A Château de la Tour Vertical


Tasted in Vougeot with François Labet, 12 December, 2018.

Chateau de La Tour
Rue de la Montagne
21640 Vougeot
Tel: +33 3 80 62 86 13

And not just the ‘Clos de Vougeot, but the Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes – and here vieilles-vignes means exactly that – the 1 hectare parcel having been planted in 1910.

Steven Tanzer is – seemingly – semi-retired, as Neal Martin and Antonio Galloni largely make his rounds today, but that gives Steven the time to tour Burgundy and just make requests for special verticals – and this time I was lucky enough to find a spot at the table with him at the Château de La Tour with François Labet.

First a little history:
At the time of the Revolution, Jean Fouquard had acquired the Clos de Vougeot vineyard as a bien national on January 17th 1791 – the price was 1,140,600 livres – a huge sum of money in those days – indeed so huge that this particular Parisian banker defaulted on the payment! Lambert Goblet took over Jean Fouquard’s obligation, later selling to a consortium fronted by the Ravel brothers who owned the entirety of the Clos de Vougeot and its Château for about 20 years. The Ravels sold to Jules Ouvrard in 1815. Ouvrard, also the owner of Romanée-Conti had re-assembled the extant parcels of the Clos (sold during the revolution) to return the Clos de Vougeot to a monopoly – his monopoly from 1815 to 1889 – though he actually passed away in 1860! In 1890, Messieurs Beaudet from Beaune were part of the syndicate of, first six, and then fourteen négociants who bought the Clos de Vougeot when finally sold by the heirs of Jules Ouvrard.

The Beaudets had also purchased the whole of the crops from 1885 and 1886 which at that time were stored in the Château du Clos de Vougeot. The Château’s new owner asked them to remove their wine – and for this reason in 1891 they began construction of the Château de la Tour – within the walls of the Clos – clearly not something which would be countenanced today. But not only did they build the new Château, they even built a small railroad within the Clos to move the wine between the buildings, so as not to lose the right to say “Elevé et Mis en Bouteilles dans le Clos de Vougeot”! But it seems that some construction work is still possible – today’s extension work of the Château de la Tour’s cellars means that there is currently a crane and a large hole in the clos – I suppose it helps that François Labet is not just the president of the winegrowers of Clos de Vougeot, he is currently also a Vice-President of the BIVB!

In 1920, Charles Beaudet (the last of the male Beaudets) sold all his properties on the recommendation of his doctor – he had returned from the First World War in poor health. Charles’ négociant house in Beaune was sold to the Jaffelin family, his vineyards in the Côte de Beaune to various growers and finally the Château de la Tour to the Morin family whose négociant business was based Nuits St.Georges.

Charles then left for the warmth of Brazil to grow coffee with his wife.

In 1925 their only daughter (who had chosen not to leave for Brazil) married the accomplished sportsman, and Olympian, Jean Morin of Nuits St.Georges, and the Château de la Tour again became part of the family chattels. They had 3 children: Claude, Nicole and Jacqueline – Jaqueline is the mother of the current owner François Labet. The estate bottling started in the 1930’s, but it is said that the quality of the wine had decreased substantially by the 1970’s – it was from the 1975 vintage, that Jacqueline Labet took an active part in the day-to-day running of the estate – her son, François, has been responsible for the winemaking of Domaine du Château de la Tour since 1984 and with it the most important landholding by area in the Clos – 6 hectares mainly in the mid-slope (5.5 in production) – they have at least twice the area as any other owner. From within that holding is a single plot of 1 hectare that delivers their vieilles-vignes cuvée; just 2,400 bottles from vines planted in 1910. The main section of vines is located around the Chateau de la Tour – the winery – and a 2 hectare adjacent plot in the very center of the vineyard. It doesn’t stop there, as there are also three further plots – two extending from the bottom of the vineyard to about 1-third of the slope-height, and the last parcel at the very top of the vineyard.

So, there is the ‘classic cuvée’ of Clos de Vougeot made from all the grapes that are not used for the Vieilles-Vignes, plus the Vieilles-Vignes cuvée. Then there is, of-course, the third cuvée, The Clos de Vougeot Hommages a Jean Morin – the grape source is the same as for the Vieilles-Vignes, taking only the the first bunch of grapes, nearest the vine-trunk from each vine. Stephane Chassin makes 4 special barrels specifically for this cuvée. The cuvée is separately bottled every year – but only when François discerns sufficient difference from the Vieilles-Vignes – when not, it returns to the VV cuvée. Some vintages I consider this wine to be the equal of Musigny!

One of François’ first hires was Guy Accad, who was quickly building a reputation for producing remarkable wines. Whilst the wines at the outset may have lacked delicacy – as you will see they seem fine today – Accad was very serious in the vines – many of his ideas endure. Since 1992 the domaine is fully organic, using only copper and sulfur for treatments. There are no clones in the vineyard, only a massale selection is used. Today François has another hire, the friendly face of Sylvain Pataille who has been consulting here for a number of years – Sylvain was also present at the tasting, to offer some of his insights.

