For those of you that purchased either directly or through merchants, you will be contacted one the wines arrive in the USA!!!!!!!!!
Thank you for your support and patience!!
For those of you that purchased either directly or through merchants, you will be contacted one the wines arrive in the USA!!!!!!!!!
Thank you for your support and patience!!
as many of you may already know, the 2011s have been bottled and have already started to be shipped out to importers in the UK, Denmark, and Belgium. Wines for the US will be picked up on Monday. Private clients outside of US will be contacted directly for shipping instructions.
I am proud to say that I believe that the wines greatly benefitted from the extra time in barrel!
Thank you everyone for your amazing support!
this entry will be a bit of a departure from my typically wordy…’style’. Nope, this time I am straight to the point behind my posting. Some of you are letting out sighs of relief. Shame on you.
Anyhow, as a negociant, I have the ability to purchase grapes, wine in barrel/tank or even in bottle. Since the beginning it was made clear to me that it was much easier to find wine than it was to find grapes. With my lack of initial understanding of this concept of not wanting to do less work, have all of your grapes sold and not have to worry about where to store barrels I was often frustrated in having Clos St Denis, Richebourg, Clos de Beze, Morey St Denis 1er Cru Clos Sorbe and many others offered to me when I couldn’t break from my focus and passion for buying the grapes and doing all of the production bits myself. To be fair, alright – all of these producers had more experience than me and a few were favorite producers of mine. However, one gripe stood in the way.
It wouldn’t be my wine!!!!!!!! How in the world could I sell a wine and act like it is my own when someone else did all of the work? Sure, there are major financial considerations….to consider. And sure, more Euros would be nice, especially when we haven’t had a bountiful harvest since 2009. But if I put the money in my pocket in this manner, by going against what I am personally passionate about, I feel like I would be selling or cheapening what makes me get after it and pushes me study on my profession with great pleasure.
So, here is the deal. I was offered some 2013 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Folatieres, and some 2013 Echezeaux, both in barrel. By shaking hands, I walked into Echezeaux 2014 forward in GRAPES! The grapes were offered in connection with the wine. Where does that leave me? Well, I could sell the wines as Maison Ilan wines and not say a peep. They are damn good at the moment. I could also just create a second label for when these situations come up. But the choice was simple, since the first two weren’t options at all, more like a ‘why the fuck would I do that?’ scenario. I’ll be buying the 2013 wines, and selling off to another negociant – at a cheaper price than I will buy it for if need be. I’d rather lose money in the pursuit of my passion than tainting what wine means to me.
We should produce around 2+ barrels of 2014 Echezeaux, our fourth Grand Cru! Whatever I have to do to get to this point I will gladly do.
Good morning everyone,
I wanted to take a brief moment to speak about what we do here at Maison Ilan . Many of you reading this know a bit about my story, but the take home message shouldn’t be that I am such a nice guy that my wines have to be amazing or anything similar. What I hope to make clear in my story being out there is that I am never afraid to go off of the beaten path in order to do what feels right to me. Some may call this intuition, I just describe it as being obsessive in my pursuit of finding the path that corresponds to who I am at my core. This in no way is to suggest that I always make the best decisions, but I take in an incredible amount of information prior to moving an inch. Once I am comfortable, I leap, without doubting a second of it. I believe this to be a sign of my faith in my decisions.
As a producer of wines, each of the decisions involved have resulting consequences. I view many of the processes in the production of wine which I view to be ‘additional’ as giving consequences to the wine that are distracting. Some distractions can be utterly delicious, of course. Though I find it personally interesting to explore what exists in the land surrounding me here in Burgundy without these distractions, or the consequences of additional processes. In my view, this provides a certain level of clarity which I cherish. As with many things, there are compromises.
