Profile: Domaine Bertagna (Vougeot)

Update 7.10.2009(4.7.2004)billn

UPDATE: May 2006. It is confirmed that Claire Forestier has left Domaine Bertagna. No news yet on who will replace her.

Two doors down from the Post Office in tiny village of Vougeot you will find an imposing archway that leads into Domaine Bertagna. The creation of an Algerian born businessman – Claude Bertagna – the domaine was originally pieced together in the late 1940’s. New ownership beckoned in 1982/83 with the Gunther Reh family taking the reigns. The Gunther Rehs are also owners of the Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt estate in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Today it is the team of Eva Reh and husband Mark Siddle who control the domaine.

The domaine has 21 hectares of vineyards, all but 1 hectare are planted to Pinot Noir; the 1 hectare of Chardonnay is split between the two Vougeot 1ers of Les Crâs and Petits Vougeots and a parcel of Corton-Charlemagne. In total 18 different appellations are produced of which 6 are in Vougeot – these are where we will concentrate for this report. In addition to the ‘Vougeots’ there is a large piece of Hautes Côtes de Nuits (red and white) to compliment their famous Grand Crus of Chambertin, Clos St-Denis and Corton.

In 1999 the long-time régisseur Roland Masse was honoured with an appointment as the winemaker for the Hospices de Beaune. Claire Forestier who had already made wine in California, South Africa and the Languedoc was chosen as replacement. In her first vintages Claire was often asked what she had changed since Roland’s time, but she says that their ideas in terms of viticulture and elevage were broadly similar so she kept most things the same; she jokes that this was probably the reason she got the job! Claire kindly gave up a little of her time on a (sometimes) rainy Wednesday to walk through the vineyards and discuss the wines.

the vougeot vineyards of Bertagna

The domaine has 6 different bottlings from Vougeot, Clos Vougeot itself, three red 1er Crus; Le Cras, Les Petits Vougeots and Clos des Perrière. A white 1er Cru blended from Le Cras and Les Petits Vougeots fruit, and finally a village blend.

Clos de Vougeot
Of course the whole village is dominated by the Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot. The wines from the other Vougeot vineyards are overshadowed almost to the extent that many people are unaware of their existance. At 51 hectares and an average of over 200,000 bottles per year this walled vineyard dwarfs the other 15 hectares of the Vougeot appellation. The vines of Bertagna are a single 0.31 hectare parcel located above the Château de la Tour. Most of the higher-placed vines run in an east-west, direction, whereas the Bertagna vines are the first of the rows to change to a north-south orientation.

Vougeot 1er, Les Crâs
Directly exiting the domaine at the rear you enter the Vougeot 1er Cru of Les Crâs. This vineyard is fairly flat, with a thin layer – perhaps 20-30cm – of soil interspersed with small rocks over a hard limestone base. The vineyard is open on all sides, so has little protection from the elements; as such it is prone to late frosts and is one of the coldest of the Vougeot vineyards, hence, is typically picked quite late. The site is partially planted with chardonnay.

Vougeot 1er, Petits Vougeots
A vineyard that is anything but flat, a topography like that of an upturned baseball glove – flat at the base then quickly heading skywards. There’s a small stream running through the middle of the vineyard that dries up in the summer months. The soil here is richer and deeper than in Le Cras with a higher content of clay. Claire suggests that it is this soil difference that accounts for the Petits Vougeots being typically a softer wine than Le Cras. The domaine has a couple of rows of chardonnay here too, but despite registering each year for the right to produce a 1er Cru Petits Vougeots Blanc, there is insufficient crop to vinify & bottle in this way, so it is mixed with the fruit from Le Cras to produce a 1er Cru blend. The vines are of a good age, averaging 45 years.

Vougeot 1er, Clos de la Perrière
This a vineyard that you don’t find on many maps, it is in fact a walled sub-climat at the top of Petits Vougeots and the wine could also take that name. The Clos follows the curve of the cliff above it (to the west) and on top of this cliff – perhaps 25 feet higher – is Musigny. There can be few better-placed vineyards than Perrière; bordered by Musigny to the west, Clos de Vougeot (Musigni area) to the south and Chambolle’s Amoureuses to the north. The soil here is 50-60cm deep and full of small stones. Claire believes that there are two geological faults in the vinyard, the cliff to the west is one, and on the eastern side where the rest of Petits Vougeots starts. Despite higher elevation than Le Cras, the cliff on one side (the prevailing wind is from the west) and walls around the others makes this the warmest climate of the domaine, ripening and, hence, being harvested first. The heat makes this a vineyard to avoid working in on a summer afternoon, this coupled with the very good drainage makes it easy to appreciate why they lost 60% of their normal yield in the furnace that was 2003. Only Pinot Noir is planted in Perrière. The vines are a mix of 55, 25 and 10 years old, averaging 35-40.

Villages Vougeot
The domaine has a number of small parcels that make make up their villages wine. One parcel is a walled ‘Clos’ between the domaine and Les Crâs. In Anthony Hanson’s book ‘Burgundy’ you will find this Clos listed as the Monopole Clos Bertagna. This designation is not allowed, hence the wine is described only as villages, but for the record the vines were planted around 1970 and are always harvested before Les Crâs due to the protection afforded by the walls.