François cultivates all his vineyards, whether in the Clos de Vougeot or from his wider Pierre Labet domaine in exactly the same way and in the same place – the cuverie is in the Clos de Vougeot. There are no clones, only massale selections are used. Because he had so much rot in 2007 and 2008 François decided to change his pruning approach, since 2009 to cut the cane much longer and take off every second bud to increase aeration. François is totally against green harvesting, preferring to leave the final expected yield on the vines; just 5 or 6 bunches – at least before triage anyway! Grass is left between the rows which is cut from time to time until flowering, the grass helping to soak away some of the rain.

François took out half a hectare of vines in Clos de Vougeot in 2016, leaving the area fallow for three years before (probably) planting at a higher density – 12,000 plants per hectare – “It will be 10 years before it produces some wine.” More interestingly he plans to start only with the American root stocks, let them take hold, putting all their energy into the roots and only after three years will he make the grafts with his pinot noir. For now the average age of the domaine’s vines in the Clos de Vougeot are approaching 70 years-old!

Grapes are sorted and then without destemming the reds go into the vats. A whole-bunch philosophy has been used by the domaine since 1987, though there is a destemmer, just in case! François checks with one of the team – “Do we know if the de-stemmer actually works?” to which, the response was “Yes we check it before that harvest each year – and then again before we put it back into storage!

A short list of François’ milestones in the domaine:

  • 1984 – François’ first vintage.
  • 1984 – “We bought our first cooling equipment.
  • 1987 – Was the first vintage using whole clusters wine – previously 0 – to 100% could have been used.
  • 1992 – Switched to organic viticulture.
  • 2003 – “My father, the moment he saw the juice said ‘1947!’
  • 2009 – For better aeration began to ‘rub-out’ every second bud of the vine.
  • 2010 – Was the first custom-made ‘oak-couture’ barrels from Chassin, and always 100% new barrels.
  • 2016 – Pulled out 0.5 hectares of vines for future replanting.
The wines…

Always without fining and filtering. A big volume vintage – such as 1999, 2001 and 2017 – at this address would mean about 38 hl/ha, more typical is 30 hl/ha. My first thought was that vintage variance is highly visible – you notice much less the ‘Clos de Vougeot-ness’ as all are from the same plots – rather you note the vintage effects – my second though from the tasting, was ‘Where are the austere Clos de Vougeot that we all read about in the 1980s and the 1990s? It could be that climate change has helped?’

I do not see ‘great wine’ here every vintage – even in the context of the vintage – but when it’s great, Clos de Vougeot such as this, is one of Burgundy’s greatest wines…

2016 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
Assembly of all parcels first sulfur late after the malo.
Medium-deep colour. Cushioned! More than a hint of cushioning to the rose aroma. Volume – this is beautiful in the mouth – layered delivery of flavour. Long. Mouth-watering. Delicious and currently accessible wine. Gorgeous.

2013 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
A vintage that I thought exceptional for the Clos when tasting four years ago – before bottling.
A little more modest colour. A more open nose, with a more forward rose-petal aroma. More direct, more fresh – but only a little more energy. Here is a more attractive mid-palate flavour too. Vibrant, great finishing, great wine!

2012 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
Reminds François a little of 2002 for its ‘silky texture.’
Fuller, less overtly floral. Wide, freshness in the mouth, melting fresh flavour – the first with a little touch of astringency, but quite modest. Long, long, a line of flavour, faintly floral in the finish – super but more to wait for.

2010 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
A fuller nose, the first with a small touch of development – it’s a lovely invitation. It’s a full, round, deep nose with a full round and deep flavour to match – and so beautifully flavoured – this is great!

At this stage it’s certainly more the vintage that is speaking with the shape of the wines.

2009 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
32 hl/ha – quite the largest rendement in this series so far – all the previous wines have been in the 20s…
Hmm, more density of aroma, less perfect focus vs the 2010, but a developing touch of spice and slowly developing rose aromas. Ooh that slips beautifully into the mouth, velvet, deep, a touch of tannin but no real grain. A wine with some sucrosity and really great flavour – equally great finishing too with just an additional touch of herb complexity today. Currently, it’s just a nose short of greatness!

2008 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
Ooh, that’s beautifully deep and complex – a nose that pulls you in. Sleek, of line, of direction – a direct, silky wine, – the grain of saline tannin is a little more visible but at the same time less astringent. Sweetly and almost decadently rich flavoured – broad flavoured – in the finish. Simply great.

2005 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
A relatively later harvest – 26 September with 30 hl/ha
A small touch of development, tighter aromatic depth but very slowly growing and augmenting in its volume, eventually adding floral complexities too. A big volume in the mouth it’s like combining 08 and 09 – the sleek freshness and energy of 2008 but the mouth-filling volume of 2009. Fine mineral finish, I could say haunting. Beautiful, surprisingly drinkable but it’s clearly also a baby.

