Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2006

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Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2006

Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2006

Some friends who run a local wine bar have been in South Africa on holiday over the last few weeks.  While I’m jealous, I’m also glad they took the trip because I have high hopes they’ll bring back with them tales of interesting wines and with any luck they will have arranged for some to feature in their establishment.  So while I was in Adelaide over the holidays, I was thinking of South Africa and drinking this Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2006.

As much as I would love to cover a new grape and a new region with every post, my access to the world of wine is limited by what I can readily source.  For wines of South Australia, most everything just requires a trip to a bottle shop or a cellar door, but for the rest of the world I am limited by what is imported.  Those wines tend to be European and from the most sought after regions / producers, which means if I want a First Growth Bordeaux I just need to find the money, but if I want a Pinot Gris from Oregon I’m out of luck.  Fortunately I’ve been able to bring back a few bottles from my travels, though they only cover the areas I’ve visited.  This is just a roundabout way of saying that instead of some new grape variety and unexplored area of the world, it’s another Pinot Noir from Elgin, not so unlike the Ross Gower Cap Classique I wrote about this time last year.

Obviously this is not the same producer nor the same style of wine, but since it’s been a year some recap of Elgin probably wouldn’t go amiss.  It’s a region of the Western Cape roughly 70km east by south east from Cape Town, midway between the wine centres of Stellenbosch and Hermanus.  It’s among the coolest regions of South Africa, a plateau at 300m bordered by mountains.  The climate is cool, with both altitude and relative proximity to the ocean (approximately 20km to the west and south) being factors.  Winters are cold and harvests can be more than a month after warmer regions of the Cape.  I originally described the soil as shale, which does serve as a base for the region as a whole.  More specifically it’s often covered with a layer of sandstone gravel or clay, sometimes both.  And as I’ve said before, baboons are a hazard in the vineyard, particularly when grapes are ripe or nearly so.

As of this post, four out of the ten wines of South Africa I’ve covered have been made in whole or part of Pinot Noir, and so one could be forgiven for concluding that it’s a popular grape in the country.  However, while the plantings have almost doubled between 2000 and 2010 to nearly 1000HA, it’s still a relative drop in the bucket compared to the 18,000HA of Chenin Blanc, 12,000HA of Cabernet Sauvignon, and 12,000HA of Colombar.  In fact, Pinot Noir ranks 13th in the league table of plantings, though its percentage growth over that period is rivalled only by Syrah which saw a near doubling of plantings from 5,600HA to just over 10,000HA.  So while Pinot Noir is an increasingly important grape for South Africa’s cooler regions, it is perhaps over-represented on these pages because of my personal preferences.

The Oak Valley Estate was founded in 1898 by Antonie Viljoen.  He was likely one of the descendants of François Villion, a French Huguenot, who arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in 1671 and married Cornelia Campenaar of Middelburg, Holland.  Viljoen studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and was a medical officer in the Boer army, but was captured by the British and detained at Oak Valley for the duration of the Second Boer War.  He was subsequently knighted for his work at post-war reconciliation.  He oversaw the planting of the first commercial orchards in the region, the precursor of the apple industry which is now the foundation of the region’s economy.  He also started the first winery in 1908, though it was only in use through the 1940s.  The estate is now managed by Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen.

Oak Valley is unique among the producers we’ve covered in that wine is not their only business.  Wineries which also distil spirits, press olive oil, or sell branded merchandise are not uncommon, but Oak Valley as a business is at least as concerned with apple and pear orchards, greenhouse flowers and beef cattle as it is with wine.  The vineyards as they stand today date back only to 1985, and their first vintage was 2003.  The lion’s share of their plantings are Sauvignon Blanc, with much smaller amounts of Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and fewer still plantings of another half dozen varieties.  While grapes are estate grown, space is currently rented at a neighbouring winery for production.  Wines currently produced include varietal Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and this Pinot Noir, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend and a Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Blend.

As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright with medium minus garnet colour and quick, thin legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of sweet red cherries, pomegranate, dark chocolate and sweet spice, along with a little Pinot funk.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus flavour intensity, medium fine tannins, medium plus alcohol and medium plus length.  There are notes of red cherries, cranberries, pomegranate, dark chocolate, a hint of iodine, and some saltiness or blood on the finish.  (Either that or my mouth is bleeding from something completely unrelated.)

This is an excellent wine.  I don’t break out the excellent rating often, despite trying to drink the best wines I can afford, but this one certainly earns it.  The flavour profile shines  - the fruit, while distinct and still fresh, does not constitute a bomb by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s fairly soft in its fruit intensity, allowing the chocolate to come through, rounded out with the interesting finish.  Everything is supremely well balanced.  What I find even more surprising, and which I didn’t know when I wrote my tasting note and quality assessment, is that this is a relatively recent venture.  Even though the estate has over a hundred years of agricultural history, I believe this is only the second Pinot Noir they produced, from vines that were only five years old at the time.  I can only hope that my friends managed to bring more Oak Valley wine back with them from their trip.

Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009

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Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009

Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009

While I’m pleased that people occasionally read my posts, it’s probably obvious I write for my own sake.  I initially started writing to aid my studies as my WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam approached, and then continued to document what I was drinking just to keep track and to keep up with my studies after I had passed the exam.  Writing here has the additional benefit of giving me an outlet when it comes to expounding on things that I find interesting.  Very few people with whom I spend time in person want to hear me go on about how much I’ve enjoyed tasting rare French hybrids and German crossing that I picked up in Canada.  And while I do have some more obscure varieties in the queue, today I’ll have a look at something a bit more conventional, the Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009.

Since I live in Australia, I must first make clear that this is the Lake Breeze of British Columbia, Canada and the lake in question is the Okanagan Lake.  This should not be confused with another fine winery, Lake Breeze of Langhorne Creek, South Australia where the lake in question is Lake Alexandrina.  I doubt the two are related, and I hope I don’t ruffle any feathers if they were unaware of each other up until this point.  Tabuaeran is an island in the Pacific about equidistant from both wineries and might make a nice halfway point to meet up and discuss the situation.

