medium-length finish. The 2010 was elegant. Berries, cassis, mocha, and baking spices on the nose. Medium-bodied with a long, creamy finish. The 2004 was phenomenal. Red fruit, tar, chocolate, and baking spices on the nose. Balanced with a lengthy finish.


Barboursville Vineyards produces an extensive portfolio of wines, with both current year and library wines available for purchase to visitors as well as on its website. The signature wines for me, though, are the Viognier and Octagon.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, November 20, 2017

Barboursville Vineyards (Barboursville, Virginia): The marriage of Italian expertise, international varieties, and the Monticello AVA terroir

Barboursville Vineyards sits in the Monticello AVA -- Virginia's oldest (1984) -- which is named after, and includes, the location where Thomas Jefferson first sought to make a domestic quality wine.


Monticello AVA shown bordering the Shenandoah Valley AVA
in the picture above
The current iteration of the estate was founded by Gianni Zonin -- of the 7-generation, Northern Italian winemaking family of the same name (The Zonin holdings are shown in the picture below.) -- who acquired the 18th-century Barbour Family estate and planted it to Cabernet Franc and Merlot in 1976. In 1990 Gianni brought Luca Paschina from his Piemonte home to be the General Manager-Winemaker at the estate with the mandate to "renew those vineyards and restore them to the path of producing the fine wines of great stature which Jefferson and he (ed.: Gianni) envisioned ..."

The Zonin portfolio (Source: http://www.zoninusa.com/)

Monticello AVA
The Monticello AVA extends over 1,250 sq. miles in the Upper Piedmont between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and the Southwest Mountains to the east and includes most of Greene, Albermarle, and Nelson counties. The climate is characterized as humid subtropical/maritime and its summer warmth is effective in ripening most of the major international cultivars. The soil is complex, medium- to well-drained, and is well-endowed with granite-based red Virginia clay. Vineyard exposures have great diversity.

Vineyards and Vines
Frank Morgan and I were scheduled to meet with Luca, the GM-Winemaker, during the course of our morning visit to the estate. We arrived earlier than scheduled so took a detour to visit the ruins of the old Barbour estate which sits on the winery grounds and can be visited free-of-charge during winery-open hours.


The Barboursville Vineyards property covers 900 acres, 185 of which are planted to vine. The humid subtropical climate, according to Luca, is associated with cold winters, warm summers, and wet springs. Luca sees severe dry conditions in two of ten vintages while another two of ten vintages are too wet. In general, he can make very high quality wines in eight of ten vintages. After all, not that different from his native Italian Piemonte, he claims.

Frank Morgan, one of the most stylish vineyard visitors I have
ever encountered

The soil is comprised of Davidson red clay, loam, and ideal levels of organic matter. Estate vineyards are planted at elevations ranging between 550 and 800 feet.

Vineyard operations are a mix of manual labor and automation: pruning and cluster-thinning are done by hand while leaf-pulling, hedging, and harvesting are done by machine. The company has invested heavily in improving its pruning operation in order to combat Esca in the vineyards.

The table below shows the cultivars currently planted at Barboursville.

White Red
Sauvignon Blanc Cabernet Franc
Ottonell Merlot
Moscato Petit Verdot
Falanghina Nebbiolo
Fiano Sangiovese
Viognier Barbera
Chardonnay*

*Some purchased fruit

The Merlot and Cabernet Franc were the first vines planted back in 1976-77 and Cabernet Franc remains the estate's most important variety. The number of whites planted reflects the estate's search for a white Italian variety to stand alongside its Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc wines. The future focus will be on Vermentino, Fiano, and Falanghina, to the detriment of Chardonnay.



Five acres of Sauvignon Blanc were planted in 1984 but, over time, it became apparent that the clones employed were not well suited to the Virginia environment. In 2009 the viticulturist Fernando Franco was dispatched to Marlborough (NZ), a climatically similar environment, to seek out clones that performed well there. Three distinct specimens were identified and secured and a total of 7.5 acres of these new vines were planted between 2009 and 2010.

Winemaking
In assessing his winemaking practices, Luca notes that he is not very concerned about keeping first- and second-press juice apart; he is not afraid of some astringency. With the exception of the passito wine, all wines are fermented using selected yeasts.

