Burgundy assesses a tough year
Well we have heard so much this year about the disasters befalling Burgundy, indeed there was a double page drawing in Decanter of winemakers queueing to sell vineyards to negociants in order get through their grape famine. Frost, hail, rot, what a year. In the end the winemakers’ skill and tenacity along with a redeeming August come to the rescue and what grapes I saw and was given to taste looked excellent. We must wait and see how everyone survives. Winemakers don’t like to comment until the wine is in the barrel, neither should we.
Those negociants who I did serendipitously encounter (mainly by blocking their route with hurried parking in the vineyards!); Gilles de Courcel from Chanson, Erwan Faiveley, and Louis-Fabrice Latour were, as usual taking a positive stance, good quality being anticipated but small numbers…
One winemaker in Côte de Nuit was listing his losses on his fingers with some virulence, including all his Chambolle-Musigny premier cru but even he had not lost the 75% that I have come across.
There is no doubt these guys have had a hard time and have no alternative but to increase prices, but they know how that will be received, so this is a year to tighten the belt, shelve future projects and hope St Vincent and St Medard will look kindly on them in 2017.
I was to combine visits to Vincent Dancer in Chassagne and Chandon de Briailles in Savigny with other things that have cropped up to take me to Comblanchien, Vosne and Gevrey along with keeping my eye open for some harvest action.
It was difficult to anticipate what I would find but at least the weather forecast was promising.
My first encounter of the trip was a positive one, Etienne Julien in Comblanchien. The village is more known for its stone and a wartime massacre than its vigneron population and the Domaine Julien sign does not stand out very well. Which is a pity as it is well made and humorous, resembling many a vigneron sign I have seen in Champagne depicting the metier of the winemaker. One might say Etienne is well made and humorous himself, there is certainly enough of him ! I postponed a chance to taste as he was preparing for harvest but I am assured by two friends I trust that he is a “rising” star.
Rising but with two feet firmly on the ground.
After a quick ride around Corton Bressandes, finding new tarmac and tourist signposts but not much action, I headed through Aloxe-Corton past the dismal boarded up concrete bunker that was once Reine Pedauque and had my spirits lifted by the sight of Franck Follin’s cottage.
I was expected at Domaine Chandon de Briailles to discuss a day’s shoot tomorrow and in the gravelled courtyard in front of the magnificent house I am met by Claude Jousset-Drouhin and her terrier “Darling” who must once have escaped from a circus he (she ? I do not notice such things) is very agile, well trained and generally adorable.
A tour of the house where her parents still live and the gardens, where her children still play is followed by discussions about time and direction of sunrise and the possibility of shutters being left open all night for a dawn start and how to open the large front gate.
Tuesday dawned with clear skies overhead but cloud in the east for the sun to overcome. Never mind, I had wrestled with the gates and eventually got in.. You may be able to pick your hour, and your day, but seldom the season when you have an assignment to shoot and dawn in June would have given me a better angle at first light and shooting buildings is often about angles and timing. In September the sun must find its way through the trees and is almost right behind me when it appears. After an hour with the pickers harvesting Corton Blanc at the southerly end of Bressandes I was back to the house which was better but less interestingly lit. Never mind, casscroute comes to the rescue and there is plenty more to do and there is still the west facing side to shoot at dusk and beyond.
But first, lunch.
Waiting for dusk and an “all lights on” shot. A long wait….
Early mornings at harvest time are great and on Wednesday I was off to Chassagne to see Vincent Dancer for the day. Back in 1998 I asked JancisRobinson who would be good to photograph in Burgundy and Vincent was among the names so I have known him a while.
I am introduced to Marcel who is doing his 60th harvest and discover I photographed him in 2010 for a story about Chassagne-Montrachet’s St Vincent celebrations !
After a long day I am off to be fed at Table de Gregoire, aka Greg Love. Now resident, well he was then, at Domaine Jessiaume in Santenay, we are sharing a home cooked meal tonight.
I arrived bottleless (coals to Newcastle ?) except for two jars of honey from Serge, my beekeeper friend in Ladoix. I promptly forgot to give them to Greg !
Having done his harvest stint Greg departed later that week and is now sampling the delights of Nepal !
So to Thursday, a return visit to Chandon de Briailles and some free time to mop up other picture requests.
A horse ploughing pic, just for me ! A lovely morning with Prosper the Percheron and François the vineyard manager at Chandon de Briailles overlooking the outskirts of Savigny.
Friday. Another promising dawn followed me through the Côte de Nuit as far as Vosne-Romanée, where I had two appointments on my way to my lunchtime train at Dijon. At Nuit I turned up to the left towards the cemetery and followed the vineyard roads to Vosne. Here Romanée Conti are in Richebourg and I spot my friend Didier Dubois who followed his work for Merode in Ladoix-Serrigny when their Grand Crus of Bressandes, Clos du Roi and Renardes were leased to Romanée Conti. He occasionally emails me charming aquarelles he has made from my pictures in the Corton book like the one below
After Vosne I called at the shop in Château du Clos de Vougeot as the Chevaliers de Tastevin have promised to stock the Corton book. Its excellent news and I’m quietly proud to be on the shelf alongside some great books.
As I carried on through Morey St Denis I encountered Christophe Perrot-Minot and his Landrover and stopped to see how things are. He sadly counted off on his hand the appellations he had lost to the frost. I’m leaving Burgundy after very positive week but reminded it has been a very tough year for some.