Our August wine of the month is the village wine from Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey the 2017 Chassagne-Montrachet “Vielles Vignes”. A wine that’s extremely near and dear to our sommelier’s heart, it’s a chardonnay from Chassagne-Montrachet, Cote de Beaune, Cote d'Or, Burgundy, France.
Dive into the origins of this wine with our sommelier, Carl, and learn about the extraordinary process by which it’s created. From the grapes being personally tended to and handpicked, to the high quality of the grape juice used, to stepping up the aging process in the winemaker’s own unique way, this wine is a work of art and a rare find.
Brimming with a complexity of notes that only get better with age, every sip of this wine is living proof of the winemaker’s love for his creation.
Q: Can you tell us about Chassagne-Montrachet Village's origin?
It operates under the Napoleonic Code:
The French vineyards of Burgundy operate under the Napoleonic Code. This started back when Napoleon overtook the French Revolution, and there were a lot of vineyards that were owned by the church, as well as really wealthy families. Part of the Napoleonic Code was that whenever someone who owned vineyards passed away, those vineyards had to be divided equally among all the children, regardless if they wanted them or not.
Fast forward after a couple of hundred years of this, and a vineyard that was once a couple of acres owned by one family is now owned by like 35 families. As a result, they might only have a row or three rows of vines each, which isn’t enough to make even a single barrel of wine.
How the name of the wine came about:
In the 1930s, France developed the Appellation System, which means that the wines have to come from the places they are grown, and they wanted to start to develop some rules around how this would take shape.
In Burgundy, the wine is separated into Grand Cru, Premier Cru, village level wines, and then the regional level wines. At the regional level, it can come from anywhere in Burgundy, and the next tier up is a village wine.
This wine that we’re featuring today is the Chassagne-Montrachet. In the 1930s, some of the villages that had really well known Grand Cru in their village, decided to hyphenate the name of their village with the Grand Cru for marketing purposes. Before the 1930s, this village was called Chassagne and the Grand Cru vineyard was (and still is) called Montrachet. In order to get people to be more familiar with vines in this area, the village is now called Chassagne-Montrachet.
Knowing who the families are in Burgundy is extremely helpful. The French government has a heavy hand in the taxation of wines. Therefore, some grape growers are not interested in making the best quality of grapes because they don’t want to make more and, therefore, pay the government more. This means that there are as many unkempt vineyards as ones that are taken care of. There could be a stonewall vineyard, perfectly manicured and kept, and only 15 feet away there could be another vineyard that’s completely unkempt - that’s almost like it’s dead and dormant. Therefore, knowing who the producers are is the most important thing in all of Burgundy. You need to know who grows these grapes, how they are handled and overall just who’s involved with the process.
One of the more important families in this village is the Colin family, and the father was Mark Colin (of the wine that we are featuring today). He was a famous domain in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and the ‘90s, and he had a couple of sons - one of them being Pierre-Yves, who married into the Morey family, another extremely important wine-making family, and this resulting in them putting their wine-making names together for more prestige.
Q: What makes this wine so extraordinary?
They personally tend all the grapes:
Because they have been in the area for so long, these families have an abundance of connections with many grape growers and vineyard section owners who are not able to make enough wine from that area themselves. Therefore, they purchase some of these grapes from friends and other grape growers, and it’s with those also that they are able to make some of these wines. This process is called a negociante. They purchase grapes from growers, and then they make the wine themselves, as opposed to an estate that owns all its own vineyards and makes its own wine, which is called a domain.
A negociant wine is usually a lower quality wine than a domaine wine, because the winemaker is not in control of growing the grapes and different factors. However, in this case, because of the connections of both families, they are actually in the fields and tending to all of their purchased grapes as well. That really sets this winery apart from other negociante wineries.
They focus on low yields and high quality:
They focus on really low yields, and they do so by green harvesting. This means that during the growing season, they cut off excessive bunches of grapes, and this ensures that all of the energy left in the growing season goes into those fewer grape bunches, making the wine produced from them much higher quality. They make sure the grapes are getting optimal ripeness and also very dense and concentrated - turning the ones left on the vine into an extremely high quality fruit.
They harvest and sort the grapes by hand:
When it’s time to pick the grapes, they are all harvested and sorted by hand. They also pick the grapes when they are a little underripe. This is because they are in a cool climate, and the grapes in this area tend to remain underripe the whole season. Therefore, they look for the grape maturity within the context of that region.
