Tasted in Pernand with Thibault Jacquet, Fabien Hesthor and Emmanuel Hautus, 03 October 2018.
Bonneau du Martray
2 Rue de Frétile
Tel: +33 3 80 21 50 64
I suppose that the biggest news on the hill of Corton in the last months was the leasing of a considerable, 3 hectare, chunk of Corton-Charlemagne, buy Bonneau du Martray to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – so let’s ask that question first – why?
“Well, for us it’s a non event. It’s about freshness of approach – what can we do differently and new? It’s also great that DRC are now going to be making Corton-Charlemagne (I agree) and it will help us to better work the remaining parcels. The agreement starts this November. For us it was important that we kept the heart and variation of our terroirs in Corton-Charlemagne – so vines that run from the very top to the bottom of the slope – there is no stop, no discontinuity – it’s was very important to us that we still reflect the complex geology of the hill. We are still the only domaine with a continuous top to bottom presence and each of those plots is very different. It’s also important for us to say that we have no plans to make different cuvées – here there is just one Corton-Charlemagne.”
As you can see, after some conversation, I managed to eek out some of the ‘what’ but still very little of the ‘why!’
But that doesn’t mean that the domaine is more inward looking – as I could amply see when touring all the facility – a first for me despite visiting since 2004! There are tests of concrete eggs, amphora (jars in the more modern parlance), 600 litre barrels, more cigar-shaped barrels and just about everything that you could imagine – of course they have both the volume of production and the goodwill of the management to allow such approaches. Emmanuel explains that for the commercialised Corton-Charlemagne “We use 3 coopers – it used to be two – with a maximum of 30% new wood and very little battonage – just enough to get a little oxygen into the barrels early – it’s constant learning but no revolutions.”
At least publicly today, the domaine is a more open book. To that end I also took a tour with the team in the vines – today there is an emphasis on ‘team’ vs previously when Jean-Charles was essentially the sole point of contact and source of information. Here it was Fabien, the vineyard manager since 2003, who took the lead, explaining that the domaine have just pulled out half a hectare of pinot noir and that they have just replanted 0.7 hectares of chardonnay in another block. The domaine will be using a selection masalle from their own bank of pinot noir cuttings to do the replanting. There are 5 different clones of the domaine which are used exclusively. The current plantings are about 30% massale – much of the previous planting having been done in 1954 and 1955. Fabien explains that mechanical ploughing really began after arrival of Jean-Charles after not being done for almost 30 years, so there were a lot of superficial roots at that time and so a certain fragility when ploughing – so replacement vines were often needed during that period. The domaine also made a change to their style of pruning in 2008, moving to Guyot-Poussard – ‘that needed about 1-2 years before they observed the return of vigour to the vines…’
Top to bottom-slope Corton-Charlemagne – the square plot bottom right, lighter in colour, is the pinot noir which was being pulled out.
Fabien confides that his biggest problem when he first arrived at the domaine was erosion – “To an extent it’s a good thing, but not too much for us, so that was when our trial with biodynamics started, and actually with our biggest parcel too. It was impressive to see the change in the soil with just a single treatment early on, the soil even smelled different.” I had also noted in previous visits that Jean-Charles went from having healthy scepticism to becoming something of an advocate for biodynamics. He never wanted to speak on the record about it during the testing phase, however. Fabien says that “Today we have the impression that we have really reconstructed the soil. We can’t understand everything – it would take a lifetime – but the soil is more stable and alive.”
Now let’s get back to the vintage.
Emmanuel on 2017:
“2017 was great for us in terms of both quantity and quality. 2011 was the last vintage with an optimal volume. We saw no frost, though we were very nervous, but everyone came together and we made some fires in the village – but, fortunately, in the end we had no damage. It’s one of the best vintages that I’ve harvested and tasted.”
Both red and white will wait for the right moon and clement weather, but will normally be bottled during the Easter period.
There is more emphasis on the components of the white today, than an idea of the finished blend – but it looks like a very attractive vintage for the team. The red is as delicious as almost any I’ve tasted here.
As last year, the new approach here is to taste the component parts of what will, in the end, be a blended wine – it could not be any other way with such a large area under vines. The team here are very keen to stick to the mantra of the wine made from the top to the bottom of the the slope of Corton-Charlemagne, emphasising that, rather than the final blend:
“The top is the spine of the wine, the middle is the nervosité and the bottom brings the weight“
Very perfumed, a little extraction. Forward acidity, wide and vibrant. Layered wine – super length.
Also very perfumed and floral, here with a little yellow fruit. Rounder, energetic, mouth-watering super length again.
Rounder, still a similar perfume but very different in shape. Hmm, rippling, still fresh – most would be happy with just this. I love it.
Then there are the studies from the fruit of a ‘roughly mid-parcel plot:
All new oak
Hardly any oak showing though it’s a rounder nose, a little yellow fruited. Certainly round in the mouth a little grain of oak tannin, some weight some salinity.
The concrete tanks
More perfumed again, a certain roundness of aroma. Some gas here, less sweetness, but alive and direct.
Rounder, faintly agrume minerality. Similarly direct like the last, some reduction making this a little rounder. This and the last seem to be enhancing the mineral effect but that could be a reductive effect too – they are certainly less sweet than the 100% barrel wine.
No whole cluster this year, but a little was used in 2018
A very nice coulis of fruit here. Rather open, beautiful, tasty red fruit. The impression of a little dried fruit too, this is very much a Corton of finesse – but that’s the terroir here – and as attractive as any that I’ve tasted at this domaine, staying delicious in its appreciable length…