Foreground is the Clos de l’Ecu, below on the left is Cent Vignes, on the right is Bressandes…
The monopoly of the Clos de l’Ecu was bought by Domaine Faiveley in 2003 from the heirs to what was left of Maison Jaboulet-Vercherre – the vines previously having been rented from J-V for a number of years by Louis Jadot.
Maison Jaboulet-Vercherre was founded further south, in 1834 in the Rhône Valley at Tain-L’Hermitage, moving their main office to Beaune in 1920 though they continued to market a wide range of wines from the Rhône and Beaujolais. J-V established cellars in both Beaune and Pommard – the Beaune cellars are now home to Benjamin Leroux, whereas the cellars in Pommard were those of the the Château Commeraíne – bought in 1920 by Ulysse-Georges Jaboulet-Vercherre – J-V were important owners of vines not just in the Côte de Beaune but also in Chambertin and the Clos de Vougeot. I’ve no information on who were the owners of the Clos de l’Ecu before Jaboulet-Vercherre. The history of this important maison is now largely forgotten, the main, remaining memory is more to do with the politics of the last proprietor, a Front-Nationale supporter – though supposedly even more right-wing than the FN – such that when the J-V sign was pulled down from their empty, old cellars in Beaune’s Rue Colbert, the workers celebrated with Champagne!
I have only one experience of the Jaboulet-Vercherre Beaune 1er Clos de l’Ecu – and I loved their packaging – the wine itself, a 1996, was, unfortunately, pretty disgusting – it is one of the very rare wines that I chose to pour down the sink! A 1964 Jaboulet-Vercherre Romanée St.Vivant was much, much more interesting!
Faiveley didn’t just buy the Clos de l’Ecu in 2003, they even managed to buy a second monopole in the same year – Gevrey-Chambertin’s Clos des Issarts with its iconic house in the vines – but from a different seller!
From a historical perspective, I find it interesting that the Clos de l’Ecu borders Les Fèves – a vineyard so highly rated by the old books of Morelot and Lavalle – yet l’Ecu is never mentioned in the texts. There seems a dearth of information relating to this 1er cru. At the top of the vineyard it borders houses and scrubland – perhaps it was only planted after those books were published.
From a lieu-dit perspective, there are three à l’Ecus, all on the most northerly of Beaune’s three hills, with commanding views towards the south of Beaune. There are the highest vines of the Clos with 2.3703 hectares and just below, as a buffer to Les Fèves, is another 2.31 hectares. Finally, there is also a small part of the climat of Les Fèves that has the lieu-dit name à l’Ecu, and covers 0.33 hectares. Searching for bottles, it seems that only Faiveley commercialise a l’Ecu – or rather their Monopole Clos de l’Ecu – so where is the rest?
- Bouchard Père et Fils own 0.5 hectares on the high part next to the Clos, which is blended (with 16 other 1er crus) into their Beaune Clos du Chateau.
- Then there is Chanson, the major owner outside of the Clos with 1.10 hectares owned in l’Ecu – interestingly, given the relative altitude of the vines, they have chosen to plant two-thirds of this area to chardonnay. Both red and white cuvées of Beaune 1er Bastion, receive the grapes – though(!) historically Chanson did also commercialise a standalone l’Ecu, but not since 2005.
- I also mentioned the 0.33 hectares that is within the climat of Les Fèves – unsurprisingly, as the major owner of Fèves, it is Chanson who also own these vines – a parcel known as cadastre CH8 – it is planted to pinot and the INAO have declared that it be commercialised as Fèves.
- Louis Latour has 0.6 hectares of A l’Ecu in a plot that borders Beaune 1er Perrières – it’s not commercialised as l’Ecu, rather it is blended into their Perrières…
- The rest I’m still trying to track down…
l’Ecu itself is an unusual name – seemingly the only occurrence as a named climat. Only Chanson suggest a source for the name “linked to the word ‘escudo’ (shield) in Spanish and Portuguese” but why? There is no more information.
