‘Le Grappin’ – or ‘the hook’. Can Savigny-lès-Beaune be Andrew’s hook?
Before you meet Andrew Nielsen or hear his story, just a look at one of his bottles will confirm that you have something out of the ordinary in your hands. Very much a guy with a passion for design (amongst many things) his labels – at least for the 2011s – are designs by American artist Louise Despont, who uses old accountancy ledgers as the substrate for her designs; ‘they are a link between the new and the old worlds’ says Andrew. The only obvious disadvantage of Andrew’s approach to labels is his ‘fait à la main’ approach; applying every label by hand looked a task only for those with a special kind of patience – only one more pallet to go…
Coming back to the ‘everything by hand’ approach, Andrew concedes one area where this was avoided – bottling – here he decided that discretion was the better part of valour and brought in a well-regarded contract bottler. Having seen the speed and efficiency with which they worked, he decided ‘good decision!’
Andrew has travelled quite a bit and I think he may have something of an amalgam of an accent – but I’d guess with an Australian base – I never did ask! I first met him in a rain-storm, in the middle of a muddy vineyard during the 2012 harvest – his ‘transit van’ had amazingly managed to reach his vines, but clearly wasn’t going anywhere else – could we help pull him out? It turned out not – we could hardly stand! – better somebody with a tractor!
Andrew has experience ‘in publication’ and worked for ‘The Economist’ but confides that he felt frustrated that his whole life seemed to be spent in front of computer screens. Two bottles of wine were instrumental in his change of focus; a Dujac Clos de la Roche and a bottle of Kosta-Browne. Such was his profound change of direction that he soon found himself working as an intern at famous producers in California, New Zealand and Australia (Kosta-Browne, Felton Road and Coldstream Hills) before finding a little something extra (it would seem) while working at Domaine Simon Bize in Savigny. Andrew smiles and says “It was just the last place I worked, that’s why I stayed here!” Actually Andrew splits his time equally between London and his base in Savigny – or perhaps I should say his ‘current’ base as he’s already outgrown his second home in two years, so is looking for his third in three years. ‘Finding a good place is never easy‘ says Andrew ‘and the cost of rent shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly if you are only at ‘break-even’ – it’s about €1 per bottle.‘
Of vines and wines…
The innaugural vintage for Le Grappin sees two wines – a red and a white Savigny-lès-Beaune villages.
The Savigny blanc comes from two parcels towards the top of the appellation; any higher and it would be classed as Hautes Côtes de Beaune. “I love those parcels, they often get an early morning fog that comes down from Bouilland” says Andrew. In 2011 he had 5.5 barrels (augmented by 2.5 barrels from another parcel) – a mere 1.5 barrels worth could be coaxed from the 2012 vintage. Andrew used what he describes as a six hour ‘riesling cycle’ on his pneumatic press, trying to mimic the action of a basket press – that was for the 2011, he decided against doing a 6 hour press for 2012 but pressed with an 80 year old wooden basket press as there was some botrytis in that fruit.
The grapes for the red Savigny come from a beautifully kept part of Aux Fournaux. As beautiful as these sixty year-old vines may look, this is a place which struggles to achieve full ripening, even with Andrew being virtually the last picker. In 2011, with the help of 15 friends, Andrew went through all these vines to tease-out the berries which were showing signs of rot – in doing so he sufficiently arrested the development of rot such that he could pick one week later, but even chaptalised this wine reached just 12.3%. A clear indication of the ‘extra mile’ that Andrew will take.
In 2011 there were six barrels of red and eight barrels of white Savigny – only enough for the business to break-even, despite the hours of hard work. Andrew has the same parcels in 2012, but given the vintage’s drastically reduced yields he was fortunate to have added some others. He’d hoped to have 25 barrels of 2012 but I think feels fortunate to have 19 – an extra volume (%) that a lot off producers will dream of! The villages Savigny was been augmented with a couple of rows of 1er cru Aux Fournaux when the (same) grower took pity on Andrew. Additionally there are new cuvées of Beaune Boucherottes and Beaune Les Grèves blanc. The Boucherottes sits just below Clos des Mouches and the vignes Franches vines which were formerly owned by Château de Chorey – today it is Jadot. This is a mix of forty year-old massale selection vines and some 20 year-old clones. The Grèves blanc is produced from fifty year-old vines sitting next to Bouchard’s ‘baby Jesus’.
In the cuverie Andrew uses a mix of barrels but seems to particularly like those of Chassin for red and Damy for white, but he’s no proponent of oak flavour, choosing about 1 new barrel in 7 (just under 15%). The following wines were tasted with Andrew in Savigny, 29th Nov.2012.
Bottled for 1 month, sealed with DIAM 5. There’s a little sulfur on the nose – I’d decant this. Lovely silky width on the palate. Vivacity and good flavour with an extra dimension of flavour in the mid-palate – even a faint impression of tannin too – lovely stuff.
Also bottled 1 month. Apparently 8% whole clusters were retained during the fermentation. P2 dovetails with a lovely red fruit. Good extract, nice fresh fruit – and I have to say, beautiful clarity. The last drops in the glass smell wonderful.