I try to structure my posts with information about the grape, region and producer, and to wrap it up with a tasting note.  This week all the wines are from the Okanagan Valley, which by now is already quite familiar territory so instead the focus has been on the new (to me) grape varieties.  However, today’s wine is a Pinot Noir, and not only have we seen many such wines, we’ve even seen two varietal sparkling Pinot Noirs, one of which was from Ross Gower in Elgin, South Africa.  As it turns out, sparkling Pinot Noir is not the only connection between Lake Breeze and South Africa.

Lake Breeze was founded in the mid-1990s with its first vintage in 1995.  Their vineyards date to 1985, which makes them quite old by local standards.  The original owners termed it a “wine farm”, harkening back to the 25 years they spent in South Africa.  The winemaker, Garron Elmes, is originally from Cape Town and studied oneology and viticulture at Elsenburg College in Stellenbosch.  To top off the link to South Africa, Lake Breeze was the first vineyard in Canada to cultivate Pinotage, using clippings they imported from U.C. Davis.  It’s possible I’m the only person on the planet who thinks that’s incredibly cool, but as I said earlier, if I write it here instead of blathering about it to people in person, I can still have friends.

In addition to this sparkling Pinot Noir and a Pinotage, Lake Breeze produces a fairly broad range of wines.  Their whites include varietal Ehrenfelser, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Semillon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, in addition to a white blend, and they produce a rosé from co-fermented Pinot Noir and Viognier.  Their range of reds includes two Pinot Noirs, two Bordeaux style blends, and a Merlot.  They only produce this single sparkling wine, using the tradition method of second fermentation in the bottle.

Since the two sparkling Pinot Noirs we’ve seen previously were both rosé, a quick word on winemaking might not go amiss.  Most grapes, regardless of their skin colour, contain pale flesh and relatively clear juice.  There is a class of grapes known as teinturiers, which have red flesh and therefore red (or at least pink) juice, and we’ve covered one in the form of the Georgian grape Saperavi.  However, Pinot Noir is not a teinturier and it produces clear juice, as evidenced by not only this wine but also by the many white sparkling wines of Champagne that contain Pinot Noir, and even the still Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend from Haute Cabrière we saw back in April.  If you want Pinot Noir, or any other non-teinturier red grape to contribute colour to a wine, the juice must have contact with the coloured grape skins after they’ve been crushed.  That typically happens during fermentation, through in some cases before and/or after, prior to pressing, as well.  For rosé wines there are a number of methods, from very brief skin contact before pressing, extraction of some of the juice from after it’s been in skin contact (leaving the rest of the juice to make red wine), and even in some cases blending red and white grapes or wine.

But as to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour.  It has fine beading with long lasting lace around the rim.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of biscuit, blossom, and strawberries.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium minus alcohol, medium body, medium plus flavour intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of sour cherry, strawberry, and grapefruit – all fruit without the developing characters of the nose.

I rate this wine as a solid good.  It’s certainly fresh, with some vibrancy.  It came across as a bit fruity on the palate, certainly more so than I expected from the nose, but the tart acidity keeps it lively.  It didn’t have the complexity or development that would have pushed it into the very good category, but it doesn’t disappoint.

Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008

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Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008

Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008

One of the goals for my Vancouver trip was to enjoy some wines not so readily available in Australia.  I’ve written about a number of wines already in that regard from both Canada and the USA, but I couldn’t help but pick up this bottle from Germany as well because not a great deal of German wine makes its way to Australia, and those that do are almost entirely Riesling.  So today it’s a wine straight out of Pfalz, the Johann Wolf Pinot Noir 2008.

This is my third German wine in this blog, with the first having been the Wittmann Silvaner and the second the Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken Riesling.  Germany was a curious area to study at the Diploma level because for me it was heavy on theory and light on the practical.  At one point I was expected to be able to list the differences in wine quality levels and identify regions and villages, but sadly I haven’t retained a great deal of that information, largely because in Australia I have so few opportunities to make use of it.  Even here in South Australia, which has a very large German community, Barossa especially, producers may have Germanic names like Kellermeister or LiebichWein but their wines are Australian through and through.  So when I had the chance to grab a bottle of German Pinot Noir, I didn’t hesitate.

Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder in Germany, with the name meaning late ripening Burgundian.  It is the most widely planted red grape in the country, making Germany the third largest producer of Pinot Noir, though it still accounts for a smaller percentage of production than both Riesling and Müller-Thurgau.  Red wine production as a whole in Germany is rising, though exports continue to be dominated by the white wines for which the country is better known.

This wine is from Pfalz, in the south of Germany, hemmed in between the Haardt Mountains to the west and the Rhine River to the the east.  Perhaps a more familiar way for some to locate it would be to start in Alsace and follow the natural curve of the region northward and when you cross the border into Germany you are in Pfalz.  The climate is continental, and being situated in a rain shadow, it is one of the driest and sunniest German wine region.  Soil types vary along the lines of Alsace, with granite and basalt influences from the mountains, sandstone and limestone underlying the flats, and alluvial gravel washed throughout.

The J.L. Wolf wine estate was founded in 1756 in Wachenheim.  An assessment of slopes of the region was done in 1828 for tax purposes.  In the style of Burgundian classification, the Wolf estate had a number of grand cru and premier cru vineyards.  It reached something of a pinnacle mid-19th century with the construction of and estate house and villa, featured on the label.  However, in the second half of the 20th century it fell into decline.

In 1996 the estate was taken over by Ernst Loosen (of Dr. Loosen, arguably the best known quality wine brand of Germany) who wanted to produce drier, fuller bodied Pfalz Rieslings to complement the lighter wines he was already producing in the Mosel.  In addition, the Dr. Loosen collection of wines was expanded to include the Pinots Blanc, Gris and Noir of the estate, as well as Gewürztraminer and Silvaner.  The current production range includes entry level Villa Wolf varietals (including a Pinot Noir rosé) and Rieslings from village, classified vineyard and first-grown vineyard levels of quality.

[While I'm fairly certain this bottle falls into the entry level varietal collection, it is branded Johann Wolf whereas every other wine referenced on the company website is branded J.L. Wolf.]

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a medium minus ruby colour and quick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of raspberry, some sour cherry, and herbs.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus alcohol, medium minus body, medium plus flavour intensity, medium minus tannins, medium plus acidity, and medium plus length.  There are notes of raspberry, pencil lead, sour cherry, and just a bit of cranberry.