The only use the free-run juice:
They keep all the grapes whole cluster, which means they leave them on the bunches. Then, they press them slowly and for a long period of time, so that they don’t bruise them. When grapes are pressed, the juice that runs down first is the highest quality of juice - called the free-run juice. When they are further pressed down upon, the grapes become more of a mush, and there’s skin contact and other things that can get in that juice, resulting in more color, but also in lower quality juice. At this winery, they focus on getting the highest quality of that free-run juice, and then they discard the rest - keeping only the best for their wines.
A unique wine aging process equals extraordinary results:
When the wines go to the fermentation process in oak barrels, the oak barrels they choose are larger than the other areas’ oak barrels. This means that the barrels don’t impart as much of the oak flavoring as some of their neighbors’ barrels do.
Another factor about oak aging, besides imparting flavor to the wine, is that it introduces oxygen. There is a term called bâtonnage, which is “the stirring of the lees” - the lees being the dead yeast cells that have already eaten up all the sugar and turned into alcohol and carbon dioxide. A lot of winemakers will often leave the wine aging on it’s lees in it for a little bit longer time in order to add some creaminess or texture to the wine. The stirring of the lees is the stirring of the yeast itself and pushing it down into the juice itself to build some extra texture.
However, at Chassagne-Montrachet they don’t do any bâtonnage at all. Pierre-Yves believes in very low intervention when it comes to the wine because he doesn’t want to interrupt the wine while it’s in the cellar. He keeps the cellars extremely cold, and so the fermentation, as well as the malolactic fermentation (the fermentation that happens after the primary fermentation), takes a long time, about 8-9 months. This is about 7 months longer than other winemakers’ fermentation time. Because the wine is so cold, the yeast inside is suspended in it and doesn’t rise to the top of the barrel.
This process results in a style of chardonnay that has a laser-focused acidity. The wine is sharp, crisp, and hard. However, because of the way he does his oak aging and with the lack of bâtonnage, there is all of this creaminess and texture to it as well. Without the flavor of the yeast, it retains all that mineral-drivenness, instead of bready tones.
They spend more money to ensure higher quality and fresher wine:
This wine is so yummy and so complex. Most chardonnays are not made for long-term aging, but this winemaker focuses on retaining that fresh acidity, as well as all of the other aspects of making this wine that ensure it’s high quality. There is even a wax capsule sealing the bottle to ensure that it conserves the wine inside and it ensures that no air gets inside. This wine stays fresh and is great for long-term aging because they spend the money to ensure its high-quality fabulousness.
Q: What’s the wine’s flavor profile?
In this wine’s youth, it is approachable, but it is also sharp, crisp, and exceedingly minerally. As it ages, it opens up to a lot more complexity. There is a whole underripe scale of fruit that includes lime pith, lemon curd, green apple, white peach, as well as some of the under ripe side of stone fruit. As far as minerals in the wine go, they’re like crushed rock or river rock - elements that you think are flinty or smoky. It is also very floral, containing notes of white flowers, some citrus blossoms, acacia, and hawthorne.
Because it has a little bit of new oak aging, you also get some toasted hazelnut and some burnt popcorn shell.
The small amounts of all of these combined add complexity to the finished wine. All of these form a wine that is balanced, sharp, crisp, delicious, clean, pure, laser-focused, and, overall, just so on point.
Q: If this wine was a personality, who would it be?
For this one, the wine and the winemaker go hand in hand. The winemaker is David Copperfield of wines. When he’s on stage, he’s magic. When he’s off stage, he’s kind of quiet, reserved, and not too flashy - and that’s just how the winemaker is. He is a low-key guy, quiet and reserved, and yet he prides himself in his work. Although he is not one for the spotlight when he’s off stage, when he’s on stage, he creates magic.
Q: What is the wine’s vintage?
This is the Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Chassagne-Montrachet, the 2017 Chassagne-Montrachet “Vielles Vignes”, which means the old vines. These vines were planted in 1960.
The Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Chassagne-Montrachet, the 2017 Chassagne-Montrachet “Vielles Vignes” is highly sought after. It’s a wine that’s very hard to get on a menu, but here at the Steer we were able to get one case of it. That’s all that was available, as it’s highly regarded and sought after by collectors.
This wine is special - very very special.