Harvest has been crazy with lots of 12 hour plus days in the vineyard and in the winery. Despite the early season maladies of mildew and oidium the fruit is in very good condition. The low yields, down 25 to 50% across my parcels, has contributed to some really dense flavours and thick skins which should give the wines some longevity.

One thing I am a big believer in is pre-harvest triage. Getting on top of any rot pressure in the vineyard allows me to wait until optimal ripeness. Again, like last year, I am one of the last to pick in my Aux Fournaux parcel. There is only my vineyard neighbour, Chandon de Brailles, and I left. Personally I think we will be rewarded for patience as the skin and seed tannins have only just gotten ripe. One advantage of being small is I can pick for optimal maturity. If you need a big team of pickers, once you start you can’t really stop as you will lose your team to other vignerons, either here or to other regions. So you may have to pick some vineyards a bit early or a bit late. I may moan about my high cuverie rental costs relative to the amount of wine I make but getting too big introduces a whole set of problems like this that I would avoid making remaining as a nano-négociant.

Tomorrow we will bring in our Savigny blanc and rouge. The blanc is way down on last year. The two vineyards I take my blanc from gave my five barrels last year. I think we will be lucky to get three. As with the rouge, flavours are very concentrated with very zippy acidity. Should make a cracking Savigny. The pressure to deliver is on!

Location:Rue des Fatains,Savigny-lès-Beaune,France

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So it all comes down to this. In seven days, the 2012 harvest for Le Grappin will kick off with a new plot for me, Beaune “Les Grèves”, in just seven days. This vineyard is most famous for it’s reds, Bouchard Père et Fils’ “Le Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus” is smack bang in the middle and is quite close to my plot in fact. However, less than 5% of “Les Grèves” is planted to Chardonnay and it is a ripping terroir for it too. Perhaps because Beaune is synonymous with red wines, Chardonnay is not more widely planted but I love Beaune 1er Cru blanc and “Les Grèves”, which some consider to be the “Grand Cru” of Beaune, delivers what WHite Burgundy is all about in spades.

My parcel rises from the base of “Les Grèves” to just below mid slope. The vines towards the bottom are showing racy acidity while those at the top of the parcel have some really dense, rich flavours. The two combined should make for a cracking wine. For me the signature of Beaune “Les Grèves” blanc is lemon curd, if I can combine that with a mineral finish and acid core, well my job is done.

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No sooner had I got back to London from Australia it was off to Burgundy for harvest. While we have had an extremely tough growing season we have been blessed with a dry and moderate August and first week of September. There is an old timers expression here – “September makes the harvest”. Those last few weeks before picking are truly the most important of the growing season and a lot of early season problems can be overlooked with a few weeks of beautiful weather.

Not only is it sunny but the North wind is blowing. Since the wind coming from the North is cool, the berries don’t rise in temperature like they would with no wind blowing (or heaven forbid a Southerly blowing). High berry temperatures not only lead to the fruit being possibly “burned” but the berries metabolise their malic acid stores faster than normal which can lead to the grape’s acid level being out of balance at harvest.

A touch of rain is forecast for Tuesday, which we could do with, and then cooler temperatures next week (highs of 18-22ºC) could lead to some extended hang time on the vines. We could even be picking the Savigny-lès-Beaune blanc high up above village the first week of October. In 2011 we picked those vineyards on the 5th of September.

You can see why every Burgundians favourite topic of conversation is the weather!

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On my recent trip to Australia to finish my Wine Science degree I managed to fit in a few days in Singapore, one of my favourite places in the world. I have so many fond memories of the start of my career in advertising living in the Lion City and many great friends. It was very important to me personally that Le Grappin would be available in Singapore so I am very honoured to announce that Caveau, part of the Les Amis Group, will be distributing Le Grappin from early 2013. A great bunch of guys who are very knowledgable and passionate about wine. I’ll be in good hands indeed.

While I was in town, I managed to meet up with some of the Singapore wine crew, Raymond @EnjoyWineSG, QY @Qycheong and Wai Xin @X_deadfall, at the Tasting Room near City Hall, to drink beer (every winemakers favourite drink) and chew the fat about the greatest wine region in the world. Raymond wrote a lovely blog post on Le Grappin and my fellow Burgundians at heart, foreigners by birth and great mates, Ray Walker @maisonilan and Mark Haisma @markhaisma. Check his post out here:-

Claiming their own pieces of Paradise…

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Chardonnay

Sorry it has been a while between blog posts. Currently I am in Australia just finishing off my Bachelor of Wine Science that I have been studying towards since 2007. I have had some fascinating lectures while I have been here. One of which on the evolution of the grapevine, proposed that latest DNA research points to all white varieties came from a single vine that had two extremely rare mutations in it’s genes that changed skin colour from black to white. Boggles the mind.

Meanwhile in Burgundy, things are slowly progressing towards harvest in this crazy growing season. From an extremely early budbreak, a cold & very wet spring, and coolish Summer, we are looking at a late September-early October vendages. Speaking to “old timers” no-one can remember such a long growing season and I have never heard so much variability in conjectured harvest dates; every winemakers favourite topic of conversation after the weather. It has been a tough season with both mildeu and oidium rearing their ugly heads which haven’t helped with ripening due to impaired photosynthesis. Hail has been a violent interloper too. If you can bear it, here is a short video I took when I was in Burgundy the first week of August.