This is a good wine.  It’s fruity for a Pinot Noir in a very New World style.  The fruit though is fresh – not candied.  The alcohol sticks out a bit even though the bottle only indicates 12.5% ABV.  It’s not overly complex but it is certainly not simple.  I would think this wine would be unlikely to make it to Australia, in that the style is too similar to locally produced wines and with taxation it would be priced above its direct competition.  Still, I am very glad I was able to try it because it was certainly enjoyable and not something I see very often.

Trisaetum Trisae Pinot Noir 2009

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Trisaetum Trisae Pinot Noir 2009

Trisaetum Trisae Pinot Noir 2009

I enjoyed my trip to Canada for a number of reasons, and while time with my family is certainly at the top of the list, I took the opportunity to enjoy some wines that I would have been unable to find in Australia.  Obviously, many of them were Canadian, but Canada imports wines I don’t come across at wine merchants Down Under.  Today’s wine is from the United States, Willamette Valley in Oregon to be more specific, and it’s the Trisaetum Trisae Pinot Noir 2009.

While the first vines in Oregon were planted in the 1840s, production was suspended in 1919 with Prohibition and commercial wine grape planting only resumed in the 1960s.  Pinot Noir was an early favourite, paired with the cool climate and long growing season, and the 1970s saw an influx of winemakers from California as the industry grew.  In a tasting reminiscent of the Judgement of Paris in 1976, an Oregon Pinot Noir from Eyrie Vineyards placed well in the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades of 1979, drawing international attention to the state.

Other than popping down to Portland to see bands, the entirety of my experience with Oregon consists of a drive from south to north through the western half of the state when I moved from San Francisco to Seattle.  While I didn’t realize it at the time, over the course of two hours in August of 1997, I actually drove the entire length of the Willamette Valley, the area that drains into the Willamette River and which hosts a stretch of Interstate 5.  It is essentially the area from slightly south of Eugene to Portland, bounded by the Oregon Coast Range to the west and the Cascade Mountains to the east.

It’s a large American Viticultural Area, established in 1984, though six sub-appellations have been carved out since.  The area as a whole has a cool maritime climate, with the Valley’s western edge being roughly 60km from the Pacific Ocean, though sheltered somewhat by the mountains.  Conditions are generally mild, with cool winters but warm summers, and most of the rainfall being confined to autumn and winter. The area is best understood as a series of hills and valleys, with many favourable instances of east and south facing slopes, rather than as a single uninterrupted valley between the mountain ranges.  Soils are a mix of clay and loams, often with a reddish tinge from iron content.  Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are the champion grapes of the region, though there are plantings across a wide range of varieties including Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Trisaetum was founded in 2003 by Andrea and James Frey and takes its name from their two children, Tristen and Tatum. Their initial vineyard in the sub-appellation Yamhill-Carlton District AVA  was planted in 2005 with Pinot Noir and Riesling by the couple on the site of a former cattle ranch, and has a volcanic component of basalt.  Their second vineyard was planted a few years later, within the Ribbon Ridge AVA, also with Pinot Noir and Riesling.

Their winery was purpose-built at the Ribbon Ridge site, and features a mix of traditional and modern facilities.  It has its own cold room for initially chilling grapes prior to destemming, an extensive fruit sorting facility which allows hand selection of not just bunches but individual berries, and multilevel winemaking which allows the barrel cellar to be gravity fed from the tanks above, reducing the amount of pumping required.  The winery also contains a gallery featuring the work of James Frey, which ranges from abstract painting and photography to sculpture, and features on the labels of some Pinot Noir bottlings.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a medium minus ruby colour.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of sweet herbs, black cherries and dark chocolate.  On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium plus intensity, medium fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium body and medium plus length.  There are notes of black cherries, dark chocolate, black pepper, and savoury herbs.

This is a very good wine.  It has intensity throughout though is still well balanced.  It has some complexity, though I would expect more with an additional year or two of cellaring.  It’s certainly a New World style – very approachable at three years old and the cherry flavours have a fruit sweetness (not residual sugar) – but with the right amount of herbaceousness.  I must admit that it was consumed under favourable circumstances – sharing a fine meal with good friends – but given a choice that’s how I would prefer to drink most wines.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 2005

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 2005

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 2005

I’ve only been to South Africa twice, but each trip was so memorable that I can’t help but continue to write about their wines whenever I get the chance.  Sadly, with so few of the wines of South Africa turning up in Australia, my opportunities are diminishing as I work my way through my cellar.  However, there are a few gems remaining, and even a Jem, as well as a handful more bottles of this Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 2005.

This is a wine of Walker Bay district, which is within the Cape South Coast region, which is in turn within the Western Cape geographical unit.  South African wine region hierarchies make sense, but I can never keep them straight without looking them up.  The region is roughly 100KM southeast of Cape Town and based around the town of Hermanus, which looks out over the bay that gives the district its name.  The bay is often a stopover point for migrating whales, particularly the Southern Right.

The climate of Walker Bay is often portrayed as cool, but it’s more accurately described as cool as South Africa gets, which is still fairly warm by world standards.  At 34° south, it’s as far from the Equator as North Africa is, but its maritime climate is influenced by the cold Atlantic as opposed to the milder Mediterranean.  The region as a whole is penned in by mountains, which often trap clouds and fog as well.  Soils in the region are a shallow layer of stone and clay over decomposed shale.  Baboons can be pests in the vineyards, which sounds as weird to me as kangaroos being pests probably would to anyone outside of Australia.

Pinot Noir is a favourite grape of this blog, and it has featured in both a still white wine and a rosé sparkler from South Africa, but this is the first we’ve seen it as a still, varietal red.  It’s not a natural fit for most of the country, but it has certainly found a home in Walker Bay.  Hamilton Russell and the neighbouring Bouchard-Finlayson winery in particular have established its reputation over the last few decades.  Early vintages were seen as more Burgundian than New World, though more recent vintages have expressed a unique character specific to the Walker Bay terroir.

