” I believe that great happiness awaits those men who are born where good wines are to be found” said Leonardo.
I have visited the Côte Chalonnaise for my book nine times since last March and after twenty years focussed on the Côte d’Or and I quickly noticed the change. A landscape that is somehow more intriguing, however much you vineyards, but also a greater openness among the people I met. I realised the pressure that exists in the Côte d’Or and its absence south of Chagny.
I won’t try to explain it, I expect you can work it out for yourself. I find the Chalonnaise a more relaxing experience. It is certainly not brought about because people don’t care or try. Believe me they do, but somehow they manage to perform the trick of smiling at the same time ! Even the farmer, feeding his cattle their winter feed in September because of a very dry summer, has an air of acceptance and can smile.
It seems Leonardo da Vinci sums it up for me. Note he does not say “great”. Chasing extremes is perhaps not the route to happiness for most people.
After the trip in September to cover the harvest, came the attempt to represent autumn without too many clichés but beauty is beauty and the colours and light are irresistible. It was good to observe the Paulée de Chalon from the outside and watch my Burgundian photographer Michel Joly and English wine writer and photographer Tim Atkin MW being intronised and entering into the fun of the event. It happened to coincide with a motor rally that blocked off sections of the Vaux valley at times and also lead to someone crashing into a parcel of Faiveley’s vineyards on the Rully to Mercurey road !
For winter I was intent on catching the harshness of the weather, so I spent what time was available in December watching a forecast which showed nothing but rain. So I stayed at home. January would bring a weekend away for the local St Vincent celebrations the week before the Tournante at Vezelay near Chablis. Its a wonderful place but there was need to be there for a book on the Chalonnaise.
It was impossible to be in 5 places at once for the parades, masses and meals but I somehow managed Mercurey, Rully and Montagny, all quite different in character.
I got some frost on my last morning and plenty of fog but no snow. I suspect I will have to do without it….. I am off shortly for the February trip with my fingers crossed. It is already a struggle to fit all the pictures into the space I have and book design is a complex thing.
Life lately has been full of distractions, not least the book itself and I don’t seem to be able to finish this post ! The experience has been wonderful and I just have the time to write it all down so I’ll just bombard you with pictures and hope they entice you looking further at the idea of visiting and tasting the Côte Chalonnaise.
The journey over, the job done. Almost. Now its time to edit a year’s pictures and put together the book. More triage, more culling, this is the hard part. Thank you to everyone in the Côte Chalonnaise for their great kindness, cooperation and good humour, its been a wonderful journey. Please look out for “A Year in the Côte Chalonnaise in the autumn
Anyway the good news is that a shot from the book has already won me the Pink Lady/Errazuriz wine photographer of the year 2019 and it could hardly be a less glamorous image. But then the Chalonnaise is about reality not glamour and I love it. Leonardo, you were so right !
The first bottle of Burgundy I bought, over 25 years ago, was an inexpensive white Mâcon from a co-op. I can only say it was not love at first taste. A later tasting of Mercurey red on its home territory did not lead to a purchase.
In the early days of any relationship, ignorance and inexperience are big factors in our decision making. As far as Burgundy is concerned my later introduction to it was much more pleasurable, but then I was not having to struggle with the idea of any financial commitment.
Subsequent encounters have been easier as I gained a little knowledge and experience. However the reassurance of a “brand”, be it a vineyard, producer or “millesime” was useful guide as long as one stayed in the same area. For me and no doubt many others that was Chablis and the Côte d’Or, with occasional surprising forays into the Maconnais.
Not being vinously curious or needing to make regular purchases, I stayed where I was comfortable. Until last year, when I was sent to the Chalonnais to photograph a few winemakers.
While I had come across very good individual producers in Givry and Rully, the other appellations were unknown to me.
Well, Montagny was a revelation, Mercurey was a surprise and Bouzeron a delight.
We should remember what changes there have been in winemaking over the last twenty years.
So I wonder what keeps so many of these wines a secret… Ignorance and inexperience was my excuse but I suspect for many it is the reassurance we gain from a high price and the constant repetition of “brands” by experts in the media. If we have the money we are tempted by the caché of these “brands”, but how many have the experience and knowledge to justify our choices. We are “sitting on the shoulders of giants” and following received wisdom.
