Jasper Morris’s book ‘Inside Burgundy’ describes Corton Clos de la Vigne au Saint as covering 2.46 hectares, yet, if you add up the surface areas of today’s three owners; des Croix, Louis Latour and Méo-Camuzet, you will come up with a larger number – 18% larger!
The first reference to “Clos de la Vigne au Saint” was by the ‘Society of Saulieu’ in 1375 when they wrote of a purchase of wine from ‘Clos de Charlemagne, Vigne des Saints and Garenne […] for the amount of two and a half ‘Beaune measures.” The Latour family have the longest connection with this vineyard, beginning in the early 19th century when Louis-Fabrice Latour’s great-great-great-grandmother owned a section of the vineyard. Today Louis Latour, by some way the largest owner, alone claim 2.42 hectares. Add des Croix’s 0.287 and Méo’s 0.2 hectares and it’s clear how the 118% is calculated, if not (yet!) how it happens in real life.
Louis Latour have been owners of important, indeed significant, parts of Corton since the 1700s. For generations only Latour owned these vines in Vigne au Saint – they had the monopole – that was until a 1970s marriage of a Latour family member into the Belland family. When Jean-Claude, the son of Adrien Belland, decided to retire (Domaine Jean-Claude Belland), the estate was broken up, rather than taken on by other parts of the Belland family – such as Roger Belland. Although the purchase contracts were not signed until December 2009, the soon to be new owners in Vigne au Saint, Jean-Nicolas Méo and David Croix’s Domaine des Croix, both bought Belland’s fruit at harvest time and produced their first Corton Vigne au Saints in this 2009 vintage – the transaction was ‘close enough’ that no négoce license was required.
As part of the winding-up of Domaine Jean-Claude Belland, these two domaines didn’t just buy the Vigne au Saint, they also bought Belland’s vines in Aloxe-Corton Boutières and Corton Grèves (des Croix) plus Corton Perrières (Méo-Camuzet). Belland also had some contracts in Corton-Charlemagne and Puligny, but those moved on elsewhere.
Louis Latour always used the name ‘Clos de la Vigne au Saint‘ – their label being largely original for at least 150 years – they are currently digging in the archives to find where their label’s emblem comes from – they think it’s probably awaiting rediscovery in a local church somewhere. Belland had, for many years, also used the name ‘Clos de la Vigne au Saint‘ though both Méo-Camuzet and des Croix use ‘La Vigne au Saint‘ as they say that this is how the vineyard is actually registered – the 2005 of Belland also omitted the word ‘Clos’ but vintages both before and after were labelled ‘Clos.’ Consulting the (I assume!) definitive ‘Climats et Lieu-dits des Grandes Vignobles de Bourgogne‘ there is listed only the climat of La Vigne au Saint with no differently named lieu-dit(s). Whether this really once was a ‘Clos’ is hard to say, as we will see, a couple of the vineyard’s borders are relatively ‘hard’ but today the other 60% is completely open.
The vines of Vigne au Saint:
From the maps, it’s not completely obvious where the vines are, but on a walk-about, it’s quite easy. Leaving Aloxe-Corton on the road to Pernand (not the higher road/track where there’s the cross of Charlemagne) the last house on your left – a large house with park and vines – is that of Senard and the vines in his garden are his monopoly of Corton Clos des Meix. As Senard’s wall stops following the road and makes a 90° left-turn, down the hill, this is the start of Vigne au Saint. The vines of Vigne au Saint are all below the road – some of the lowest-lying of grand cru Corton and they sit in a gentle incline all the way to the bottom of this slope. Above the road, first, are the vines of Corton Chaumes (or Chaumes et la Voierosse – Chaumes is on both sides of the road) then higher still Pougets which can be Corton or Corton-Charlemagne.
The climat of La Vigne au Saint follows the road to a large walnut tree (still on your left, below the road) after which the vines change to Corton Chaumes. As a note, here at the start of Corton Chaumes, there has been much vineyard work for the last year, to reinforce the rock of a small fault and allow some new plantings in Chaumes. And it is from the Chaumes side that the first top to bottom parcel of vines belong to Méo-Camuzet, followed by the next top to bottom parcel that belong to des Croix. The rest is all Louis Latour, but ‘for as long as anybody can remember‘ Latour have included all the vines top to bottom of the rows from the start of the vines near Senard – and after Senard, this is actually part Corton Combes – here is the extra 18% – you can see the addition by the blue line on the map above.
The bottom of the Vigne au Saint vines goes directly from being a grand cru to a villages level Aloxe – mainly because of poor drainage – then there’s a rise of about 1 metre before it becomes 1er Cru – Aloxe-Corton 1er Les Guèrets – it’s the same under Les Chaumes too. Talking of drainage there’s a drain below the first part of des Croix’s vines which becomes a ditch lower down – there’s another small ditch between the last vines of Latour in Combes and the next vines of Tollot-Beaut in Combes. Both Genot-Boulanger and Vincent Rapet also have vines here in the grand cru of Corton Combes. In the flat, below the grand cru vines, is a large drainage pond too.
The various vine-ages are roughly 1960s vines for both Méo and des Croix, and the vines of Latour are split into two sections – the higher planted in 1998 and 1999, plus the lower vines planted in 1947. There are some quite long rows here – well over 100 metres closest to Senard. There is a resurgence of Comblanchien limestone in Vigne au Saint, unlike the true Corton stone above the road in Chaumes. You can clearly see that there’s plenty of iron in this brown/red soil, plenty of small rocks and clay – indeed there’s up to 60% clay here – more than anywhere else in Corton, where the average is 45-50% clay.