Tim Hamilton Russell founded the company in 1975 with the purchase of the property as an undeveloped 170HA plot and set out to establish a cool climate vineyard and winery.  He was succeeded in 1991 by his son, Anthony Hamilton Russell, who, after graduate school at Oxford and Wharton and work abroad in finance and management consultancy, returned to South Africa and set about to focus production.  He redefined the business to only use grapes grown on the property, he surveyed the soils and restricted plantings to 52HA of particularly expressive shale derived clay-rich parcels, and in those areas limited varieties to exclusively Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

While it’s natural to ascribe the focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as a result of the relatively cool climate of Walker Bay, it is driven by the soil rather than climate.  Anthony Hamilton Russell believes that clay is the secret to the success of great Burgundian varieties, and points to the Pinot Noir grown in Sancerre as a counterpoint to the argument that limestone is the key.

There is a notion, taken to heart at Hamilton Russell, that the best grapes are produced by vines that are stressed, with many of the great wine regions having struggling vines as a result of poor fertility in the soil, limited access to water, or conditions under which they cannot reliably ripen.  In Walker Bay, grapes ripen consistently and irrigation is permitted.  The stress instead is a result of the soil structure, where the fine root system can only have shallow penetration before it is stopped by shale.  This topsoil of gravel and clay is very marginal for viticulture, resulting in very small vines and low yields.

An interesting note about Hamilton Russell Vineyards is that they produce only two wines – no reserve wines, no second label.  That said, in addition to the Hamilton Russell wines, Anthony Hamilton Russell founded Southern Right Cellars in 1994 which produces cool climate Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc.  He also founded Ashbourne with a 2001 Pinotage based wine of exceedingly limited release.  Ashbourne has only been made in roughly half the years since then, and represents an experiment in redefining Pinotage as a grape with potential to make fine wine at the highest level of quality.

In the glass this wine is clean and bright with a medium plus garnet colour, and very slow legs.  On the nose it is clean but has typical Pinot Noir funkiness.  It has medium minus intensity and a developing character, with notes of raspberry, fresh herbs, green pepper, and a little blood/red meat.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium tannins that coat the mouth with a thin film, medium minus body, and medium plus intensity.  There are notes of fresh and dried herbs, tobacco, liquorice, and graphite, with a black pepper finish of medium plus length.

This is a very good wine.  Lots going on, especially on the palate, and spot on typicity for Pinot Noir.  While there is still a bit of fruit on the nose, it’s very Burgundian on the palate as far as savoury and developed characters.  There is a certain fullness to the wine, but it is balanced, in that no one aspect is especially prominent.  I’m glad I have more in the cellar.

Willow Creek Vineyard Tulum Pinot Noir 2008

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Willow Creek Vineyard Tulum Pinot Noir 2008

Willow Creek Vineyard Tulum Pinot Noir 2008

I’m feeling pretty miserable at the moment, with a head cold that’s gone south into my throat, so really everything above my shoulders is a serious biohazard zone.  Tasting wine in this state would be miserable, both for me and for anyone who had to read my notes.  Fortunately though, when I’m not sick, I drink faster than I write, so I have a backlog of photos and notes that just need the research and writing to make up my normal format.  So here’s one that I tasted earlier, when I wasn’t completely miserable, the Willow Creek Vineyard Tulum Pinot Noir 2008.

I’m getting to the point that I think my posts are becoming half and half new material and ground that I’ve already covered.  For every Nielluccio from Patrimonio where it’s a new grape and a new region, I write about a Syrah from San Antonio Valley.  I certainly enjoyed both wines, but given a choice between the familliar and the unfamiliar, I’m always keen to try something new.  However, to only write about the obscure gives a very skewed picture of the world of wine, and so while I’ve written about a Gamay and a Lagrein from the Mornington Peninsula, the region is best known for Pinot Noir, both of which are worth a quick recap.

The Mornington Peninsula is the arm of land that extends south from east of Melbourne, curving westward toward Geelong to almost enclose Port Phillip, the large natural harbour immediately south of Melbourne.  I wrote briefly about the region when I covered the Point Leo Road Lagrein, but really only spoke about how it’s a cool(ish) climate, at least when compared with most wine producing regions of Australia.  I wrote that soil types vary, which is certainly true, but I think I can do a bit better, particularly as there’s a fair amount of detail available.

There are three areas of exposed granite along the north and north western edge of the region, extruded volcanic basaltic rocks, quartz stones and pebbles, and various sediments.  These give four distinct soil types, with a two layer yellow soil over clay found near Dromana in the north, red soil from the eroding basalt in the centre around Red Hill and Main Ridge, brown duplex soil near Merricks in the south east, and sandy soils in the central north at Moorooduc.  Where Willow Creek is based is in the middle of a triangle formed by Moorooduc, Red Hill and Merricks, and their soils vary from the volcanic red soils associated with Red Hill to the grey sandy loams of Moorooduc.

As I mentioned, Mornington Peninsula is best know for Pinot Noir.  Chardonnay and Pinot Gris/Grigio are widely planted as well, though with over 200 producers based in the region, there’s a growing collection of alternative varieties as well.  Of those producers, the vast majority are small.  Between the boutique nature of most of the production and the close proximity to Melbourne, the region as a whole does well out of tourism, and is cultivating a fine food culture as well.

I want to write something more about the wine style of the Mornington Peninsula, but beyond small scale, cool climate, and New World, the only thing I can think to add is relatively young.  While there are records of very small scale viticulture going back (on and off) to the 19th century, the industry as it stands today was only founded in the 1970s and is not as yet as well known internationally as many other Australian wine regions.  I put that down in part to the small quantities of wine produced across many producers, and also that the selling point of an Australian cool climate perhaps doesn’t resonate as well on the world stage when globally it’s not difficult to find wine regions that are in fact much cooler.  Still, I think it has a well established reputation within Australia and some key players, such as Ten Minutes by Tractor, Port Phillip Estate and Kooyong (and certainly others) are making waves internationally.

Willow Creek Vineyard is based on a property that was first settled as a farm in 1876, but vines weren’t planted until 1988 when it was acquired by three families who planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.  At close to 25 years old, their vines are apparently among the oldest in the region, which just goes to underscore how young the region is as a whole.  The first vintage was in 1991 and a winery was constructed on the site in 1998, as well as a cellar door and restaurant.  Winemaking it broadly described as non-interventionist, which is one of those terms which I’m sure everyone means when they say it, but what the term itself means can vary a great deal.  In addition to varietal wines of the original varieties planted, they produce a Shiraz, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir rosé, and a sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, medium garnet, with slow thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity notes of strawberry, sweet spice, sour cherry, and dried herbs.  On the palate it’s dry, (though somewhat fruit sweet – not residual sugar), with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium plus flavour, medium plus fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, and medium length.  There are notes of sour cherry, some herbs, a bit of oak, some pencil shavings, and black pepper on the finish.

