At the top of the village square in Morey-Saint-Denis and set into the stone wall of one of the domaine’s outbuildings is a grandiose marble and stone advertisement for the Clos de Tart.
Save for a sliver of Bonnes-Mares, the Clos de Tart is the most southerly of the 5 Morey Saint-Denis grand crus – only a stone’s throw from Chambolle-Musigny. The other three grand crus of Morey being the Clos de la Roche, the Clos Saint-Denis and, separated from the Clos de Tart by a steep and rough vineyard road, the Clos des Lambrays. The Clos de Tart is a ‘real’ clos – i.e. the whole of the exploitation is enclosed by walls – including the domaine buildings and cuverie.
A little history
Despite a recorded history from 1141 – when it was called the climat of ‘La Forge’ – this monopole vineyard (i.e. a vineyard with a single ownership) has enjoyed only four owner/exploiters in 900 years. The vineyard’s history starts with 650 years of ecclesiastical ownership; it was Cistercian nuns of the wonderfully named order of ‘Notre Dame de Tart’ from the town of Genlis (east of Dijon) who assembled the Clos, before eventually losing it to the revolutionary government.
The Clos was subsequently purchased by part of the Marey-Monge dynasty. These owners didn’t dirty their own hands in the vineyards, so the exploitation of the vines was done on their behalf by the Beaune négociant – Maison Champy. In 1932, and during the world-wide depression, Mme. Guillemette Marey-Monge de Blic, after close to 150 years of family ownership, sold to the Mommessin family of Mâcon – négociants and Beaujolais producers – the third owners. A small modification came in 1997; the Mommessin family sold their distribution/négoce company to the Jean-Claude Boisset conglomerate. Mommessin did, however, retain ownership of the Clos de Tart, and Boisset ten years of continued distribution of the Clos de Tart. “We sold our négociant business so we could care for this jewel,” said Philippe Bardet who’s grandfather it was who actually bought the Domaine. The pricing of the wine remained quite ‘restrained’ during these ten years, only starting to take off once the distribution agreement came to an end.
From 1991, Guy Accad was Mommessin’s man in charge but it was a relatively short tenure, in 1996 it was Sylvain Pitiot who became the new face of the domaine. Sylvain originally trained as a surveyor — and is well known for his vineyard cartography — but switched to wine-making after a season with Domaine Jacques Prieur in Meursault — where he met his wife Valerie Poupon. Before he moved to the Clos de Tart he racked up vintages with the André family’s Domaine des Terregelesses in Beaune followed by 13 years with the Hospices de Beaune, whilst at the same time teaching at Beaune’s Lycée Viticole. As regisseur (in this case winemaker & general manager) of the Clos de Tart it wasn’t just the vineyard work that Sylvain tackled head-on, the buildings were also, part-by-part, renewed. The next important project for him was the renewal and reassembly of the walls of the clos — ‘A long-term project,‘ he always said.
During the tenure of Pitiot, no detail seemed too small; I honestly thought this the most detail-conscious domaine in the whole of Burgundy — bar none!
In 2015 Sylvain decided it was time to take his retirement, but he was also instrumental in finding his replacement as regisseur; Jacques Devauges, originally from Dijon, and with a few successful years in charge of Domaine de l’Arlot in Premeaux-Prissey/Nuits St.Georges was that choice. It’s fair to say that Jacques made a great start to his tenure with the 2016 vintage, but things can change quickly, even in Burgundy…
In April 2018, after owning the vineyard since 1932, the assembled shareholders of the Mommessin family decided that it was the right time to sell their vineyard. The buyer was the Pinault Family via their holding company, Artémis Domaines – already an umbrella company for the domaines of Château Grillet, Eisele Vineyard, Château Latour & also in Burgundy, Domaine d’Eugénie. There was much speculation at the time about how much? the Pinault family had paid – most guesses were north of 200 million Euros, a sum that was roundly dismissed by one enobled producer of Burgundy – ‘Nope, it was well over 300 million.‘ Whatever the cost, the important thing is what you do with your new purchase. The Clos de Tart is certainly unique in Burgundy as a large monopole grand cru that is completely enclosed within its own walls – including all its buildings.