Luca Paschina, GM-Winemaker

White wines are made in a reductive style with malolactic fermentation suppressed in order to preserve acidity. In the case of the Viognier, they had started out making it in the traditional N. Rhone manner with barrel-fermentation and aging. This style, however, did not seem to fit the fruit that was being produced on the estate. This observation caused Luca to shift to a style for this wine which includes: fermentation in stainless steel; no malolactic fermentation; aging in stainless steel for 9 to 12 months; and stirring on the lees. This style has yielded a wine much more in tune with the fruit.

Red wines are driven by the location of each vineyard block and the wine style. Early-drinking wines do not undergo extended maceration, are fermented with high-vigor yeast, and are aged in used barrels. Wines intended for extended aging are treated as follows:
  • Lower vineyard yields
  • Traditional/extended fermentation
  • Automated pumpovers
  • Two-week post-fermentation macerations
  • The use of some press wine
  • Racked twice before being placed into barrels and then again 6 months later.
Gamba French oak barrels are used for all red wines. Extended-aging wines spend 1 year in oak and then 6 months back in stainless steel tanks before bottling. Wines are never cold-stabilized or fined. I have covered the estate's use of cross-flow filtration in an earlier post.

The flagship red wine is Octagon, first produced in 1991. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The composition of the components is determined after repeated blind barrel tastings conducted between December and March and the final blend is barrel-aged until the following December. The wines that do not make it into the final blend are declassified and bottled as varietals.

I will cover the wines we tasted in a follow-up post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Nicolas-Jay: At the intersection of Burgundy expertise and Oregon fruit

Nicolas-Jay is a new producer (first vintage 2014) located in the Yamhill-Carlton District of Oregon's Willamette Valley. The enterprise brings together the grapegrowing and winemaking expertise of Burgundy's Jean-Nicolas Meo (Domaine Meo-Camuzet) and the wine enthusiasm and business acumen of Jay Boberg. The two men were scheduled to barnstorm Florida for five days to promote their wine with the first stop a seminar at Winter Park's Wine Room. Wineontheway.com arranged for me to attend this seminar. Unfortunately, Jean-Nicolas' flight was delayed, precluding his attendance at the event.

Jean-Nicolas Meo is the head of the famed Burgundy house Domaine Meo-Camuzet. Jay Boberg was a music industry executive with over 35 years of experience to include: cofounding the indie label I.R.S. Records; selling that business to Thorn/EMI in 1993; President of MCA Music Publishing; establishment of Liberation Entertainment (independent film and TV company); and Chairman of the Board of Isolation Network. These two gentlemen have been friends for over 30 years.

Boberg has been a long-time winelover and when he approached Jean-Nicolas about a potential collaboration, the pump had already been primed by a positive Pinot Noir experience for the latter at the International Pinot Noir celebration in 1991. But this alone was not enough. According to Jay, Jean-Nicolas' response to the initial overture was "We'll see." And so they set out on a journey, tasting grapes and wines from over 200 producers and growers in the region. The understanding was that if they were to do something, they would buy fruit and leverage Jean-Nicolas' winemaking skills.

Jay Boberg of Nicolas-Jay
During this exploratory phase they got word that one of the vineyards (Bishop Creek) where they had tasted was available for purchase. This did not fit with their plans but the fruit had been so impressive that they could not pass the opportunity by. And thus  a new Oregon winery was born: Nicolas-Jay.

The Bishop Creek Vineyard (shown on the map below) covers 30 acres in the Yamhill-Carlton District of Oregon's Willamette Valley AVA. Yamhill-Carlton experiences moderate growing conditions and its soils are coarse-grained ancient marine sedimentary soils over sandstone and siltstone.

Bishop Creek Vineyard plus other Nicolas-Jay
fruit sources (black dots). Source: nicolas-jay.com
Thirteen of the 30 acres were planted to vine in 1980, nine as own-rooted Pinot Noir and the remainder as Pinot Gris. The vineyard had been planted 2000 vines/acre (high density for the area, according to Jay) on a steep slope and had been farmed organically. Since the acquisition by Nicolas-Jay, the Pinot Gris has been grafted over to Chardonnay and some additional Pinot Noir has been planted on rootstocks.