My main compromise at Maison Ilan is oak. There, I said it. Oak has been a bit of a compromise for me. I’ve attempted to decrease the amount and type of oak flavors that are transmitted into our wines. The way that I see things, the finished wine arrives after a series of events and transitions are completed. These transitions in particular from grapes on the vine, to being placed into collecting vessels, primary fermentation vessel, secondary fermentation vessel, settling vessel after élevage and then into bottle create stress on the grapes/wine. In order to decrease this stress during these transitions, I have attempted to be gentle and patient (the two work together) with the desire of keeping the stress at a lower rate while smoothing out the transition events.
We may discuss the other aspects at a different time, but for now, allow me to provide some insight into my views on élevage.
First of all, this is a step that is quite necessary, potentially simple, though filled with a dizzying amount of variables that promise to change details both large and small for a particular wine. We fill our barrels direct from the wooden fermentation tanks on the ground level while the barrels are resting in the cave below using gravity. They are filled in the order that the wine is pulled from the tank. The free run is filled, and once the tank’s excess wine has been drained, we enter the tanks (no doors) and manually fill 10 liter buckets with the grapes still holding onto wine. These buckets are then pressed in our 100-year-old wooden vertical press. This press wine is then ran via gravity into the cave, either completing the last barrel that was being filled with the free run wine. If the free run wine filled the last active barrel then an empty barrel is the first recipient of the press wine. What I hope to illustrate is that the wines are not held in a tank prior to being placed into barrels, they are ran straight through. This method preserves more CO2 as the wines are not entering an extra vessel prior to arriving in the barrel. A result of this decision is that the wines will have more variability from each other. As an example, a freshly filled third barrel in a cuvée of five barrels will taste different from the first barrel filled, even with every other detail made identical. Having all the barrel deconstructed in this manner thrills me more than I can convey. Part of this is knowing that there are differences inherent in the order in which the barrels were filled and how this affects the wine.
As much change as the grapes had gone through in making the change from resting on the vines to finishing fermentation, going into a barrel is a bit of a shock. Sure, the wines fermented in wooden fermentations tanks prior to this step but the transition is not to be underestimated. All too often, freshly fermented wines that seemed somewhat pleasurable are strangely out of sorts when tasted after being placed in barrel. I’ve tried this at one week intervals for the first three to four months and can say that even with used oak barrels, the wines are in a state of shock. What was once pleasant is now off-balance and awkward. I don’t necessarily find oak on the profile but the lack of composure is striking.
Fast forward to around the 12 month period, and the wines have finally shed some of the new wine awkwardness. The wines at this point have not been moved via racking (drawing the wine from its lees – the ‘sediment’ residing in the lowest part of the barrel), and topping up the volume inside of the barrel to prevent oxidation has been performed with just marbles instead of wines. The marbles displace volume and do not introduce ‘foreign’ wine into the barrel’s environment.
Now here is the interesting part. We have a good number of visitors at Maison Ilan. I’ve always felt the need to put the best foot forward, and to, well, not give someone an off wine. There is an importer that liked my initial lack of interest in showing a particular wine and smiled in mentioning that part of what he admired about Henri Jayer was that if you visited his cellar while he didn’t like one of his wines, well you just weren’t offered the wine to taste. If the Richebourg wasn’t ready, for you to taste, it wasn’t ready for to taste – and you wouldn’t! I liked the thought of not wanting to show a wine before it was ready and figured it also increased my professionalism in only showing what was pleasurable at the moment. So I went through and placed one stone on my ‘favorite’ barrels of each cuvée and did about twenty tastings focusing on the stoned barrels. I inevitably showed other barrels during tastings because I was so excited to show other shades to the same color, but I generally stuck to this for the twenty or so tastings.
