Domaine Felix Saint Bris 2019
Fresh and lively, with notes of citrus and the famous gooseberry. Bold attack and vivacious mid-palate, fruity and herbaceous.
SAINT BRIS and AUXERROIS
When Herve Felix returned home to Saint-Bris le Vineux in 1987 to take over the family vineyards, he was but one of many who had done so since the family archives first showed a winemaker in the family in 1692. The family think it’s very likely that the tradition goes back even further.
But this is not so unusual in this area of Burgundy known as the Auxerrois. This is the region of Chablis, and of Irancy, villages with a worldwide reputation for fine wine. But it was only in the past few generations that grapes became the mono-culture of the region. Although it was typical in the past for farming families to grow grapes. They grew other crops as well. Wheat and other grains, and here in the Auxerrois, famously, cherries.
So at the time that Herve came back to the farm, his parents were growing grapes, but selling them to the co-ops and negociants. Herve was a pioneer at the time, making his own wine and bottling it. Selling his wine directly to the public rather than passing through the negociants. And developing the family holdings from 11 ha to 31 today (about 75 acres).
Today they have holding in Chablis, which Herve says is easy to sell because of its reputation. But they also produce a regional appellation Bourgogne Cote d’Auxerre which is a great value in both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
But the story here is bigger than Herve and bigger than the Domaine Felix. The story of the appellation Saint-Bris is like no other in Burgundy (with the exception perhaps of appellation Bouzeron, which took a similar path).
In addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (and the vestigial Cesar), Saint-Bris has traditionally grown Sauvignon Blanc as a major part of its production. It’s proximity to Sancerre, 60 miles to the southwest, might be at the origin of the tradition, but Sauvignon de Saint-Bris has always been a feature in the Auxerrois wine production.
So much so that the local producers decided to take Sauvignon Blanc as their appellation grape. And in 2003, the appellation Saint-Bris was born. So now the label no longer says Sauvignon de Saint-Bris, but simply Saint-Bris. And the grape is Sauvignon.
BURGUNDY 2019 VINTAGE
There’s a popular saying here in Burgundy which points out that, since the start of the 20th century, vintages ending in ‘9’ have been exceptional. So when 2019 came around, we were secretly anticipating something special. Little did we know!
Every vintage comes with its own hyperbole: best of the decade; greatest of the century; another 1990. And it’s true, as the climate continues to warm, there has been some remarkable wine produced in recent years. But in Burgundy in 2019, it got hot.
Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like to come to maturity slowly. Too much heat cooks the elegance out of them. So climate change is an existential issue for Burgundy wine as we know it.
But in 2019 something remarkable happened. I hesitate to call it a paradigm shift; it may well be a one-off. But in a year where, in some places, grapes turned to raisins on the vine, Burgundy has given us a vintage worthy of the hyperbole.
You won’t find many lacey, delicate wines this year. The vintage will be unapologetically bold and unbelievably concentrated. The whites are indulgent, often explosive, and pinned to a mind-bogglingly good acidic framework, given the summer heat. The reds are sophisticated and elegant, alive.
Perhaps most tellingly, despite the hot summer, this was not one of those late-August harvests that we’re getting accustomed to. The harvest got underway in the Cote de Beaune on 12 September. And some in the Cote de Nuits did not begin picking until the 23rd. The fruit was ripe earlier, but the fine conditions allowed the growers to wait for the holy grail: phenolic maturity.
You rarely get fruit maturity (the sugar part of the equation) plus phenolic maturity (the tannins in the pips and stems) coming together at the same time. Usually you sacrifice one for the other. You can’t force it to happen. Nature bestows it upon you. But when it does happen, that, almost by definition, is a great vintage.
2019 will be a great vintage. Think 2018 with more energy. The only downside is that, as opposed to the bumper crop we saw in 2018, 2019 was a small crop. Down by as much as 60% in the southern zones where it was hottest.
Let’s look quickly at how the season developed. The winter 2018/19 was mild, with higher than average temperatures in December and February. There was a lot of rain in December which many claim could ultimately have saved the vintage from the summer’s drought.
Spring was warm and the growth cycle started earlier than usual. There were precocious zones with bud burst in early April. But cold weather set in on 5 April with frost in many areas. Frost damage would have an effect on yields, particularly in the Maconnais. The cold weather held on through mid-April with several consequential frost risks.
Warm weather returned in May and remained until early June when temperatures dropped again, slowing growth again and hindering flowering. There was a good bit of flower abortion (millerandage), which, again, took its part of the yield at harvest.
Then mid-summer was hot-hot And dry-dry. The vines, for the most part, were in good shape going into the heat wave, but the stress was excessive. Vines handled the conditions differently from one plot to the next. Consensus is that old vines, with their deep roots, were able to find water in the subsoil. And that younger, well-tended vines, had a similar advantage. Vines with roots that went looking for water near the surface, however, suffered towards the end of the season, as they scorched and shriveled.
There was just a bit of rain in August, and from then on through September was hot but fine. In certain areas Pinot Noir ripened before Chardonnay, so harvest planning was complicated. The first Cremant vineyards were picked at the very end of August, and the harvest continued through to mid-October.
Harvest was a joy for the most part. Good weather. No disease. And the fruit that survived frost and fire was beautiful. Fermentation in both white and red went off easily. Whites finished slowly, gently, giving balance and purity. The length of red fermentation varied a lot, but the tannins are fine and the wine has vigor.
Village appellation of the vineyards of Auxerrois in the department of the Yonne close to Auxerre.. This appellation is reserved exclusively for white wines produced within the demarcated area of the Saint-Bris appellation.
It was created by decree of January 10, 2003 and replaces the former appellation Sauvignon de Saint-Bris.
Communes of production : Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Chitry, Irancy, Quenne, Vincelottes.
Area in production 133.63 haWhite wines exclusively, Sauvignon and Sauvignon Gris grape varieties.
Sauvignon is grown in Burgundy only in the region of Saint-Bris-le-Vineux. This vigorous grape gives compact clusters with small and ovoid berries, a beautiful golden yellow when ripe, with thick film and melting pulp. On this Burgundy terroir, it produces dry white wines, light, fresh and very pleasant.
It's a white Sauvignon. The robe is often pale straw, light gold. The Saint-Bris appellation has notes of citrus (grapefruit, mandarin), peach and crumpled currant leaves.
Sometimes showing exotic nuances (litchi), this complexity leads to a full fruity, floral and tender tinged with a spicy and iodized finish. With age of the Saint-Bris will go towards aromas of jams and candied fruits. But it’s best enjoyed in its youth.
In the heart of the vineyards of Auxerrois and on the banks of the Yonne, Saint-Bris-le-Vineux is based on extraordinary medieval cellars, the most amazing of Burgundy: they run under the entire town. In addition, the old quarries of Bailly (whence the stone of the Pantheon in Paris), boast a 3.5 ha cellar 60 meters underground.
The Jurassic soils are diverse, from Portlandian to Kimmeridgian. Limestones with astartes (lower kimmeridgian) at the edge of the alluvial deposits of the Yonne and at the foot of the marl-limestone slopes. The best situations are in full hillsides of north exposure which gives it an ideal maturity for its fruitiness.