Jean-Jacques Girard Bourgogne Rouge 2014
Jean-Jacques Girard's family has been making wine in the Savigny-les Beaune valley for 500 years, so it's not surprising to find that his regional appellation Bourgogne Rouge drinks like a little Savigny. Blackcurrant freshness, a touch of earth subsoil, a supple, easy structure and bull's-eye line on through the whole from the attack to the finish.
Jean-Jacque Girard's website says that his family was growing grapes in Savigny-les Beaune back in 1529. That, as the French say, is 'formidable', and would make the domain one of the oldest in Burgundy. But really what matters to us today is what happened to the domain in the past generation. In the late 90s, the original and venerable Domaine Girard-Vollot was split between Georges Girard's two sons Jean-Jacques and Phillipe. The original domain was about 38 acres. And since the split, Jean-Jacques has built his holdings back to over 40 acres, making it one of the most impressive domains in Savigny.
2014 was a year for maxims in Burgundy. One was the ‘don’t count your chickens’ warning. And another, a keystone in Burgundy wine making, was ‘September makes the wine’. Simple truths to heed.
After three very small harvests, Burgundy urgently needed to fill its cellars. And despite some heart-breaking setbacks and a growing season that was jumbled in disorder, a decent amount of wine was produced. Not enough, of course. But ‘correct’, as the French would say.
There was no winter to speak of, followed by a mild and sunny period from February through April that saw some rain, but less than normal. The vine got going early, and talk was of a late August harvest.
But May was cool and rainy, which slowed the development. The vine began to flower in the last week of May in the southern part of the region. So at that point, counting the traditional 100 days from flowering to harvest, picking would start in early September. The weather during the flowering period was sunny and warm with just enough rain for this critical period to unfold and to finish.
And then early June was hot. Summer hot. As June was in 2003, some have said. This speeded things up. The flowering in the northern part of the region, and in those vineyards at higher altitudes, got a kick that would help them to phenolic maturity later.
With these conditions, fruit began to appear soon thereafter, and by the end of June small grapes had formed and clustered. The hot dry conditions however led to both millerandage (unevenly formed bunches made up of normal grapes and thick-skinned seedless berries ) and coulure (buds that never flowered), both of which reduce the overall crop, but which can give concentration to the remaining fruit.
Flowering and fruit set was certainly among the earliest of the past twenty years, with as much as a week head start on what would be considered normal here. And if you compare 2013 to 2014, we were three weeks in advance.
Then disaster struck. At the end of June, a series of violent hail storms ripped through the region. One in the Cote de Nuits, where parts of Nuits and Chambolle-Musigny were hit with 20% crop loss. The other two in the Cote de Beaune: the first, widespread, ranging from Meursault in the south and on up to the Corton Mountain and Savigny les Beaune, caused substantial damage; the other, painfully localized, tore through the premier cru hillsides of Pommard and Volnay. The latter was the newsmaker, with up to 80% crop damage in some sectors, but also because this was the third consecutive year that Pommard and Volnay had been seriously damaged. There have been subsequent financial worries for small producers who were not insured.
Yet, despite these disasters, from Macon to Chablis there was a serious crop on the vines. Weather in July was mixed. Hot and sunny, then cloudy and cool. Constant rumblings of thunder in the distance kept everyone on edge.
Hail damage often leads to mildew, so vigilant vineyard work was crucial as the rains came and August turned cool, wet and gloomy, more like winter than the previous winter had been. Maturity stalled on the vine. And with the ever-present risk of rot cast a pall on the chill August air.
As we reached September, with fingers crossed, Burgundians put their hopes in the maxim that ‘September makes the wine’. Because in 2014, it was make or break. We needed a glorious September, and that’s exactly what we got. Light, warm northerly winds. Warm days, cool nights. Everything needed to salvage the potential mess that August had served up. In the end, we had the best harvest conditions that we have seen in many years.
Picking started on 8 September in the south, around the 15th in the Cote and Chablis, and finished around the 26th in the Hautes Cotes.
The crop came in healthy. There was no rot. And with normal sorting work in the winery (mostly where there had been hail damage) we brought in one of the healthiest harvests in recent years. The whites are balanced and intense. The reds show good ripe fruit. Some say the best vintage since 2009. A miracle!
REGIONAL APPELLATION OF BURGUNDY
Generally considered the generic Burgundy wine, appellation Bourgogne, both red and white, can also be thought of as the model of what Burgundy wine should be. It is produced in almost all of the winemaking communes throughout Burgundy, and from the same grape varieties as the more specific appellations. This means that simple Bourgogne has the potential to express terroir and vintage. But because it can be produced by blending wines sourced from across the region, the quality and specificity of this appellation can be questionable. On the other hand, many Bourgogne are produced within a single commune and some even from a single vineyard. So as with all Burgundy wine, you need to know its pedigree and who made it.
The appellation Bourgogne is restricted to wines grown within the defined limits of the appellation:
Yonne 54 communes
Côte d’Or 91 communes
Saône et Loire 154 communes
Pinot Noir is a native Burgundian grape and, with the exception of a bit of César still to be found in the Yonne, is the principle variety in Bourgogne Rouge. Red wines in Burgundy are often described as deeply colored, but this is not necessarily the case. Though the skins of pinot noir are black, the juice is colorless. And so whatever color the wine itself has comes from contact with the skins during the pre-fermentation maceration. So naturally, each vintage will produce a different color wine. In general though, ruby and crimson are the tones most associated with Burgundy. Fruit notes are often strawberry, black fruits and cherry. And then with age we start to notice wilder aromas and flavors, undergrowth, mushrooms, animal.
In many cases the regional appellation Bourgogne Pinot Noir is grown near and sometimes adjacent to more prestigious crus. But the mystery of Burgundy is that wines separated by dozens of meters can be so different one from the other. Appellation Bourgogne vineyards tend to be located along the foot of the vineyard slopes on limestone soils mixed with some clays and marls. The soils are usually heavy but can be stony, rocky even, and quick-draining.
Red – Pinot Noir
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Bourgogne Rouge tends not to be elaborately made. So its simplicity is valuable in food pairing. Delicate and refined, it can go with delicate dishes that are naturally aromatic, salads and simmered meat stews. But it also makes them ideal for those who prefer red wine to white when pairing with fish dishes. And of course, the classic red wine cheese combinations work perfectly.