I’ll rate this wine as good, but not without some reservations.  It was very big for a Pinot Noir, even from the New World, both in terms of intensity and alcohol.  I think some of the sweetness I put down to fruit may have also been alcohol.  The bottle says 14% ABV which is on the high side for this grape, particularly from a cool climate.  Then again, compared to a Shiraz from Barossa it’s almost delicate.  The flavours and complexity certainly said Pinot Noir, so it might just have been that 2008 was a hot vintage.  I look forward to trying some other Mornington Peninsula vintages to compare and contrast.

Etude Heirloom Carneros Pinot Noir 2006

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Etude Heirloom Carneros Pinot Noir 2006

Etude Heirloom Carneros Pinot Noir 2006

Another shockingly bad bottle photo can mean only one thing, another wine from the Enomatic.  A great way to taste wine, but a horrible way to photograph bottles.  The next time I do such a tasting, I’ll really need to hunt down a bottle that isn’t already in the machine so as to take a slightly better photo.  But as always, this isn’t about the pictures, it’s about the wines, and sometimes the words.  With that I give you the Etude Heirloom Carneros Pinot Noir 2006.

Having written about Pinot Noirs from Australia, France, South Africa and New Zealand, it’s time to turn our attention to the U.S.A. and California in particular.  Los Carneros AVA, or Carneros as it is also known, is a region within northern California that is something of a curiosity within the legal geography of American Viticultural Areas.  I wrote a bit about AVAs when I covered the Bogle Petite Sirah, and again when I wrote about Stags’ Leap.  AVAs typically fall within a single county, in the way that a county is a part of a single state. Carneros is somewhat odd in that it covers an area that is largely within Sonoma county, but partially within Napa county.  Strictly speaking, it is not a sub-appellation of either, but producers are also entitled to use the Sonoma Valley AVA or Napa Valley AVA depending on which part of Carneros they are in.  Just as the Stags Leap AVA is defined by the unique geography within Napa, the Carneros AVA is defined by its unique climate, the first California AVA to be so defined in 1983.

That climate is moderately cool and windy, but cooler and windier than any of the surrounding area.  It is on the lowest hills of the Mayacamas range as they descend toward the San Pablo Bay, the body of water just to the north of the San Francisco Bay.  Unlike much of the rest of Napa and Sonoma, there is little to shield it from the influences of the bays, and fog is a near certainty each morning.  The soils are shallow clay with poor fertility and drainage, though the wind does prevent vineyards from becoming swamps.  Vines struggle under such conditions, which limits yields.  It also demands long ripening times, though that can increase flavour concentration within the grapes.

The region has been something of a rising star with regard to cool climate grapes over the last 30 years, but grapes were initially planted in the 1870s.  Phylloxera essentially shut down grape production in the area a decade or two later until a regeneration effort got underway in 1942 with some success.  However, this was eclipsed by the most recent increase in plantings which began in the 1970s.  Production of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay suited to the cool climate put Carneros on the map with both varietal still and blended sparkling wine.  Today, many other varieties are grown, most notably Syrah and Merlot.

It’s probably worth a paragraph to write about Pinot Noir in California.  It is a relative newcomer, as Oregon to the north staked its claim to be the Burgundy of America early on, and it wasn’t until Cabernet Sauvignon had been firmly established in northern California that some producers sought to make use of the cooler regions.  While California is geographically closer to the equator and generally warmer, it does not lack for regions with significant maritime influences.  The cooler areas of Napa and Sonoma counties, as well as areas of Mendocino county to the north and the Central Coast to the south all proved able to produce good examples, for use both as sparkling and still wine.

Etude is a modern producer, established in the 1980s by Tony Soter.  He works with winemaker Jon Priest and viticulturalist Franci Ashton to produce wines of both the Carneros and Napa Valley AVAs.  In the vineyard, blocks are based on the underlying soil rather than on efficient grids.  (That said, looking at the satellite pictures, I see lots of straight lines dividing blocks.)  Unlike most of the surrounding area, the soils themselves are of volcanic origin, and well drained.  Their vineyards are mainly Pinot Noir plantings, which encompass almost twenty different clones, including ten less popular and lower yielding heirloom varieties.  They source Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties from local growers.  In addition to a range of Pinot Noirs (including a rosé) and Cabernet Sauvignons, they have a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Blanc, a Chardonnay and a Malbec.  Their winemaking practices are non-interventionist, so as to highlight their terroir and vineyard practices.

I had not tried a wine from or even heard of Etude before this wine, but from looking through their website they strike me as quirky.  To support such a claim, I put forth two pieces of evidence.  First, they make a brandy from Pinot Noir.  Of course, you may ask,  brandy is made from wine, and what better to use to make a fine brandy than a fine wine?  Except it doesn’t work like that.  Fine brandy, such as Cognac and Armagnac, are made from grapes such as Ugni Blanc and Colombard.  While those grapes can be made into table wine, they are easy to grow, they give generous yields, and are not typically thought of as noble.  Pinot Noir is the opposite on all counts.  You get more value from an Ugni Blanc wine that has been distilled into a brandy than you do from the wine required.  With Pinot Noir, the opposite is true.  So really, making brandy from Pinot Noir is just quirky.  I want to say it’s just wrong, but I’m sure they justify it by saying that they only use the grapes not fit for their wines to make brandy.

Second, they employ a falconer.  A quick tangent to South Africa is required.  I had the pleasure of visiting Constantia, the home of Vin de Constance, one of the most famous sweet wines in the world.  On a tour of the vineyards, our host pointed out what looked to be telephone poles planted amongst the vines.  He then told us that they put them up to attract Steppe Buzzards, a raptor that winters in South Africa and is useful in eating pests that might otherwise eat grapes or vines.  Etude does not leave such things to the whims of migratory flying predators.  Instead they employ a falconer and his/her trained falcons to attack starlings that might want to eat their grapes as they ripen.  Being a carnivore myself, I have no problem with animals eating other animals, but it’s a quirkly middle ground between using bird scarers and a shotgun.

