Profile: Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé (Chambolle)

Update 12.3.2010(31.3.2005)billn

It was around 1880 when the Côtes de Nuits village of Chambolle decided to improve its profile by appending the name of its most illustrious vineyard, thus to become Chambolle-Musigny. Despite this early attempt at marketing, Chambolle-Musigny has remained a working village rather than a place for tourists. Today, however, you will find two restaurants and a good hotel, though fifteen years ago all three were missing; there was once a vegetable shop too, but it didn’t last…

The village nestles in a small cleft at the base of a steep wooded hillside, the Combe de Chamboeuf. Through the centre of the village runs (mainly underground) the river Grône from which it is said the village takes it’s name: Though referred to as Cambola in the year 1110, it is believed that the name Chambolle derives from the regular bursting of the banks of the Grône during heavy rain, a ‘champ bouillant’ if you like.

Chambolle’s ancient church (monument historique) is worth a visit, some of the paintings here were bestowed by de Vogüé’s ancestors; if you enjoy the grisly art of the late middle-ages I can particularly recommend the painting of a scene from John the Baptist… The roads in the village are often narrow and winding; one such road follows the lower side of the church, part-way down you will meet an archway on the right-hand-side, an archway that will lead you into the 15th century courtyard of the Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, built by Jean Moisson in the 1400’s this has always been the home of the domaine.

The domaine – Past & Present

de vogueMany domaines in Burgundy can trace their roots back over 100 years, though since the majority of the vineyards were owned by the church and aristocracy until ~1790, only a handful of domaines can claim more than 200 years of history. The Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, however, can trace a line back over 550 years to ~1450 and the Chambolle vines of one Jean Moisson (as above). Today it is the 20th generation of the family that head the domaine; Claire de Causans and Marie de Ladoucette, the granddaughters of the late Comte Georges de Vogüé (1898-1987) who is pictured right. Comte Georges took over from his father Arthur in 1925, changing at that time the name of the domain from Comte Arthur to Comte Georges, though from around 1980 Comte Georges’ daughter, Elizabeth, took ever greater responsibility. Following the death of her father, it was she that decided to put a new team in place; Gérard Gaudeau tended the vines, though today that position is held (since 1996) by Eric Bourgogne – a most fitting name – Francois Millet was made responsible for the winemaking at the retirement of Alain Roumier, and in 1988 Jean-Luc Pépin, ex Domaine Joseph Drouhin, became responsible for the sales. For a short time before the arrival of Jean-Luc, Elizabeth’s son-in-law Gérard de Causans, husband to Claire, took the rôle of finance and sales, but was sadly cut-down in his prime by terminal illness

De Vogüé and family Roumier – For many, many years a Roumier was instrumental in the work of the domaine. Alain Roumier was the régisseur for the domaine during the time of Comte Georges, as apparently was his father and grandfather before him. As reported by Robert Parker, it was Alain Roumier who famously suggested that if the wines of the seventies and eighties were not quite as good as before, then blame “Americans’ obsession with brilliant, clear wines” and the subsequent need for the domaine to filter. Of course, this being a family affair, it wasn’t just Alain that was involved; study the photo above of Comte Georges, and the man in the outsize beret and glasses to his right is Georges Roumier, uncle of Christophe from today’s Domaine Georges Roumier.

looking down on the chardonnay vinesWorking the vines – Eric Bourgogne walks you through the vineyards talking of the domaine’s philosophy; they practice ‘lutte raisonée’ (reasoned battle) which is effectively intervention only as required rather than treatment as prevention. Eric points out that in the challenging 2004 vintage (hail, oïdium, rot) they only sprayed six or seven times, most biodynamic domaines would have made double that number of treatments. In common with most domaines in Chambolle they also practice ‘confusion sexuelle’ – these are the small brown tags of insect pheromones that you see on the end of the rows of vines. Eric believes that a balance of insects is best, as treatments against one insect type will often have negative consequences for beneficial predators. Across the domaine Eric uses three types of pruning; Guyot, Cordon Royat and for the young vines a formation pruning.

Within Musigny, they now allow the weeds and grass to grow between the rows throughout the autumn and winter, ploughing by horse from Spring onwards, they use no weed killer. Eric believes that these choices result in less-compacted soil and significantly less erosion than the domaine used to experience. The domaine puts their own compost on the vineyards at a rate of 2 hectares per year, this translates to an addition of compost every six years. It’s very interesting when you look up the rows in Le Musigny, despite no difference in treatment, the grass between the rows suddenly stops as the vines change from mature pinot to young chardonnay. Something to do with shallow roots and less soil? – Who knows…?

