Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune 1er Cru 'Les Bressandes 2019
Jean-Claude has a large parcel in the 1er Cru Les Bressandes on a steep slope facing east with pebbly clay and limestone soils, conducted in biodynamic farming since 1979. The soil is warm and well-drained giving ripe, structured wines. Long, slow fermentation with manual cap-punching followed by 18 months in not-new oak. The aromas are subtle and complex with black fruits, earth, violets and spice. The palate is relatively light, but intense with black cherry, earth and saline minerality. No "fruit bomb" here, but rather a traditional Burgundy, showing off it’s impressive ‘terroir’.
Jean-Claude Rateau, who has arguably the most famous mustache in Burgundy, is incontestably the godfather and guru of biodynamic wine farming here in the region. When, in 1979, Jean-Claude converted his then 5 acres of vines to biodynamic production, he was the first. And his neighbors thought he was nuts. Nearly 40 years later, the proof is before your eyes, and there are dozens of biodynamic producers, and many more who use the methods without claiming accreditation. If you see Jean-Claude’s vines today, after all these years of loving care and (some would still say ‘voodoo), you can easily see where his rows end and his neighbors’ begin. The life of the soil and the vitality of the vine is that obvious.
Wine making was in Jean-Claude’s blood from the earliest age. His family were part-time vignerons, owning a couple of acres and making wine for a family of land owners (with whom Jean Claude still works). After his studies at the Lycee Viticole (the wine high school in Beaune), Jean -Claude did what so many young vignerons do today, he set off on a tour of other wine regions. And it was in Brouilly, in the Beaujolais, that he first encountered biodynamics.
On his return to Burgundy in 1979, he set up his domain and made his first trials with biodynamic methods in a Beaune vineyard called ‘Clos des Mariages’, making the very first biodynamic wine in Burgundy. His association with the land owners that his family had worked with developed fruitfully, and Jean-Claude’s domain grew over the next decade to over 20 acres and 14 different wines. His early work and collaboration with such notables as Claude Bourguignon (a soil microbiologist who in the ‘80s famously said that the soils in Burgundy’s vineyards had about as much microbiological activity as the Sahara) and Yves Herody (who has done the soil analysis for our plantation at Domaine de Cromey) brought Jean-Claude into the inner circle of those who pioneered the study of ‘terroir’ in Burgundy, and to the foundation of an association of which he remains the president.
Today, on 15 parcels, in 12 different ‘terroirs’, Jean-Claude proposes a comprehensive selection of Beaune ‘terroirs’ in white and red: 4 regional appellations; 7 different village appellations and 3 premier crus.
His vineyard work is entirely based on this notion of ‘terroir’. The extraordinary potential of Beaune’s brown limestone soil for producing deep, concentrated wines that age well has been his life’s study. Each soil type demands a different approach, and each period of the year has its tasks. In winter, the soil is dug deep to allow frost to crumble what has hardened during the previous year. Springtime means aeration to stimulate the microbiologic life and break down what is left of any compost. And at the end of summer, the vineyard goes back to wildflower meadow.
In the cellar, Jean-Claude uses a minimum of sulfur, leaving the wine on its lees until bottling. The harvest can be partially de-stemmed, or not at all, depending on the vintage and the ‘terroir’.
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
A Burgundian icon and capital of Burgundy's wine trade, Beaune takes center place on the world stage during the annual Hospices wine auction. The Hôtel-Dieu with its Flemish tiled roof, the huge silent cellars of the negotiants' houses, and the wine-growing domaines of the district all attract lucrative tourism. The Beaune vineyards are among the most extensive of the Côte d'Or.
The appellation Beaune includes an astounding 42 premiers crus produced within the commune of Beaune itself. There is much variation in the appellation Beaune. Differences appear from parcel to parcel, depending on the location. Generally wines from the northern end of the commune tend to be more often intense and powerful, and those from the southern end are smoother and fuller.
The reds should be a luminous scarlet color, with classic Pinot aromas of black fruits (blackcurrant, blackberry) and red (cherry, gooseberry) with notes of humus and wet undergrowth. When older, secondary aromas of truffle, leather, and spice develop. Younger Beaune reds give the impression of biting into a bunch of fresh grapes, firm and juicy.
The whites tend to be a viscous gold flecked with green. You often get almonds, dried fruits and white flowers in the nose. They may be enjoyed for youthful fruitiness but will age admirably, especially in the better premier cru vineyards.
In the geosyncline of Volnay the comblanchian limestone disappears into the depths to be replaced by the overlying Rauracian. The slopes are quite steep and the soil thin (scree-derived black rendzinas). On the lower slopes are argovian marls and deep soils tinged with red from the iron in the oxfordian limestone. The foot of the slope is mostly limestone mixed with clay. Exposure ranges from east to due south. And altitudes range between 220 to 300 meters.
Red wines - Pinot Noir
White wines - Chardonnay
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Reds : 362.74 ha (including 281.49 ha Premier Cru)
Whites : 48.96 ha (including 36.06 ha Premier Cru)
Reds from Beaune tend to be fleshy and generous, and the best can show great aromatic power and solid structure. So we partner them with firm gamey meats such as feathered game, roasted or braised. For cheeses choose the more 'gamey' style too: Époisses, Soumaintrain, Munster, Maroilles.
Beaune whites in their youth have a flowery freshness making them a good match for poultry and veal in creamy sauces, and for grilled sea-fish. When older and fleshier they enfold cheeses such as Cîteaux, Comté, and creamier goat cheeses.
On the label, the appellations 'Beaune' and 'Beaune 1er Cru' may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat.
The following climats are classified as premier cru:
Clos de l'Ecu
Clos de la Feguine
Clos de la Mousse
Clos des Avaux
Clos des Ursules
Clos du Roi
Le Bas des Teurons
Le Clos des Mouches
Les Cents Vignes
Les Vignes Franches
Sur les Grèves
Sur les Grèves-Clos Sainte-Anne
The following climats are villagewines from a single vineyard, know as a lieu-dit:
Dessus des Marconnets
Fb de Bouze
Les Beaux Fougets
Les Bons Feuvres
Les Levées et les Piroles
Les Pointes de Tuvilains
Montagne Saint Désiré