That regional commentators were uniformly stunned is probably an understatement when, in February 2019, Jacques Devauges took the small walk across the vineyard road to take on the rôle of winemaker at the Clos des Lambrays – at the expense of Boris Champy – to be replaced at the Clos de Tart by Alessandro Noli. To his credit, Jacques describing to me his winemaking replacement as “a great man.”
In the vineyard
The clos covers just over 7.5 hectares – from around 270 metres (above sea level) at the limit of the village, moving up to an adjoining plot of Morey ‘villages’ vines, set at about 300 metres – no intermediate 1er cru here. It is a true ‘clos’, being completely within an old wall. The ground is stony with a limestone base, the clay content of the vineyard (not surprisingly) increases as you go lower down the slope – the colour of the ground is much lighter higher up. It’s quite steep in the top third of the vineyard – close to 20% incline, less so lower down. Unlike the neighbouring vineyards, the vines are planted in a north-south direction, this orientation is great for retarding the erosion that piles the soil at the bottom of the slope, but requires a modification to the tractor – otherwise, it might tip over. The north-south planting provides sun to one side of the vines in the morning and the other side in the afternoon and often results in very ripe grapes. One small part of Bonnes-Mares was actually re-classified as Clos de Tart at the time of the AOC implementation – being as it was within the wall around the vineyard, this is the cadastre n°64 plot covering 0.278 hectares in the south of Clos de Tart. The rest of the clos (and it’s a real, 1.2 km-long wall) can be found in the cadastre n°60 covering 7.255 hectares.
Image courtesy Sylvain Pitiot at the domaine
Under Sylvain Pitiot the vineyard maintenance is described as ‘traditional’ and ‘virtually organic’ – treatments against mildew being the main exception – Sylvain was not yet ready for biodynamic. Jacques Devauges took the next steps, with the production becoming ‘organic certified’ in 2018. The vines average ~50 years old, partially helping to keep yields low, though, in the main, this is achieved by pruning to only 5-6 buds to come to the target yield of ~30 hectolitres per hectare. The harvest has traditionally been split into 6-8 cuvées, fully triaged then ~90% de-stemmed before macerating for 3 weeks. Pneumatic pressing then gravity feeding into 100% new oak barrels for ~18 months of elevage. Subtle chaptalisation had often been practised here but even in vintages such as 2000 or 2003 Sylvain would not acidulate as he felt that something would be lost. The best cuvées were assembled (typically in 10 barrel lots) for bottling; fining and filtration are rarely necessary for an annual production of about 20,000 bottles. The cuvées not selected for the ‘grand vin’ – the quantity is different every vintage, but usually includes the grapes from vines below 25 years-old – are bottled as Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru ‘La Forge’ – in some vintages there is no La Forge. Not all markets see the second wine – typically just a little in the US and Japan, the rest for France.
The style had long been bold, concentrated and ripe – hardly understated – yet this was a wine that needed much time to deliver – not unlike its neighbour, Bonnes-Mares – but I always felt that the style of oak held the wine back in its first 20 years. During the period of ownership by the Marey-Monge family, both the 1860 classification by Lavalle and the 1892 list of Danguy & Aubertin had the Clos de Tart as the only ‘Tête de Cuvée’ of Morey – rated above all others – including all the grand crus of today, it is interesting then that Morey decided to append the name of the Clos St.Denis to its own – Morey St.Denis.
At the domaine, there is also the concept of the reserve wines: The best barrels were annually selected by the Momessin family to be kept as their ‘house wine’ and wines from a number of vintages with this ‘selection’ still number in the library of old bottles at the domaine. The creme de la creme of Clos de Tart!
Sylvain Pitiot acknowledges that the style of Clos de Tart has consciously been ‘modified’ since 1996. Their aim being to show greater ripeness and more intensity, even maybe at the risk of losing some of the silky aspect that the cru can deliver. This change apparently reflected the preferences of consumers rather than the influence of any of the ‘named critics’ – Sylvain points out that the number of people prepared to wait 15 years to drink their wine is becoming an ever-smaller number, and in some major markets, there are no cellars.
2019 will be the first vintage where Alessandro had control of both the growing season and the vinification – it will be fascinating to see what he has produced.
Link to comparitive tasting of Clos de Tart and Clos des Lambrays.
Clos de Tart
21220 Morey Saint-Denis