Tasted in Meursault with Judith and Bernard van Berg, 8th May 2015.
Domaine Van Berg
1 rue du Moulin Judas
Tel: +33 3 80 21 63 93
What an intriguing but fulfilling visit!
Bernard van Berg arrived in France from Belgium with his wife Judith in 2001, with the purpose, he says, of producing the best wine ever made. Their first attempt was in 2002.
There’s no avoiding the head-turning prices associated with bottles from this domaine, but more intriguing is the complete lack of hype that you might anticipate with those prices in mind; when seen by me, bottles have ranged from about €150-250 for what are essentially regional wines. So let’s tackle the pricing before moving-on, Judith explains:
Let me try to explain the reasoning behind the pricing of Les Echalas.
- It may happen only once or twice in a decade that Bernard is sure that he has a really exceptional wine – a wine made from our vines in Les Echalas, separated from our Chardonnay in the plot of En Busigny. Normally they are blended. We only produced those 2 cuvées twice in 13 years; Les Echalas 2006 and 2009.
- Les Echalas is a very small surface of vines surrounded by wild bush and we produce really very few grapes there, aiming to keep the production under 7 hl/hectare. The Les Echalas plot is really more of a «garden». The work here is very exacting because each vine has its own stick, to which we have to attach the vine’s branches with small twines and as the vine grows, we remove the first twine, replacing with one a little higher. So the wind and the sun can blow and shine on all sides of the vines, each one feeling good – every vine is independent. Bernard has made ditches on either side of the vineyard so that the water can by-pass the vines in the case of heavy rain; when you walk in the plot, you can almost feel like you are on an island.
- Bernard came in Burgundy 14 years ago with the purpose of producing the best wine ever produced – the wine that Bernard was dreaming to drink. When he tasted Les Echalas 2009, that was exactly the wine that he was looking for. These bottles were his reward for many, many efforts – the care brought to the vineyard and the work invested over all these years.
So a high price was fixed. At this price Bernard is happy when he sells a bottle yet also satisfied (perhaps even more?) when he keeps the bottles to drink them himself.
So there are only Les Echalas whites in 2006 and 2009. In all our other vintages we assembled the grapes of Chardonnay from the Echalas with our other chardonnay from En Busigny. So the cuvees of En Busigny 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 are the produce of Les Echalas Chardonnay grapes and En Busigny Chardonnay grapes.
And what Judith failed to mention, is the quantity produced; the cuvée yields range from about 50 to 900 bottles – yes, you read that right, 50! There is a small wine-press in the house of the van Bergs, which I had assumed was for ornamentation, but Bernard confirmed that he used it for making his wines…
The first thing to do when you visit the Van Berg’s modest house on the wonderfully named street of the ‘Moulin de Judas’ is come straight back outside to take a tour of their vines.
Of vines and wines…
Just on the ‘wrong side’ of the Route Nationale, a little south of Meursault lie the first vines of the van Bergs – here they are neighbours of Remi Jobard. The lieu-dit of En Busigny was planted in 1957, this first area with pinot. In-between the vines, lies a thick, unplanted brush, then another plantation of vines (same lieu-dit) – this time chardonnay, also planted in 1957 (1956 was a hard winter and many vines were lost). Bernard has dug small trenches at the limits of each plantation to hold water when there’s heavy rain. At one of their plots, there is a fence at one side, “One year the boar stripped all our grapes the night before we planned to harvest!” Bernard is even replacing vines here using the old method of provignage – “So far it works well” he says.
It’s clear from the start that Bernard has an unconventional approach – each vine is trained ‘up’ (a post) rather than along a wire. He says that the spacing between vines and allowing them to grow upwards, means that there’s a more limited transmission of disease. There is no ploughing, only grass, which, when wet he will cut, but when dry there’s nothing to do! Bernard believes that only soils that lack balance need to be ploughed. With this approach he says that he needs about 10 vines to produce one bottle of wine – as much as 5-10 times more than ‘normal.’ “Vines are like people” says Bernard, “If they eat too much, they are not healthy!”
The van Bergs have a number of small parcels, which total about 3 hectares, but only 2 are planted as Bernard likes his trenches and wild borders. They have parcels here in Meursault, plus St.Aubin and Puligny…
Triage for Bernard is really in June, he says, Hopefully there’s virtually nothing to remove at harvest, but there is no further triage after cutting the grapes. Elevage can really be between 10 months and 27 months – the wine is the boss – but the average is 18 months. I never chaptalise, whether it’s 11° or 14°, it is what it is…
A big, non burgundian bottle – ‘Vin de France’ since 2012. From 1954 gamay vines in Puligny – only 57 bottles produced! Never destemmed, using a (the!) small press ‘but never a problem with fermentation.’ Damy ‘Exclusive’ oak; the barrel is used only once, medium toast, long. Opened yesterday…
Medium plus colour. A wide, open, faintly spiced, faintly herbed nose – a dark red, almost black fruit at the core. Fresh, complex, dark fruit – beautiful – lovely length, really pretty. Maybe the best gamay I can remember for my palate – indeed, great gamay…
Pinot noir, opened yesterday. 54 mm cork length. “This area was owned by the Abbaye of Citeaux up until the Revolution” says Bernard. There were two passes in these vines in 09; the first delivering La Belle Rose, the second, one week later, delivering La Belle Rose Reserve. The barrels are made to order for the size of the cuvée – this cuvée producing just 96 bottles, the standard cuvée was a bit less than one classic barrel. Bernard jokes “Yes, 2009 was a generous vintage! We had 2003 bottles in 2009, whereas 2012 produced only 600 bottles, 2013 a little more than 900.”
Medium, medium-plus colour. Bright, open, full pinot nose of modest whole cluster perfume not a bit herby. Real weight and silkiness, excellent mid-palate complexity too – there’s a small grain in the mid-palate but nothing untoward. Really flavourful – high-level pinot! The long-lasting flavour is really more like some kind of fruit dessert – cherry – but not sweet.This is intriguingly good! You could honestly be forgiven for thinking a well made premier or lower grand cru from Côte de Nuits. Super wine. The nose grows more weight. Simply put, this is great burgundy, it really reminds of a Damoy Chapelle but aromatically a little less gothic than Damoy – this is perhaps narrower in the mid-palate, but really not in the finish…
Bottle number 175 of 279 – produced from 4 ouvrées of vines. Same barrels used as other cuvées, this representing the youngest parcels of the domaine, with vines planted in 1985.
Fresh and floral with pretty oak notes supporting. Very direct and silky, beautifully fresh a little mineral and saline too – almost iodine. A beautiful wine that for my palate still shows a little too much oak aroma and flavour, but another 2 years and this should be gorgeous. The flavour really holds for quite some time, almost as if you still had the wine in your mouth. Excellent – this could be the best aligoté I ever tasted.
Also ‘in production’ here is a little vin jaune and fine – I sniffed the fine, and no surprise, it smelled great!