Elise Villiers Vezelay ‘Le Clos’ 2018
Lively and mineral, like a classy Chablis. There’s lemon peel and kaffir lime leaf, with chalk underneath and exotic spiciness high on the palate. Rich and tense with a solid core running from attack to a long complex finish.
We first met Elise Villiers not long after she started making wine in Vezelay. She was a late-comer to wine making, but showed talent and flair right from the start. We were cruising the Nivernais canal with our hotel-barge ‘Papillon’ and had struck up friendships with a group of winemakers and oenologists in the Auxerrois region near Chablis.
It was 1992, I would guess. Elise got started in 1989, and was working with the oenologist, Veronique Vallenot, with whom I earned my chops in Chablis. And at a time when Vezelay was a backwater sub-category of appellation Bourgogne, her wines were getting noticed. Didier Picq, one of the great Chablis producers of this generation, raved about her. So we went to taste her wines in Precy Le Moult, up in the hills behind Vezelay.
And we were blown away. She was happy to sell us wine to serve on the barge. But she balked at the idea of exporting. She was a newbie to the wine business, and had enough on her plate. So we had to content ourselves with introducing her wines to the lucky few who were cruising with us at the time. And when we sold the Papillon, we lost direct contact with Elise.
Fast forward to 2017. On the back of Elise’s work and dedication, Vezelay is awarded its ‘village’ appellation. And that was cause to celebrate. At a professional tasting following the Saint Vincent Tournante festival, we met up again with Elise and her amazing wine.
After a nostalgic tasting at the event, we again went to Precy Le Moult to taste and talk, and we had a look at the idea of export from the vantage point of our 29 years’ experience.
Today her domain covers 4 hectares (just under 10 acres) which she works with a tractor man and a right-hand vineyard helper. She still works solo in the winery however.
The domain is planted 2/3 in Chardonnay and 1/3 in Pinot Noir. Her original vineyard, ‘Le Clos’, situated on the step east-flank of the Vezelay hill, is planted in both white and red. The soil is light and gravelly, and vine roots can dig deep yielding wines with tension and minerality. Her white Le Clos has structure and complexity, and is apt to aging. It has much in common with Chablis, but also its own individuality.
Here second vineyard, which she planted in 1990, she calls ‘La Chevaliere’. It’s away from the hillside of Vezelay in Tharoiseau on the right bank of the river Cure. It’s more clay and limestone, yielding freshness and fruit with a mineral under pinning. She makes these wines in tanks to keep the youthful vivacity.
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.
Communes of production: Vézelay, Asquins, Saint-Pere and Tharoiseau.
Vézelay produces only white wines from Chardonnay. They are pale yellow gold in color. The nose has notes of acacia flowers, fresh grapes, lemon, pear, peach, with hints of hawthorn flowers, grapefruit, brioche, almond. In the mouth, the attack is supple and fruity, relayed by a lemony tension. The length is marked by a limestone and saline minerality, to which are added fresh notes of licorice and menthol, and the wines are supple and fresh.
The Vezelay vineyard is located on both sides of the Cure, a tributary of the Yonne. The presence of vines in Vézelay dates back to the Gallo-Roman era (late 1st century). At its peak in the 18th century, the vineyard covered 500 hectares. But, the arrival of the phylloxera in 1884, almost completely wiped out the vineyards. At the end of the sixties, only one or two acres remained. Relaunched in 1973 by a dozen volunteer winegrowers, Vézelay is experiencing a renaissance.
Indeed, the Village Vezelay appellation was officially recognized in 2017, and 256 hectares have been delimited. The surface currently planted is 70 ha, which leaves a good opportunity for development of the vineyard in the coming years.
The valley of the Cure is bordered, on the west, by a hill very notched by numerous parallel valleys, characterized by a succession of broad rocky spurs dominated by that of Vézelay. The vineyard is oriented south / southeast and is between 190 and 330 m above sea level. Climate data show an average annual temperature of 10.7 ° C, with an average annual rainfall of 732 mm.
The subsoil is formed of marl and limestone deposited during 15 million years, in the Jurassic period.
TERROIRS White wines only, Chardonnay grape variety.
Area in production 74.83 ha
Average annual harvest 1 320 hl PRODUCTION in 2017