On The Road Again
Firstly, we had to explore more of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region where we worked all harvest, and the neighboring Pfalz which is renowned for its dry style Rieslings. We tasted the new '05 wines with Günter, the winemaker at J.L.Wolf, and then visited the well-traveled Bernd Philippi at Koehler-Ruprecht for some '01s and '02s. The next day we were warmly received by the notoriously reticent Egon Müller at his Scharzhofberg estate in the Saar. After a chilly tour of the vineyard we sat and tasted blind through a number of wines, including a peppery 1990 spätlese and a floral, green tea 1976 spät. Egon's family have farmed the same hill for centuries, and he believes strongly that the vintage - the year - has much more influence on the wine than the terroir - or the land where it is grown. Minds slightly blown, we went to visit young gun and Bitburger Bier scion Roman 'Nivo' at his new Von Voxem estate where he throws off tradition and produces only dry white wines. Then, without so much as a quick wurst stop, we came back to the Mosel for a massive tatsing with Markus Moliter at his Klosterberg estate. Markus guided us through 17 different Rieslings created in his individualistic style - all natural yeast, on skin macerations, super long ferments and no stainless steel tanks, only wood. On a side note, Molitor holds the record for the highest Öchsele (sugar or potential alcohol) grapes in the Mosel - 331degrees (I will get a brix equiv. asap) in 2003. This would equal 800 grams of sugar for every liter of wine. My teeth hurt just thinking about it. It is still fermenting.
The following day we went back to the Pfalz and, after a great tour of the Willmes Press Fabrik, met up with Maik Ilgen. I met Maik while I was in New Zealand. He worked at Palliser Estate there, and is a winemaker in the Pfalz. He took us to visit his understated school chum Kurt at Weingut Dr. Deinhard. Deinhard is one of the old Big 3 of the region along with von Bassemann and von Bühl. We tasted '04 Rieslings from tank, along with some weißburgunder (pinot blanc) and grauburgunder (pinot gris). We followed that with a tour of Maik's current cellar at Castell Peter and a dinner of the local saumagen sausage before bedding down at J.L.Wolf. I know this is starting to read like a list, but I simply must continue.
It took us a bit longer than we anticipated to get to Alsace the next morning, so by the time we reached Bergheim the Marcel Deiss winery was closing for a typical two hour french lunch break. We soldiered on to an appointment at the Pfaffenheim Co-op which was mainly interesting for its new ten-press fully automated processing line. Then to Hugel et Fils for a tasting of one of the greatest houses in France. We were happily interrupted by Jean Hugel, the elder of the family, who spouted forth on the myriad mistakes of the New World (Australia and America) winemakers. He even had a few rough words for our Mosel friend Martin. His tirade that was softened somewhat by his wide smile and our glasses filled with Hugel's 1976 Vendage Tardive 'Grain Nobles' Riesling.
Off the next morning for Mecca = Bourgogne! The occasion was the annnual 'Vente des Vins', the auction of the wines of the Hospice du Beaune and a good excuse for a huge piss-up. Beaune is the center of Burgundy. The two growing areas - Cote du Beaune and Cote du Nuits - converge here in an old walled city simply abuzz with wine and food. The auction brings in buyers from around the world, and the mood is very festive. There is a market and a carnival and people dressed up in old-fashioned costumes. This is a Harvest Festival as well as a world-famous wine auction.
My first time in Burgundy was like coming home. Hectare after hectare of little low-slung Pinot noir vines crawl across the landscape in neat meter-by-meter rows. The landscape is broken only by the ocassional town, familiar names like Nuits St. George, Marsanny and Chambolle-Musigny. The church spires soar and the little stone clos (walls) hug the hills while the smoke from pruned vine wood fires add a misty tone and provides contrast for the acrobatic flocks of little blackbirds that reach and dive. We were greeted warmly by Erni's good mate Nicholas Potel, a local negociant. He says that the Hospice festivities are totally boring, so he throws his own party on the night before the auction. The party was anything but stuffy, and definitely not boring. Three rooms of an abandoned old building behind Nuits St. George were transformed with lights, bands, a DJ, open kitchen and long bars. I can't remember everyone I met, but most of them were like us - young wine industry folks out for a good time. The next day was for recuperation only.
We had the chance to visit quite a few wineries in Burgundy given our short time and lack of preparation. First off was Cyril Audoin at Domaine Charles Audoin. Cyril is a regular at the IPNC in Oregon, and it was good to see him in his native habitat. Marsanny has no Grand Crus (top-rated vineyards), but some are pending. Regardless, Cyril showed us that you don't need expensive land to make purfumey, rich and flavorful wines that will last. His 'Les Favieres' vineyard was a hands-down favorite. That afternoon Helene gave us a tour of the cllars at Domaine Pierre Damoy. The '04 Grand Crus out of barrel were superb. The Chambolle 'Clos Vez' was bold with plums and violets. The Chambertin was earthy, full and long. At Domaine Georges Mugneret we tasted 2004 Vosne Romanee, Nuits St. George 'Chaignots', Chambolle, Ruchottes Chambertin, a dark and evil Clos Vougeot, and Echezeaux from barrel. It was an eye-opening tour of Cote du Nuits. That afternoon , after a brief stop at the windy La Romanee vineyard, possibly he highest rated grape site in the world, we went to Domaine d'Ardhuy, where we tasted wines more in the 'international style.' Our tour was topped the next morning when Alex Seyesse tasted us through the '04s at Domaine Dujac and then surprised us with a spicy cherry1997 Clos St. Denis Crand Cru and a blind tasted 1976 Gevrey Chambertin Priemere Cru that had secondary aromas of smoke and blu cheese and a delicate orange peel finish.
With tired palates and stained teeth, we happily piled back into the Golf and headed off into the proverbial sunset. I know that I will be back in Bourgogne someday soon, and can't wait to continue this tasty exploration. Hey, the snails are good too!