Tasted in Chassagne-Montrachet with Jean-Marc Blain-Gagnard, 04 October 2018.
17 Route de Santenay
Tel: +33 3 80 21 34 07
Domaine Blain-Gagnard is tucked into a little corner of Chassagne-Montrachet, surrounded by other offshoots of the Gagnard family. The domaine was formed in 1980 when Jean-Marc Blain – who hails from Sancerre – married Claudine Gagnard, of the Domaine Gagnard-Delagrange family – a name that’s certainly been here since the Revolution – see a schematic below! Jean-Marc and Claudine met while studying oenology together at the University of Dijon.
The domaine has about 8 hectares of vines with 4 villages represented. By surface area the domaine is about 60% white wine, so nearer 70% by the volume of wine that is produced. There are 4 premier crus and three grand crus – including Criots, Bâtard and Le Montrachet. Because Claudine’s grandfather was a Delagrange from Volnay, hence those vines are in the domaine today. Because of the sky-high prices of vines in the Côte d’Or, in 2014 the domaine looked outside of that area to grow, investing in Côte de Brouilly – “They are really good wines” says Jean-Marc. “It’s almost a shame that the renown of the Beaujolais area has been driven by the base of their quality pyramid in recent years, unlike here where people talk of Chambertin and Montrachet. Our clients are at first curious, but these are old vines, planted in the 1960s and the markets have really taken a shine to the wines – only the UK seems harder to convince with the concept of a Beaujolais de haute gamme.
“The Beaujolais is really the baby of our daughter and her husband! In Beaujolais we have no premises, so there is a local person who looks after the vines and the grapes are brought here so we don’t have to double-up with all the equipment. All the harvesting is done by hand with triage in place, the fruit in 200kg bacs, placed in a refrigerated van and then shipped to Chassagne – but not in one day as its 5.5 hectares. Actually that contains also 0.3 hectares of Brouilly. We make a ‘fermentation bourguignone’, to start with we used all whole-clusters but today its more like 30%. Up to 15 days of cuvaison, wood tanks, but closed under CO2 – some barrels and stainless steel in the mix of elevage.”
Talking of the domaine’s markets, 80% is exported from here, the US is largest followed by Japan, and sales are growing a little in Hong-Kong and China – though principally through the Japanese importer. Finally come some smaller volume sales to Australia and Scandinavia…”We’re really not very well-known in France,” says Jean-Marc.
“In the vines we stay in lutte; the desherbants have been gone for a number of years, and lutte also means not too many treatments, effectively if required, rather than by rote. But clearly everything comes from having great vines. I do see some advantages in biodynamics vs organic but it’s a vast subject. Discussion between vignerons are often the hardest and the most heated. We are not so media friendly – I have the impression that a lot of the discussion is for outside audiences! But the big modern issue is that maturity comes much faster – the grapes are not ready to harvest on the Friday, but on Monday it’s already a little too late!”
“For the reds we normally destem, but there are some occasional tests like in 2008 when our Morgeot had 10%. Fermentations of reds are still in the red-painted concrete tanks of the grandfather – we keep them as we like the thermal mass that the concrete brings – resin-lined so easy to clean. Overall we have not much more than 15-20% new wood in the whites, except for the grand crus which are closer to 30%. We usually have a day of grand crus when all three are harvested the same day. The whites settle for 24 hours after going through one of two pneumatic presses, then they are dropped into the cellar to ferment in barrel. Here we had problems with oxidation between 95-02, we don’t think so from 2003 onwards, we stay with cork here.”
Jean-Marc on 2018:
“The vintage started normally – it certainly wasn’t early. At the start of June we had a lot of rain – what we used to get in three months, now is compressed into 2 months at the start of the season. Then the growth took off. It was very warm in July and August but the vines had a good reserve following a wet winter and spring. There was some modest blocking of maturity so it was not easy to pick a harvest day. Luckily the tartaric acid was conserved this year as there wasn’t much malic. We started on the 30 August in reds, our Volnay and Pommard were the ripest. Whites starting with Criots which ripens the soonest. The 2018s are fermenting nice and slow, some years they are really fast – but we prefer slower!”