What made for a ‘favorite’ barrel? Well, commonly the reduced barrels were ruled out. I tried to explain reduction to a few visitors and unfairly tired of explaining my thoughts on it and decided to not show these barrels. I liked some of the reduced barrels but there are so many factors that come into play, one of which was timing. I loved a good many of the reduced barrels with around 30 seconds or so of time provided in order to let the reduction blow off. The issue that I saw was that many visitors would drink the wines without giving the wine any air. They seemed to like the wine (some would call the reduced barrel as their favorite once the reduction blew off) but I felt the wine wasn’t given proper context. Another common deciding factor was clarity. There seemed to be certain barrels that were less transparent. I couldn’t understand why, but some would just have it in spades while others lacked definition. There was one thing else. Some of the barrels showed more wood than the others, even though the same barrel maker, similar barrel age, toast levels and forest were employed. This sensation wasn’t constant or even aggressive but as sensitive as I had grown to oak some of the barrels would stick out over time, fall back in line and then poke out yet again.
The tastings were just random visitors, over about four months. We weren’t getting that many visitors at the time so the stoned barrels would keep their one piece of limestone on the leading edge of the barrel and I’d largely forget about it until I would be asked about it during some of the tastings. Keep in mind that each time I top up, I choose random barrels to taste and I taste each barrel inside of a cuvée at random points in order to follow the wine’s evolution.
And then it happened. I started to notice when tasting on my own that the stoned barrels weren’t my favorites. Some of them were quite reduced, I wouldn’t have picked the wine as a tasting barrel, the definition was gone, and the barrel two over was tasting in line with my preferences. Time after time this happened. It happened enough that I’d have two tasting barrels going. One day one would be showing well, the next day it would switch characteristics with its neighbor.
Since that moment, I decided to show each visitor a random barrel from each cuvée. Of course some of the wines may not show as another barrel, but I figured that was the most accurate way to show the wine to visitors, fluctuations and all. Some may not get what the wines were doing, but really it didn’t matter. The point was to experience the wines in their current state without reigning in how the wines showed or which part of the wines were being experienced. It is now much more of a pleasurable thing to show, share and explore the wines with the visitor instead of guiding the through the wines.
At the 18 month mark, where wines have for the past few generations generally been bottled, and while the (nearly literally) night and day fluctuations have settled down a bit, the changes are still there. I had also previously noticed that wines would commonly show reduced and then open, only to show reduced a bit later down the line. This is something that I saw in the 2009s, 2010s and started to see again with the 2011s. Throughout this time, I kept up my reading of older books on the wines of Burgundy. The subject of élevage (aging wine in barrel-literally ‘raising’) played in a role in a few of the books. Nothing truly stood out for me so I just kept plugging away with my plans. The slight oak edge had trailed off, with a finer degree of focus and depth to the wines. There was much pleasure at 12 months with these wines, but the point was sharpened with the additional 6 months in barrel.
The 2009s had been bottled without purposely extending time in barrel, 2010s as well. All had been bottled besides a lonely cuvee of Gevrey-Chambertin, with just a barrel and a half that was given a bit of time to wait out its malolactic fermentation. Slowly but surely I started to hear others’ plans for bottling the 11s early and began to fall in line with this. I started to relay this when speaking with those that had purchased our wines as futures. I started planning bottling to begin in January of 2013 in spite of not being convinced it was the right thing. Part of my rushing was also coming from literally 4 or 5 folks that really wanted the 11s early, seeing as the 09s and 2010s came in after I had forecasted. The thing is that my forecasts were based on what other producers were doing, I wasn’t doing anything else that my neighbors were doing, so I shouldn’t have believed that this most important part would somehow fall within the same lines as what others were doing. With 2011s in particular, one aspect that bears mentioning in this context is that didn’t know anyone else in the Cote d’Or that hadn’t chaptalized a single wine in 11, I was clearly stepping outside the norm, if only by doing what came naturally.
