Visited 23 March, 2017.
Although the word was already on the street for a while, March saw the official confirmation from de Vogüé that the Musigny Blanc label would be resurrected – 2015 the first vintage since 1993. I thought it would be a good time to pay a visit to the domaine, though because they were just finishing the bottling their 2015s I thought it would be time better-spent to see what has changed at the domaine over the last 10 years, particularly in the vines, but first a small update on the Musigny Blanc.
De Vogüé have almost 0.66 hectares of chardonnay planted in both of the sections of Musigny: 0.22 hectares in the more northern Grands Musigny – an area called ‘Grèzes Litées‘ – and almost 0.44 hectares in the southern section of Musigny, just behind the Clos de Vougeot – called Petits Musigny.
De Vogüé chose to pull out a large part of these chardonnay plantings after the 1993 harvest – eventually replanting in 1997. Whilst every year declaring their harvest as Musigny Blanc – so having yields in-line with the requirements of a grand cru – each year they chose to declassify the harvest from all those vines to ‘Bourgogne’ and wait for an ‘acceptable grand cru quality’ before reinstating the Musigny Blanc label. Note that there is no intermediate white appellation in Chambolle – so their choice was restricted to either a Bourgogne or a Musigny label – but legally new plantations can take their grand cru label after only 3 years! After a wait of 22 vintages, de Vogüé have chosen the 2015 vintage for the return of the only white grand cru label of the Côte de Nuits – just under 2,300 bottles will be the 2015 release. I had two obvious questions for Jean-Luc Pepin of de Vogüé:
1. 2014 is the most iconic white burgundy vintage for a few years, yet you have chosen 2015 to resurrect the label, a more difficult white burgundy vintage – that seems to me an interesting choice – is 2015 really another level or was it simply that you had a specific average vine-age in mind for making this change?
“No it’s not a vine age decision, rather the quality of the wine, and how it speaks for itself – our decision was based solely tasting. Regarding the specific vintages, I think that we have been achieving a very high level of consistent quality for a little while now – and let’s just say that our discussions about when to actually change the label have taken some time!”
So, reading between the lines, I would be very happy ‘mopping up’ any remaining 6-packs of the domaine’s 2014 Bourgogne Blanc, and at presumably a little lower price than the 2015 too – which brings me to my second question:
2. As the only Côte de Nuits grand cru, and now proudly wearing the label of Musigny, there comes the question of pricing – I assume that this bottle will now wear the same price as that of the red Musigny Vieilles-Vignes?
“Well, it’s a nice suggestion from you, but we have firstly our loyal customers to think of and also that the wine has the opportunity to fully re-establish its credentials. So no, we won’t be setting the same price as the Musigny rouge, but we will set the price at about the same as our Bonnes-Mares.”
A discussion with Eric Bourgogone
Everything comes from the vineyard, so it’s also important to spend time with the people responsible for bringing out the best from the vineyard, as much as talking with Jean-Luc Pepin or François Millot I wanted to chat with Eric Bourgogne – and for the first time in a few years – to see what has changed over the years in the vines. Eric was very generous with his time, pointing out that “Right now it is relatively calm in the vines, I’d have much less availability in another month or-so.”
“In the last 10 years we’ve certainly seen some changes. Right now for the vines it’s the start of leaving winter, so we are finishing the winter work. We’ve seen a period of relative warmth for the last 10 days or so, the roots are beginning to work and the vines are starting to weep, but it’s the sap ‘brut’ – it’s not yet the nourishing sap of the growing season.” I asked if this was the first real winter since 2012, and about the importance of freezing temperatures. “Yes, in 2012 we also had some cold temperatures, this year we had a couple of weeks approaching -10°C in January, which I’d call close to intense – -15°C would be intense – like in 1985 when the water in soil froze and had the effect of compressing the roots so in some cases and areas vines were killed. This is different to the very cold night in 2009 where vines close to the Route Nationale were lost – in this case it was more the air which froze, and vines themselves. So in 2009 we didn’t have damage on the hillsides – still, the result of this freeze drying of the vines in 2009 left was close to 300 hectares damaged – that’s like a whole village’s production. Generally -10°C without wind is ‘just’ minus 10, with wind its much colder and at -15°C we start to have problems.
“But the cold is important for argilo-calcaire soils because it helps the working of the soil – the 2 weeks of minus in January was enough, but it was indeed welcome. The new buds really need a little cold to trigger their growth as it warms. The cold helps reconstitute the soil by helping to aerate the soil – it’s not uniquely an inert volume of soil, it has life, micro organisms that facilitate in reconstituting the soil and ingesting organic material. Our soil isn’t just a support for the the vines, they need nourishment too – the cold and the soil life help the release of elements for the roots – call it utilisable compost, but not from chemical additions.
“The domaine uses virtually only treatments which would be acceptable for Bio, but are not interested in certification. Perhaps we use just a little less than 10 years ago for sulfur and copper – 6kg per year is allowed – but normally we use less than 3kg, though it’s vintage dependent – 2016 was complicated and more than 4 kg was used. Since 2009 we do much less green harvesting, partly because the vines are older. I think that’s really the essence of our work – it’s not really about ‘easier’ vintages, because even in 2015 we had to work against oïdium.”
- 2016 was a vintage not just of frost, the weather after was delicate with plenty of mildew
- 2015 had oïdium – also 2004 and 1998 had strong oïdium in Côte de Nuits – 1998 being particularly complicated as the humidity dropped on August, this combined with the sunshine dried out many berries. So we harvested twice, the first only to get rid the dried material – we declared only 12 hl/ha in Musigny
- 2013 was hard because it was late
- 2012 was hard for mildew
- 2011 had similar yields to 2009 but for totally different reasons
- 2010 was a little too cold at flowering whereas 2011 was too warm!
So, no ‘easier’ vintages, just different challenges, but certainly the tendency is that yields are going down – and across the whole of Burgundy too.
Finally, a little about the domaines pruning…
de Vogüé’s classic double cordons…
Eric kindly took me on a tour of the domaine’s vines and even gave a lesson in pruning in Petits Musigny. For me the pruning of de Vogüé is iconic and easily recognisable with their double cordons – though not all the domaine is pruned in this way – they have much in the more classic Guyot single baguettes too. The 1990s are the basis of much of the domaine’s double cordons – actually a mix of single and double. This pruning style helps limit the production of younger vines.
For single baguettes they number the buds 1 to 6, the apex bud is dominant, if you plant this apex bud will grow roots – the classic provignage. Bud number 1 has no grapes, 2 has 1 cluster, 3 has 1 cluster, 4-5-6 have more clusters. But with 2 cordons pruned to 4 coursons each with 2 buds numbered 1 and 2, 4 times – so a maximum of 8 bunches – half of what will come pruning the other way – the double cordons are quicker to prune too.
At this stage I asked Eric about losses to viruses. “Well, courte-nue is a virus, but the real problem in Burgundy is ESCA, which is fungus – but a fungus that doesn’t seem to have much affect on older plants. Viruses are a problem of the soil, not the approach for pruning. Our approach is to prune the young vines as late as possible – March – even now, many are not yet done. We only want to prune these when the plant can weep – it’s this weeping that will help block entry of fungus into the baguette – and we have 20 people pruning at the domaine.
“Come back in July to see the difference!”