Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – (Post) Vendange Day 9, Friday 11th Sept 2020
The morning after the night before !
Whilst our working vendange was now over, as I’ve mentioned previously it has been my habit in recent years to look to stay on in Burgundy post vendange for 2/3 days ‘me time’, to make the most of actually being there. The early 2017 conclusion of my 40 years + banking career also meant there were no longer any ‘get back to work’ pressures to hinder me. Such brief ‘extra’ stay though, with my tight fistedness ruling out moving to any hotel at attendant cost, has required my employers allowing me to stay on in my accommodation subject of course to my feeding myself. Am pleased to say this has never been an issue at any of my four employers over the thirteen years. My principal focus in my ‘me time’ has been to visit vignerons, either one’s I’ve got to know well just to ‘catch up’, or to buy/collect wines for myself and one or two ‘mates’ back in the UK – this latter aspect was to be my initial focus this Friday but let’s not get ahead of one’s self !
All through the vendange I’d never needed an alarm clock, other than my own ‘built-in’ alarm ! I’d set my phone alarm for the morning of Day One but had awoken before it was due to go off and thereafter never bothered. This morning though, I slept in, only sleepily ‘coming to’ at circa 7.30 a.m. to hear various noises in the garage below and people moving noises in the corridor beyond our rooms. Rousing myself it didn’t take me long to work out that earlier risers had either left for home, or were in the process of doing so. In the garage Gerald, Hubert and others were valeting the hire vehicles ahead of their (the vehicles) being returned. The two occupants of the room next to me had packed, stripped their beds, and moved out. Isabel was at the sink at the top of the stairs doing her morning ablutions, and beyond her peeking into the communal dormitory revealed 4/5 of the 12 occupants to be comatose ‘away with the fairies’, with the others having left or about to. My plan for the day was to sort myself out, get on the internet for some necessary personal admin, and then set out on my travels for the day – to initially call at Domaine Francois Andre, Beaune, then Domaine Philippe Chavy, Puligny-Montrachet – both new to me. My ‘mission’ in visiting these two domaines in the first instance was to acquire very specific wines for longstanding friend and fellow Burgundy Report subscriber, Phil E. Between us we’ve come to call such visits as ‘foraging’, something I’ve done for a few years now at Phil’s behest with varying degrees of success or failure ! This year I was more confident of 100% success as for Domaine Andre there is the ‘Bill connection’, and re Philippe Chavy Phil E had already been in contact with the domaine for the 3 bottles he wanted from there so I was just collecting. I’ve valued Phil’s instructed tasks over the years as being very useful in my getting across the threshold at some domaines I might not have otherwise visited and giving me the opportunity on those calls to buy some bottles for myself at the same time. Another regular annual task in several past years has been to call at Domaine Dujac for another UK friend, who’s a longtime (from university) friend of Jeremy Seysses, and has cellared various wines (not just Dujac’s) at Dujac for years – various of which I’ve transported back to the UK on request and dropped off on my way home. This year though there was no requirement to collect such bottles so no ‘excuse’ to visit in Morey – a shame but at least I’d have more room in the car for own purchases.
I started the day by having an overdue tidy up sort out of my clothing across my two bags. I have one bag/case for vendange working clothing and another for more regular, smarter casual attire. As the vendange proceeds I tend to chuck worn/dirty clothing in a pile (in this year under a spare bed) so as not to mix with unworn, clean garments and sort out later. Usually I bring a bin liner or two for the stuff heading for a washing machine on my return but this year had forgotten said bin liners so resolved to pack the worn clothing, vendange & otherwise, in one case and the clean stuff from both categories in the other bag. This sorting task took a little while but was worth it in tidying up and giving a clear mind on wardrobe ! After this shower time then off out around to the domaine buildings to hunt down a coffee or two to accompany my breakfast bar. Moving from the garage, onto the street briefly, then through the gates onto the domaine buildings forecourt the latter area was transformed as the substantial awning which had covered our dining area had been taken down and dismantled, with the tables and chairs in the process of being moved into the large room usually used for dining in non Covid times. There were enough ‘bodies’ attending to the above that my services clearly weren’t required so I headed for the office to seek permission to move into the ‘shop’ caveau room for use of the wi-fi. Madam Noellat greeted me cheerily, what a sweet, fabulous lady she is and, readily consenting to my wi-fi use request also took the opportunity to give me my wages envelope. Gross pay for the vendange for me €636.41, net €525.07 after deduction of tax €111.34 ☹. I haven’t looked up last year’s pay but believe may have been more, if not a lot different. I was used to a little more at Arlaud but my vendanges there involved a day or two more and longer hours. Pay is obviously useful but has never been a key driver for my love of the vendange. I’m not sure, if asked, whether I’d work the vendange without being paid – I guess I probably would – but that’s never arisen as I’m always working with those for whom the pay is a lot more important than it is for me !
