Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune 1er Cru 'Les Bressandes 2013
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 2013 was yet another small crop. The fourth in as many years. Some of it will be very good, in both red and white. But for some producers it was a disaster. As we always do, let’s start with a run-down of the weather conditions over the growing season (what the locals tellingly call ‘the campaign’).
Winter was wet and hung on stubbornly. March snow gave way to a few spring-like days, and everyone thought the worst was over. But no. April was cold and wet. May was the wettest on record. We posted photos of ducks swimming in the flooded vineyards. And winter gloom and temperatures persisted.
June was better, but just. Flowering started in the early part of the month, but with the cool wet conditions it was erratic and irregular. Lots of coulure and millerandange as a result. These aborted grapes would be one of the reasons for a small 2013 yield, and would come in to play in the final outcome at harvest.
Summer arrived late in the month. But even the warm temperatures and relatively fine weather did little to dispel the feeling of instability. There was nothing consistent to make you feel like you could just settle in to grape growing.
Then in the third week of July, high pressure and high humidity built up to a series of storms, the most violent of which tore out of the Savigny valley on the 23rd. Like a military gunship, the hail storm swept across the Savigny vines, hit Pernand on the west side of the Corton Mountain and headed south across Beaune, Pommard and Volnay. Producers tell us it lasted almost half an hour. It was the second year running that Pommard and Volnay were ravaged.
The humidity continued into August, and producers up and down the Cote nervously watched the sky. The big fear now was that damaged grapes would rot of mildew and odium, so preventive spraying intensified. If there was a bright spot in the growing season, it was the dry spell in mid-August. The damaged grapes shriveled and dropped off the vine, making the inevitable sorting at harvest more manageable.
Yields were tiny, even in the areas not ripped by hail. But the quality of the fruit was good going into September in the Cotes de Nuits and the white wine production south of Beaune, as well as in the Chalonnaise, Maconnais and Chablis.
Most of the harvest came in in the first weeks of October, the latest Burgundy vintages since 1991 and 1978. Maturity arrived at the end. Slowly at first, just like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like it to be. But that slow maturity turned into a gallop, especially for the whites. From Macon to Chablis, the quality of 2013 whites comes down to crucial decisions about when to pick in the final few days.
Two months prior to harvest, the mood was gloomy. And granted, those poor producers who got slammed in July will suffer for years. (Some say that another small crop in 2014 could force some out of business.) But there is quality in many cellars. The reds will be highly variable, but the best wines (from domains that sorted the harvest carefully as it came to the cuverie) are fresh, deeply colored and beautifully ripe, with balance that seems apt for long aging. As always, you have to know who made the wine. There is more consistent quality in the whites across the board. Some say an excellent exciting year.
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