Tasted in Beaujolais with Boris Champy (right), Laurent Chevalier and Emeric Thessoux, 18 August 2016.
Vins Henry Fessy
644 Route de Bel Air
Tel: +33 4 74 66 00 16
I took advantage of Louis Latour’s Boris Champy visiting their Beaujolais vineyards in August, and hitched a lift to learn about their approach:
For three generations Louis Latour had been buying Cru Beaujolais for their range of maison wines – but they didn’t own any vineyards. Actually during the 1970s, the zenith of the Beaujolais market, the négoce of Beaune were considered something of small and poor relations compared to their counterparts in Beaujolais.
Latour eventually made the jump to buy something by purchasing Vins Henry Fessy in 2008. There have been multiple generations of the Fessy family running this enterprise in Brouilly since 1888. Fessy had always specialised in the Crus of Beaujolais plus some wine from further south, but not so much Beaujolais Nouveau.
The operation was always a modestly sized négoce house, sitting, on the border with Brouilly. Despite the many tanks here, this is really a place of assemblage that houses the négoce side of the business. “We may make a small collage of the wines if required, but preferably not,” says Laurent. “We commercialise up to roughly 1.5 million bottles per year. Some screwcap, the rest with DIAM seals, except for some clients who request Nomacorc.” The domaine wines are actually fermented in Beaune for now, but the plan is to (eventually) produce these wines in Beaujolais.
But Fessy was not only about négoce wines, they also owned 14 hectares of vines. Three of their original fourteen hectares are still rented out on fermage, so are not currently cultivated by the team.
In 2009 Laurent Chevalier was hired as director to make the continuation from the last Mr Fessy at the domaine, who planned to retire in 2010. Laurent, together with his colleagues at Louis Latour, looked closely at their 2008 and 2009 harvests, and Boris explains “We could see that the vineyards were very old, so we started to pull out some vines in 2010 to allow those vineyards to rest a little. Even with 2-3 years of rest there was very little growth of weeds and grass. It wasn’t just down to the years of herbicide use, it was just as much the compaction of the soil that was to blame. So we planted cover-crops and ploughed – the difference when eventually planting new was massive.
“We have really invested since we bought Henry Fessy, to the extent that we now have 80 hectares, but lots is resting, we currently have 55 hectares that are planted – we choose to make a 4 year resting period between clearing the old vines and planting the new.”
Latour’s approach to planting:
Oats planted between the rows to protect against soil-erosion during storms.
It should first be noted that Latour felt the need to recruit from outside Beaujolais for their open position of vineyard manager – incumbent Emeric Thessoux joined after working in Bordeaux. “Its two generation that have not cultivated the soil, so it’s really hard to turn back that tide, we were almost mandated to hire a vineyard manager from outside.”
Their approach from the start has been non-‘Beaujolais-standard,’ replanting their vines after a long pause for renewal, and planting cover crops such as oats, blends of clover and even mustard in some test-spots, all with the aim to keep the soil in-tact while waiting, before training their vines rather than going for the goblet approach. Oats have also been planted between the rows of new vine plantings as a protection for the soil – unlike some Bordeaux Châteaux, they have not yet been tempted to make ‘artisan breads’ from their oats!
Latour have also 25 hectares in the south of the Beaujolais appellation – mainly on pierres dorée limestone – and all planted in last 5 years. (There is an interesting geology museum here – called Pierres Folles) And here in the south, Latour have planted pinot noir and will use the Côteaux Bourguignone label, but will also write Les Pierres Dorées on these labels. Boris brough a bottle with him for the tasting – and it is the first vintage for this wine – indeed, not only was I the first ‘journalist’ to taste the wine, it was the first time the local team tasted it too, as it was made in Beaune. And it was a good wine too!
These replantings of pinot in Pierres Dorée began in 2011, but finding staff locally (some distance south of the ‘Crus’) was not easy; they made advertisements locally, but it was not possible to find vineyard workers, so the team they have for the Beaujolais Crus have to come down to do the work!
But there is much gamay also being replanted, and Latour/Fessy are working together with Michel Duclos, many times French pruning champion – yes there is such a thing! (See this old World of Fine Wine article.)
It seems that Louis Latour have made a very long-term commitment to the Beaujolais, I look forward to following their development.
Currently the domaine vineyards are as follows:
- 6 ha of Brouilly
- 3 ha of Chénas
- 4 ha of Côte de Brouilly
- 5 ha of Fleurie
- 2 ha of Juliénas
- 2.5 ha of Moulin-à-Vent
- 14 ha of Régnie ‘Château des Reyssiers’
- 18 ha of Fleurie ‘Château des Labourons’
- 1 ha of Saint-Amour
- 12.5 ha of Beaujolais
- 2 ha of Beaujolais-Villages
- 1 ha of Beaujolais Blanc
2015 Côteaux Bourguignone Pierres Dorées
Pinot noir, in barrel until June, bottled in late July, so 1 month in bottle.
Quite deeply coloured. A deep nose, powdery dark fruit, adding some fresh notes too. Mouth-filling, with a good intensity. Mouth-watering too – here is a density of mid-palate and finishing flavour. Really quite good.
A tank sample. Not the deepest colour for a 15, but still deep! 80% destemmed, the 20% helps drainage, a mix of pigeage and remontage. Normally in 2015 about 15 days of vinification here.
A deep nose, overt too, perhaps a suggestion of nouveau there. Rounder than the Côteaux, with really good, ingraining flavour. Really super construction – perhaps slightly modest acidity vs some, but a trop BJV bravo!
Bottled in the last couple of weeks.
Deep colour. A deeper nose of dark macerating fruit. A little more floral vivacity in the flavours, growing intensity, a flavour that’s almost in the direction of licorice in the mid-palate which distracts me from my flowers. Super long…
Deep colour. A herby freshness yet behind is a very nice dark fruit. Ooh – now that’s nice. Fresh, darkly fruited with a lovely grippy tannin yet with virtually no grain. Faintly saline in the mid-palate. Just a faint coating of tannin on the gums in the finish. Excellent!
Here the nose hovers between the two previous wines – a dark note, almost the impression of the pips – this is a tank aroma that should depart. Gorgeous in the mouth, melting over the plate, dark, layered flavour – melting is a word that keeps coming to mind! Rich luxury – super potential here, let’s see how it is in the new year.
Like the others, a tank sample. A mix of Corcelettes and Cote du Py, 2.5 hectares worth
Also the nose is a little more tank than wine. Wow – what a beautiful core of fresh fruit, a hint of CO2 here probably helping that impression. Impressive width and depth with good freshness. This is a little younger than the previous wines, a hint more tannin too. Should be super!
2015 Côte de Brouilly
A slightly saline nose with a hint of dark herb and a faint but beautiful dark fruit too – nice… Mouth-filling volume, dark fruited, faintly tannic but no astringency, a good understated freshness. Opens out in the finish too that’s faintly salted. Really persistent. Super…
2015 Brouilly les Brulees
3 weeks in bottle, this parcel is normally 2-3,000 bottles worth. This is the only wine with a hint of oak – 10% – I’m happy to say I didn’t find it!
A round nose, almost silky textured, faintly herbed, tight fruit. Ouf! Massive in the mouth, faintly tannic, but really full-flavoured – just a massive wine – yet with a certain culture about it. Wait, wait, but with the expectation of something exciting !
Impressively you can go back to, and enjoy, the Côteaux Bourguignone pinot after this wine, because the register of flavours and fruit is completely different!