Nonetheless, I felt the pressure to fall in line with my neighbors, that is until I started paying even more attention to the wines. They didn’t show as wines that were finished with their elevage being that they adjusted so much, reminiscent of someone settling into their seat, finding the right position to be in prior to getting comfortable. It felt odd to have the thought, but, “Maybe the wines aren’t ready yet”. Were the wines going to be excessively oaky, would the wines be less transparent? The oak-forward section of the cycle had all but fallen from my radar and their was a consistent clarity throughout each lineup of barrels within a cuvee. Maybe I could leave the wines in for a bit longer…
I went through all of my older books from the 18th and 19th century looking for any insight into what I was thinking of doing. Not much. Andre Jullien made a reference in 1801 to aging the better wines for a longer period of time. I had another book in my library to check out, Cyrus Redding’s 1833 classic, A History and Description of Modern Wines. This is what I read:
Reading this text, I didn’t find any ‘right’ answer, but that was fine. I wasn’t looking for one. What I was hoping for was some historical perspective. It is easy to speak of traditional practices while only speaking about what was done in the preceding generations. Though I greatly prefer to have more of a long view on these sorts of details. It has to be an apples to oranges situation since wines are different today from their early-19th century counterparts, but I must say that what I found in this text along with my own findings with the 2010 Corbeaux as well as the still busy 2011s reinforced my interest in extended aging.
Today, the 2010 Corbeaux has been bottled now for a few weeks, after having aged in used oak for around 40 months. The 2011s are nearly all bottled and showing that with 28 months in barrel did them well. The wines have now settled out with increased depth, transparency and resolve. As the above text suggests, there is no one right time to bottle a wine. Though even when taking into account just how much I have loved my 2011s, there is just so much more to enjoy today.
Two years in used wood is going to be a fixture here. It is a decision that I am making for the wines that we will all be drinking many years from now. I see no need to rush simply for the sake of rushing. I want the best for the wines, and for those that will consume them. Let us be clear that the wines do not move at our speed, our schedules, or dinner dates. They aren’t art, fast food, a trained animal or machine. They move at their own pace. I for one will gladly afford them the patience that they ask for and indeed deserve.
I never really liked it. Well, there were those first few months that I utterly loved it. But I wasn’t exactly sure what it was that I enjoyed so much. Besides, I’d already told the story so many times that I was growing bored of hearing myself recount it. It was a pain in the ass. The more compliments I heard about the wine, the more I was unhappy with my role in it.
What compliment could make up for my having dramatically altered the first grapes I’d touched in Burgundy by having stem inclusion? Ironic enough, the decision was the result of putting in a maddening amount of effort in the hopes of decreasing distracting variables such as stem inclusion. But I hadn’t the backup plan nor the worry of my plans failing that might call out for the need of a second option. I did it like I do most everything else; plan what you can and run like hell until you get to the other side, brick walls be damned.
But this time it was different. The stakes had been raised, placing my first Burgundy grapes on the table of chance. After spending a bit under 24 hours hand de-stemming the 2009 Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru I began to think about the freshness of the fruit and what the extra time in the fruit cases could do to the wine. I figured the main difference between being in the small fruit cases and being inside of the fermentation tank was the sulphur. I grabbed a spray bottle and added in a tiny bit of sulphur and diluted with water and gave a spray over the remaining cases. I figured this could give some protection with the grapes were crammed inside the cases waiting to be hand de-stemmed. Another hour passed and the thoughts of decreasing freshness in the fruit ate at me.
I tossed my first whole cluster of fruit inside of the tank.
Nothing happened. the whole thing hadn’t blown up. Sure, it wasn’t to my plan. I wanted nothing but fruit in the tank to ensure that less variables made from my hands, my decisions were inside of the red liquid placed in someone’s glass. I wanted everyone to taste the differences in the vineyard, not my biases for certain vineyards that I might have. It terroir was more than a marketing term used to sell shitty wines I had to see it myself. After all, I had left California, Sonoma County, for Burgundy and all that it meant. To go that far just to make ‘my wine’ would be wasteful. I needed so desperately to see what the differences in the land could produce without me adjusting things.
But there I was, 6:30 in the morning, cluster after cluster now being tossed in. It felt bad doing something that I was against while thinking it was the best for the overall quality of the wine. I couldn’t make sense of what exactly was so good about capturing freshness of something that was inherently being restructured by the very thing was supposed to be ensuring its health. If I could have closed my eyes I would have. I didn’t want to see my same worn out hands recently curled up and tired, now clutching handfuls of grapes and then spreading open while tossing whole cluster berries into the tank.