As fashions change around the world and scarcity becomes a factor in increasingly high prices some people are protesting that their beloved Burgundy is no longer within reach.
Well all I can say is, go south, to the Chalonnais and start tasting.
I have been working there for a week every month since last April for my next book and I can tell you there is a lot to be discovered and enjoyed. Winemaking is as serious and as committed as further north but life is more real and relaxed and I’ve heard more than one winemaker whistling. High end it may not be, but its certainly more fun.
Time to think about why we drink Burgundy……
Meanwhile here is an introduction to the Côte Chalonnaise and what I found.
More to follow, but the best stuff goes in the book, out next September in French but with an English edition for those 20pp of text amongst the 220pp of photographs.
On paper “Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne” is not really the best time ( March ) for a photographer to visit Burgundy. The vigneron are busy with their bi-enniel home fixture with the world’s wine buyers and wine press. They must be transported, fed, entertained and, apparently, protected from the elements. I’m told one journalist arrived at Mercurey during the deluge on Thursday and, on seeing the next available asking space was some distance from the venue, turned round and went away! Well he missed a good tasting, excellent value and an excellent lunch ( prepared for 950 visitors !). The old adage of rain following a view of Mont Blanc should have made him think of taking the navette from Beaune on Thursday.
The week began as usual at Dijon station at lunchtime an I headed for a session with Gregory and Antoine Gouges in Nuits.
Tuesday: Its the Palais de Congrés in Beaune today to get mt GJs accreditation and hopefully use the press room’s wifi to email my Gouges portrait back to UK. Then cruise the Volnay, Beaune, Pommard tastings for old friends and new subjects.
Wednesday promised to be the best day of the week and I’m lucky to have a B+B in the vines
with a grandstand view over Buxy and I was lucky to have a guide as Thierry Daventure from the B+B to take me around Montagny.
Thursday in Mercurey brought a different story…
Friday. Homeward bound after a final call at the GJs
Onward and upward is a good theme. The last few months have seen some changes. Of course Burgundy changes seamlessly most of the timeDomaines are born or disappear as their owners do.
New hyphenated names appear just when you are not looking. What has been one domaine for hundreds of years can be divided by siblings. The tax man has to be paid so vineyards are sold off. New domaines are born, others are strengthened. With the wines achieving such fame and unheard of prices a leading domaine can change hands of excruciating sums of money partly because the majority do not come on the market but just stay within families. But the increasing price of the land means that a livelihood that is sometimes precarious, as we have seen all to often in recent years, produces for many an income that bears little relation to the value of the property. That cannot be a good thing. Sooner or later even the successful estates come onto the market if there are problems of succession and the region suffers a small tremor as new forces are felt.
Even when a succession is secure we still lose great winemakers. But we all have our allotted span…
For these reasons there have been new faces appearing at familiar addresses over the past year.
It seems like quite a shake up but Burgundy with its long history has a way of just continuing in its usual way. Some people worry new people will change Burgundy’s direction but that direction is controlled not so much by people as its history and its nature. Wine makers throughout Burgundy know that they do not control their lives. Their terroir does.
Plus ça change…..
At Arinzano they are very proud to be a Vino de Pago, a vineyard recognised as a specific site, a superior appellation within an appellation is the simplest way to put it. Their name may not be one you are not familiar with but wearing my non-expert hat I loved it, especially the white ( my usual weakness ). My trip to the estate in Navarra was the repeat of a visit for the Finest Wines of N Spain book,which was in itself a wonderful eye-opening experience. The estate is now under new ownership but the gate and its view are still stunning, only this time I arrived after a two hour taxi ride from Bilbao which should not be seen as a drawback but very much a bonus. The scudding dark clouds were too. Its a dramatic spot that would have looked a little tame under a clear blue sky. The guest accommodation was perfect, with vines all around and I was spoilt with lunch and dinner at a variety of suitably good but relaxed local restaurants in the company of the wine maker, Diego Ribbert and the general manager Manuel Lozada. What could go wrong…? Is n’t there always a downside, a hiccup …?
No not here.
That was saved for another job….
If I have a favourite part of Bordeaux I think it is St Emilion, in spite of its touristic tendencies, but when asked to go to Pomerol I was not too unhappy!