The winemaking at Bertagna

Everything for Claire starts in the vineyard, believing that 80% of the wine’s quality is directly related the work done at the vine. The pruning is quite short with typically just 6-8 buds. After flowering the vines are again paired back to 6-8 shoots as each bud can become more than one shoot. The overall aim is to achieve 1-1½ clusters of fruit per shoot.

Once the fruit reaches the winery, it is sorted at the table de trie and then everything is destemmed and fermented in stainless steel without crushing and using only native yeasts. There follows ‘a few’ days of cold soaking, and Claire says that she needs to keep everything below 13°C otherwise the fermentation will just zoom off. There is whole cluster pressing for the whites prior to barrel fermentation. There is little racking, for instance the 2002’s had been racked only once (in January) and were due to be bottled the week after my visit. This is not a domain that treats everything to a fresh coat of new oak, typically ~25% new barrels are used which is sufficient for a four year barrel life.

The vougeots of Bertagna

There is a school of thought that the wines of Vougeot – excepting of course the Clos de Vougeot – are a little rustic and light. I suppose in comparison the their near neighbours in Chambolle and Vosne-Romanée that is probably fair comment, but in isolation I love the presentation of the wines from today’s main producers i.e. Bertagna, Vougeraie and Fourrier; bright red fruits that occasionally show surprising depth, transparency to their terrior and a succulent fruit/acidity balance that makes me think of a hypothetical red Chablis.

Summarising the wines that follow I found the signature coming more often from the vintage than the vineyard – but thats what you often find in younger wines. Certainly the wines from each vineyard were markedly different to each other but I didn’t delve far enough into older wines to pick up a consistent theme for each vineyard. As a group they have very silky presentation and I will be finding space in my cellar for several. The Clos de la Perrière is a wine that can often bask in the reflection of it’s lofty neighbours, but you need a vintage like 1993, 1999 or 2002 for this.

2002 Bertagna, Vougeot 1er Les Petits Vougeots
Medium-plus cherry red with a purple highlight. Lovely high toned nose with fine red and black cherry fruit. Super depth with silky tannins that are amply covered by the fruit. There’s very good acidity too. Long with a hint of vanilla on the finish. A very nice wine.
2002 Bertagna, Vougeot 1er Clos de la Perrière
Much deeper colour – almost saturated, also with a purple rim. The nose is less high toned, more black fruit than red. Fatter and more concentrated with a little more acidity and good tannins though not quite as silky as Les Petits Vougeots. More intense, mineral and complex than the Petits Vougeots – a real keeper.
2002 Bertagna, Vougeot 1er Les Crâs
Medium-plus cherry red with a purple highlight – as the Petits Vougeot. High toned nose thats shaded to red fruit. Seems quite fat, the tannins are fine and velvetty with just a little dryness. Lovely red berried fruit, just a little more vanilla and very good acidity. I very much like this fresh style.
2002 Bertagna, Clos de Vougeot
Mainly from 70 year-old vines. Almost as dark as the Perrières. The nose is complex and broad, though not particularly deep. Intense fruit – very much so on the mid-palate. Good acidity and well covered tannins. The tannins are pretty silky – sort of halfway between the Petits Vougeots and the Perrières. Another very good wine.
2001 Bertagna, Vougeot 1er Clos de la Perrière
Lighter colour than the 2002, a medium cherry red. The nose starts a little leafy and meaty, probably from the oak – not all that exciting – after 10 minutes of coaxing (it’s a cold bottle) it’s transformed into a gorgeous creme brulee with red fruit in the background. The palate is as smooth as silk, medium concentrated but good complexity and acidity. A long finish. Understated and beautifully balanced. A wine that becomes more and more demonstrative with time.
2000 Bertagna, Vougeot 1er Clos de la Perrière
The colour’s just a little deeper than 2001. A gorgeous high toned nose that’s very open and wide, tons of red berried fruit. Deep fruit that etches onto your palate. The tannins have a little grab, but are perfectly velvetty. Nice and deep with a lovely flourish on the finish. Another wine that I’ll buy!
1999 Bertagna, Vougeot 1er Clos de la Perrière
The colour is quite similar to the 2001, medium cherry red. Despite an impressive depth of black fruit the nose is less giving than the 2000. Obvious fat on the rounded palate with well covered tannins and perfect acidity. Not quite the burst of fruit on the finish that you’ll find on the 2000, but this is a wine biding it’s time. Will be super – together with the 2002, perhaps as good as the 1993.
2001 Bertagna, Vougeot 1er Cru Blanc
85% of the fruit comes from Les Crâs, the remainder from Les Petits Vougeots. Pale yellow in colour with a heady, high-toned nose that gradually becomes deeper and more complex; honey, melon then pineapple. Also on the palate you start with melon but this is quickly overtaken by the pineapple. Good acidity and a mineral finish make this a very interesting and nice wine.

Domaine Bertagna
Rue du Vieux Château
21460 Vougeot France
tel: +33 3 80 62 86 04

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