Tasted in Beaune with Richard Seguin and Olivier Bernstein, 20 May 2015.
Maison Olivier Bernstein
4 Rue Jean Belin
Tel: +33 3 80 22 49 48
My first visit to this house – I’d previously avoided them simply because I took a dim view of the chutzpah of entering the market with a first vintage whose wines cost more than most established quality producers. That said, for a long time, there were people whose palates I implicitly trust, who told me the prices were of secondary importance to the quality of the wines – so I bit the bullet.
The first vintage chez Olivier Bernstein was 2007. The first years saw vinification, elevage and bottling in Gevrey-Chambertin. An impressive conversion of a grange in the old-town quarter of Beaune, behind the Mairie, began after it was purchased in 2009, such that since 2011, elevage now takes place here in Beaune.* They had to replace the floors and roof above, but a fine cellar was already existing as this was an old viticuleurs house which for the last years had been used as a habitation by the Hospices de Beaune. Today there’s an office, kitchen and sitting area, on the first floor, and bottling logistics on the ground floor.
* There are very, very few producers of wine within the city-walls of Beaune today – i.e. actually producing wine within the city limits, rather than having elevage or offices there. It seems that the ‘city fathers’ looking to minimize the amount of wine-production ‘effluent’ flowing through their sewers, persuaded most producers to relocate their production.
I ask Olivier how it all started for him in Burgundy: ”Well, it all started in Roussillon in 2003, I started with 8 hectares in the South of France, doing everything myself – but €5 was expensive for a bottle of Roussillon and it simply wasn’t possible to add value, nobody wanted to pay more. I studied in Beaune, along the way collecting and selling some interesting bottles. One friend said ‘why not start in Burgundy’ and I said they were mad. But I had some connections with producers so decided I would try to make the best wine I could.”
This producer is virtually 100% export-oriented, ”there are just a few restaurant bottles to found in France, but we are very proud to have importers like Wilson Daniels and Berry Bros behind us.” Olivier adding ”We have the smallest possible team, just 3, but we are 50 during the harvest.”
I start my tour with another of the 3 employees – Richard Seguin – whilst Olivier is finishing with another visitor. Richard is the nephew of Bernard Dugat-Py and is responsible for both the vineyards and the cuverie in Gevrey. Their premises in Beaune actually house 2 cellars, and here they make the elevage of about 80 barrels per vintage.
Richard says ”We are looking for low rendements, so 24-32hl/ha. Our contracts have always, since 2007, been for the same plots of vines. We even work the vines for and with the sellers too, paying for the surface we rent, not the eventual yield, for example, maybe we may pay for 10 and get 8.
“We don’t talk of certification, but we use no herbicides and use bio products as much as possible. We also adapt the pruning height to the general weather conditions. Since 2012, we are actually proprietors in Mazis-Chambertin and Gevrey’s 1er Cru Champeaux, and since 2012 we harvest all the grapes ourselves. For the last couple of vintages we’ve been using a special destemmer so the grape-skins are not broken whilst being removed from the stems.”
Note that not everything here is destemmed; 2012 used up to 70% whole clusters, 2013 had 40% plus, though 2014 none as ‘the acidity was enough.’ After pressing, the wine stays in tank for up to 3 weeks to finish the last traces of sugar – barrel elevage lasting normally about 14 months with one month in tank before bottling.
Chassin is the only cooper used. ”He comes to taste twice per year and basically fires the barrels based on what’s been harvested, rather than beforehand.”
I am unable to prevaricate on these wines – despite my early scepticism – these wines, regardless of price, are top-rank. They currently have 11 cuvees; 1 villages, 3 premiers and 7 grand crus. Prooftags have been used on bottles since 2012 vintage.
I like the attitude of Olivier and Richard – They say that they always prefer the most recent vintage’s wines due to their ongoing technical progress.
Round, inviting, incredibly young nose. Wow, that’s concentrated! Silky, with a very nice long line of flavour. Brilliant first wine!
2014 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Les Lavrottes
Deeper, reduced a little, big, full of flavour, round but with good dimension. A little saltiness and really a widening finish impression of flavour… Really long.
A young nose, slightly saline, then a gorgeous burst of fruit. More direct and fresh – ouf! – now I’ve gone from being impressed, to really loving – finely floral finishing.
More modest aromas but also a pretty width. Very mineral, salty, silky wine. More spiced, almost with a hint of pepper. A great burst of floral finishing dimension – bravo!
There’s some reduction but it can’t hide the floral top notes. There’s an extra intensity here and its ever-present in the mid-palate and finish – more fruit driven than the Cazetiers. Very yum…
A single parcel contract since 2008. This is mid-slope on the Vosne side of the Clos.
Here I can detect some malo notes, but also a very impressive complexity – super. Very wide flavour impression, some structure, but nothing to fear, and again lots of complexity – Excellent – here is a brilliant extra dimension of flavour in the finish too wow wine, and again slightly saline.
2014 Clos de la Roche
Less well-formed aromas but it’s certainly wide and complex. Very saline and much more impressive growing flavour complexity than the nose suggests – very assured with fine acidity. It’s really a super mineral intensity in the finish, a wine that just gets better and better in the mouth…
Vines close to the Lavrottes in Chambolle – not quite finished malo.
Sweet floral notes, twisted by some reduction. More intense acidity – the zing of some malic and with CO2 that pins to the tongue, but also a fascinating floral note.
Fresh, some growing florality lifting over the modest reduction. Mmm – really lovely in the mouth, fresh seamless delivery of flavour, slowly growing florality in the finish too. Really super wine…
Modest, delicate, complex aromas – one to keep your nose on. Bigger, and then a fabulous extra dimension of flavour which goes on and on. Fabulously flavoured wine.
Complex, super-interesting nose, still a hint of reduction, but discreetly so. Wonderful, complexity, round but with energy. Super excellent, but I find the Bèze much more interesting today…
Bottled march, racked February.
Big, forward, high-toned nose, a dark-red fruit at the core. Silky, some fat but gorgeous acidity – really impressive depth of flavour – gorgeous flavour too. Really excellent.
2013 Clos de la Roche
Bottled at the end of March.
Discreet but very pretty high-tones – a slowly growing weight of aroma too. Vibrant energy but with a depth of flavour too. This follows a line of flavour but grows and grows in the mid-palate and the finish too.