A whiff of controversy – It comes with the territory; like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and to a lesser extent also Domaine Leroy; the high prices asked for the wines set a certain level of expectation, add into the mix the overwhelming ownership of one of the most gifted terroirs and expectation is exponentially greater. As Matt Kramer said (Making Sense of Burgundy, 1989) the wine should “deliver the exhilaration one has a right to expect from Musigny”. In some ways it is even tougher for de Vogüé as there are other Musignys around to provide a benchmark, anyway we shouldn’t feel sorry for the domaine as they are in a fortunate and responsible position: It is, however, precisely because they are in such a position that so many people feel the need to pass judgement – some informed, some not. Today at least, if something needs to be done, it is done. The perfect example is what they did in 1991; a localised hail-storm ripped through Musigny, heading north until it stopped on the border with Morey St-Denis. Francois Millet’s quick pre-harvest vinification of the Musigny showed the taste of hail, so sixty people were used (it is said with tweezers) to remove every single damaged grape, and what a clean wine it is today.

Almost all commentators talk of a mid-1970’s to mid-1980’s dip in quality, so no smoke without fire but some seem reticent to accept that the ‘old quality’ – whatever that means – could once more be found in the wines of today. The 1990 Musigny is an interesting example: those that tasted from barrel saw greatness, those currently tasting from bottle are often underwhelmed, calling the wine Bordeauxesque. Without saying so directly, Francois Millet gently chides those that comment on the wine today, saying that ‘only those who tasted from barrel, know the true potential of that wine’. I find myself drawn to his viewpoint; all those great Musignys of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s were proclaimed great when they were 30+ years old, the 1990 has plenty of time before it needs to ‘deliver’.

Summary – I think it is quite fair to comment on the constituent parts of young wines and indeed what we believe the future might hold for them but the real truth will be available to all only once they reach maturity. I see an exemplary quality to the domaine’s wines but there is also a linearity, a haughtiness, a slight lack of ‘warmth’ if you prefer. However you wish to describe it, relative their peers, there is a lack of charm in these young wines. I stress young, because the 1993 villages and the 1992 Amoureuses show both charm and character, perhaps then, it really is just a question of time. If that is the case, then an equally important question is: how do you know when the time is right? Both Francois and Jean-Luc are happy to emphasise – call and ask us – they keep enough half-bottles to test the wines from each vintage on a regular basis. I really should try and visit next time they open their 1990s…

It is never cheap to produce the best wine possible, that said, the domaine’s wines have always been priced above most pockets. I believe that in the 1990s the wines excel in the context of each vintage but if you consider that an average 1993 is significantly better than an average 1992 or 1994 then it’s also possible to point to a spectacular lack of value in ‘lesser’ vintages, but I’m convinced that they are worth every penny in the good vintages – which happens to be most of the last 15+ years. I’m sure my 1999’s could outlive me, though of course, I’d be disappointed if they had the opportunity…

The history of Musigny

“Le Musigny à l’odeur d’un jardin sous la rosée, … de la rose et de la violette à aurore”
Gaston Roupnel

The Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé is inextricably linked to the Grand Cru vineyard of Musigny – in some eyes the pinnacle of pinot noir – a wine that should be both complete and profound but never heavy: ‘majesty itself’ claims Clive Coates. Until 1936 the vineyard was conveniently (compared to some others) split into just two areas/climats, a narrow east-west track splitting the climat of Le Musigny from the more southerly and slightly smaller Les Petits-Musigny. In 1936 the Musigny AOC was extended to cover an additional area of just over 0.61 ha in the adjacent 1er Cru climat of Combe d’Orveau – these are the vines of Jacques Prieur whose domaine successfully argued that wine from this plot had always been called Musigny. De Vogüé have the monopoly of the climat Les Petits-Musigny – though as Jean-Luc Pépin points out, it’s not legally a monopole, and more importantly, if bottled separately it would take away part of the overall blend that they call Musigny Vieilles Vignes.

The only ‘Tête de Cuvée’ reported in Chambolle by Dr Lavalle (1855), Musigny lies at an altitude between 260 and 300 metres, sitting just above the Clos de Vougeot and Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses. The vineyard is relatively flat at it’s junction with the road to the east (at least in Les Musigny) but quickly rises with an incline of around 10° to it’s western boundary. Below the soil is a mix of Bathonian and Bajocian bedrock – limestone – this limestone is particularly hard (unlike the limestone in de Vogüé’s Bonnes-Mares) causing many fissures as water freezes in it’s cracks. Given the depth of the local quarries this bedrock could be as deep as 200 metres. Walk up-slope about one-third of the way into the vineyard and there is around 40cm of soil covering the rocky base, walk another third in the same direction and there is as little as 20cm of soil.

