I’d been meaning to get in touch with an old contact for far too long, and finally managed it this year.
Fabrice Lesne (pronounced Lenn) used to be the white-wine maker for Maison Nicolas Potel – before everything fell apart in 2007/2008. I liked the wines that Fabrice crafted and so wanted to see how he was getting on at his new home (now of some years!) at the Château de Chassagne-Montrachet*, part of the much larger Family Picard group which in total comprises 5 estates and about 135 hectares of vines. The Picard group began life in 1950, but the Chateau in Chassagne (and its impressive 14th century cellars) was purchased by them in 1998.
The Chateau is a beautiful place to visit, with fine old cellars, multi-coloured barrels (more on that later…), a nice tasting room, and, most obvious, a catered wedding venue too – you can have your wedding party in the courtyard ‘out-front’ or in a specially prepared cellar if you prefer – a very pretty venue indeed!
* You won’t find the name Chateau de Chassagne-Montrachet on the label, because their direct neighbours, Bader-Mimeur, claim that for their own wines, hence, Au Pied du Mont Chauve.
Fabrice joined the operation in 2010 to be responsible for converting the grapes from about 35 hectares of vines to wine; so he also got to oversee the last points of elevage for the 2009s, but his first ‘real’ vintage was 2010. In approaching his new role, Fabrice notes that he began by changing some of the barrels and other suppliers, then in 2011 he changed the reception of the grapes to avoid pumping – simply using a ‘giraffe’ to deposit the grapes into tanks or press. Describing his vision, Fabrice says “I’m looking for direction and minerality, whilst looking to exaggerate nothing. We are committed to the best management of our vineyards; we are not certified, but currently 20 of our 35 hectares are (at least) Bio, some are Biodynamic.” Apparently, the Picard group were already heading down this route to manage their vines.
And the vineyards of the Chateau are mix of red and white wines; red and white from both Chassagne and St.Aubin, reds from Corton and whites Puligny. The first thing that will strike you as you enter the cuverie, is the bright colour-scheme of the new barrels, stacked in front of the stainless-steel tanks, waiting their time of service – not only do they look cool, they have a practical value – each year gets a new colour, so it’s easy to spot the age of a barrel. There are also shiny, new, and large (22 hectolitre) oak tanks, also with a colour scheme – these can hold thirty barrels worth of wine. Pretty and practical as they are, they will be kept for only four years before replacement.
I took a tour of some 2012 barrels with Fabrice on 31st May, before moving onto (mainly) 2011s which had been bottled in March 2013. He explained that the new top-label of the domaine started with the 2010 vintage, and it is really something for all the domaine’s wines to aim for – only about 30% of the produce currently takes that label, and no reds – maybe there might be one in 2012 though. I can highly recommend this new label – fine wines indeed.
The shorthand notes of Fabrice were: “The fermentations of the red 12s were not always easy – perhaps this was due to their concentration – but some only finished their alcoholic fermentations in barrel. We gave them a cool pre-fermentation maceration, and twice daily pumping-over, but there was no pigeage. The maturity of the whites was maybe a little blocked after the hail, so unusually they were harvested after the reds.”
First the 2012s, these reds showing fabulously deep colours: The red villages Chassagne (from close to the border with Santenay) showed high-toned aromas with a little malo in the mix, also in the flavours too – but interesting. Next a Chassagne 1er Chaumées (Red) which showed a lovely energy and follow-through of the flavour into the finish. Next was Corton Clos des Fietres from vines next to those of the Hospices de Beaune Renardes. This was full and sweet, no stems were used here (they were in 2011) because the grapes were too small.
The 2012 whites began with St.Aubin 1er Les Pitangerets – some richness, very balanced “Perfect grapes this year,” notes Fabrice. Then St.Aubin 1er En Remilly that showed a pretty, citrusy character – “No battonage, but a burst or two of CO2 so not much SO2 needed,” says Fabrice. Chassagne 1er Maltroye comes from relatively young vines and currently shows a hint of reduction, but there’s a little salinity and minerality plus a lovely citrus acidity, whereas the Chassagne 1er Vergers has a green-skinned fruit aroma. The entry is narrow, but the flavour grows wider and wider – it’s subtly long too. Lastly we sample a Chassagne 1er Chenevottes which is richer, riper and has very good energy, but too much CO2 to say more. Fabrice is pretty happy with his 12s, summarising “The 2012s are certainly riper than 2008, and in Chassagne, our whites look like they are approaching the 2010s in qualitative terms.”
High-toned ripe fruit. The ripe fruit has a base of furry tannin – quite ripe as there’s only a hint of astringency. I find lovely finishing flavour – there’s a hint of barrel in that flavour but it’s very good.
The only red 1er of the domaine and it’s got plenty of high-toned Chassagne herbs. There’s plenty of tannin grab, but no real astringency. Maybe just a hint of P and musk flavour. Long finishing – quite masculine but with no rough edges.
Whole clusters here – and a bit of foot action used to release some juice. There are six barrels and 4 are new wood.
The nose is deep and more than a hint spicy, and today no obvious stems. In the mouth there’s plenty of structure but the balance is fine because the sweetness of fruit is a good match. Super wine and you’d be hard pressed to note any stem character.
A white from one of the other Picard estates. Their last grapes picked – 12-12.5°. The vinification was done near Chagny, a small proportion in barrel, the rest had elevage in tank.
Pale lemon yellow. Bright fruit – fresh and with pear-drops. Pretty wine and with just enough acidity at room temperature.
Vines next to St.Aubin’s Charmots – the only Chassagne-Montrachet Villages on this hillside, too steep for a tractor – the domaine keep it separate because ‘they believe in the potential of these vines’.
Pretty high tones, some Chassagne herbs. This is altogether tighter and more focused, fresher and more exciting than the Montagny. A lovely mouth-watering finish.
Medium lemon yellow. At the core of the aromas is a riper yellow fruit with a suggestion of oak around it. Richer than the Piments, both more concentrated and contemplative. More impressive stature, but I prefer the verve of the last wine.
More tight and more mineral on the nose. There’s also more growth of intensity in the mid-palate before a really lovely finish. For all that, a little tight but still (like the last wine) contemplative.
The nose is high-toned and very detailed and pretty – actually it’s quite lovely. Full, round and subtly mineral and long. Contemplative again – just lovely.
50% new wood used here, versus the 30% used for the Chassagne 1ers.
Fresh aroma with a ripe core of fruit – just lovely width and vivacity. Very fine mid-palate, there really is a lot of class here, and the line of fruit follows perfectly into the finish – very fine!
0.13 hectares owned. The vines are situated next to the wall with Puligny Caillerets, and, of-course, the other side of the wall is the Montrachet of Laguiche…
Deeper perfume. Full, ripe fruit in the mouth and with a perfect acidity – very complex too. Despite its obvious concentration this is very finely poised – beautiful wine.
The nose offers concentrated Chassagne herbs. In the mouth this is super-lithe and mineral – but without obvious padding. Simply excellent, muscular Chassagne.
Au Pied du Mont Chauve
5, chemin du Château
Tél : +33 (0)3 80 21 98 57