Hail storm of the 2nd of August 2012 from Andrew Nielsen on Vimeo.

 
For 2012, Le Grappin will hopefully make around 20-24 barrels depending on what happens between now and harvest. I may pick up one more parcel of fruit but as it stands right now we will have: –

  • Savigny-lès-Beaune blanc
  • Savigny-lès-Beaune rouge
  • Beaune 1er Cru “Les Boucherottes” rouge
  • Beaune 1er Cru “Les Grèves” blanc
  • Santenay blanc
I should be back in Savigny late next week to finally move into the new winery. I am definitely looking forward to getting settled in for a very tough harvest and seeing what we can do in the vineyards before harvest. Exciting times.

My vision for Le Grappin has always been to find underappreciated plots that can tell an interesting story. I am much more excited by making wine from these relatively unknown and less famous spots along the Côte d’Or than with their more celebrated brethern. While I was in Savigny-lès-Beaune on my latest trip I managed to find a very exciting parcel — the Beaune 1er Cru vineyard of “Les Boucherottes”.

Beaune is often overlooked, especially since it is largely the sandbox of the big négociant houses of Jadot, Drouhin and Bouchard along with being the backbone of the vineyard holdings of the Hospices de Beaune. It is also a commune dominated by 1er Crus as opposed to Villages appellations, some being more worthy of 1er Cru than others. There is also the factor of the wines having very different characteristics depending upon where along the slope the vineyards are. On the Savigny side, the wines tend to have more of the fruity, sappy quality we associate with Savigny but perhaps with some harder tannins. In the middle of the commune with the famous “Grèves” and “Teurons”, the wines are brawny, built for the very long haul, while those on the Pommard border are more elegant expressions.

“Les Boucherottes” is on the Pommard side of the commune and abuts two of my favourite vineyards in Beaune, “Les Vignes Franches” and “Clos des Mouches”. I have only ever seen bottlings from Jadot (see above) and A-F Gros so it is very much an under-the-radar lieu-dit. I managed to get a contract for half of a viticulteur’s plot (the other half is for his son) of vines, half of which was planted forty years ago and the other twenty-four years ago. The forty year old vines were planted selection massale where a viticulteur takes cuttings from his best vines to replant with, while the twenty-four year old are planted to the 114 and 115 Dijon clones. The resulting cuvée I hope should have some interest. My viticultuer believes the vines planted as clones contribute femininity and transparency, while the forty year old vines are more mineral and dark fruited. I am definitely intrigued by this parcel.

In an average year, I would get about 8 barrels worth of grapes but Burgundy can be capricious. Just two days after I signed the contract for the vineyard, a very powerful hail storm ripped through. Around 25% of the canopy was destoyed and almost 50% of the grapes were broken in under ten minutes! The extent of the damage will easier to assess once split berries have dried and fallen so I should have a better sense of how much is left when I am back in two weeks. If your vineyard had to be hit with hail this is probably the best period. There is still time for the canopy to grow back and there is no risk of rot setting in from the burst berries since sugar accumulation would be minimal. As I heard from one vigneron, it’s a cheap way to green harvest and leaf pluck! If you can’t joke about it, what can you do.

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Being a newcomer to Burgundy, I have felt that there would be a certain disingenuity if my label & packaging aethsetic aped the classics of Burgundy with all it’s blacktype and flowery script. Yet at the same time, I wanted to show respect for tradition where vineyard and vintage is considered more important than vigneron. These beliefs made it imperative to go back to first principles and think through all the traditional elements of Burgundian wine label tradition and see which were and which weren’t appropriate for Le Grappin. A natural progression from looking at things afresh was to question the necessity of finishing the bottle with the classic tin or aluminium capsule.

The history of applying capsules to wine bottles was not to prevent the ingress of air, but was to prevent rats gnawing on your oak-bark sealed bottles while they lay in the underground cellar of your country estate. In the age of Eurocaves or wine racks in your dining room, capsules have really become nothing more than an affectation.

But for me, the greatest reason is the environmental impact of capsules. If there is no need for them with modern cellars, why add additional pressure demands to tin and aluminium mining. Tin is quite easily recyclable and retains it’s value but I would hazard to guess that no more than a tiny proportion of wine capsules are recycled. Tin is mined in some places in the world with less than acceptable human rights records. Illicitly mined tin is harder to track than diamonds and thus was a key source of revenue for warlords in the wars of the Congo. The alternative metal for capsules, Aluminium, is an environmentally suspect metal since it scars the landscape as it is extracted via strip mining.

While I won’t be the first, I have always admired Wells Guthrie at Copain Wines for being well ahead of the curve on this issue, I believe I will be the first in Burgundy. Here’s hoping I won’t be the last to abandon an affectation that has outlived it’s utility.