One suggestion for the origin of the vineyard’s name comes from a Gallo-Roman name – Musinus . Others suggest that it came from a prominent family by the name of Musigny who was recorded as having lived in Burgundy at the time of the Ducs of Burgundy. Anthony Hanson (Burgundy, revised 1999) points to the earliest record of the vineyard dating from 1110 “when the Canon of Saint-Denis de Vergy, Pierre Cros, gave his field of Musigné to the monks of Citeaux”. There is also cause for confusion; before the French Revolution there was also a sub-climat within the Clos de Vougeot called Les Petits Musigny – presumably the part now called Musigni – we can only guess what the current ‘Les Petits Musigny’ was called at that time…

A selection of wines were drunk and compared on two separate days; the first a January dinner in London organised by the, then, newly appointed UK agents for de Vogüé, Corney & Barrow, and the second, for the 2000 vintage reds, on a cold February day at the domaine in Chambolle-Musigny.

Musigny Blanc to bourgogne blanc

It is the location that is classed as Grand Cru, so red or white (assuming the AOC is in place), if the grapes come from Musigny the resulting wine is entitled to the Musigny label. Robert Parker (Burgundy, 1990) wrote that the Chardonnay vines of Musigny were “planted at the request of the late Comtesse de Vogüé”; at the domaine today there is no direct evidence of that, or an exact planting date, but what is sure is that there was definitely a white Musigny produced as early as the 1930’s, so the Comtesse would have been quite young for making such a ‘request’. Today ‘only’ a Bourgogne blanc is produced, but potentially this is the only Grand cru white from the Côte de Nuits; though in the the nineteenth century it was also possible to find Chambertin blanc but the vines were already gone when AOC rules were introduced in the 1930s, hence, no AOC is now in place therefore Chambertin blanc is no-longer allowed. This white wine of Musigny is made from chardonnay vines sited, in two plots, right at the top of the Musigny vineyard. Because there is no such AOC as Chambolle-Musigny Blanc (villages or 1er Cru) if the Musigny Grand Cru label is not used, it follows that the wine must be declassified all the way down to Bourgogne (blanc). The 2000 vintage comes from a plot of 0.4 ha, the average age of these vines is currently 14, there are still some vines of 40-45 years but the majority were replanted in 1986, ’87 and ’91. There is also an additional plot of 0.2 ha which was replanted in 1997. The domaine doesn’t yet see sufficient depth and complexity from these vines for the Musigny label, this is despite legally requiring only three years from planting to using a Grand Cru label. They feel that the 2000 wine is some way between a village and a 1er, though 2001 & 2002 in their opinion is firmly at 1er cru quality. Around 20% new wood is typically used for this wine’s elevage, a mere 100 cases per year trickle into the market.
2000 Bourgogne Blanc
Pale gold. A waxy nose with subtle, cream covered, pineapple. The nose slowly evolves a faint butterscotch edge. The density and balance when coupled with the acidity is rather good, it’s not entirely subtle but there is more than a hint of refinement, there’s even a lingering creamy edge to the nut infused finish. Very interesting and worth keeping in the cellar for 5+ years – as demonstrated by…
1996 Bourgogne Blanc
Golden. The beautifully round nose retains a citrus bite. Medium bodied with a lovely, waxy, satin texture. There’s good length too – for a Bourgogne! Frankly this has a real Grand Cru nose and real density and interest in the mouth; it’s only from the mid-palate onwards that we have a diminuendo rather than a crescendo, but these are very young vines… A wine that could still be cellared and might yet improve but it’s compromised only by the very young vines.