In addition to the wi-fi access I value my time in the caveau for its peace & quiet. This morning, sipping my coffee, my tasks were email catching up, quick read of the online BBC News & BBC Sport pages (latter mainly to catch up on The Mighty Reds aka Liverpool FC & Formula 1), booking my return travel across La Manche (the English Channel), and completing the online UK Government’s specific Covid related form required from those returning from France. Mentioning Formula 1 here has reminded me of the amazing result for Pierre Gasly from the Italian Grand Prix the weekend before this one. I’d only learnt of this at our evening meal get together that Sunday as it was, understandably, ‘the talk’ of my French colleagues. I’d been appropriately incredulous at the time to hear what was being talked about as well but pleased for supa nice guy, talented, Gasly who, for me, had a ‘bum rap’ in the Red Bull Senior team. Everyone loves an underdog don’t they ? Particularly the British !
Perusal of the cross-channel return options quickly ruled out the Euro Tunnel train this time as the price differential with the ferries was much wider (adversely) than when I crossed to France. I wasn’t bothered either about speed crossing back so went for a mid-day Calais-Dover ferry for Sunday. The UK Government ‘immigration’ form was simple enough to complete online – to me was clearly designed to obtain track & trace details once one was back in the UK. The only tricky bit, with my having no printer (didn’t want to bother Madam Noellat in this respect), and the authorities requiring one to be able to present the completed form on one’s smart phone, was to email it to myself which I duly did. A bit of previous photos downloading/editing completed my admin tasks for the first part of the morning and, gathering what I needed for my ramble through the rest of the day, I calculated I just had enough time, all being well, to get to Beaune & make Domaine Francois Andre my first point of call before lunch. I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to also get to Puligny pre lunchtime so Philippe Chavy would have to ‘come’ just after lunch. I figured I’d kill time after Beaune around Meursault, Puligny & Chassagne.
I had to make a brief ‘pit stop’ on the way out of Vosne at the Noellat cuverie to collect a key for the garage large metal doors to the street, to enable me to lock myself in at night and secure the premises during the day after everyone else had departed, then it was onwards a vers Beaune on this bright, sunny, warm morning. Bill has, if I recall correctly, previously referenced Domaine des Terregelesses – Francois Andre (to properly quote its full name) as now the (one of the) only working wineries within Beaune’s old walls. I was fortunate, carefully navigating the narrow (with other parked cars) Rempart Saint-Jean, to find the last available parking space almost outside the Domaine’s front door. As I was manoeuvring an older, suited, gentleman was awaiting the door being answered but entered before I might have joined him. Once I rang the bell I was greeted, having explained who I was etc, in the most delightfully, warm, friendly fashion by Lauriane Andre whom it must be impossible not to instantly warm to. My key focus was the domaine’s Beaune Blanc 1er cru Belissand as a requirement for friend, Phil E. I gather a Blanc is a rarity from the Belissand terroir and the Andre version one that has only recently become available after newish planting with Chardonnay ? With time pressing towards lunch we (Lauriane and self) agreed that I’d return in the afternoon to collect my chosen wines. In addition to 3 bottles of the Belissand Blanc (I’d neglected to ask Phil how many he wanted but would happily take any ‘extra’ myself) I chose 6 packs for myself of the domaine’s Beaune Rouge 2016 Les Bon Feuvres, Pommard 2017 Les Vaumuriens (plot purchased from Coche-Dury 2013 ?), and Bourgogne Blanc 2018 Cote D’Or. I was a lucky boy, with Lauriane endearing herself further to me, by her explaining that the domaine had recently had an offer on certain wines (including my choices) but whilst that offer had recently ended she would apply that offer discount to my already wallet friendly purchases. Result !
So, delighted with my first visit outcome, & lunchtime (2 hours of course in France) looming I headed south out of Beaune and initially to Meursault. I decided not to bother with lunch, not feeling particularly hungry. Pottering, en voiture, around the central back streets of Meursault, out of curiosity I initially looked for the premises of Domaine Vincent Latour – my interest being on the back of an intended May 2020 week+ stay in the Domaine’s gite (through Gites de France) which my wife and I had to cancel due to UK/French lockdowns/restrictions at the time. Found the Latour premises easily enough so handy for future reference as we’ve carried over our aborted 2020 booking to, fingers crossed (!), May 2021.
From Meursault, who’s centre seemed pretty busy, I took the road out past Michelot & Bernard-Bonin towards Puligny, arcing right up thro Genevrieres to the higher road, past Puligny Champ-Canet, and the small copse of trees below Blagny, coming out beyond those trees to stop on the verge of Folatieres just past Magenta’s Clos de la Garenne & below Boillot’s Clos de la Mouchere Monopole. Took some photos before continuing a bit further then dropping down into sleepy Puligny. I mooched about around Puligny before taking the road out towards the RN974 to check, for later, the location of Domaine Philippe Chavy, as not far from the main road junction. Happy with location I then drove back thro Puligny, up thro the vines and across towards Chassagne. A slow driving meander followed thro Chassagne, then past Clos St Jean, followed by Les Chaumees & its Clos de la Truffiere, then St Aubins’s Le Charmots & Les Combes before crossing the N6 & up towards Gamay. All sleepy hollow here other than a truck delivering to Domaine Larue’s new premises. With still time on my hands I cruised slowly back towards and into Puligny, parking in the welcome shade of a building wall on the square near Hotel Le Montrachet. I chilled whilst allowing suitable time to go past 14.00 hrs before heading back towards Domaine Philippe Chavy.
The domaine’s previously closed gates were now open so in I went, passing the main house, turning around in front of the cuverie buildings to park in the shade of trees between house & buildings. Wondering where to now head for the decision was made for me as what turned out to be Philippe himself and one of his friendly employees approached. I was instantly impressed by Philippe, who struck me immediately as my kind of vigneron in his overalls. I managed to convey I’d come for Phil E’s bottles but would welcome the opportunity to buy some additional wine for myself whereupon Philippe led me into the cuverie and an array of already opened bottles and halves, with chalk written identification, lined up on a desk underneath a statue of St Vincent. Beyond the existing above ground cuverie metal shed building, to the far side & rear of it, construction works were in course for expansion. Philippe was quite prepared to give me a ‘full monty’ tasting of the whole of the domaine’s portfolio of wines which, on another day, would have been eagerly accepted but, conscious of time limitations on me, as politely as I could I had to ‘restrain’ him to those cuvees I was interested in purchasing. The end result was 2 x 6 packs of 2016 (bottle age a plus !) of Bourgogne Aligote at €8 bottle (!), 2 x 6 packs of Bourgogne Chardonnay 2018 at €14 each and a single 6 pack, also 2018, of the St Aubin 1er cru Les Murgers des Dents de Chien (€32 each) – the latter a long time favourite cru from different producers. We left the cuverie to deposit my purchases in the car, move on to the house office to collect Phil E’s bottles, and to make card payment. As we did so a French registered Range Rover had arrived, its occupants suitably greeting us, which led immediately to my sixth sense the couple were British. Quel surprise, indeed they were, with an interesting conversation following with Domaine Mischief & Mayhem’s Michael Ragg & Fiona Traill-Stevenson. I’m not sure who was more intrigued to meet who but for me it was something of a weird coincidence for Brits to meet up as we did. Turned out Michael & Fiona were dropping off a quantity of their wines to be collected by a mutual client who was to call for purchases at Philippe Chavy in due course. I was a tad spooked that Fiona realised, or guessed before I had the chance to explain, that I was Bill’s Burgundy Report Michel Noellat vendange correspondent and it was clear that she’d previously read my vendange diary and was looking forward to my forthcoming ‘work’ ! After encouraging me to call in at Aloxe any time they went on their way and I went with Philippe into his office to finalise paperwork & payment. I loved this visit, much taken by the diminutive, no airs & graces, down to earth vigneron and resolved to return one day as soon as I’m able. Thank you Philippe !
So, enthused by my day so far, back to Beaune to see Lauriane at Francois Andre as previously agreed and collect more wine ! Turning off the Beaune ‘Peripherique’, onto Rue Armand Gouffre, I had a brief heart stopping moment as, approaching the junction with Rempart Saint-Jean, with the Domaine’s ‘working’ cuverie door opening onto Rue Armand Gouffre at the junction, a little old, very elderly, lady on my immediate right decided to step off the pavement into the road seemingly to avoid the pavement made wet by cleaning water coming from the domaine. If I hadn’t been almost stationary prior to turning right, and hadn’t already had my eye on her, I could quite easily have almost knocked her down. As it was she proceeded on without giving any indication she’d noticed my car and, breathing a sigh of relief, I parked up outside the domaine front door. I was given a brief tour of the impressive buildings, including cuverie and barrel cellar. All suitably impressive as was my charming host (hostess ?) and after loading wines, payment and bidding my appreciative good bye’s whilst being encouraged to return anytime, I left for my next port of call which, quite close by, was the hugely impressive set up of Bouchard Pere et Fils & its parking area off the Rue du Chateau. My ‘target’ here was the Chassagne 1er cru En Remilly – which had fascinated me since Bill wrote a piece on it some months ago and also covered, with photos, in a post on a UK wine forum. The Bouchard ‘shop’ was an oasis of cool & quiet calm. It was, in layout terms, not as I remembered it from a former visit 2/3 years ago, the slightly haughty, superior, sales gentleman who greeted me confirming changes had been made. He became immediately enthused by my mention of the ‘En Remilly’. Several vintages were on offer (which I already knew from Bill). Also, the gentleman was very clearly aware of Bill’s/Burgundy Report’s ‘association‘/publicising of the wine. Not cheap at €86 a bottle hence I restricted myself, reluctantly, to just a 3 bottle pack but very happy to depart with that. The day, which had been another glorious bright sunny one, seemed to be getting warmer (hotter !) all the time as I drove away from Beaune with suitably cooling aircon switched on.
Wither from Beaune ? Actually Chambolle-Musigny. My destination here was Domaine Boursot Pere et Fils & their centre village direct sales cave. A domaine new to me in wine terms but one which I’d resolved to visit since Bill first ‘covered’ them, profile wise, in Burgundy Report. That Famille Boursot as viticulteurs trace their history back to 1550 is quite incredible. I won’t go into more detail about the domaine as Bill’s already suitably covered that on Burgundy Report. As I got out of my car right in front of the family home my timing was perfect as a couple were departing the caveau opposite hence I was able to introduce myself to Romuald Borsot (at least I think it was Romuald – the spectacle wearing brother anyway) and follow him back into the caveau. All was going swimmingly here, great little set up and very attractive wines, until I came to pay !!! Five times Romuald and myself tried to get his card machine to accept my payment but no way seemingly would it go through. Not a little embarrassed, as well as annoyed at my card provider, I stepped outside to call the UK, ready to vent my spleen on the credit card company. Not quite ! For over 40 minutes I waited in vain for my call to be answered before giving up. Only after ending the call did I see my phone had received two fraud type check texts from the credit card company asking me to reply with a ‘Y’ for ‘Yes’ if my attempted Boursot transaction was genuine ! I replied quickly, in fact so quickly I inadvertently replied twice but no matter as that generated an immediate auto reply telling me the transaction would go through if I presented my card again through the retailer (i.e Boursot). Confidently returning to Romuald, after he’d finished attending to a young Dutch couple who had professed they didn’t really like red wine (eh ?) then bought a single bottle of Bourgogne Chardonnay (!), we tried again with the card machine. To my utter disbelief, further embarrassment & by now seething anger at Barclaycard, twice more the transaction would not go through. All I could do was apologise to Romuald and ask him to put the intended purchases on one side until the following day by which time I intended to have sorted matters out with an evening phone call to the UK & formal complaint. My purchases (to be) were 6 packs of 2017 Bourgogne Rouge & Chardonnay, a dozen bottles of Cremant de Bourgogne (made for Boursot as the case with Arlaud’s), a 6 pack of the Chambolle 2018 Les Echezeaux which really impressed on tasting & was a new terroir to me, and 3 bottles of the 2013 Chambolle 1er Les Lavrottes which I preferred to the Fuees – handy bottle age here.
I could not depart Chambolle without a closer look, yards away from the Boursot premises, at an ancient & very impressive tall oak tree at the road side with adjoining plaque. The words on the plaque detailed the ancient lime tree as being originally planted in the reign of Henry IV (1575-1610) & having a height of 17.5m & maximum circumference of 8.70m. Fantastic ! A bit bafflingly to me that I had never noticed this tree previously but I was glad to spend some moments looking in awe at it now.
From Chambolle, with, now circa 16.30 I had more time on my hands before thinking of calling it quits for the day in rambling terms so I headed for Morey-St-Denis, deeming it rude not to call and say ‘hello’ etc at Domaine Arlaud. Taking the road from Chambolle through the vines, below Bonnes-Mares/above Ruchots, into Morey and then turning right at the church (curiously no sign of the regular quartet of formidable ladies who usually inhabit the bench in front of Clos de Tart), then dropping down Grande Rue towards the RN74 I was highly intrigued on my right to note the construction works at Dujac which has seen demolition of a former building with currently a cleared area ahead of what’s to be built thereon. Dujac not the only Domaine with construction works as, pulling into the familiar Arlaud premises, more early stage construction was immediately evident at/across the rear of the building. Additionally, on the other side of the domaine premises i.e the front, what had been the small field with stable building where Berthille Arlaud had originally kept her horses sitting below the domaine building, has been levelled and covered with crushed stone as a parking area, a ramp leading down from the existing open area. Cheery greetings from the guys in the cuverie including Matthieu & Climent but no sign of Cyprien. Herve then just happened to appear, it clear from his attire he must indeed have ‘retired’ from vendange in the vines leadership as I’d anticipated in 2018. We were both pleased to see each other; he’s just a great bloke whom I warmed to massively in my 9 years of working with/for him which included some very special times. Herve explained Cyprien had nipped out but would be back any moment & sure enough as we chatted Cyp appeared en voiture. Beaming smiles on seeing each other. Suitable chat followed re our vendanges, the construction works, family etc etc. Cyp explained sister Berthille now had a baby daughter. He was clearly very happy, if not relaxed, with the Arlaud vendange which sounded very similar to my own experiences in fruit quality, slightly less volume etc etc. In response to my querying if he’d had any difficulties recruiting a vendange team he said not and that he’d been very happy with his team. He explained how they’d fed themselves evenings at the village premises but this all sounded a bit DIY cooking ‘skills’ which made me think I was a lot better off at Noellat. After more conversation we said our goodbye’s and I went on my way, glad that I’d made the effort to call but adjudging I’d probably been right to make a change after 9 years. What’s that saying about never going back ?
I concluded my roaming day by retracing my ‘steps’ to Nuits-St-Georges and the Intermarche to buy some sandwiches, crisps and beer for my evening sustenance. Once back at Noellat, now absolutely alone (bliss !), my first task was to unload my purchases into a cool area of the garage. That done back to my room but before evening dining a phone call to Barclaycard UK. I won’t bore you all with the detail of that but suffice to say I was suitably angry, the phone eventually answered this time. The lady in the UK recorded my request to register a formal complaint, full of apologies herself, but told me she had to put me through to the India based ‘Fraud Team’ who were ‘responsible’ for my afternoon troubles & frustrations. The increasingly frustrating and strained conversation with the incompetent sounding female Indian operative who’s response was basically “computer says no” was ultimately a joke. She could, or would, not explain what had happened at Boursot, and particularly after I’d text confirmed my attempted transaction as genuine to receive confirmation that transaction would go though – but it then didn’t ! All she would say in response to my rising anger was that if I returned to Boursot the next day i.e Saturday all would be well, she but she was evasive when continually pressed by me to ‘guarantee’ that and/or whether I’d have further fraud ‘trouble’ e.g paying for the essential fuel to be required to get back to the UK !
Joke phone call over I consoled myself with my evening repast and warm beers before calling it a day, or is that night, and retreating to bed whilst mulling my plans for the following day.