In March during the Grands Jours de Bourgogne I tasted a 2008 Beaune 1er from Domaine Pierre Labet and it struck me as one of the more interesting bottles, sufficiently so that I took the time to check a few texts when I got home. Only one had much to say and that was Clive Coates, I was really surprised to read “I find them thin and superficial”, but perhaps Clive was only talking of the whites. Clearly (to me!) the wine I’d tasted didn’t fit that vernacular – so maybe it was time to take a closer look.
François Labet has been responsible for both the Domaine du Château de la Tour in Vougeot and Domaine Pierre Labet since 1984. The Labet family come from Beaune – for at least the last 500 years anyway – indeed François’ grandfather was onetime mayor Beaune.
The domaine’s production philosophy
François cultivates his vineyards, whether they are in the Clos de Vougeot or the Beaune domaine in exactly the same way and in the same place – the cuverie is in the Clos de Vougeot. Since 1992 they are fully organic, and only copper and sulfur have been the allowed treatments. There are no clones, only a massale selection is used – mainly coming from their vineyard in Beaune – Coucherias.
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, he prefers to leave the final expected yield on the vines; 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. The vines are pruned into the shape of an inverted triangle to maximise photosynthesis at the top.
Open concrete vats are used for red fermentation, stainless steel is used mainly for settling whites and making assemblages / storage. François likes concrete because he says that it is very temperature neutral
concrete – when it’s warm it’s warm, when it’s cold it’s cold. Wood is similar, but after harvest it dries and you need to re-water them to re-proof them, but I think dust gets between the staves and I find this not so clean.
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 notes that this was quite controversial at the time. It is relatively easy for vinification at the domaine because (with the exception of a 0.3 ha block of Savigny Vergelesses) all the domaine’s vineyard holdings are at least 1 hectare.
With whole bunches I think I’m making pre-World-War 2 wines with modern techniques and equipment, these are wines to age. Today we growers are trapped in a mouse or rat-trap, many customers today want grand crus, but to drink today! I think by our technique, though you still have to wait for some maturity, I think the curve of aging is more straight-forward
François has barrels made from his own fine-grained (in 2008) oak by a small cooper and only with a very light toast – in fact he and his cooper taste together each year as they try and come up with a better choice year-by-year, for instance medium-grained was the choice for 2009. The wood is aged (dried) for 2-3 years before fabricating into what François calls these his ‘mosaic barrels’ because none are 100% Nevers or Allier oak, each barrel is a mix of staves from various regions. François is also using more and more 350 litre barrels for the whites because he can use more new wood but without marking the wines with toast aromas from the barrels.
There is a cool pre-fermentation maceration and there is no post-fermentation maceration – particularly the latter as the higher temperatures would extract unwanted tannins from the stems. There is no fining or filtration and typically there is just one racking and that’s for assemblage. “Balance is my main word when it comes to wine.” Surprisingly François is not a fan of the 2005 vintage; “too sunny, too ripe” he prefers 1990 and 1999. “We always want the purity of fruit, stems mainly help with the vinification, but there are also some interesting tannins to be extracted.” What I find commendable is that the stem character is far from obvious – there is clearly a very good selection.
The whites ferment naturally for 6-8 months, though the 2008s took 12. Only wild yeasts (same as for the reds) and without enzymes or acidification, only sulfites are used during the elevage of the wines). There is no battonage here but as François points out, during fermentation there is anyway a natural movement of the wine in the barrels. There is a light fining before bottling, but they like to choose between the methods as appropriate for a particular vintage, whether fish derived or bentonite or even a blend of the two!
Tasted at the end of June 2010. There is good quality here, and today at least I found nothing I would describe as ‘thin and superficial’.
Parts from Beaune and Chorey – plenty of vine age too ; >45 years. Medium-pale yellow. The aromas are enticing, sweet and fresh. Nice texture with some richness and good mid-palate intensity. The delivery is not perfectly seamless but the flavour is very good – it’s a very worthy Bourgogne.
Medium yellow. Hints of cream support ripe yellow fruit. The flavours are ripe too with a nice edge of acidity and of-course it’s longer finishing than the Bourgogne. Not too fat this Beaune – it’s well balanced.
1.2 hectares, bought and replanted in 2003. Medium yellow. Despite only two weeks in bottle the nose here is instantly finer and higher toned. Lovely acidity, nice texture, this is a wine whose flavours just expand across your tongue delivering a tang of minerality. Slightly understated but the flavours are lovely.
François’ ‘baby Charlie’ – 300 metres from ‘vrai Charlemagne’. The aromatics are denser here. This wine is fuller than the Tillets but sizzles along on very good acidity – lots of dry extract here. I like this – lots to recommend here.
From vines in Chorey. Of course in 07 and 08 that meant a really strong sorting because of the whole bunch approach – almost 40% of the grapes were discarded! Medium colour. Lovely and very forward aromas of precise dark red fruit. Some slightly blocky tannin, very good acidity and crunchy fresh fruit. This is clearly a very accomplished wine for the label. I’d certainly buy this!
There is a little more density to the aromas, but maybe less precision. Softer, the acidity is a little more edgy but this is much longer finishing, supported by plenty of dry extract.
From a steep section of vines planted in 1964 that form the basis of the domaine’s massale selection program. Deep aromas that offer very impressive dark, precise fruits. Lots of width in the mouth, the tannin is quite blocky which helps the flavour grab hold of your palate. Overall I’d still wait a year to let this settle a bit, but the aromas are super!
The latest addition to the range; bought in April 2008 as a ‘bush’ – it hadn’t been tended in 18 months. Medium colour. The aromas are, initially, much less fruity than those of the Coucherias; slowly they expand from an inauspicious start, eventually offering flashes of very high quality fruit. Medium density with nice acidity. The flavours are quite lovely as you head into the finish. Understated, but a good a wine.
Domaine Pierre Labet
Château de la Tour
Clos de Vougeot