Hospices de Nuits, Nuits St Georges 1er Cru ‘Rues de Chaux’ 2019
Deep color, with rich aromatics of red and black fruit, stone fruit, and notes of resin, undergrowth and delicate spice. Solid, chiseled structure that counterplays with elegance and is lightened by fine yet crunchy tannins. On the palate, notes of blackcurrant, cherry and licorice combined with undertones of resin and tar. A premier cru with excellent potential for bottle ageing.
The vineyard is situated close to the road leading to Chaux; a village in the canton of Nuits-Saint-Georges in the Hautes-Côtes. The soil is deep limestone and calcareous brown soils, reddish brown on silt and saliferous limestone gravel on a substrata of Bathonian fractured bedrock (Premeaux limestone and white oolites).
HOSPICES DE NUITS
It was in the 13th century, around 1270, that the Hospices de Nuits was founded, at the end of the reign of Saint Louis and the accession of the Duke of Burgundy, Robert II. This Hospital was thus born two centuries before the foundation of its illustrious neighbor, the Hospices de Beaune, in 1443. Less known but just as prestigious, the Hospices de Nuits functions in exactly the same way, combining an activity medico-social and a wine estate.
Originally, the Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges was a leprosy hospital, opened in 1270 and completely destroyed during the civil and religious wars of the late 16th century. In 1689, the construction of the current hospital began. and despite early financial difficulties, the establishment survives to this day, thanks in particular to charitable donations and legacies which over the centuries have constituted the wine estate. Today, the hospital is a public health establishment which, since January 1, 2016, has been part of the Hospices Civils de Beaune.
From December 2016 to July 2018, work took place as part of the construction of a new infrastructure. The new Saint-Laurent hospital opened its doors in 2018 in premises offering all the comfort and safety of a modern care center.
The wine estate is an integral part of the hospital with its own operating budget. Four winegrowers are employed full time. A part-time team helps in certain seasonal work, as well as about forty people during the harvest. With more than 12 hectares, the Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges estate is essentially made up of crus from the Nuits-Saint-Georges, in particular eight plots of village appellations and nine premier crus, thus covering a large part hillsides and terroirs of the appellation. This prestigious vineyard makes it possible to produce 18 cuvées, including a Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er cru “Les Didiers”, wholly owned by the Hospices.
The entire year’s production is auctioned every second Sunday of March following the harvest. The profits from the sale of wines from the winery constitute a substantial aid for hospital investment.
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.