Tasted with Stéphane Follin-Arbelet in Aloxe-Corton, 09 July 2018.
Just a stone’s throw away (if you have a good arm) from Bonneau du Martray’s Corton-Charlemagne, completely hidden from sight on land that is designated as Corton Grand Cru, are 1,000 chardonnay vines covering 10 ares – or 0.1 hectares to you and me.
According to records unearthed by Maurice Chapuis, the mayor of Aloxe-Corton, the garden of Stéphane Follin-Arbelet’s house on the outskirts of Aloxe, was planted with vines in the 1920s, though there were none when he bought the house. Stéphane never contemplated planting vines, rather he made a football field for his kids, but slowly, as they played, more and more small rocks would come to the surface – rocks that looked exactly like those in the vines on the other side of his garden wall…
Having unearthed the history of his garden, and in the process finding out that his great, great-grandfather had previously owned the same house, Stéphane asked for permission from INAO to plant. Eventually the permission came, and in 2007 his brother planted the 0.1 hectare plot with three different chardonnay clones, covering about half of the garden with vines. I asked Stéphane why only chardonnay? “Because pinot noir is too hard” he laughed!
It cannot be denied the site is very well placed. It sits on a small incline, officially within the area of Corton-Chaumes, but surrounded also by Cortons Clos du Vigne aux Saint, Senard’s Clos des Meix, the Hospices’ Fietres, Corton-Perrières and directly behind the garden are the Corton-Charlemagne vines of Etienne de Montille – officially in Pougets.
The vines are trained with two relatively high wires – 1.5 m – and are pruned Guyot-Pousard with two spurs “So there’s not too much fruit.” I note a little coulure in the modest number of clusters. Stéphane aims to be fully organic, employing chickens in the vines to keep down the number of larger pests, ploughing only once in the year – by horse – not easy with only 90 cm between the rows – planted at a density of 12,000 vines per hectare. The rest is done by hand. He’s even trailing the use of milk sprays – organic milk of-course – as a replacement for sulfur. He tells me he doesn’t yet have an alternative to copper, but that he’s keeping his eyes on some studies in Bordeaux. “I have enough vines that I can check every cluster almost every day” Stéphane says whilst removing a couple of hail-hit grapes. “I’m thinking of planting some cover-crops for introducing nitrogen into the soil, but again with the narrow rows it’s not easy.”
When it comes to winemaking, Stéphane explains “I simply aim for the best possible grapes which I press by foot – it extracts a lot – in fact we almost have tannin and a faint spice. I do no batonnage or racking, but I do occasionally roll the barrel – yes there’s just one barrel – François-Frères and always new. In 2016, when the first 20 rows of vines were frosted, I just needed a 350 litre barrel, but usually it’s a 450 litre barrel.
“The elevage is about 18 months with no filtration but a light fining, the bottles sealed with cork that’s guaranteed TCA-free.”
I knew for some time that Stéphane had some vines, since we discussed pruning regimes 2 or 3 years ago. For semi-obvious reasons, Stéphane has chosen to name this cuvée ‘Corton Clos Blanche,‘ even engraving the stone over a doorway into the garden with that name. I saw a bottle for the first time in Beaune’s Marché aux Vins – and it was hardly inexpensive. It’s not the only outlet for this wine as Stéphane takes private clients – but clearly there isn’t much!
Tiny, hand-made quantities of delicious wine – I ordered some!
2017 Corton Clos Blanche
The malo is long finished.
Good depth of aroma with a growing floral accent. Hmm, round in the mouth, faintly oaked, a fine vibration of flavour, a little softness today, but the mineral waves of flavour are exceptionally long. Modestly saline too. This appears really fine.
2016 Corton Clos Blanche
In bottle three four months.
A perfumed wine, if slightly compact on first opening. Hmm, beautifully opening over the palate, layers of fine flavour, structured, complex. This is simply a beauty!
2015 Corton Clos Blanche
‘I progress each year, and this is currently my favourite vintage.’
Slightly petrol reduction – “that’s the terroir of Chaumes” – to start. More width, easier, yet more overtly mineral too. Layers of finishing flavour, this is clearly grand cru wine. Delicious. I’ve a modest but only modest, preference for the 2016, but it’s just a style difference. Becoming ever more direct, and showing a super line. Excellent