I was off to Château Petit Village, a name I had often passed by and was going to spend a whole 24 hours exploring it and meet….. It looks a small property but then I don’t know Pomerol vineyards so well despite several visits. All the houses seem more like farmhouses than châteaux although some are grander than others. That of Lafleur would surprise most people, across the road as it is from the famous Petrus.
Anyway Petit Village at least has a small avenue of trees and modern extension. And some guest accommodation that is always so welcome. One glance out of the window tells you whether to get up or not ! Of course its flat but there are no distractions, no frills. Everything is for the wine.
Diana meets me on the drive and I given the tour. The modern extension is impressive but simple, everything is functional and well thought through. I am left to wander the vines alone as the sun drops before showering and meeting up with Diana and her husband to have dinner in St Emilion. The next morning is grey and I’m grateful I made the most of the previous evening. I have only the morning to shoot some more portraits, the tasting room, barrel room and cuverie and time passes quickly until I am summoned to my taxi to return to Bordeaux. It seems there had hardly been time to blink but in fact it was a very pleasant opportunity to enjoy a little corner of Pomerol and friendly hospitality.
Over close to twenty years I have been visiting Burgundy to photograph, either to build my archive or to fulfill commissions. Consequently I have got to know many domaines. And I guess they have got to know me. Some relationships died on the vine, but most, happily, have flourished. It is sad when there is a parting, for whatever reason. I will miss Sylvain Pitiot at Close Tart and soon his neighbour at Domaine des Lambrays, Thierry Brouin is handing over his reins too.
In early June I was invited to the leaving party for Jean-Charles Le Bault de la Morinière at Close Vougeot.
If you follow Burgundy you will think know all about the sale of Bonneau du Martray. But I doubt you do. I don’t but an internet petition or crowd funding were never going to change the course of events. I have too much respect for the estate and everyone there to dissect events and gossip.
I had never been to a ” Cocktail dinatoire” but thought it best to pack my suit. Jean-Charles requested I leave my camera behind and I was all in favour of that. No doubt there would be plenty of people I knew to occupy me. So there were, but far more I did not. I was carrying my phone in order snatch a few souvenirs of this much anticipated evening and it came in quite useful. It proved impossible, until I was queueing to make my farewells, to speak to Jean-Charles and his wife and I found myself meeting more and more people I did not know and having to explain my presence.
Early in the evening my eye was caught by the Cuban boots of Bonneau’s vineyard manager Fabien so they were snapped and I started noticing the variety of footwear on display in the chateau’s gravelled courtyard. It seemed both an alternative way of recording the event that might amuse Jean-Charles and a good way of meeting anyone in interesting shoes!
Paul Bocuse R.I.P.
Today the chefs of France and elsewhere have gathered in Lyon to say farewell to Paul Bocuse.
Note that I do not have to explain who he was. Such are legends.
I was vey fortunate to meet him in April 1996 at his restaurant where I was photographing. I was on a 3/4 week assignment to shoot France’s Michelin 3* chefs’ and their restaurants. Back then it was a new area for me so there was a fair bit of trepidation in the blood stream. 3* chefs may be used to publicity but you don’t get 3* while suffering fools gladly. HoweverPaul Bocuse had seen it all and got the cordon. When he realised he was only my second chef subject (ever!) he was kindness and patience itself. Perhaps his great interest in photography helped him understand. I remember him setting up a magnificent shot full of copper pans and all kind of fare with himself and his cordoned chefs arrayed behind.
Having broken down all my kit and cleared the kitchen to prepare for service Bocuse invited me to sit at his table in the kitchen for lunch. Taking a trip to freshen up I spotted the shot I had just taken, hanging, framed in the corridor……
Over lunch I decided I had somehow to get another portrait, even if it meant a return trip. And it did.
However my second visit coincided with the arrival of the Bocuse giant chocolate Easter egg which he asked me to photograph. He then proceeded to snap me with his Leica. Surprise enough that was only only greater when, a few weeks later, 3 small autographed black and white prints arrived in the post !
I was not a famous photographer to be wooed, just a beginner, but he was a friendly, generous, kind and extremely helpful and thoughtful. He will be fondly remembered for much more than his food.
My 1996 Michelin guide contains 17 dedications from 3* chefs, here are the first two.