In addition to the estate fruit, Nicolas-Jay buys fruit from eight other growers sprinkled around the Valley (shown as black dots on the map above). Vines from these producers are managed to Nicolas-Jay specifications with the vineyards being organic, biodynamic, or LEED. The goal is for 2 to 2.5 tons/acre from partner estates while Bishop Creek yields 3 tons/acre.

The Nicolas-Jay goal is to make wines that have great fruit expression but are balanced with tension and richness. According to Jay, they are making wine that they like and hope that they can find enough people with similar tastes so that they can have a going concern.

In terms of winemaking, optimal harvest time is determined through exhaustive sampling and tasting beginning about three weeks prior to the estimated harvest. Grapes are harvested into cherry bins and transported to the crush pad where they are sorted, de-stemmed, and placed into tanks for cold soaking. Each block is harvested, fermented, and aged separately. The grapes are fermented with natural yeasts after a 4 - 7-day cold soak. Cap management is via pumpover in the early stages of fermentation, supplemented by two to four punchdowns over the course of the fermentation process.

Solids are subjected to a bladder press with the resultant wine assigned to barrels for malolactic fermentation and aging. The aging regime calls for 1/3 new oak for 15 months. The barrels are kept in low temps in the early stages in order to extend the malolactic fermentation timeframe. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

At the seminar we tasted two wines from Domaine Meo-Camuzet and two wines from Nicolas-Jay


The Meo-Camuzet 2014 Bourgogne Hautes Côte de Nuits had a beautiful match flint nose which I normally associate with robust sulfur addition at bottling. Citrus, lime, and matchflint. A bit austere, high acidity, and unresolved oak.

We tasted 2014 and 2015 editions of the Nicolas-Jay. According to Jay, 2014 had been very hot, with no rain during the summer and it began raining during harvest. The following year's harvest started out the same way but then they got 0.5 inches of rain in mid-August. The 2014 had a faded strawberry nose and baking spices. Bright red fruit, good concentration, spice and slight tannic grip. Light bodied. The 2015 had more structure, definition and focus than the 2014. Austere. Astringency and tannin apparent. Lengthy finish. 2014 more approachable while 2015 has more aging potential.

We closed out the tasting with the Meo-Camuzet 2015 Premier Cru Nuits-Saint-Georges aux Murgers. Strawberry nose, red fruit, coconut oil, baby powder, coal, tar. Good concentration and mouthfeel. Round. Lengthy finish.  Illustrates the challenge confronting Nicolas-Jay.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, November 5, 2017

RdV Vineyards: The crafting of a Virginia cult wine?

At a comparative tasting of 2006 Chateau Mouton, RdV Vineyards 2008, and Dominus 2007, Rutger de Vink, owner of RdV, stated "I hate to use the word 'cult' wine, but we are trying to take the wine to the next level." And this was the estate that Frank Morgan (drinkwhatyoulike.com) and I would be visiting this afternoon on our abbreviated tour of Virginia vineyards. The location of the estate is shown on the map following the picture below.


RdV location indicated on map by red marker
RdV is the brainchild of Rutger de Vink who set out to create a Virginia wine that could compete with the best wines of the world, built on the characteristics illustrated in the figure below. I will discuss each of the characteristics in turn.


Vision and Leadership
The foundational element in this "drive to cult" is Rutger de Vink. Much ink has been spilled on his history, movie-caliber good looks, etc., but I stay away from Hollywood-type themes on this blog. The things that I find fascinating are:
  1. His apprenticeship with Jim Law (Linden Vineyards) which gave him a solid grounding in the site and viticultural requirements for the production of high-quality wines;
  2. His travel to, and work in, Napa and Bordeaux to further expand his horizon;
  3. His search for, and selection of a very attractive grape-growing site in Delaplane, VA;
  4. His focus on a limited number of varieties;
  5. His focus on the type of wine that he wanted to make and the market niche that he wanted his wine to occupy;
  6. His pursuit and construction of a high-impact team that would contribute to both the realization and sale of the vision.
Location Characteristics
Based on his time at Linden Vineyards, Rutger came to understand the importance of soil composition, texture, and drainage capability in final wine quality and set out to find a plot that optimized those characteristics. He eventually settled on a 100-acre site on a steep, stony hillside in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The site, located within the borders of Delaplane, has a mix of gravel and rich, red clay soil in the topmost layer and granite in the subsoil.

