If you follow the ‘Route des Grand Crus’ south from Gevrey-Chambertin in the direction of Morey you will pass on your right hand side the vineyards of Mazis-Chambertin, then Chambertin Clos de Bèze whose vines almost imperceptibly become Chambertin – the vineyards seem contiguous. It is at this join, set slightly lower on the opposite side of the road you find the gently sloping Côte de Nuits Grand Cru of Griotte-Chambertin. The vineyard was described as ‘En Griotte’ in the land register of 1828 but 2 ha 90 ares vineyard were classed as a 1ère Cuvée by Jules Lavalle in 1855 but he spelled it Grillotte! In 1936 2 ha 69 ares and 18 centaires were classed as Grand Cru, miniscule vs Chambertin Clos de Bèze that weighs in at closer to 15 ha! This 2.69 hectares is the smallest Grand Cru in Gevrey and only Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Romanée-Conti and La Romanée are smaller.
Actually, this is a good time to introduce ‘Criots’: although the name Griotte conjures up thoughts of sour wild cherries – something you can often find on the nose from this Grand Cru – according to Henri Jayer (amongst others) the name comes from the soil rather than the wine. There are several variations on the theme of ‘chalky soil’ or Criot; Crais, Crai, Crays, Cras and the diminutive of Crai – Criottes – it seems generally accepted today that this is the true derivation for the name Griotte. It is, of course, entirely possible that they are wrong – and that this wine was named after the cherries you can so often smell – if so, it would be a nicer story…!
Set in a natural amphitheatre which helps to concentrate the sun, there is only one climat – En Griotte – though many of the local plans still use Lavalle’s spelling of ‘En Grillotte’, and to complicate matters a little, in the 1960’s both ‘Aubry Père et Fils followed by Maison Thomas Bassot, bottled a wine with the label “Clos de la Griotte Chambertin”. There is no obvious sign of a ‘Clos’ today. The vineyard slopes gently east towards the Route Nationale 74 – only a small track and a strip of villages level Gevrey-Chambertin called Aux or En Etelois between it and the road.
On the three other sides of the vineyard it is bordered by Grand Cru’s, Chapelle-Chambertin to the north, Charmes-Chambertin to the south and just across the road (Route des Grands Crus) Chambertin Clos de Bèze.
The vineyard has a very thin layer (10-30cm) of brown soil covering a rocky base. The soil is at its deepest on the lowest part of the slope and is full of small white, chalky rocks and fossils.
There are a number of small springs in the vineyard, so after a sudden burst of rain the drainage of the hill above can produce standing water in the vineyard; fortunately the drainage is very good, there is even a large drainage pipe which runs through the vineyard, exiting down a channel which cuts through En Etelois – so any standing water doesn’t stand for very long.
What is quite surprising to me, is that the ‘En Etelois’ vineyard below Griotte (and even a triangle of land between Griotte and Charmes) is classed only as a villages: it is only a very small track between the Grand Cru and the villages – if you planted on the track – would that be a 1er Cru?
As you can see above; to the left – Gevrey-Chambertin En Etelois, to the right – Griotte-Chambertin Grand Cru and at the end of the track (past the dog) is Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru. For the next issue I’ll try and track down some examples of ‘En Etelois’.
the bottlers of griotte (2003)
Owners who Bottle:
- Domaine des Chézeaux 1.57ha
- Maison Joseph Drouhin 0.51ha
- Domaine Fourrier 0.26ha
- Claude Dugat 0.15ha
- Claude Marchand 0.13ha
- Joseph Roty 0.08ha
- Duroché 0.05ha
‘Non-Owners’ who Bottle:
In this report by clicking on the active links above, you can find more information about most of the owners and bottlers, their wines and the tasting notes associated with their wines – dozens of different Griottes plus other wines in addition. I ran shy from the pricing of Claude Dugat so none of his.
In addition to bottles bearing ‘owner’s’ labels, you can currently find the three labels above. Both Ponsot and Leclerc wines come from their metayage agreements with the Mercier family of Domaine des Chézeaux, whereas Louis Jadot has managed to buy from a producer about 2 barrels a year since 2004.
the style of the wines
It’s all a matter of style, some have it and some don’t. Griotte certainly has it. It has been suggested that the solid base-rock, together with the chalky rocks and good drainage make for the elegant and relatively early maturing nature of the wine, certainly the wine seems consistently to have slightly lower acidity than the surrounding Grand Crus. It’s not easy to spot if you just drink the occasional bottle, but make a concerted effort to taste and you soon start to see different producers wines showing distinct and consistent personalities – like an elegant lady in a red dress – the form is easily recognisable – it’s just that the character changes from producer to producer. It came to me whilst tasting the wines from Chézeaux, there was a similar elegance to the Drouhin wines, but somehow they were a little fuller; Sophie Dahl to Catherine Deneuve for instance. Jean-Marie Fourrier has an idea of the personality for his wine too – but I’ll let you find that out later!
What impressed me very much, was the consistency of the climat over many vintages – even wines from 1994 and 1992 successfully showcase the character of the vineyard, though I’ll reserve judgement on the 1990. The only disappointments came in the form of the two older (1991 & 1993) wines of Domaine Ponsot – both too young I think as they only opened up very, very slowly. As for my two vintages of Roty’s wine, due to their young age I will accept others definitions of wines that are heavier and little more extracted, wines that show lashings of oak in their youth, taking around 6 years to reach balance. In doing so it’s a wine that takes a little longer to reach it’s peak than those from other producers.
Given the liveliness of the 15+ year old wines, I wouldn’t take all that much notice of the phrase ‘early maturing’, it is simply the character of the wines that they are approachable in their youth. Working on this was an exceptional exercise; a narrow ownership, each producing very fine wines that follow the same form but with their own personality. Also, given the extreme degree to which people today focus on the vintage, it was refreshing to see that a top climat combined with a committed producers can yield dividends so consistently – and in the case of Drouhin from young vines too. If I’m harsh, I’d say that the 1994’s were the weakest wines tasted but I’d still take them as they are sublime bottles – how sublime you ask? – well I bought some of Chézeaux’s!
It’s also nice to find value; for all three of the profiled producers – despite the rarity of the Cru – the wines will cost you significantly less than 60 Euros per bottle at release, indeed many of these wines can be had for less than the cost of ‘some’ producers villages wines. Of course the flip side is that this Cru produces only 9-10,000 bottles per year, so there are producers who can (and do) achieve significantly higher prices. All of which means you will have to make very good friends with your importer if you want some !