It was done. I looked into the tank that up until an hour ago held but caviar like berries upon berries and saw stems everywhere. I wanted to jump in and start from scratch again but I couldn’t manage it. I was defeated, upset with myself. Knowing that the wine would at least be sound didn’t do much to calm my irritation.
The wine fermented without a hitch, immediately seeming to take on a woody character that Chambertin and Charmes-Chambertin didn’t. I had a few people try the wines, they liked all three of the wines. The standout? The Chaffots. My ‘skills’ and choices were complimented. I was grateful to have been a part of something providing pleasure to someone else but I couldn’t shake the thought of how my first wine would have been had I not been so struck by the detail of hand de-stemming that I missed the complete picture which led to my altering a wine, producing what I believed to be a heavily stylized wine. It didn’t have any new oak, all the barrels were at least 4 years old but a few early guesses from tasters had it at as ‘at least 50%’. Worse than that, the ‘style’ of the wine was the topic leader, not the origin of the grapes.
Of course, not screwing up my first wine is something I felt and still do feel fortunate for. Yet the experience of so much attention having been placed on my decisions for specific wines and not others highlighted a tremendous flaw in my approach to wines not only as a Burgundy lover but as a Burgundy producer. Don’t get me wrong, there aren’t many approaches in either of those roles that I consider wrong. However, as a consumer of Burgundy, as an obsessed Burgundy lover, I wasn’t paying enough attention while drinking many of these wines to the aspects that are altered by the producer. In some situations more knowledge would have helped me connect to a higher degree with the wines, especially if I could place or attribute some of what I was tasting to what was done with the wines. And if I couldn’t, at least I’d be able to have another data point about what can at times be less noticeable to me when tasting a wine. There isn’t a wrong way to go about tasting wines, but I know that with the things I appreciate most in wines, I missed out on looking at this aspect more closely. I didn’t go into tasting wines blindly before, but I had an increased interest in finding out what actually went into some of the changes within a producer’s lineup of wines and why those changes were present in some wines and not in others.
As a producer, especially in Burgundy, where the concept (and reality) of terroir is supposed to be on full display, I felt a strong pull away from having any variables in between the different wines that were brought on by my decisions. This was something I had a sense of in my first year. Though once the irritation of the 2009 Chaffots having roughly 5-8% whole cluster inclusion set in, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Anything I heard about the wine just put me off. It didn’t matter anymore that people enjoyed them, the wine inside didn’t do its job of representing the name of the vineyard on the label.
Tasting good is something that any wine can do, from any region. Technology, specific treatments dialed into a wine, ripeness, or just flat out getting it ‘right’ for the ‘right’ taster at the ‘right’ time can all play into a wine tasting good or being impressive. A sense of place is different. It is sacred, and impossible to duplicate. Sure, you may not be able to blindly guess the origins of a wine, I’m not too skilled at it either. It doesn’t matter. What does matter to me is that the wine faithfully represents its origins as well as it can. To some, employing certain changes to specific wines or wines in specific vintages, including whole clusters as well as many other aspects are merely tools used to highlight what makes the vineyard special. To my vision, variables between cuvees and even changes over vintages distort the clarity of a vineyard’s expression.
To be clear, I still quite enjoy the wines of many producers that do a good many things to their wines. I wouldn’t suggest that they deliver less of an experience to the taster. I buy, enjoy and share many wines that do not fall into the scope of what I do as a producer. I’ve a strong preference in having the context of wines outside of what I produce, enjoy or even know much about. This is one of the greatest things about wines.
Today I tried our Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru “Les Chaffots” 2009. The whole clusters are finally starting to fall into place and hide a bit. The fruit is closer to the memory I had of it while it was in barrel, during that time that the fruit was pushing forward, the wine in balance, without much of the clove-like clusters interfering. It is terribly young of course, as a baby, it is more cute than it is charming.