The first figure below shows a core that has been drilled on the RdV property. The topmost soil layer is at the top of the leftmost tube while the extent of the core is at the bottom of the rightmost cylinder. The granite subsurface is more clearly illustrated in one section of the underground cellar (second picture following) which has been left exposed for observational purposes.

RdV soil core


Sixteen acres of the property were cleared for planting of the vineyards and were further segmented into the 11 plots shown in the figure below.


Viticulture
The built environment, human resources, and cultural practices are three critical legs of the the RdV viticultural stool. In terms of the built environment, RdV opted to plant Cabernet Sauvignon (40%) Cabernet Franc (40%), Merlot (12%), and Petit Verdot (8%) in its vineyard plots. The 30,000 vines planted were secured from a nursery in California and already had 2 years of growth under their belts at the time of planting in 2006. These vines were planted in a high-density format with grass between the rows to aid in moisture capture and retention.



RdV has assembled a formidable viticultural team to ensure the growth of the highest possible quality grapes in the vineyard. The Consulting Viticulturist is Jean-Philippe Roby, a Professor at Bordeaux Agro Sciences and ISVV Bordeaux University, a leading proponent of the concept of terroir, and an internationally renowned consultant in the field. Day-to-day management of the vineyard is the responsibility of of the estate's first employee, Gabriel Flores.

The estate vineyard management practices is based on sustainable viticulture.

World-Class Blending
If you are making Bordeaux-style wines, it makes sense to utilize the services of a Bordeaux-based consulting enologist to direct the blending. If, however, you want to make one of the best Bordeaux-style wines in the world, then it absolutely makes sense to utilize the services of one of the top Bordeaux enologists. And that is what RdV has done in securing the services of Eric Boissenet, blender of wines for four of the five Bordeaux First Growths. RdV is the only US-based client in the Boissenet portfolio.

The Wines
The estate's signature wine is called Lost Mountain and its 2014 blend was 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, and 12% Merlot. The second label is called Rendezvous and its 2014 blend was 42% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Petit Verdot. For those steeped in the wines of Bordeaux, one can see a Left Bank - Right Bank divergence of these two wines.

Both of these wines are fermented in stainless steel and aged for 2 years in 100% New French oak (Troncais and Allier, medium toast). The wines are racked every 6 months during barrel aging. Wines are fined with egg whites before bottling and spend another year aging in bottle.




We tasted the 2012 and 2013 Rendezvous and the 2013 Lost Mountain. The 2013 Rendezvous showed smoke, red fruit, and baking spices on the nose. Red fruit and dark chocolate and elegance on the palate. The 2012 Rendezvous had the 2012 characteristics plus cigar, leather, licorice, and tar. Sweeter fruit and concentrated but not as focused. Great acid levels. Great finish.

The 2013 Lost Mountain showed Mahogany and baking spices with a hint of castor oil. Concentrated but not as focused as I would have liked. Creamy, fudge, chocolate on the palate. A little bit of a hole in the mid palate.



Of the two labels that I tasted that day, my preference was for the Lost Mountain.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The wines of Poderi Aldo Conterno at the Wine Watch White Truffle Dinner

I visited Poderi Aldo Conterno in Bussia in 2012 as a member of a Decanter Reader Team and was enthralled by its origin story, its holdings and practices, and its wines. The focus of our tasting on that trip was the estate's 2009 vintage. The Wine Watch White Truffle  Dinner, held at the new Wine Watch Wine Bar, offered me an opportunity to relive the tasting portion of my prior experience, this time with a focus on the 2013 vintage, and with Franco Conterno, eldest of the trio of brothers managing the estate, as the headliner, instead of Giacomo. I report on the tasting in this post.

The evening began with copiuos amounts of Lo Sparviere Franciacorta being poured in the bar area for attendees' pleasure. After the passage of some time, Andrew invited us to take our seats at the table set up in the southwestern corner of the bar.





All of the wines had been pre-poured and stationed at each attendee's position. Andrew introduced Franco and then turned the floor over to him. He also advised us to begin tasting the wines.

Franco gave a short presentation that was affected by the noise from the other sections of the bar. I was seated at the far end of the table and could not hear much. After I protested about the noise, Andrew walked over and asked them to tone it down (which, in fairness to them, is not what you expect to hear when you go to a bar. Andrew communicated with me by email as to how he expects to address this issue going forward.).

