The domaine is to be found on the extremity of Premeaux – the very last building on your right as you head north to Nuits. I arrived on a cool and rainy day in May – it was more like April. I was hardly out of the car and despite the rain, Patrice Rion was already coming out to greet me.
Up until November 2000, Patrice was the winemaker at Domaine Daniel Rion & fils – which since 1955 was the family domaine. Starting in 1990 Patrice had separately made a number of wines under the private label of Patrice & Michèle Rion from ~2 hectares of vines they privately owned. After selling his share of the family domaine to his brother, he was able to use this cash to further invest in his own vines and also improve his production facilities.
Very recently he has made a purchase of land in Nuits, vines in the nearby 1er crus of Argillières, Clos St.Marc and Terres Blanches – mostly just across the road from his house – he now, with 5.5 hectares, has the critical mass he was looking for to support his family.
The Négoce Option
In 2000 he began a small négociant operation using the same label design, simply signed as Patrice Rion. Patrice said that when he started, his two hectares of vines was not enough to support a family, so this was the driver for buying the additional grapes. This broader range of wines is fashioned from grapes bought from neighbours and friends – and judging by some of the 2006 cuvées in his cellar, he has some good friends.
Vineyard Philosophy & Vines
Patrice pays a premium for grapes if the vines can be trained according to his specifications – the same as he uses for his own vines. “The key is limiting crop levels. To get better ripeness, we added an additional wire to which the new vine leaves are trained. Lower, old, less energy generating leaves are removed, permitting better air circulation and more sunshine to ripen the clusters.”
The domaine’s vineyards are farmed biodynamically; “we avoid harmful chemical additives such as synthetic insecticides and pesticides. Only organic fertilizers are used, in order to keep the soil’s natural fauna in proper balance. We also insist that our growers for the negociant wines use the same techniques.”
Patrice says that the most important thing is the reception of the grapes; they come into the domaine in small boxes that will hold a maximum 18kg, but after this gentle start, their trials are about to begin. This is a rare domaine that has not one, but two triage tables; the first as the grapes are sorted from their boxes on their way to the destemmer, then a relatively novel second table comes post-destemming – Patrice said this was invaluable in 2003 to remove the very dried berries. It’s a good system, but is a limiting factor – the 12 people required for this combined operation can only triage up to 1 tonne per hour.
The grapes then move to one of 16 large stainless steel fermenting tanks – all are water jacketed for temperature control. Patrice prefers stainless to wood as he is very concerned not to encourage any possibility for ‘bad’ yeasts to find a home – for instance brettanomyces. First the grape must is cooled by 10° and then takes about 4-5 days to start fermenting. During these first days there is some pumping-over to ensure that the sulfur dioxide is well dispersed through the cuvée, afterwards it is pigeage. The total cuvaison is about 21 days before pressing into the barrels – there is, however, one other interesting addition; as the fermentation comes close to ending, Patrice ‘inoculates’ with a yeast population of his own preparation. Each year he will take about 5 litres of lees from an assemblage and ‘grow’ the contained yeasts for the following season’s harvest. The reasons are two-fold; first the local populations are very robust to sulfur dioxide and will even initiate fermentation as low as 10°C, second, and coming back to his old worry, he would rather ensure the fermentation is finished by known, good yeasts, than (maybe) ‘bad’ ones!
The oak regime is relatively simple; about 10% new oak for his bourgogne ‘Bons Batons’, the remaining cuvées see 50% new and 50% 1 year-old oak from 5 suppliers – Patrice expects to reduce to 4 suppliers depending on the complimentarity of the wood.
Patrice currently bottles about one third of his production in a (saranex lined) screwcap. He says that this is mainly the demand of the U.K. and Norway and for the ‘small’ appellations and the white. He simply says of bad corks – “imagine all that work, spoiled…”
These wines were tasted in May 2007. The malolactic fermentations had mostly finished in January, but a number of wines retained a high level of carbon dioxide so were hard to assess.