I toured the vines of the Clos de l’Ecu with Faiveley’s winemaker, Jerôme Flous. The vineyard is a true clos, though a small part of the wall is missing. The bottom part of the wall is 3 metres high. The culture here Jerôme describes as “Lutte très raisonnée, there’s been no herbicide for many years. We are extremely adaptive, and whilst we do lots of ploughing, we are very light in terms of treatments – helped because the soil here has really good aeration and exposure – the flip-side is the potential for sunburning the grapes – oh and hail!” The vineyard has plenty of small stones, with brown, sandy soil but not really the iron-redness of many others in Beaune. The mother rock underpins the upper wall, Jerôme says that there’s possibly only 15 cm of soil here. The top-corner of the vineyard has its own cabotte.
Above here it’s scrub-land or the garrigue as Jerôme likes to call it. Jerôme explains “These are virtually the only vines on the Beaune hillside with a directly south-facing orientation – it’s very sunny and very dry here, which certainly offsets the position high on the Beaune hillside” High up on the Beaune hill we have mainly sandy soil with some rock – it’s only as the vineyard slopes that the soil becomes deeper. Jerôme notes that “With the deepest soil we see a little more yield, but also the chance of botrytis – so do some leaf-thinning here. It’s a vineyard that can suffer a little in hot years, but it easily copes in wet years as the soil drains so easily. We have still some vigour here, because of the relatively young age of the vines.”
If you check the images (below) you will see that Faiveley sub-divide their monopole into 4 sections, with planting dates for the vines of (from left to right) 1989, 1998, 1980 and 1994. Faiveley mainly sell this wine in France, but the US also receive bottles.
Tasted in Nuits St.Georges with Eve Faiveley and Jerôme Flous, 24 May 2017:
Just a really great set of wines here – more concentrated than I expected – wines with energy, real vigour. I particularly loved the consistently beautiful floral aromatics. A rarely seen wine, but one worth a special search!
Jerôme explains that they always destem the fruit from here, and given the vineyard’s direct-south exposure, it is usually one of the first vines that they harvest. He describes the wine thus “It’s not easy to make this wine, you have to find your way. Often it’s a tannic, slightly austere wine when young, one which reminds me most of Côte Rotie. It’s a wine with energy and personality. But if you add too much new oak it doesn’t work, also if we were to harvest too late, then the fruit style changes from currants to fig! You should wait 4-5 years, because there is a little austerity, but at the same time it’s generous. We did get some frost up here in 2016, unfortunately.”
For a change, Jerôme suggested that we work from the older wine to the youngest – why not(?!)
2010 Faiveley, Beaune 1er Clos de l’Ecu
Her is a very appealing and floral nose, pretty red fruit that isn’t yet showing much development. Silky, concentrated, a little tannin showing through, ripe tannin, intense finishing flavour, a hint of minerality and salinity too. This is super.
Very aromatic – lovely fruit but even more floral – excellent. Very silky, a little textural fat, floral flavour inflections too – tannin in the mix but modestly so. Ooh, this is a really amazing for a 2011 – bravo indeed!
Compared to 2011, 2012 was only half a harvest.
A much bigger nose with more purity, indeed crystalinity – I loved the aroma of the 2011 but this has more, more, more. In the mouth too there’s more energy – it’s a muscled wine with layers of mouth-watering flavour. The typical (so far) touch of tannin on the end of the tongue. Some fat but great texture and more powerfully finishing too. Great wine!
2013 Faiveley, Beaune 1er Clos de l’Ecu
Harvested in October, but 35 hl/ha. ‘A cold vintage in a hot place.’
Really a big and floral nose. Muscular, fresh, a little more austere but with super complexity to match the energy. Young for sure but I love this energy! Great fun…
2014 Faiveley, Beaune 1er Clos de l’Ecu
Narrower but also with super depth – the aromas are perfumed florals again, with modest fine fruit dark-cherry fruit in support. A little stricter in the mouth, here the structure is showing more, though the texture is good. Overall this is much stricter but with a great wave of powerful flavour in the finish. Ouf – super! But as you can see – be patient!
Bottled in March. ‘Not because it’s particularly 2015, but I think this wine is getting better and better, and I think that this is the best we’ve made yet’ says Jerôme.
A mix of flowers and reduction – très different. Like the 2014, this is quite a wine, one with structure but with a little fat to make it more comfortable. There is something extra here vs the 2014 but it shows similarly to the 2014. Complex and very persistent with no negatives. Bravo, but wait 3-4 years before opening the first!