Okay, first things first – why Eugénie? Well it is the name of the grandmother of François Pinault – or maybe we should now say François Pinot, owner of Château Latour.
The untimely passing of Philippe Engel found a family with no natural successor that eventually decided to sell their domaine. It was a minor sensation when it was announced that ‘the Bordelais’ had swooped and paid a small fortune for the Engel domaine, though the team at the renamed domaine are keen to point out the rarity of such a property coming to the market. Normally domaines come up for sale after some period of neglect and requiring an injection of vigour and certainly some cash. Domaine Engel may not have needed the vigour, but the new team certainly need(ed) deep pockets.
When the family sold for a king’s ransom – reputed to be 13 million Euros – the new owner also had to find offices and a cuverie – the family may have decided to sell their vines, but they weren’t going to sell the family home. So the team of Latour, headed by Frederic Engerer, took posession of the vines in July 2006 and had literally 2 months to find somewhere to make wine. The interim solution – which will actually take in at least 3 vintages (2006-2008) – is to occupy available space at the Nuits St.Georges cuverie of Domaine Lupé-Cholet – aka Albert Bichot. It is a large cuverie with plenty of space; the team having their own equipment: triage table, de-stemmer, open-top oak fermentation tanks and even their own barrel cellar. It has been a relatively ‘open secret’ that the Clos Frantin cuverie of Bichot in Vosne-Romanée was to be the new home for Domaine d’Eugénie, though it couldn’t be confirmed until recently as no contracts had been signed. Bichot had moved out of the cuverie as they found it too small. The ‘clue’ for many months was the large sign for the building-works outside the cuverie – with the Eugénie name on it!
The current schedule of works suggests that the team would have control of the new (Frantin) cuverie in-time for the 2009 vintage – this, as ever, is only the expectation.
Vines and Winemaking
‘Latour’ may have bought the domaine in July, but they also had to put together a team to deal with it; it was only September 11th when, for the first time, the new team inspected the vines – they would be harvesting in another 11 days! There was a bit of a shock for those that inspected the vines – beautifully sited as they were – it varied considerably from plot to plot, but as much as 20% of the vines were missing; so the team are now embarked on selective re-planting. Not only were there many ‘holes’ in the vineyards where vines should be, those vines bearing fruit had lots of botrytis – it was to be a very severe triage.
The team have about 2.8 hectares of Villages Vosne-Romanée, a little over one hectare of Vosne 1er Les Brûlées, half a hectare each of Echézeaux and Grands-Echézeaux, and probably their best sited parcel, 1.4 hectares of Clos de Vougeot that has a commanding view from the top of the Clos.
From the team I met with ‘responsible technique’, Michel Mallard at the end of November 2008. Michel is a burgundian from a family domaine in Ladoix with experience in the Medoc and Australia, Michel is also a (Decanter 2006) gold medal winning wine-maker. I would say that Michel is a pretty straight-talking guy; when I visited at the end of November 2008 I asked him what advances in the cuverie would be coming from from Bordeaux he started in the expected way, by saying that “both parties are sharing knowledge and can learn something from each other”, but then said with a smile ‘perhaps they (Bordeaux) might first learn to make wine with less rackings’ – he is first and foremost a Burgundian! Apparently (sorry for not knowing!) the Bordelais rack almost every 3 months…
Michel described the 2006 vintage as ‘difficult’ from the perspective that they were virtually given the vines at harvest-time, so had no influence on the base raw materials, so we should consider 2007 as the first vintage really delivered by the new team. Clearly their 2007’s are much deeper in colour than the average, Michel says that they certainly stepped up the cold maceration from about 3-5 days in 2006 to around 9-10 days in 2007 – I expect many will point to this as a Bordeaux influence, but taste the wines blind and they are very different from each other, they are clearly pinot and very good pinot. Despite the villages wines of Engel typically being much lighter coloured, I well remember the 1999 Grands-Echézeaux which was as black as night, so let’s have the right perspective! Because the cellar at Lupé-Cholet is quite cold, the malos were quite late and prolonged for both the 2006’s and 2007’s. The 2007 wines will only be racked once – in about 2 weeks – before being bottled in mid January.
There is, as yet, no particular oak regime – the team are still learning in terms of relative amounts – certainly nothing here is over-oaked, helped by choosing only ‘medium-toast’ barrels. They are also analysing everything from soil to wine and all in-between – but so far, this is bringing more questions than answers! Likewise there is no dogmatic approach on how to make the best wine; the Clos de Vougeot wine is a good example – one tank was de-stemmed, the other not – of-course these will be blended for the bottling, but depending on which one they prefer, this will point the direction for future cuvées.
Deep colour. Dark fruits on the muscular nose – but very pinot – actually tightens in the glass and gives up very little more. Ripe, sweet fruit with lots of depth. There is a reasonable amount of tannin but it’s quite well covered by the fruit and oak texture. Reasonably long with some oak flavour, but this medium toast oak will not hang around for too long. Good and visibly more structured and muscular than many from the vintage – at this stage of elevage I’m not sure I would pick it as a Vosne though.
Medium-plus cherry-red colour. A hint of reduction, herbs and eventually a much finer, prettier and higher-toned nose – perhaps a little bacon-fat from the barrels. Chocolate covered fruit on the palate and maybe just a little gas too. Less ‘punch’ that the villages, but certainly finer, silkier and with more length – though again quite some oak flavour. I thought the Engel version of this exceedingly variable, but this will be super.
Again deeply coloured. Purer, blacker, fresh fruit on the nose – very focused. This is nicely mouthfilling – there’s plenty of wine here – it’s complex and quite masculine with power and background tannin. Not at all overblown but it’s amazing that this comes from 2007.
Dark colour. Again it’s dark fruit on the nose, but softer than the Echézeaux with an edge of cream and more overt complexity. Excellent texture, really grand cru in the mouth with deep creamy fruit, plenty of well covered tannin and impressive mid-palate dimension. Certainly an eye-catcher this wine…
As previously mentioned there were two tanks, one destemmed, the other not. One is deep, tannic and mouthfilling, the other is higher toned and apparently more complex – they will be blended.
Many in Burgundy are privately hoping that the high-profile entry of a Bordeaux château into their ‘homeland’ will be a failure, whilst at the same time keeping an eye out for micro-oxygenation and reverse osmosis machines coming in under the cover of dark! Some point to the cuverie work in Vosne and joke of the team tunneling their way back to Bordeaux, that-said, no-one is immune from their friendly critique, for instance “…you know that Philippe Engel only made really great wines when the weather was too bad for sailing, don’t you…“.
Locals will look to prove whatever they want by looking at the wines, and those wines are darker coloured than the average 2007 – no argument – but apart from the villages (for which I reserve judgement) and the part-made Clos de Vougeot, the wines are really excellent and I feel that Philippe Engel would have been proud if he’d produced them.
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