Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune 1er Cru ‘Les Reversées 2015
From young and old vines, on brown limestone subsoil and clay topsoil, in biodynamic agriculture. Long, slow day fermentation with manual pigeage, aged 18 months in not-new oak. Rich, showing deep aromas of blackberry, violets and earth with hints of citrus, plum and spice. The palate is round and ripe with firm acidity and deep black fruits ripe plum and earth going to a lovely long finish. While this can be enjoyed young it will be best after 5 to 7 years of aging.
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 2015 VINTAGE
We have resisted writing the Elden Selections Burgundy 2015 harvest report until now (April 2017), mainly to let the hub-bub and hyperbole settle down, but more importantly to be sure that the claims we are about to make are justified. We’ve seen too many vintages vaunted as ‘the year of the century’, when really the wines simply showed well young. Burgundy 2015 is a truly extraordinary vintage. The reds are rich, ripe, balanced and powerful. And from all over the region they express chiseled, focused terroir. Despite their youthful seductive charm, these are wines to keep, with serious ripe tannins already melted into explosive fruit.
Comparisons have been drawn with the 2005 vintage, though there is more concentration in the 2015s than in the 2005s. Like a caterpillar changing to a butterfly, great vintages often go to sleep in the bottle. And 2005 is just reawakening from several ‘dumb’ years. It’s been worth the wait. The wines have metamorphosed. 2015 might be similar. And if the comparison is apt, investors in 2015 should appreciate the youthful beauty of this great vintage now, but be prepared to be patient.
That said, 2005 was no ‘year of the century’. But 2015 is also being compared to 1990, which arguably was. And I hear that Michel Lafarge, one of Burgundy’s respected elders, says he remembers drinking 1929s, and he draws parallels. The whites are a bit more uneven, and early reports claimed that the vintage lacks acidity. Certainly, these are wines which are riper and more luxuriant than the exquisite purity of 2014 white Burgundy. But there is no risk that well-made wines will be overly ample or flabby. The best wines will have benefited from the barrel. Comparisons are drawn to 1985, one of the great vintages in white.
The heterogeneity in 2015 white Burgundy is due to the tricky growing season, which was mostly hot and dry, but which cooled significantly in September. Was it better to pick early or late? And did the wine deserve more or less barrel aging? These are questions which will be answered producer-by-producer, bottle-by-bottle over the coming years. But what is clear is that they 2015s are concentrated, fresh and structured.
We believe that to understand a vintage, it is important to look at the weather. Because Burgundy is a single-grape wine, the only thing that changes from year to year in a producer’s vineyard is the weather. So we look for patterns and try to analyze what makes a good year, a bad year…and in this case, an excellent year.
The winter of 2014-2015 was uneventful. It was never really cold, but when it was, it was dry. Mostly it was mild, so we had more rain than snow. We would need the replenished water reserves in the long hot summer ahead.
April was warm and dry, and bud-burst took place early. Mornings in May were sunny, afternoons cloudy, and overall cool and dry. The vines began to flower in the last week of the month, so we knew we were looking at a harvest in early to mid-September.
In early July, the mood started to mount towards hopeful. The weather had been steady, dry and cool. But slowly during the month, temperatures began to rise, and in the last week of July hit 30C. The flowering had been successful, so there was a good crop on the vines.
Day after day of warm dry conditions brought drought considerations into play. But no hail for once! August continued in this way. Hot and dry. A little welcome rain later in the month, but just enough to keep the stress levels down. But no storms or hail. And extremely healthy fruit on the vine. No rot, no mildew, no odium. The mood was optimistic, even euphoric.
Harvest ostensibly started the first Monday of September. And days later the weather broke, and a cool period set in for ideal harvest conditions, stabilizing acidity levels. It stayed this way until September 12th when the first serious rain in two months fell in the southern part of the region. Harvest was disrupted for a few days, but the 19th, it was pretty much all over.
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