Domaine Michel Rebourgeon Volnay 1er Cru 'Carelle Sous la Chapelle' 2019
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 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.
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