So that’s the region, the grape and the producer, leaving only what’s in the glass.  It’s clear and bright with a medium minus ruby colour and quick legs.  On the nose it’s savoury, green funk and pizza spice – oregano and other dried herbs.  There are also some fresh strawberries.  It show development but isn’t fully developed, and has medium plus intensity.  On the palate I get the berries first – strawberries and sweet red cherries, but also some ash and a bit of pencil lead.  It’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus intensity, medium body, medium fine tannins, and medium plus alcohol.  It’s slightly short with a medium minus length.

While I don’t have a great breadth of Californian Pinot Noir experience against which to compare it, I am confident in classifying this a very good wine.  It has a good balance between fresh fruit and more savoury developed characters.  The acidity is holding up nicely while the tannins are fine and undoubtedly have softed over the years this has spend in bottle.

Lucy Margaux Vineyards Domaine Lucci Pinot Noir 2008

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Domaine Lucci Pinot Noir 2008

Domaine Lucci Pinot Noir 2008

For as much of my brain that is occupied with thoughts of Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills, you’d think I’d be writing about one every other post.  Imagine my surprise when I went back and checked to find that I’ve only actually written about one varietal, from Ashton Hills, though to be fair, the Tilbrooke Estate sparkler has a fair whack of Pinot Noir in it as well.  So today the featured wine is the Lucy Margaux Vineyards Domaine Lucci Pinot Noir 2008.

Domaine Lucci is a trio of wines from Lucy Margaux Vineyards, which is run by the winemaker Anton van Klopper along with his wife Sally and daughter Lucy.  They grow Pinot Noir across ten acres in an area of the Adelaide Hills known as Basket Range, and have access to and fruit from a number of other neighbouring vineyards.  The produce a range of wines, including single vineyard Pinot Noirs, an estate Pinot Noir, varietal Merlot and Sangiovese, and a red blend.  That doesn’t really begin to scratch the surface in terms of what this producer is about.

The first thing to know is that Lucy Margaux Vineyards is run according to Biodynamic practices.  I think I made my personal feelings on the topic pretty clear last week when I spoke about the Marchand & Burch Bourgogne, so I needn’t get into that again.  Instead, let’s move onto the second thing to know, and that is that they practice natural winemaking, which deserves some discussion.

Natural wine and winemaking is something of a thing at the moment.  Broadly speaking, it is the belief that there should be as little intervention as possible by the vigneron and winemaker in the process of growing grapes and making wine, and that by not getting in the way, the wine is best able to express its terroir.  As with many high minded philosophies, it has noble intentions.  How it plays out though is where it gets sticky.

A big issue is that there is no standard for what defines “natural” winemaking, or perhaps the opposite is true in that there is no agreed upon standard and many competing ideas.  Common concepts to many definitions include things such as no irrigation, no spraying, no pesticides, no commercial fertilizer, no herbicides, no fungicides, no commercial yeasts, no fining, and no filtering.  Some definitions also include things such as no mechanization in the vineyard, no pumping, and/or no sulphur at bottling.  The fact that different people can mean different things when they call their product “natural” is obviously a problem, but as a modern concept, natural winemaking is relatively young and if it is to move forward, that will be sorted out with time and possibly some standards body.

Unfortunately, “natural” is a terrible term to describe wine.  First off, it is unnecessarily divisive, in that the inverse is “unnatural” – the obvious label that could be applied to anyone who isn’t calling their wine “natural”.

But more than that, it’s not an accurate term.  A vineyard is about as natural as a Christmas tree farm, with perfectly controlled vine density and row spacing.  Furthermore, a vineyard of Vitis vinifera Pinot Noir in the Adelaide Hills is about as natural as a Douglas Fir Christmas tree farm in the Sahara.  Worse still, the practice of cultivating a single variety or clone, over and over, across hundreds, thousands or millions of vines through cuttings (as opposed to planting seeds) is one of the most unnatural things I can imagine.  It would be like cutting off your arm and having it grow into your clone instead of just having a child.  Vines don’t produce grapes for wine – vines produce grapes to carry seeds to make more vines.  It’s a similar story in the winery, where if by some natural process a pile of grapes were to find themselves heaped together in some vessel and underwent fermentation, it would very naturally move from that brief moment when it was wine to something completely undrinkable.  The most perfect butterfly, at the peak of its beauty, is not naturally found contained in a 750ml bottle, or if it is, it doesn’t stay beautiful for long.

So should we only make wine from wild grapes, and drink it right out of the vats when fermentation is finished? No, but then I’m very comfortable with winemaking as an example of humanity bending nature to its will, because that’s exactly what it is.  Calling any wine “natural” is just a lie.

So you might think, therefore, that I hate natural wine, but you’d be wrong.  I hate the term, but I agree that “less is more” with regards to winemaking can be beautiful.  One thing that Stephen Pannell said of winemaking at the tasting earlier this week was “it’s harder to do nothing than to do something” and I think that’s absolutely true.  The temptation always exists to employ the winemaking tricks to make just the wine you want, and for some styles of wine, that’s exactly the right thing to do.  However, if you’re making a high quality wine of a very specific place, the more difficult task of staying out of the way of the wine can be the better thing to do.

So what does any of this have to do with the wines of Lucy Margaux Vineyards?  They in fact are making high quality wine of a very specific place.  They adhere to most of what I described above in terms of natural wine practices, with no irrigation of vines, no applications of chemicals to the soil, vines, or wine, and no fining, filtering (except for their rosé to prevent in-bottle fermentation) or even pumping.  Say what you will as to the impact that any of those practices individually have on the resulting wine, but taken collectively a huge amount of care goes into the process, and I think that absolutely comes through in the wine.

Another thing to know is that Anton van Klopper is one of the members of “a collaborative experiment in natural winemaking” called Natural Selection Theory.  It’s made up of four  innovative winemakers based largely in South Australia.  Together they make what I can only describe as very interesting wines.  Some are fantastic expressions of texture and flavour, while others push the boundaries of what some people would consider drinkable.  But pushing boundaries is what they’re about, and if you want to try something edgy, it’s worth finding their wines and judging for yourself.