I took a walk around the vines with Boris Champy of Louis Latour, and it was the bottom part of Vigne au Saint that was frosted this year – it all looks healthy, but there are no grapes – unlike the top of the rows where there seems a not bad yield. Re harvesting, Boris explains “The maturity difference is first by age, second by the altitude. Actually it is normally the younger vines at the top that are ready a few days earlier. The older vines are affected by the fact that in the morning it’s cooler at the bottom of this slope. You can see that the frost was not so bad in mid-hill Corton, but the bottom and top were much worse affected.”
It was relatively easy to ascribe characters to these wines – relatively! Wandering the vines there is very little to differentiate the quality of the viticulture – all three domaines having somewhere between organic and biodynamic approaches. The harvesting is roughly similar too – give or take 1-2 days. So really it must be the fermentations and elevage where the differences are made – all have seen very low yields in recent years, so largely yield is also not a factor.
Only des Croix uses some stems, and the first vintage for that was 2014 – so all bar one of the wines here were destemmed. Both the des Croix and the Méo-Camuzet have a similar character to their fruit, crocquant but with bright ripeness – the main difference is that the Méo wines wear a more obvious, if flattering, suit of François Frères.
I found two styles to the wines of Latour; the 2010 and 2011 had more depth and texture on the palate and were slightly sweeter than the younger wines – surprising because they do a longer extraction today vs 11/10. Aromatically there is more of a herb component to all the Latours but it also has a little more explosive energy in the finish versus the other two producers.
So pure fruit for des Croix and Méo-Camuzet, extra oak on the Méo. Less fruit and more herb for the Louis Latours but with a little extra complexity in the finish:
Here a deep nose, a suggestion of oak spice, but only that. Oak is growing in the glass with a little vanilla. Broad, growing volume, a hint of oak here too but additive to the creamy and rather dreamy fruit. Really a good finish, supple wine – the only thing that might hold me back from drinking this already is the oak component. Super wine. Bottled mid-April
2014 Louis Latour
A little more high-toned and floral – a direct red fruit in the core. More obviously fresh, faintly stemmy/herby in the mid-palate – yet super depth of flavour. Another wine to wait for, but here for the stem character to balance more – even if stems are not used in vinification.
2014 des Croix
50% stems – the first vintage with stems.
A more direct, powdery red fruit becoming ever deeper and at the same time more direct and sweet. Supple in the mouth, waves of fresh flavour, here more tannin texture. Lovely flavour in the mid-palate and the finish. Bottled only last week.
A faint whiff of reduction, some higher-toned fruit. Wide, ingraining flavour a good mix of texture and fine acidity. I love the intensity here – yum! The winemaker team have reservations, but I find it fine, indeed very tasty!
2013 Louis Latour
Less intense but again quite a high-toned nose. Fresh, bright, some texture from the tannin, a fresh wine, less overtly ripe but with good energy for that. I love the burst of finishing flavour. This is very long too…
2013 des Croix – sadly it was lightly corked.
They had only 14 hl/ha. Barrels from Francois – 50% new
Deep, dark-red fruit, toast but then gone, sumptuous fruit a growing clarion of pure red fruit. Here is a beautiful concentration and fresh intensity – waves of fine and fresh flavour. Young but fabulous!
2012 Louis Latour
Fresh, faintly herby, a little lighter colour as always slowly adding a deep, almost redcurrant aspect Supple fresh, less ripe but with lots of fine complexity. Such a different animal. Really a super length again, really persistent and tasty.
2012 des Croix
A subtle reduction darkens the fruit – round dark red fruit comes through. Fresh wine, a little less overt dimension as there’s a hint of reduction blocking in the mid-palate too. A fine finish though – not the width of line as the Latour but every bit the same length.
Just a little higher toned with brighter red fruit. A little tannin texture here, but very nice waves of red-fruited complexity. This is open and tasty wine. Just a hint brighter fruit in the finish.
2011 Louis Latour
A deep nose, less clarity of fruit, with a little herb. Just a little deeper colour than other vintages. Here is more weight of fruit, quite dark but without obvious reduction. A little tannin in the finish. Quite a big finish again though. Have actually gone from about 12 to 18 days of cuvaison in the last vintage
2011 des Croix
Sweet red fruit – easy but also attractive! Gets even bigger in the glass. Quite a saline attack here, plenty of fresh complexity. Quite a fine texture here – holds very well – very tasty!
2010 Louis Latour
Here a faintly toasty herb – like normal – but with a silky impression of faint fruit below. Wow, this has real sweetness and weight – some tannin grain at the base – but really a big showcase of fruit. Super! Big in the finish again – here definitely not a wine with any less ripe character!
2010 des Croix
A hint of reduction here, slowly clearing and bringing an ever brighter fruit with it. The reduction is on the palate here too, very fine texture and wonderful waves of flavour. A beautiful wine
Jean-Nicolas had no more 2010 in his cellar ‘It’s a small cuvée’ but sent a 2009 along instead.
A dense colour. The nose seems similarly dense – slowly opening – getting ever-more beautiful on the nose – with a swirl – bravo. Really rather sweet on the palate, but not particularly fat. A honey of a wine…