Jean-Marc on 2017:
“In 2017 we started harvesting 03 Sept – so still an early vintage. There was the worry of frost – we used candles in Montrachet and still lost some. This was a vintage we that we would have expected to be harvesting in mid-September, but the summer was again quite warm, with violent weather changes – these are possibly one of the reasons for the higher mortality we see in the vines today. We had more white in 2018, but 2017 favoured the reds. There was much less in Pommard and Volnay in 2018. 2017 is largely an easy vintage for restaurants…“
First few reds will be bottled around Christmas, the rest bottled more like February – ‘the tasting will guide us…’
All the whites are bottled since August – “It’s the first time I’ve tasted them all since then,” says Jean-Marc. “We don’t plan to baton the wnes much this year (2018s) as there’s already plenty of structure. We did a bit in 04 and 07 – the wines started meagre but grew and grew…”
I like the house style very much here – elegant wines without overt, in your face, energy. Everything is delicious. Whilst there may be little here that I would sell my dog to own – though the Montrachet comes close! – there is also nothing here that I wouldn’t very much enjoy at home. A simply lovely range of wines.
5 parcels, terres de mines – lots of iron.
Super-flattering, enrobing red fruit. Nice freshness and line with a prick of tannin. Serious in some ways gorgeous in others. A wine with shoulders but charm.
2017 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Clos St.Jean
In Rebichets, above the church, ‘this is the volnay of chassagne’
A wider and fresher,nose, more floral. More charming over the palate, a grain of tannin and I like the combination of structure and freshness. This is super, wait a couple of years – I love.
2017 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Morgeot
‘In good vintages you can easily keep this cuvée thirty years.’
A more structural nose but with fine fruit and flowers in the complexity. Lots of width, a little muscle, plenty of structure – nothing to scare you away though. Delicious finishing. Great medium-plus term wine. Super. Less elegant but more power than csj…
2 vines combined.
A little floral, a tight but pure red fruit behind. Much finer grain of tannin, still serious, a little bitters from those tannins but a lightness and attractiveness of fruit flavour too. Different style, yet the same house style. ‘For us this is a wine for the table, we can enjoy all our Chassagnes as aperitifs.’
2017 Volnay 1er Pitures
Soil is marne here.
Ooh, deliciously inviting, sinuous red fruit – yes! – adding floral elements too – YES! Still some structure here, depth, concentrated a certain elegance despite the power. Super wine.
Ooh and extra register in the complexity of aromas here – a purity of fruit over a base that’s accented with minerals. Fuller, rounder, but ingraining flavour, this is bigger and more intense, there is tannin here for sure. But layers of mid and finishing flavour too – bravo – the others I like a lot, this I love.
6 parcels here, multiple soil types from around the village, including 30% of 1er – this every year – all separately vinified before assembling.
Nose a little tight but a core of concentration here. Lots of richness but, energy, mineral aspects, playing over the palate. This is super and quite delicious.
2017 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Clos St.Jean
Directly vibrant and aromatic. A little richness here too, but a fine and slightly mineral width of flavour, layered finishing. Excellent wine.
2017 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Boudriotte
A little tight but still an airy and slightly floral nose. A certain richness, a concentration of flavour. A touch of tannin too. Mineral, mobile not the most energy but complex and engaging. Really involving wine – very long, very contemplative.
2017 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Morgeot
Typical red soil without stones in two principal areas with 75% above Abbaye de Morgeot.
Aromatics again a little tight. Larger scaled, more freshness, complex, nice energy – such a contrast to the contemplative approach of the previous wine. More and more mineral as you follow to the finish, layers of persistent finishing flavour. Last drops in the glass are already more open and engaging.
2017 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Caillerets
Two types of soil, white with stones, marne à huitres above, here with rows which run bottom to top so the expression of the two soils. The bottom of the slope resembles Clos St.Jean a little – it’s on the same geological band.
Hmm, a more open nose. Fine and with pure fruit below. More dimension and volume of flavour. Layers of mobile flavour washing over the palate. Really excellent. Love this.
2017 Criots Bâtard-Montrachet
‘Only 1 barrel in 16, normally it is 5. Centre of the vineyard opposite Bâtard, lots of stones here. Before aoc grandfather always sold as Bâtard but after inao did soil analysis it was agreed that it should remain grand cru, but the people of puligny didn’t want it to be called Bâtard. One of most charming gcs’
Deep, ripe, almost exotic but fresh fruit – flowers too – much aromatic complexity. Rich, but layers of flavour delivered with Elan and a good balancing freshness. Again a little grain of tannin.
In chassagne, three parcels but one touching on puligny, here there are much fewer stones in the soil.
A nice volume of aroma here with flowers over a certainly ripe core of aroma. Hmm, hmm, volume, freshness, not overt richness here is a more complete wine than the Criots; floral accented, with a fine reprise of flavour.
2017 Le Montrachet
2 ouvrees, exceptionally 2 barrels, normally 1.5, they normally take a barrel bought for Bâtard to use in its second year for the Montrachet.
Here is another wine with extra dimensions of aroma. Complex, fresh honey. Richness but an attack an impact of fresh flavour too. Here is a lasting extra presence of flavour that stays as long as you care to remember – great stuff!