Chambolle-Musigny villages

The de Vogüé villages wine comes mainly from a 1.8 hectares plot in the climat of Les Porlottes, close to the wood on the western side of the village, with a typical production of a little over 400 cases. The soil here covers a bed of limestone and contains many small rocks. The vines have an average age of just under 30 years. The Domaine also owns small sections totaling 0.34 ha in the Chambolle 1er Crus of Les Baudes with average 54 year-old vines and Les Fuées whose vines average 45 years. Rather than vinify these separately they effectively declassify the resulting 1er Cru wines by choosing to blend into their single villages cuvée.
2001 Chambolle-Musigny
Medium cherry-red, fades to salmon pink at the edge. The nose shows powdery, pure red fruit. The palate gives a very fresh expression; medium length but quite lacy and très elegant. The fine tannins give a little bite on the finish but this is a lovely, pure and elegant rather than powerful example of Chambolle.
2000 Chambolle-Musigny
Medium cherry-red. There’s a hint of briar but mostly the wine majors on red, powdery fruit. Fresh, nice acidity and texture. The fruit is ripe and elegantly proportioned. The medium tannins still give a little grab. Young, primary and elegant to boot.
1994 Chambolle-Musigny
Drunk with lunch at the restaurant ‘Le Chambolle-Musigny’. Medium ruby colour with a watery rim. The nose starts with a burst, closes-up for around 15 minutes before once-more blossoming; it settles into a forward, slightly roast base covered (yet again) with powdery red fruit – all fruit and still quite primary. The silky palate has nice acidity, some fat and slightly oaky tannin. Good length, tasty too. A really good 1994, one that other than the colour, shows little obviously mature character.
1993 Chambolle-Musigny
Medium-plus colour and looks amazingly young – younger in fact than most ’98’s! The nose is wonderful with the full range of 1993’s characteristic dried cherry/cranberry/raisin fruits, slowly developing a savoury, meaty edge. Classic, fresh, 1993 acidity is matched by creamy fruit and an almost graphite/coal-style mineral edge. For a villages-level wine this is gorgeous and still young.

Chambolle-Musigny premier cru

Despite owning portions of Les Baudes and Les Fuées in addition to their holding in Amoureuses, there is actually no premier cru wine in these bottles, only the declassified juice from the young (under 25 years) Musigny vines – Musigny in short trousers as the domaine likes to call it. The first outing for this wine was the 1995 vintage – before this time quite a lot of juice was sold to the negociants and bore a Musigny label. Today there are about 2.8 hectares of these young vines, producing around 500 cases of Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru per year.
2001 Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru
Similar in colour to the 2001 villages Chambolle. The fruit shows a much deeper aspect on the nose and still a trace of oak. The palate also offers a step-up in density vs the villages and an extra creamy edge to the beautifully presented fruit. To match, there’s a little extra structure with more forward tannins. Not so lacy but certainly more serious. Very good wine, one day.
2000 Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru
Just a little darker than the 2000 villages Chambolle. The nose is deeper, but significantly tighter. In the mouth, instantly lacier and spicier with an immense step-up in complexity – high-toned fruits invade the back of the palate. Late tannin grab with a really impressive length – I’d buy this in a shot.
1997 Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru
I’ve had this wine twice before, both from the same merchant and on both occasions there’s been a rather muddy, indeed soupy aspect to the wine – disappointing would be a fair descriptor – particularly when factoring in the price. This wine, direct from the domaine, is completely different. For a start it’s much fresher and does without the cooked plummy-fruit aspects of the previous wines. There’s not the purity and focus of the ’93 village Chambolle but neither is this an archetypal 1997 as it still offers good freshness and purity. It’s nice, complex and shows some density. It’s an interesting and good wine, but possibly a contender for the weakest of all these wines, at least in terms how they all perform within their respective categories.

Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses

The highest part of the Amoureuses vineyard is separated from Musigny by a small road, it is here that the domaine’s 0.56 ha holding is located. The vines average 31 years-old and produce a mere 160 or-so cases per vintage.
1999 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses
Denser colour than the 2001 1er Cru. The nose starts with faint mushrooms against a tightly-held core of fruit. The nose continuously evolves; first there are strawberry notes then a multitude of redcurrant and other red-berry fruits take turns coming to the fore – this is superb, very complex and becomes quite haunting. The palate has both intensity and balance but gives little else away, it is a very primary performance. There is more than ample length, but it’s the nose that dominates this wine, and what a nose!
1992 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses
Quite a deep core of ruby-red fruit, it’s only this respect that this and the ’88 Bonnes-Mares show any sign of age. The nose starts with a deep plum-skin that gradually becomes more red without ever coming close to the delineation or complexity of the ’99. Beautiful texture – this is 1st-class Burgundy. Amply proportioned, soft and sexy, this ‘lady in love’ has little time for the intellectual, but she’s very ‘ready’ now! A really lovely wine and frankly there’s no rush to consume – my best 1992 experience.

Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru

The domaine owns a block of vines accounting for 2.7 hectares and an average production of ~420 cases per year. The vines are located entirely in the Chambolle portion of the vineyard that is closest to the village itself, this provides for a slightly more elegant Bonnes-Mares, but one that is heavily scented with violet and peony. The domaine’s vines average 29 years old.
2002 Bonnes-Mares Tasted Oct 2005
Deep cherry-red. A brooding nose that mixes red and black fruit, though black is dominant, with a coffee edge. Concentrated and tannic. Starts on full power, a gradual diminuendo is the character of the wine – well it couldn’t go higher! – fading very slowly into the finish. It’s fully-packed with material and shows great balance. Not a hint four-square, but I wouldn’t consider opening this bruiser for at least another 8 years.
2000 Bonnes-Mares
Similar intensity to the 2000 Chambolle 1er, but the colour has a more purple shade. Much more communicative on the nose with blacker dried and slightly spiced fruits. No spice on the palate, instead there’s dense, concentrated and muscular black, tarry fruit. Much more primary so less complex than the 1er Cru but a lovely creamy finish tops of this performance. Very impressive.
1999 Bonnes-Mares
Medium-plus cherry-red. The nose has a little oak-toast and shows a much more savoury and spicy edge than the other wines, the fruit has a blacker edge too. The spice is also there on the palate, in-fact it currently defines the wine more than the fruit. A completely different expression to the others; it shows impressive though primary density and balanced structure – more so than the 99 Amoureuses – different, but very interesting.
1988 Bonnes-Mares
Medium-plus core of ruby-red that shows only a little fading. The nose is very-much a 1993-style expression of fruit with a more mineral, graphitic edge and becomes a little meaty with aeration. Lovely texture, still very fruit-driven and also quite earthy. The balance and remaining structure suggest that many years of enjoyment lie ahead for this wine.

Musigny Grand Cru

map of musigny c1890 including ownersClick the picture to the left to see a map of the vineyard and the distribution of ownership in the 1890’s. 7.2 of the Musigny vineyard’s 10 hectares are owned by this domaine. 0.6 ha planted to chardonnay, 2.8 hectares of vines below 25 years-old that produce the Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru, and finally 3.8 hectares of vines that average 40 years and produce ~900 cases of the domaine’s famous wine; Musigny Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru.
2002 Musigny Vieilles Vignes Tasted Oct 2005
Deep, saturated cherry-red. Wow, what a nose; the glass doesn’t even need a swirl to give up chocolate and creme brulee covered red cherry-fruit – super complexity. The nose is well matched to a beautifuly textured palate, incredibly complex flavours that cling to your gums, fine tannins that are completely covered by the fruit. Magnificent now, I’m drooling at the prospect of its 20th birthday!
2000 Musigny Vieilles Vignes
Medium, medium-plus cherry-red. Softer, lighter, more floral nose than the 2000 Bonnes-Mares more complex with the scent of roses. Fantastic mouthfeel, elegance allied to power – wave after wave of different, sometimes spicy elements. Fine tannins and an extra little burst on the finish. The real excitement is on the mid-palate. Young and fresh. How great? I guess we’ll find out around 2020…
1999 Musigny Vieilles Vignes
Medium, medium-plus cherry-red. A melange of fruit greets the first sniff; the aromatics are in a similar vein to the ’99 Amoureuses, the palate however, has another level of structure and concentration: it’s not obvious at first taste as you’re assaulted by such a bewildering array of sensations, but it’s very obvious when you move back. Despite the density there is no undue fat, many unfurling layers and tannins that wrap your teeth in velvet. Whilst today I prefer the expression of fruit on the nose of the ’99 Amoureuses, I simply can’t imagine how good this wine will become. I’m not tempted to try it before it’s 15th birthday though. Very special.
1991 Musigny Vieilles Vignes
A vintage of hail, this was the ‘two-week triage with tweezers’ harvest. Only 15 hl/ha (Bonnes-Mares was down at 9!). I’ve read reports that this is not a typical Chambolle but on this performance it is a fantastic wine. Looks younger than the ’88 Bonnes-Mares that precedes it, but despite both depth and an engaging complexity after the previous wines the nose is relatively understated. The palate is dense without being fat, well delineated and shows a little rasp to the the tannins in the finish – but it’s a long and tasty finish. This wine still seems to speak of more to come in the future. Whilst the ’99 certainly has an extra flourish on the finish, side-by-side I’m surprised to see a little more intensity to the fruit of this wine. Luckily I’ve tasted (actually drunk with dinner) this wine twice in just over a year and this was a consistent showing. Very fine wine but not yet the complexity I would hope for.

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