2003 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
08 September – a late harvester in 2003. 17 hl/ha the result.
Not the largest aromatic volume but quite an aromatic intensity – starting a little texturally herbed and then seeming to grow finer and finer texture and at the same time the aromas more menthol and floral. A little extra tannin texture, mildly astringent, a floral component coming from the fresh flavour. Small waves of finishing flavour, still with a touch of astringence. Young wine.

2002 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
‘It’s my favourite vintage – today! It’s my prototype of elegance, balance, finesse – and finesse doesn’t mean weakness as here there are 180° of aroma.’
Hmm, less volume than some but a complexity and clarity of aroma – small griottes. The nose improves with time – more volume, still with fine clarity. Another wine of sleek line – quite large all the same as you head into the middle. There remains a faint touch of tannin, but long, long, long, importantly, beautifully long…

2001 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
26 September, 38 hl/ha – a big vintage, same as 2017. 47 hl/ha is the current limit.
A nose that’s more airy – some herb, but also a growing, sweet, floral component. Supple, nicely mouth-filling. Modest width on entry – growing wider as you progress – lots of floral here. A wine with a little less weight, less round than the 2002. There’s still very much to commend and enjoy, but a lesser wine than most.

1999 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
‘Not all the 9s are great, look at 1939! 40 hl/ha. If you consider that a well-kept 100 year-old bottle shows so well, there’s no reason it should not be the same today.’
Ooh – that’s the beautiful round, developed nose so far – simply great! Mouth-filling, still a wine of tannin and but also length and delicious flavour. Just starting to enter it’s plateau I think, but great.

1997 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
Another big nose – evolved, mature, almost chocolately – wow! Good volume, nice freshness, wide, melting – still a core of structure. A wine I could smell all day! Another fine showing from a 1997 – not close to the quality of the 1999 but better drinking today. Excellent.

1995 Clos de Vougeot ‘Classic’
A Vieilles-Vignes cuvée was made, but none remains at the domaine.
Medium-plus colour – a little more brown – more than the 1997. Proper, wide, mature burgundy aroma – nothing here that would make me say CV, but I’d certainly say ‘yes please.’ Beautiful shape in the mouth, melting fresh flavour – not a wine with the same impact as the previous wines – is that the different cuvée or the vintage? Still a present tannin – similar to the 1999 but less weight, less impact.

1993 Clos de Vougeot ‘Classic’
‘Also classic. At this time we had a very strict approach wine-making – we had our recipe. We’d even made our own triage table. We didn’t ‘loosen-up’ until about 1995-1996.’
Deep, less wide – fine textured tobacco leafy notes of maturity almost cep mushrooms – ready! Fresh, a wine of line, of drive. Relatively narrow, tannin on the cusp of losing all its astringency – though it’s not there yet. A smaller wine in terms of shape but still great finishing.

1990 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
To make a good wine is easy, to make a great wine is a ‘millefeuille’ of tiny decisions… Back to VV. ‘This wine went through a very long closed period.’
Hmm, not a big nose but such a fine, floral and macerating fruit complexity. More modest than I expected, less warm than I expected – really a great nose and fresh nose. Supple, silken, depth of flavour and depth of texture. Beautifully elegant wine – no doubt in my mind, absolutely great wine.
1988 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
‘RP gave this 98 points!’
A modest volume of aroma, orange peel, very silky, a faint but actually very attractive herb. Round, silken, depth of flavour, beautifully, finely complex, mouth-watering, faintly and agreeably touched with salinity. A coolness to the fruit but warmer in the finish. Modestly energetic, contemplative, great wine – he knew a bit about wine that RP!

1987 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
‘My 4th vintage but the first that was all whole-cluster. ‘
A bigger, fresher aromatic – small herby anecdotes, and a depth of almost almond impression. Big in the mouth, more volume, more energy, a touch of menthol, concentrated wine. Not the tastiest wine here but fresh, still well-fruited, some leather aspects. Bigger than 1990 but a long way from the deliciousness and greatness of that wine, but probably a great 1987!

1985 Clos de Vougeot Vieilles-Vignes
Good width, transparent, slowly widening and deepening, slightly roast fruit – perhaps the first with this profile. Good volume a textured depth of flavour, a slight oxidized quality to the fruit – but wide, fresh, acidic, almost balsamically delicious – it’s the merest of accent of balsamic, not overt, but it’s there. Absolutely delicious, quite a rich yet fresh wine.

2007 ‘Clos de Vougeot Blanc’
In 2007, we had a lot of rot and we have some pinot beurot planted – and these are ejected from the triage table – so we separately harvested them and put the juice into three small barrels, which were forgotten for 2 years – we have done the same in 2018 – well, not yet the forgetting! So it’s an ‘illegal’ Clos de Vougeot as there’s no AOC for white – so just an occasional ‘table-wine’ at the domaine.
Hmm that’s an interesting and vibrant nose, slightly fumé. Big, round, slightly rich but absolutely fresh mineral and complex. This is really excellent!

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