Domaine Michel Rebourgeon Volnay 1er Cru 'Carelle Sous la Chapelle' 2018
This is probably the most sylph-like, ethereal of all the Volnays. Supple laciness that envelops the palate, intense but weightless. Yet at the same time it is earth and dark chocolate, with smoky minerality, and a high-pitched acidity that carries the Volnay violets into a crescendo finish.
Is there a more unusual story today in Burgundy?
At first sight, perhaps not. The Domaine Michel Rebougeon, in the heart of Pommard, has origins dating back to the 16th century. It has gone by its present moniker since 1964, and in 1996, Michel’s daughter, Delphine, and her English husband Steve Whitehead took over.
This small domain is made up of prime appellations in Pommand, Volnay and Beaune, 4.25 ha (10+ acres) in all.
Steve had a wine business in the UK in the 1980s, and it was during that time and via that business that he met his future wife, Delphine. When Delphine’s father, Michel, neared retirement age, Steve left his UK business and joined the Rebourgeon family domain.
He and Delphine worked the vineyards themselves. The small production was sold mostly out the door at their ‘caveau’ on the main square in Pommard. So while the domain had classy wines in some of the bell-ringing appellations in the zone, it remained small, discreet and undiscovered.
Now that Steve and Delphine are getting closer to retirement, their son William has taken charge. And the profile of the domain has changed overnight. When these notes were written in 2021, William was 21 years old. His father tells me that he was avidly in the vines every day after school from the age of 8. And his enthusiasm shows. William Whitehead, at a very tender age, shows the maturity and touch of a winemaker with decades of experience, and innate ability.
As always in the Press, there is a lot of hyperbole. But a) before William, there wasn’t much Press about the domain; and b) it’s just true, the kid has talent. The vineyard work, the expression of ‘terroir’ and the generosity of the wines, from the simple regional Bourgognes through to the quasi-grand-cru ‘Rugiens’, is astounding.
Out of the discretion and potential of the Domaine Michel Rebourgeon past, a star is born.
BURGUNDY 2018 VINTAGE
There has been talk over the past year of the 2018 vintage in Burgundy being one of the greatest of all time. Comparisons with the mythical 1947, and all that. But let’s be careful and take a closer look.
We’ve tasted some marvelous wines, both white and red, and from all of the appellation levels. Purity and concentration would be the key words across the board.
But lest we forget, 2018 was the hottest vintage in Burgundy since 2003. And frankly, we were expecting wines like we got in 2003: flabby whites and Cote du Rhone-like reds. But that did not happen. And the secret to understanding 2018 Burgundy lies in understanding the difference between these two very hot years.
If you look at 2018 from start to finish, not only was it hot, it was dry: 50% less precipitation than the annual average over the past 30 years. However, if you were here in the early part of the year, you’ll certainly remember the rain.
After a very dry summer in 2017, winter 2017-18 was wet. It rained nearly every day through March and into April. And the vine was slow to bud.
That all changed in the middle of April. Wet soil and higher temperatures brought on explosive growth in the vineyards that the vignerons had a tough time keeping up with. In a week we went from bud burst to unfurled leaves.
The first flowers burst in mid-May. The crop set regularly with very little disruption, and summer settled in. The early wet conditions followed by April’s warmth saw the onset of mildew, but the fungus never stood a chance.
It was a hot and sunny summer. Some would say it was a heat wave and a drought. And we started to see signs of stress in vineyards in certain sectors. Things were better where there was a little rain. But August was bone dry. In fact, there was no rain from June 15th to the end of October.
It was about this time that comparisons to 2015 cropped up. You could see ripeness rapidly approaching, and there was talk of harvest starting at the end of August.
The vines were incredibly healthy; no moisture means no threat from mildew or odium. No rot. Good ripeness.
And, for the first time since 2009….a normal yield! So, let the harvest begin!
And it did, in the last days of August. What was most astonishing right from the start was that the perceived acidity levels seem OK. Granted, there’s no malic acid, but the levels of tartaric acid seem to be compensating, and there is an over-all impression of balance.
Also amazing was the amount of juice the crop produced. Not only was the yield bigger than the past 10 years’ average, but the amount of juice set a record for Burgundy. So there will be a lot of 2018 around.
And all this in a year that felt more like the south of Spain than Burgundy as we know it. The only thing we can attribute the quality of 2018 to is the abundant winter rains, and the vine’s ability to go searching for water when it needs it.
COTE DE BEAUNE
The village of Volnay is perched on the slope of a hill, above the band of premier cru vines, high up in the Côte de Beaune. The hill itself is oriented slightly differently from the general run of the country so that the vines face south-east rather than east. Volnay has more than 50% of its appellation classified as premier cru. There have been some recent changes, and as of 2006, some of the premiers crus have been combined. Chanlin is now part of Pitures. Les Aussy is now in Le Roncet. Carelle sous la Chapelle and Carelles-Dessous have become Carelle-Dessous la Chapelle. And En l'Ormeau is now part of Les Mitans. The Volnay appellation is twinned with Volnay-Santenots, grown in neighboring Meursault on soils suited to the Pinot Noir grape.
Produced in the commune of Volnay for appellation 'Volnay' and in Meursault for Santenots 1er Cru, appellation Volnay includes 29 premiers crus.
Volnay admired for its delicacy, its juiciness and its bouquet, is always described (by the non-PC Burgundians, at least) as the most feminine of the Burgundy reds. Though some parcels produce tighter and more muscular Pinot Noir, most Volnay is known for finesse. Color ranges from ruby to garnet, and the nose is famously of violets, though with age you get the classic Burgundy Pinot secondary aromas of spice and undergrowth. But its precocious fruitiness makes it apt to be opened fairly young, especially in delicate vintages.
Oolitic limestone bears a resemblance to the reddish igneous rock porphyry found in the Morvan district. It is pink in color with pale green inclusions and overlain by banks of schist. At the top of the slope, this limestone predominates. Lower down we find white, chalky argovien limestone. Lower still are reddish bathonien limestone, pebbly and with iron content. The soils at the foot of the slope are deeper and more gravelly. Altitudes are in a relatively narrow band at 230-280 meters.
Red wines only - Pinot Noir
White wines from Chardonnay are grown in the climat of Santenots (commune of Meursault) which are entitled to the appellations Mersault 1er Cru or Meursault-Santenots, or Meursault.
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
206.70 ha (including 117.65 ha premier cru)
Its velvety finesse combined with aromatic intensity makes Volnay a partner for sophisticated poultry dishes, roasted and glazed, which meld with the fruit and spice aromas of the wine. Better still, especially for the premiers crus, is feathered game, stewed or slowly braised, or simply roasted. The intensity of Volnay allows it to go well with many full-flavored cheeses.
On the label, the appellations Volnay and Volnay 1er Cru may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat. 'Santenots' is a separate climat lying within the appellation 'Volnay' and classified as premier cru.
The following climats are classified as premier cru:
Carelle-Dessous la Chapelle
Clos de l'Audignac
Clos de la Barre
Clos de la Bousse-d'Or
Clos de la Cave des Ducs
Clos de la Chapelle
Clos de la Rougeotte
Clos des 60 Ouvrées
Clos des Chênes
Clos des Ducs
Clos du Château des Ducs
Clos du Verseuil
Frémiets - Clos de la Rougeotte
The following climats are village wines from a single vineyard, known as a lieu-dit:
Les Grands Champs
Les Grands Poisots
Les Petits Gamets
Les Petits Poisots