2006 Michele & Patrice Rion, Bourgogne Les Bons Bâtons
This plot was bought in 1990, in fact during the last harvest Patrice opened his last 3 bottles of that vintage and was happily surprised with the quality. Half of this cuvée ends up in the cellars of their UK importer. Matured in ~10% new oak, this shows quite a deep colour. The nose is tight but lets out a little high-toned black cherry. Lots of fruit on the palate, great freshness too. The impression is ripe and deep with good concentration – only 29hl/ha in 2006. Very impressive.
2006 Patrice Rion, Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Prieur
Normally Patrice gets 12-13 barrels from his plot, but in 2006 only 10. He’s been contracting with this grower since the domaine started. This has a redder and more floral nose than the Bon Batons – nice precise berries. There’s still some CO2 on the palate so the lasting impression is of a linear wine with nice freshness.
2006 Patrice Rion, Chambolle-Musigny
Patrice has worked with this grower for the last 5 years, the plot being not far from Musigny on a stony soil. This cuvée in 2006 will also include wine from a small plot just below 1er Cru Les Charmes. It’s a high-toned and nicely floral nose. Not so dense as the Gevrey but with red fruit and some minerality, there’s a good expansion of flavour in the mid-palate too. A little dry tannin at the end.
2006 Patrice Rion, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru
A mix of Gruenchers and Noirots. The nose is deep with a touch of oak and faint reduction. Carbon dioxide is masking much on the palate; all I can say is that’s it’s longer than the village Chambolle and with similar tannins.
2006 Michele & Patrice Rion, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Les Charmes
From 60-65 year-old vines. An impressive, wide and interesting nose. Too much carbon dioxide again, but this is clearly an impressive step-up from the previous premier cru. Good tannins too.
2006 Patrice Rion, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Les Amoureuses
From forty year-old vines. Patrice did all the vineyard work himself. The nose is a fine affair mixing red berries and wild strawberries. Silky, transparent and refined were the few impressions I could take with me.
2006 Patrice Rion, Bonnes-Mares
One barrel made from 35 year-old vines in the heart of the vineyard. Patrice said he didn’t push for extraction, rather he is looking for the expression of the vine. This is denser with faint coffee and soft red fruit. A full-packed concentration that sinks the flavour into your gums. Powerful, but successfully avoids brutality. I think this should be a really good buy.
2006 Patrice Rion, Nuits St.Georges
From close to the 1er cru ‘Damodes’. A deep nose, ripe, blacker than the Bonnes-Mares. Mouth-filling red and black fruit that’s balanced by its fresh and ripe stance. Wide with decent length. Good wine.
2006 Michele & Patrice Rion, Nuits St.Georges 1er Clos des Argillières
Deep colour. Faint reduction under ripe black cherry. Good texture and concentration. The tannin is ripe though large-scaled fruit makes the balance. The overall package is very seductive.
2006 Michele & Patrice Rion, Nuits St.Georges 1er Clos St.Marc
More discreet on the nose, a little redder-shaded with some floral character. The palate is finer and redder and certainly more complex. A raft of fine tannin – “it’s magic” says Patrice – no argument there, I’d buy it.
2005 Patrice Rion, Nuits St.Georges
High-toned nose that’s wide, red and a little floral. Quite an elegant profile on the palate – also red shaded – with nicely lingering acidity. Very nice.
2005 Michele & Patrice Rion, Nuits St.Georges 1er Les Argillières
Aromatically, wide, high-toned and complex. Bigger in the mouth with very good concentration. The tannins are rather forward but remain quite well packaged and ripe. Then you are hit with a burst of acidity that rushes you into the finish where here the tannins are showing a little drier. Overall I would describe this as soft and rich.
2005 Michele & Patrice Rion, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Les Charmes
A very red nose, floral, deep without density – very impressive. The palate is silken and concentrated, really widening in the mid-palate. The acidity is understated but the finish isn’t – a lovely edge of long-lasting creamyness. Very fine and beautifully balanced.
2006 Michele & Patrice Rion, Nuits St.Georges 1er Les Terres Blanche
Here we have about 20% pinot blanc amongst the chardonnay. A dense nose that manages to avoid heaviness – some high-toned aspects. The palate is waxy soft, quite concentrated with some agrumes. It’s ripe with good acidity but retains balance. A good ripe finish too. Priced at ~€27.
Domaine Michele & Patrice Rion
1 Rue de la Maladière