After all that, it’s time to actually talk about this wine in the glass.  It has a medium minus garnet colour, and both sediment and cloudiness.  I’ll take the blame for poor decanting as far as the sediment, but the cloudiness is likely because the wine is neither filtered nor fined.  On the nose it is fairly intense, with some signs of development, but much fruitier than I was expecting, with raspberry, some cherry, a bit of peppery funk, and sweet spice.  Overall it’s a very sweet smelling nose.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, flavour intensity, and alcohol, with a medium body.  The fruit is tending more toward the sour end of the spectrum (and developed in that direction in the glass), with sour cherry and cranberries, but still retaining the raspberry freshness.  There’s also the peppery funk from the nose, along with some dark chocolate.

This is a very good wine.  One complaint some people have with natural wine is that it’s often cloudy, and this one certainly is, but I value aroma and taste far above appearance, so it doesn’t bother me.  I chalk it up to style, not a fault, like volatile acidity in Chateau Musar.  Despite a somewhat light colour, the wine does not lack for concentration on the nose or the palate, nor complexity with fruit, funk and spice.  I recommend this wine without hesitation, just don’t try to tell me it (or any wine) is natural.

Full disclosure – I believe the vigneron/winemaker with whom I’ve worked this past vintage has sold grapes to Lucy Margaux Vineyards and they may be making use of one of his properties next vintage.

Pin in the map is Basket Range, but that’s as specific as I can get.

Marchand & Burch French Collection Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009

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Marchand & Burch French Collection Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009

Marchand & Burch French Collection Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009

Back in December I mentioned this producer, a partnership really, and had a bottle of one of their wines with Christmas dinner.  However, since it was Christmas, I had better things to do than to take good notes or write up very much about it.  So tonight it’s another of their wines, somewhat more modest in price than the Nuits-Saint-Georges I enjoyed in December, but good for my purposes.  It’s the Marchand & Burch French Collection Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009.

This is just the sort of wine that I like to cover in this blog.  First off, it’s Pinot Noir, and I help make a half decent Pinot Noir, so while I’m not an expert, I’m certainly an interested party.  Second, it’s from a producer I’ve had enough times before to know that I like their wines in general, which gives me great hope that I’ll like this one specifically.  And finally, I’ll get to rant a bit, which is always fun (for me).

Marchand & Burch is an international partnership between Pascal Marchand and Jeff Burch.  Marchand is a Burgundian winemaker from Montreal, who has worked with Chateau de Chorey Les Beaune, Comte Armand, and Domaine de la Vougeraie.  He is a self-described “Biodynamic Ambassador”.  Burch is the owner of Howard Park Wines and MadFish Wines of Western Australia.  They apparently met in Burgundy and eventually formed this partnership, producing wines in both Burgundy and Western Australia.  Their range includes a number of single vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, and it appears that they produced at least a couple of vintages of Shiraz in Australia in 2007 and 2008, but it’s not clear if they still do.

Before I go any further, I must first address Biodynamics, which is described by its proponents as a holistic method of organic agriculture.  According to presentation notes on the Marchand & Burch site, it differs from what is commonly thought of as organic farming because “it recognises that there is a growth force or energy force which is related to the cosmic rhythms.”  It operates on a cycle that mirrors the movements of the moon and planets, and relies on herbal treatments of soil and fertilizer to enhance their influence.

The stated aim in the presentation of the Marchand & Burch use of Biodynamic practices is to get more colloidal humus into the soil, which makes it healthier, which in turn makes for healthier vines and better quality grapes and moves toward sustainable vineyards.  I think many people would agree that is a laudable goal.The presentation ends by saying that “Biodynamic practice is empirical, as it is based on experiment, practical experience and observation, without regard to science or theory.”

As Rudolf Carnap said in The Unity of Science, “Science is a system of statements based on direct experience and controlled by experimental verification.”  (Hat tip to TMBG.)  So Biodynamic practice is claiming to be what is essentially science, but without regard to science.  In fact, it is much closer to a religion, and likely one that predates monotheism.  The presentation is littered with terms such as “cosmic rhythms”, “livingness” (is that even a word?), “Biological wholeness”, “cosmic influences”, and “life giving vortices”.  They energize their water (by stirring, or running through concrete moulds) which they believe results in “giving the water a pulse.”  If they have an electrocardiogram to go along with that claim, I’d love to see it.

Biodynamic practice is not science, and in many ways is much more of a cult.  The key is in this line:  ”Bio-dynamic practices are not implemented best, by delegating or contracting out; to people that don’t have a sense of commitment or at least an open mind.”  So it’s not just that you perform what is required of the practice – you have to be committed.  You have to believe.  Whereas with say, actual science, you don’t have to believe at all.  In a vacuum, a believer and an non-believer fall at the same rate, regardless of their commitment to gravity.

However, it is true that some people applying this non-scientific approach can have positive results in terms of healthier vines and better quality grapes.  So does that mean that Biodynamic practices work, even if they don’t satisfy people such as myself who are more scientific than spiritual?  The way to determine that is through scientific research, with controlled experimentation and careful analysis of the results.  Are the healthier vines and better grapes because cow horns act as antennae for focusing cosmic forces, or is it that people who can afford to take the time and to employ the people to do such things are doing a better job at managing their vineyards?  To dismiss the numerous anecdotes of improvements out of hand would be as unscientific as to take them as fact, and I hold out hope that someday perhaps we’ll know if there is even the slightest kernel of truth to what I suspect is the pseudo-science of Biodynamic practices.

At the end of the day though, what matters most to me about a wine is how it is in the glass.  While stories about the vineyard or how the wine is made can certainly add to the enjoyment, if a wine isn’t good then nothing else matters.  And to paraphrase someone who knows more about Marchand & Burch than I do, I don’t need a(nother) religion.  Fortunately for me, and the reason I am happy to buy and drink Marchand & Burch wines, this is a good wine, indeed very good.  And while I really needed to get that Biodynamic stuff out of my system, I now need to talk a little about this wine generally.

Marchand & Burch make a number of wines in Burgundy, and this is their Bourgogne (red).  It’s Pinot Noir, and the label says Wine of Côte d’Or, which pins it down to the limestone and marl area south of Dijon which is made up of Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune.  While the region is home to some of the most prestigious wines and appellations of the world, this wine is not specific to any one vineyard or village, which could mean it is either from an undistinguished plot or a mix of grapes from within the area as a whole.  For some people, that could make this a lesser wine, and indeed it does command a much lower price than the other Marchand & Burch Burgundian Pinot Noirs.  As for me, I go with what’s in the glass.