I began tasting the wines during Franco's presentation. First up was the 2013 Bussiador Chardonnay. I asked Franco about the 2013 vintage for this wine and he characterized it as a classic vintage for Chardonnay. It was cold with a lot of sun in the summer (great for ripeness and polyphenols, he said). There was enough water in the summer and September and October were pretty good. This produced a balanced wine with elegance.

The Chardonnay grapes are grown on 35- to 40-year old vines resident on 2.56 ha of the Chastain vineyard and, while the winery has the capacity for 30,000 bottles, they only vinify 6000 bottles.  The wine is placed in stainless steel tanks until the initiation of alcoholic fermentation when they are transferred to 100% new oak barriques for its completion and for malolactic fermentation.


A nuttiness on the nose. Beautiful feel on the palate. Walnut character and a slight salinity. Beautiful weight on the palate. Balanced and elegant with a lengthy finish. This is an absolutely beautiful representation of Chardonnay.

Two dishes book-ended Franco's presentation: A White Truffle dish done pancake style followed by a Ravioli with Herb Ricotta and Quail Egg. Both of these dishes were of extremely high quality.



The next wine tasted was the 2014 Conca Tre Pile Barbera d'Alba DOC. Grapes for this wine are sourced from Conca Tre Pile, "a hilly area in Bussia Soprano whose main vines are Barbera," said vines being a maximum of 45-years old. The wine is vinified in stainless steel and its first aging period is within those vats. It is transferred into oak casks for the final months of aging.

Red fruit on the nose with bright red fruit on the palate. An easy drinking wine with good concentration. Medium finish.

Next up was the 2013 Langhe Rosso. This is a blend of Freisa, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot sourced from various vineyards in Bussia. Like the Conca Tre Pile, this wine is vinified in stainless steel and then aged in a mix of stainless steel and oak casks.

Easy drinking. Bright, intense red fruit.

At this time the third dish was served, a pleasantly earthy, salty, almost-transparent Veal Carpaccio.



I next tasted the 2011 and 2013 Il Favot Langhe Nebbiolo DOC.  The grapes for this wine are sourced from 20-year-old vines from a number of vineyards in Bussia.  After hand harvesting, the crushed grapes are allowed to stay in contact with the skins in stainless steel tanks in order to increase the color and tannin levels in the finished wine. Vinification occurs in the stainless steel tanks where the wine remains for 6 months post-vinification.  The wines are transferred to 100% new oak barriques at the end of that six month period and will mature therein for another 18 months after which they are bottled.

The 2011 showed violets, tar, olives, earth and baking spices on the nose. Medium body with a definite savoriness on the palate. Medium finish  Similar characteristics on the 2013 though weightier and less developed.

Franco Conterno

The 2013 Barolo Bussia is made with grapes from 15- to 20-year-old vines drawn from a number of vineyards in Bussia. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks and then transferred to oak casks for aging. A bit of a plum note to accompany tar, roses and licorice. Concentrated with a great mouthfeel. Beautiful wine.

The 2012 Colonello Barolo DOCG was made from grapes grown in the highest position in the namesake vineyard.  Bright red fruit, herbs, tar, and spices on the nose. Powerful red fruit. Textured.

The Granbussia Riserva DOCG is the flagship wine of the estate.  The 4950-bottle production is made from grapes drawn from the Cicala (15%), Colonello (15%), and Romirasco (70%) vineyards. These grapes are co-fermented in wood with 60 days of skin contact and spend another 32 months maturing prior to bottling.  The wine is stored for another 12 to 18 months after bottling.  We tasted the 1999 edition of this wine.

On the nose tar, roses, herbs and an earthiness.  Started off slightly tired on the palate but took wing after some time in the glass. Powerful, richness, and tar.  Long finish.

All in all, a pretty good tasting. I had not been to a Wine Watch tasting in a long while so I was excited to revisit as well as to meet one of my New York City tasting pals there. Andrew has been doing these events for a while and, as such, he knows his customer base and the producers that pass through. I privately gave him some of my thoughts on the event and he was gracious enough to respond in a detailed fashion.

Looking forward to future tastings at, and visits to, the brand new Wine Bar.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme