Domaine Michel Noellat et Fils, Vosne-Romanee – Vendange Intro 18th Sept 2019
Bonjour tout le monde 😊 – and Bill 😉.
Apologies again this year for the late harvest reporting – tech issues once more beyond my control (wi-fi key related, not my fault m’lud!), only resolved too late the day after our vendange concluded. I know some of Bill’s dear readers (well, two at least !) have been asking after me and my ‘reporting’. Thank you for that, am touched, more than I deserve ! Am now back in jolly old England and, juggling domestic issues including a house flood, I’ll endeavour to convey a belated daily picture of this year’s activities as I experienced. Jumping ahead though, seems a strong harvest in terms of quality, maybe very strong (another annee ending in 9), if down on 2017 & 2018 in volume – my comments relate to Cote de Nuits reds volume – that volume affected as reported elsewhere by earlier in the year uneven flowering, and a very hot, dry, summer. Bill has previously mentioned uneven ripening & I certainly had some first hand experience of that, a significant amount of shrivelled, dried berries and ‘burnt’, crispy, brown leaves.
So, what’s new at Arlaud ? Errr, I’ve no real idea, sorry. Why, I hear you ask ? Well, after 9 years, much mulling over my vendnge future at the end of 2018/early 2019 led me to make a decision to make a change. The easy option would have been to continue at Arlaud and I certainly thought hard about that. Ultimately, I’ll always be highly indebted to Cyprien and Herve for giving me my first 2008 opportunity and their fulsome support in subsequent years. For very much the most part I more than thoroughly enjoyed all my 9 Arlaud vendanges, with all the many and varied experiences those 9 years brought. It was overall great and I’m extremely grateful, always will be, and will always have a special place in my heart for Morey and the Domaine. In making, and advising, the decision to leave Cyprien was highly understanding and, bless him, said some very nice things to me including that I’d always be welcome at Arlaud – that meant a lot.
So ! Where to for 2019 and why ? In casting about for a potential new employer the same personal considerations I’ve applied before came into play – namely:- 1) I’d need a domaine of some size such that any vendange would last a reasonable length of time (week or more) to make it worth my while travelling from the UK; 2) an interesting and diverse mix of terroirs; 3) ideally family owned/hands on; 4) availability of food & accommodation; and 5) not a key driver but perhaps a domaine that might be a little ‘under the radar’. There was also the option to go back to one of Pernand’s finest, Dubreuil-Fontaine, with whom I enjoyed a fabulous 2009 harvest and have felt guilt ever since at not ‘doing’ more than the one year. I’ve told myself I will go back to D-F one day before hanging up my gear and secateurs and am currently thinking maybe start a vendange with them (maybe 2020) then move to the CdN to continue – we’ll see. Anyways, in mulling matters, I was conscious of my age (62) and that my vendange career might only have a few more years so, to move might be now or never. In terms of Arlaud I felt I’d done and seen as much of their vines as relevant; there’d been just a few minor issues in the last year or two which also made a change appropriate; I could foresee change such as Herve retiring; and ultimately there’s only so much motivation one can extract from one’s self for 5ha of Bourgogne Roncevie (even if it should be a Village) and/or the extent of Bourgogne Rouge or Blanc we tackled in 2018.
Why Michel Noellat et Fils ? I can’t actually remember the initial ‘trigger’ but I’d certainly read Bill’s domaine profile and guess must have filed it in the subconscious. My initial approach (email) in late Feb this year was a very encouraging ‘eye opener’ in two respects:- 1) the reply was very prompt, same day, and I recall within a couple of hours – a very stark contrast to any emails to Cyprien which commonly took weeks or even months to be replied to; 2) the reply was also very warm, friendly, and encouraging in clearly being happy to employ me. I guess my vendangeur CV is pretty good but I’m not aware Noellat considered a need for taking any reference. I subsequently found out the respondent to my ‘correspondence’ with the contact@Noellat email address was the delightful, lively, positive, glass half full, animated, amusing Sophie Noellat. What else can one say about Sophie? She’s incredibly fantastic & a delight. Through all the vendange I never saw her other than all the above adjectives as well as bubbling & full of bouncing enthusiasm about everything. It must be impossible other than to be happy and enthused in her company ! Otherwise, Noellat ticked all my boxes:-
1) with 27 ha of vines, a very wide spread of terroirs from Marsannay to Savigny & Pommard.
2) Grand Crus are 2:- Echezeaux and Clos de Vougeot (will comment further on these in days to come), Premier Crus include 3 from Vosne:- Suchots, Les Beaux Monts and Chaumes; plus NSG Aux Boudots, Morey Clos Sorbes, Chambolle Noirots and Savigny Les Lavieres and Les Peuillets. Village red wines are Vosne, NSG, Chambolle, Morey, Fixin, Marsannay, Savigny & Pommard. There is a white Savigny Village. Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Nuits are both Pinot & Chardonnay. Additionally, we see Bourgogne Rouge, Coteaux Borguignons Rose and Rouge, and an Aligote. For more/additional info please see Bill’s Domaine Profile and the Domaine’s own website.
3) Family ownership/operation. Bill covers the family structure. My main interaction during the vendange was with father/senior brother, Alain Noellat – a great guy with whom I got on really well from the outset; his wife Isabel Noellat – a diamond of a lovely, caring, hard working lady for whom nothing for anyone was too much trouble; and daughter Sophie. As the vendange progressed I also got to know better the humorous & rugby obsessed Jean-Marc Noellat (Alain’s brother) and his highly likeable son, Sebastian, the domaine’s thoughtful/serious winemaker. Near the end of the vendange I noticed a glass trophy on a shelf in the tasting room which was Sebastian’s 2015 trophy as winner of the GJPV Bourgogne Trophee Jeunes Talent (which recall Bill has judged in a subsequent year).
4) Accommodation and food were confirmed in my initial email correspondence. Reality was both were respective improvements on what I’d been used to at Arlaud – particularly the former.
5) For a Vosne domaine Michel Noellat also seemed to have a lesser profile than many which intrigued me and before arriving there, beyond Bill’s profile and vintage tasting notes and the domaine’s own website (no surprise not updated in recent times !), I could find little other/additional/new info. An enquiry on a UK wine forum elicited a very sparse response from its usually garrulous members. Maybe I should have also tried wineberserkers but didn’t.
The domaine initially advised me in early July they anticipated a vendange start date c15th Sept. I was intrigued they felt able to indicate this so ‘far out’ but told myself that was the sort of date that might have been an indication for many recent vintages. As we moved into/through August I speculated to myself, based on reports coming from Burgundy, that maybe the vendange might come forward into early Sept. I readied myself with several pairs of kitchen or garden gloves and a couple of new pairs of knee pads. Against the above background the domaine finally contacted me to request my arrival after 18.30 hrs on the 18th Sept for a start to picking the following day. With car (for which this would the 3rd vendage) cleaned, fuelled, and luggage loaded I departed my North West of England home at 20.30 hrs on the 17th Sept for my now customary, preferred overnight drive of c330 miles (equiv c528 km) to Dover Ferry Port for the 4.20 a.m. boat to Calais. I say preferred as anyone who lives in the UK, and uses the motorway network across the country regularly, will know what a nightmare it can be in daylight hours. Hence my well honed over 11 previous trips approach. The (potential) danger to such motorway night travel though is the propensity of the authorities to use reduced night time traffic volumes to close sections/junctions of the motorways for roadworks and/or other maintenance. This is something I appreciate, have allowed for, and dealt with previously. This latest trip was perhaps the worst though as I came across 3 major closures but managed to work my way through those & attendant diversions, ultimately arriving into the ferry port check in, after topping up with fuel coming into Dover (am very fussy at the fuel I’ve always out in my current car since new and will go out of my way icon for BP’s Ultimate Diesel), with enough time to be put on an earlier ferry than that booked on – in fact I literally drove straight onto the ferry car deck without pause from check in.
The early departure gave me an hour’s gain off the boat from Calais c 6.00 a.m onto the Pas de Calais Autoroute, sparsely populated in those early hours. The domaine’s request for me to arrive post 18.30 might have meant I could have set off later but I decided to stick with what has always worked for me. I could though pace myself and did so with two or three longer than usual, leisurely stops at those smaller Aire autoute pull offs, my pre-prepared food and water bottles meaning no need to use the larger service areas. Music to travel to on this occasion was an Eric Clapton Live double CD then Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Blues at Sunrise. ‘Navigating’ the toll peages is a bit of a challenge right hand driving solo ! I’ve never considered it worthwhile to get one of the thingies were one can drive straight through so have to pull up, de-belt, struggle out, run around the car for any new ticket or to pay at the end of a section then scoot back into the car & away. I was never the cause of serious hold up & thought worthwhile to put the hazard warning lights on to warn anyone behind me who might have thought of following me into a lane. Worked well, only once did a car pull in behind me but that was funny as the multiple occupants were much amused & laughing at my running around my car doing the necessary.
I came off the autoroute at Dijon Sud around lunchtime having seen little or no signs of activity on my way south , in the Champagne vineyards near Reims, nor those in the Aube region. Nice sunny, blue sky and white cloud day, warm without being too hot. With the whole afternoon before me I drifted slowly south from Chenove, away from the RN74 instead on the Route des Grand Crus thro Marsannay, Fixin, Brochon then Gevrey. All very quiet, no sign of anyone in the vines in those communes, and minimal signs of life in Gevrey centre but no surprise I guess given the sacrosanct lunch period. Immediately out of Gevrey a vers Morey-St-Denis I came upon a team in Mazis-Chambertin with roadside grape collecting truck, minibuses etc. From memory, a quick chat revealed (I think) this to be Marchand-Tawse. Not very chatty, they seemed to regard this Englishman with some suspicion so I moved on, not very far coming to another team in what I think was Clos de Beze rather than Chambertin. This team identified themselves as Arnaud Mortet’s – a coincidence as I recall Bill had already posted earlier seeing (presumably the same) team in Chambertin. Quite why both weren’t on a lunch break I’m not sure as by now it was well after 13.00hrs – but I didn’t ask. No further signs of life as I cruised slowly into dear ole Morey. I codged whether to drop in at Arlaud, Bill having mentioned they’d started a few days earlier, but initially thought better of it, thinking not good ‘form’ to interrupt lunches especially given I was bound elsewhere. Instead, I took the car around the well populated Morey car park but didn’t see any vendangeur vehicles I remembered. On my way out of Morey I changed my mind and decided I would take my chance at Arlaud, figuring lunch would surely now be over at c13.30ish, so turned back. Walking through the familiar entrance, noting M. Raphet Snr’s little white van next door but no sign of the gardener himself, I passed a couple of unknown faces clearly resident in the former Arlaud parent/grandparents house at the gates but further on, on the balcony to the atelier accommodation, I saw the tall, shaven headed, muscle bound gentleman who was 2018’s star porter – the chap with beatbox for punk/heavy metal/rock accompaniment in the vines last year. For a split second or so he didn’t recognise me below but then did, with effusive greeting to Marko, and bellowed insistence I ascend the stairs to my former room. He showed me he had the same back room as last year but explained he had that to himself as his friend from 2018 was unwell (if I understood correctly) and hadn’t come. I was introduced to some other resting, smoking figures but all the faces were unknown/new to me. Continuing up the yard I came to the majority of the team, resting post lunch. A few familiar faces, there including the grinning unkempt Scarface, but most notably a relaxed, casually dressed in clearly non vendange garb, Herve Arlaud himself. Warm greetings from Herve and others, including just in to the refectory the triage table ladies, with sweet Japanese Kaori, Cyprien’s father in law chef, Mathieu from the cuverie plus one or two others. Notably the Arlaud Bar was back again for another year – I declined a beer offer but accepted a plastic cup with Domaine Arlaud branding – new for 2019. The team was clearly markedly different from my years, and even 2018. Enquiry as to the whereabouts of one or two stalwarts led to advice the likes of Jackie with grand moustache, none of the Besancon past regulars, and even J-P Feral had not returned for 2019. I did not ask directly but to me Herve wasn’t working, or certainly wasn’t that day. Of Cyprien (who commonly went home for lunch), or the rest of the cuverie guys there was no sign so, feeling a little uncomfortable, I wished them all well and went on my way. My overriding feeling, from what I had briefly seen, was that my decision to seek a change was perhaps very well timed in terms of the Arlaud history I’d known.
Not due/required at Michel Noellat until 18.30 I spent the rest of the afternoon in/out of the car cruising/pottering around various parts of the Cote down as far as Beaune, briefly into the town itself, around and out of the back of Pernand, into the Hautes-Cotes including Echevronne, Fussey, Marey-les-Fussey, Arcenant, Chevannes (marvelling at the size of the Duband premises in the latter), Meuilley and notably Concoeur & Corboin. Outside Arcenant I had a walk up to the HCDN Chardonnay vines of Arlaud – picked. I spent a bit of time around Concoeur & Corboin as adjacent to the plateau location of Arlaud’s HCDN Pinot – not yet picked but looking good. Here I lingered above NSG finishing the sandwiches I’d brought from the UK before continuing my rambling. The afternoon ticked by, plenty of post lunch harvesting evident around the likes of Pernand, Aloxe, Savigny etc.
Eventually I headed into Vosne as my ‘booking in’ hour arrived. Very busy outside the Mairie with vendangeur camping cars (motorhomes), cars etc. I struggled to find a parking place but drove past the Noellat premises in Rue de la Fontaine in both directions, noting I had no chance of parking anywhere close, and noting also Madame Leroy being a neighbour a bit further along, and wow, Clos des Reas was right across the road opposite ! Eventually parked in the only space I could find, right outside the former Domaine Rene Engel, still with brass plaque on the gatepost, recalling my visit many years ago (well before the untimely passing of Philippe – RIP) with my late father. My car was terribly dusty by now after my afternoon’s ‘rural’ ramblings – we’ll come back to nature’s subsequent lavaux in another days words to come ! Entering the Noellat premises there were any number of folk milling around outside/in a gazebo to the front of the premises which contained table, chairs etc. Not having a clue who was who I introduced myself as the ‘votre nouveau vendangeur anglais’ – which caused some intrigued amusement, my Liverpool FC shirt also causing some ribald responses ! A tall, bearded gent offered me a beer and ‘ticked’ off my name on a clipboard. This was Gerald, who was to be one of two chef des vignes, with Hubert whom I met later. I quickly realised I was one of a number of first time ‘recruits’, mixing with obviously seasoned regulars. Gerald took me into an annex of the premises and handed me a clear polythene bag containing blanket, sheet and pillow case before leading me back out of the premises and right into what looked like a high roofed garage but with stairs to the side leading up to first floor accommodation and washing/showering facilities. I’d been allocated to a small (bed)room along the corridor which I was to share with two other guys, both called Jean-Claude. Meeting them later, both I’d guess in their 50s, one was a regular and porter/team leader, the other a friend of his for whom it was a first vendange. This second J-C had a modicum of English which was handy although we knocked along pretty well thro the vendange with my limited French. With accommodation sorted I returned to my car and got my luggage and other stuff I’d need. Thereafter, apart from one evening’s trip to see Bill, my car never moved during the working vendange duration and survived unscathed in its Engel exterior location.
Returning to the gazebo and premises front exterior after sorting room, luggage etc more folk had arrived. I wasn’t expecting, nor had given any thought, to our being fed but we were ! I can’t now recall at what point I met family members but vaguely think Sophie must have been the first family who spoke to me, followed by her mother then father. Our eating location that evening and for vendange duration was a large, airy, basic working type room space accessed thro large wooden doors just to the left as one entered the front of the premises. Very decent meal ensued, plenty of nice wine to enjoy, and much noisy chatter as folk renewed acquaintances or introduced themselves. By now, and for the evening, I was fielding/responding to the usual questions, particularly for a British vendangeur, and which I’d fielded many times before in previous years e.g where in England was I from, was this my first vendange, how had I got to Burgundy, what was my job in England, was I working the whole harvest, when was I going home etc etc.
To close the day an enjoyable evening and introduction with very favourable first impressions of Domaine Michel Noellat. I was advised we’d start at 8.00 a.m. – interesting and the first marked change from what I’d been used to i.e Arlaud’s 7.00 a.m. “we’ll always be the first domaine in the vines”.
All encouraging !