It’s clear, medium minus ruby color with quick, thick legs.  It has a clean, intense nose, with a developing character and serious perfume.  There are notes of raspberries, black cherries, licorice, black pepper, and some herby characters.  A hint of symplocarpus foetidus*.  The palate is dry, with medium plus intensity, medium plus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium alcohol, and medium plus length.  It has flavours of black pepper, cherry, dark chocolate, star anise, and a Black Forest gateau finish.

This is a very good quality wine, with intensity and complexity that other wines of more prestigious regions, villages and vineyards would envy.  At its price, I would do well to buy a case each year and eventually have access to a range of vintages, but first I’m going to need to sort out some local cellaring.  This is certainly not the first time (this month even) that I’ve taken issue with the philosophy of a winery but am happy to recommend their wine, and it almost certainly will not be the last.  While I am happy to pass judgement on both winery and wine, they’re not the same.  A winery I love can certainly make a bad wine and a winery that I think has a completely wrongheaded philosophy can absolutely make a very good wine.

*symplocarpus foetidus – Eastern Skunk Cabbage, a common plant along the banks of the stream behind the house where I grew up.  Unfortunately, it’s an example of a useless tasting note, very evocative to me personally, and maybe a dozen other people, but meaningless to the rest of the world.  But really, I get it all the time, on Pinot Noir especially, and hate that I can’t write it, well except on my own blog.

Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux-Saint-Jacques 2007

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Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux-Saint-Jacques 2007

Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux-Saint-Jacques 2007

I had the pleasure of trying this wine because a student winemaker who is helping out with vintage generously brought it to share during lunch.  It was apparently left over from a party where they opened up some excellent wines, and rather than have this lost in the crowd, he very thoughtfully shared it with the people with whom he is working vintage.

The wine in question is Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux-Saint-Jacques 2007, which is worth examining term by term.   Domaine Armand Rousseau is the producer, with domaine being the term for estate, used most commonly within Burgundy and Armand Rousseau being the man who founded the estate in the early 20th century.  Gevrey-Chambertin is a small area of Burgundy within the Côte de Nuits which produces some of the most famous Pinot Noir in the world.  1er Cru, or Premier Cru, denotes a place in the hierarchy of Burgundy which places it just below the very top tier, Grand Cru. Lavaux-Saint-Jacques is the name of a particular vineyard from which these grapes originate.

If I had the time, I could write pages on each of the sentences in the last paragraph, and I’d never actually get to post this, so I’m going to confine myself to the producer and the region.  Frankly, I find Burgundy pretty intimidating, and so I’m just hoping that I can write this up without spelling the producer’s name wrong three different ways and getting some critical facts wrong.  And for the record, some of the material I’m referencing is being machine translated, so take that as you will.

Domaine Armand Rousseau is a family run vigneron and wine producer based in Gevrey-Chambertin.  The namesake, Armand, was born into a wine trade family, involved as merchants, coopers, grape growers and winemakers.  He effectively started the family name as a wine brand in the 1930s when he bucked the trend of using négociants to bottle and sell his wine and instead began doing it on his own, becoming one of the first producers in the region to do so.  He also pioneered the sale of Bungundian wines into the USA, and to this day they export the vast majority of their production.  From a base of inherited property, he expanded holdings in the region.  His son Charles Rousseau began work with his father in 1946 after studying winemaking at the University of Dijon.  Armand died in a car accident in 1959 at which point Charles took over entirely, continuing the expansion .  At present, the third generation has taken over, with Eric Rousseau working as the winemaker, with help from his sisters, Corinne and Brigitte.

Not being well versed in it, Burgundy often comes across to me as a million small producers, where the name that matters on the bottle is the region or the vineyard.  While the label style of this bottle would certainly suggest that, Domaine Armand Rousseau itself is itself incredibly distinguished.  The shift to domaine bottling was revolutionary in Burgundy, and while the majority of wine is still sold to négociants for blending, many small producers have been able to create brands based on their unique qualities. Their present holdings are across eleven vineyards, including seven Grand Cru, this and two other vineyards at Premier Cru, and one Village.

I was going to write a bit about the region, but this is Burgundy, so it makes more sense to talk about the particular vineyard.  Lavaux-Saint-Jacques is a Premier Cu vineyard, or climat, of the Gevrey-Chambertin appellation, which in turn is part of the Côte de Nuits.  Gevrey-Chambertin has eight Grand Crus (according to OWC, Wikipedia says nine) and 26 Premier Crus, of which Lavaux-Saint-Jacques is one of the most highly regarded.  It is considered by some to be of Grand Cru quality, but when the village’s vineyards were classified in the 1930s, only those adjacent to the Le Chambertin were considered for Grand Cru status and Lavaux-Saint-Jacques was disqualified.

The vineyard itself is roughly 9.5HA, or 23.5 acres, of which Domaine Armand Rousseau owns .46HA or 1.1 acres.  The rest is owned by dozens of other producers, each with their individual plots that range from tiny to Domaine Denis Mortet with a massive 1.2HA (2.96 acres).  The weather for this vineyard is no different than the rest of the region, with cool nights and hot days during the growing season, but it’s the soil, the aspect and the altitude that makes all the difference in Burgundy.  Situated along a hill with a full southern exposure, it’s slopes ascend from 290m to 320m (950ft to 1050ft).  The soil depth is very shallow at the peak, becoming deeper down the hill.  Less rocky and darker than its neighbours, the area has a foundation of limestone.

This wine was ruby in the glass, with a medium minus intensity, and thick legs  On the nose it was developing and of medium intensity, with notes of black cherry, forest floor, violets and raspberries.  On the palate it was dry with medium plus intensity, acidity, and tannins, which were very tight.  The alcohol and body were medium.  I found cranberry, rich oak and pencil shavings on the palate, with a long length and a black cherry finish.  The wine really opened up over the 30 minutes it took our group to work our way through the bottle.

This was a fantastic wine – elegant and complex, with great ageing potential.  The acidity will certainly last, and I expect the tannins to soften and secondary characteristics to come to the fore.  It was certainly an unexpected treat to taste this wine, and I have to think up something nice to bring to the winery for when we finish vintage.