‘Vieilles vignes’, old vines, have the advantage of keeping crop yields naturally low. And low crop yields mean ‘concentration’. Here we get that concentration in a Gevrey-Chambertin ‘village’ made from two contiguous ‘lieux dits’ (Pressonniers and Fourneaux) which are situated below the line of the Grand Cru to the west of the Combe Lavaux. We are talking about a classic Gevrey village spot, similar to the vineyard ‘Aux Etelois’ that is just across the way. This is Gevrey-Chambertin as we like it best.
DOMAINE MARCHAND FRERES
The Domaine Marchand Freres has been in existence since 1813 through seven generations, and for most of that time it was based in Morey-St. Denis. In 1983, however, the domain bought a winemaker’s house in the very center of Gevrey-Chambertin, ostensibly for the beautiful working cellars underneath. But Gevrey gradually became the seat of the business, and today Denis Marchand lives in the beautifully restored house and receives guests in the cellars below.
The domain has small parcels in some very important vineyards in Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-Saint-Denis and Gevrey-Chambertin, including premier cru ‘Les Sentiers’ in Chambolle, ‘Le Clos des Ormes’ in Morey and ‘Les Combottes’ in Gevrey. They also have holdings in Grand Cru Clos de la Roche, Griottes-Chambertin and Charmes Chambertin. But production is tiny, 1000 cases here, a few hundred there, mere dozens in the Grands Crus. Marchand Freres is the quintessential Burgundy domain: small production, high quality.
BURGUNDY 2017 VINTAGE
If 2016 tested the faith and resolve of wine makers in Burgundy, 2017 has to be seen as recompense, and as a miracle of sorts. While the rest of wine-growing Europe suffered crippling late-spring frosts in 2017, Burgundy for the most part (for once!) survived.
A mild winter and an accelerated spring left the Burgundy vineyards in a vulnerable position when, in the second half of April, temperatures across France barely rose above freezing for two weeks.
Three hard-frost nights pretty much did in Right Bank Chablis once again. But as the rest of Burgundy survived the first week, the growers found the will to fight back. And on the night of April 27th, a year and a day after the 2016 frost that took 80% of the 2016 harvest, a severe frost was forecast for the length of the Cote d’Or.
It’s now a part of local legend how, on the following morning, we awoke in a thick cloud of smoke. In the early hours, from north to south, the vignerons had mobilized to set alight dampened bales of hay, sending up a cloud cover to filter the first burning rays of dawn. And it worked.
The air was thick, and driving was tricky. A customer at the butcher shop in Meursault jokingly asked for a smoked chicken. And, of course, the authorities were up in arms over the pollution risks. But the crop was saved, and there has been ever since a spirit of cooperation and solidarity not often seen in farming communities.
After the freeze, May brought in an extended period of warm dry weather. No mildew or oidium to speak of, no thunderstorms or hail. Sunny periods, but no lack of rain. And the vines went in to flower at a very-normal first week of June. Pretty much ideal.
July had a couple of heat spikes, and a hailstorm hit the fancy vineyards in Morey St Denis on the 10th. But nothing worse. August was warm; the lead up to the harvest at the end of the month, hot and dry.
The first grapes were picked in the Cote de Beaune in the last few days of August. And most everyone was out picking in the first week of September.
There was (as there often is in Burgundy) serious disagreement in 2017 about when to pick. Do you pick early to preserve the acid-sugar balance and freshness? Or do you hang in there and wait for a little rain to kick-start a stalled photosynthesis, and thereby achieve the holy grail of phenolic maturity?
It’s hard to say who was right. There are very good wines coming from both camps. But there are iffy wines too. And that’s the key to understanding 2017.
Picked early, the best wines, both red and white, are fresh, fruit-driven and floral with long minerality. The iffy wines seem not have adjusted for the solid levels of tartaric acid which left them tart rather than bright, dry and tannic rather than juicy.
Picking late did not seem to have an effect on the balance between alcohol and acidity. But then, there was no ‘over maturity’ in 2017. The extra phenolic maturity seems to mean more density and riper tannins, with no sign of flabbiness.
The whites shine, particularly in hard-done Chablis (where there is better balance even than the marvelous 2014s). In the rest of Burgundy, the whites have the tension of 2014 but the open flattery of 2015.
The reds are juicy and crisp and open, and the regional appellations will be ready to drink soon. More serious appellations will be considered ‘typical’, in the best sense of the word: classic wines from a vintage that Burgundians will love. They are likely to be lost in the hub-bub that the 2018s will bring. But the yields were good in 2017, so you will be able to find them for a while. And you’ll do well to seek them out.
COTE DE NUITS
The vineyards of Gevrey-Chambertin swirl around the mouth of the Combe de Lavaux, a cleft in the hillside that has been eroding limestone slurry into the plains around the village of Gevrey for a geological epoch. Few appellations in Burgundy break down so neatly into zones: north of the combe lie most of the premier cru vineyards. The 9 grand cru vineyards are on the other side of the combe to the south. There are some good premiers crus in this sector as well, but they tend to be on the edges of the grands crus. Logically then, there are several different zones of village wine production, some very interesting, some (especially to the east) not.
Produced in the communes of Gevrey-Chambertin and Brochon, the appellation Gevrey-Chambertin includes 26 premiers crus. The commune of Gevrey-Chambertin also produces 9 grands crus.
In youth Gevrey-Chambertin is usually a bright ruby color, turning more black cherry with age. Strawberry and cherry fruits, violet and rose floral notes are common in the early days. Maturity brings out liquorice, leather and fur and hints of that Pinot underbrush. Youthful firm structure gives way to velvety tannins and delicate texture. Gevrey is what great burgundy should be: powerful, rich, and meaty. They can often be when drunk young to appreciate the fruit, but really these are wines for aging, often for long periods.
The grands crus sit on the eddys of the combe , with thin soils on crinoidal limestone; while most of the premiers crus occupy the upper portion of the Côte at heights of between 280 and 380 meters on shallow red limestone soils. Below them are the village appellation vines on brown limey soils. There are also marls covered with screes and red silt that have washed down from above the combe. These stony mixtures can produce elegant wine while the clayey marls, which contain rich deposits of fossilized shell-fish, add body and firmness. Exposures vary from east to south-east.
Red wines only - Pinot Noir
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
409.65 ha (including 80.46 ha premier cru)
Massive yet velvety, the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin should show power and structure, and should age admirably. This is a wine for meat-eaters. As it evolves, its gamey notes becomes a match for game, feathered or furred. It also goes superbly with rib steak, lamb, and fibrous meats, that need marinating or braising. It goes well with all the Burgundian strong cow-milk cheeses, in particular Époisses and Ami du Chambertin, and of course with the creamy purity of a Cîteaux.
On the label, the appellations Gevrey-Chambertin and Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru may be followed by the name of the specific vineyard, known as a climat.
The following climats are classified as premier cru:
Clos des Varoilles
Clos du Chapitre
Combe au Moine
The following climats are village wines from a single vineyard, known as a lieu-dit:
Champerrier du Bas
Champerrier du Dessus
Combe de Lavaux
Combes du Bas
Combes du Dessus
Croix des Champs
Le Carré Rougeaud
Les Champs Perriers
Les Jeunes Rois
Meix des Ouches
Puits de la Baraque