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For the 2012 vintage we will be moving into a new cuverie in Savigny-lès-Beaune which is being built as we speak. We will be sharing the space with fellow nano-négociants Chanterîves founded by two of my best friends in the world, Guillaume Bott and Tomoko Kuriyama. If you haven’t checked out their wines yet, please do. Jancis Robinson selected their 2010 Bourgogne Rouge her “Wine of the Week” recently. Not bad for a first vintage, huh?

We are currently set to move into the new winery in late July. The main space, where the crane is in this photo, will be the “crush pad” for grape processing, tanks, wooden fermenters etc. The barrel room will be temperature controlled and will be where the metal supports in the bottom left of the photo currently are and in the top right is a small office. It will be great to actually have some space and not have to squeeze into our current tiny garage set-up.

The larger space will allow us to add a bit more wine for 2012 and I am currently hunting for some old Premier Cru vines in the Côte de Beaune to add a white and red Premier Cru in addition to my Savigny-lès-Beaune villages white and red.

Very exciting times for Le Grappin indeed!

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I just returned from a freezing trip to Savigny-lès-Beaune. One of the days I was there the thermometer in my cuverie had a maximum of -6ºC! Uttering the very Burgundian expression ça caille (literal meaning – it curdles) was well and truly appropriate!

Luckily in February it is too early for budbreak and late enough that all of the sap will be in the roots of the vines thus the vines are pretty safe from these tough conditions. In December of 2009 Burgundy got a big cold spell like this but since all the sap had not descended many vines died; some vineyards saw 25-40% mortality rates and one in Beaune died off in it’s entirety.

In the cuverie, the cold made the wines very difficult to taste so I had to revert to using a hair dryer to warm up samples for some visiting importers! The benefit of all the cold weather is that any unstable tartaric acid will have precipitated out of the wine. In Australia or the USA, one would have to use refrigeration to hold the wine below 3ºC for a couple of weeks to achieve the same result to avoid the risk of “wine diamonds” appearing later in bottle.

Both the red and whites have not finished malolactic fermentation (where lactic acid bacteria turn the hard malic acid into the softer lactic acid) and as such they are still works-in-progress. I am particularly excited however by the Savigny-lès-Beaune blanc which is taut and mineral but since November it has put on some body and weight to balance the wine’s acidic backbone. I still think 2011 is going to be a stunning year for Savigny-lès-Beaune blanc. Lucky I have 9 barrels!

 

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So all the wine has finished ferment and is safely in barrel for winter. As I prepare to head back to London, here are some of my thoughts on 2011.

With regards to the weather, what a crazy year we had! Moderate temperatures over winter and a warm spring meant we saw one of the earliest bud breaks on record coupled with a very dry spring putting the vines in stress mode from the get-go. A hot June, a wet July and an indifferent August saw some very confused vines deciding to shut down for the year with the grapes not gaining any sugar accumulation from the last week of August onwards. From then it was just a case of hoping that all of the years hard work in the vineyard meant that the grapes got to phenolic and flavour ripeness before the leaves had completely turned colour.

Flowering was over very quickly and evenly, and without any wind like last year, we saw a very good fruit set and even ripening. Pinot clusters in Savigny-lès-Beaune were super tight like little hand grenades and thus pourriture was a constant threat all season and started to rear it’s ugly head in mid August. Those who did the necessary work opening canopies, dropping rotten clusters and doing a severe triage in the vineyard and/or winery will be the ones who got the most out of this vintage for reds. In my vineyard of Aux Fourneaux I saw some neighbours with up to 40% rot come harvest time! The hard work my mates did two weeks before vintage in cutting out the pourriture and doing a complete leaf picking in the fruit zone of the northern side of the vines saw us with less than 5% rot at harvest. Berries were definitely on the big side compared to 2010 due to the July rains but we saw great phenolic maturity (tannins were ripe and fine). Vintage was over very quickly as everyone tried to get ahead of the rot and the vines shutting down. There was a lot of “panic picking” by some vignerons – by the time I picked the Aux Fourneaux there was basically only myself, Benjamin Leroux and Chandon de Brailles still left out there amongst my neighbours in the villages section. I hope this is another year where patience pays off but it is still early days, being pre-malolactic fermentation and élevage.

I firmly believe that 2011 will be a stellar year for whites in the Côte de Beaune. Clusters were super open, allowing every grape to get to flavour and phenolic ripeness with no rot pressure at all. Some oidium started to set in on the top of the shoots from mid-August which probably slowed ripening a bit but luckily never spread to the fruit, again perhaps because of the open clusters. Flavours are super concentrated without losing the verve or minerality of great Burgundian Chardonnay. Tartaric and Malic acid levels were in perfect balance (compared to 2010 when they were in a 1:1 ratio, this year we saw the magic 2:1). Again, early days but could easily be on par with the cracking 2007s.

So definitely a challenging year for the first year of Le Grappin wines. I think my five years spent working in New Zealand, USA, Australia and Burgundy after quitting my career over a bottle of Dujac paid off as one really needed to think hard about how to vinify and best express the vintage and the terroir this year. I am very excited to see how the wine develops in barrel but I feel I captured the sexiness of Savigny Reds and the nervousness of the whites that 2011 brought. One can hope!

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