Is this the real terroir because I like it a bit more today than I did before? Frankly, it doesn’t matter what I think about a wine. The experience of those sharing a bottle will be considerably different, it does nothing to change in absolute terms what the wine actually is. What I can say is that while I prefer the wine today, it is and can only ever be a wine that has been altered dramatically from having a more linear path from grape to glass.
As much as I entertain the thought of doing it all over again and where that would leave this particular wine, I take pride in knowing that it is indeed a wine that I find immense pleasure in consuming, beyond the aspects of the story and what that means to me (as much as I can actually distinguish these feeling/experiences that is!). I take comfort in having made the choice that I did and its having such a strong impact on my outlook of wine which encouraged me to do a dramatic shift in my second harvest – a direction which I believe is fully worth the occasional what if as I raise a glass.
To everyone with enough patience in reading another one of my ramblings, I raise my glass to you. I hope to hell that we all can retain our sense of humor and wonder. And if nothing else, a filled glass next to us, to remind us that what has been good can one day be great.
The last week + has been filled with rain. Having a setup involving the use of actual buckets during the transportation of wine from our cave to the tank exposes the wine to rain if any is present. As such, each day we have had to further extend the estimate of when the 2011 wines will be available to be picked up by the importers.
The other option is to use pumps. This option is not an option. The best thing go do is to wait out the rain. The first day we have without rain will have us starting on the grands crus.
I’ve been hearing chatter here and there regarding the timing we have at Maison Ilan. I completely understand when folks come from other wineries or other aspects of their lives that live or die by the delivery of goods on a specific date. From where I sit, rushing something that will in the end be inferior as a result doesn’t make too much sense for me. A stapler, shoes for the kids, a document needing approval, sure. But when a client wants something from me, from Maison Ilan, they are receiving the best that I can do.
No shortcuts, easy routes, cost cutting or storage space-based decisions are made at Maison Ilan.
In my estimation, the 2011s will be ready to shipped from my door to all importers within a week.
Each 2011 terroir has been bottled and is ready to go besides the three grands crus.
The time in barrel has proven to be of benefit to the wines.
Thank you for being patient in the spirit of wanting the best from us.
Ray & Christian Walker
we have been over the past few weeks getting the 2010 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Corbeaux” and all of the 2011s bottled, packaged and ready to ship. For 2009 and 2010 we used a mobile bottling machine. This was a decent enough way of doing things. Well, to be honest, it pissed me off having to tell folks to not smoke in my courtyard while the bottling was taking place, a pump had to be used to pull the wines from the cave and then a secondary pump was used on the bottling line. All of these things wore on me. But the thing that finally convinced me to change things was that I felt like I had been intimate with my wines through every step of the process from visiting the vineyards numerous times each month until the wines were ready to be bottled. And there it was, the finish line and all I could do was hand over some Euros to someone else that knew nothing of my wines to wrap everything up. Of course, I still was the one doing labeling, capsuling (up until now placing each capsule on by hand), but I felt removed from it all by not having my hands on the bottling process.
As of last Summer, I have owned a well equipped bottling line. It is small, really small, about the size of two tall refrigerators stuck together, but this thing does an amazing job. I couldn’t tell you how fast it goes, but I can tell you that it cruises at a gentle speed. But hey, we are talking about wine, my wine, and speed isn’t something that figures into my equation of quality. Really, the machine does all types of things that I really won’t ever need. What caught my ear was the fact that this machine works by use of a pump but it can also be used by filling the onboard tank via gravity. Gravity. Sounds like my type of technology.
The question still remained. How in the world do you get the wines up from the cave without using a pump? The simplest answer was to pop open the small bunghole ports on the face of the barrels. These ports are drilled in for this same process of emptying the contents of the barrels. A friend and I grabbed four food safe buckets, cleaned them well, tossed in a bunch of liquid sulfur solution and then cleaned them out again and then placed the buckets beneath the front of the barrels in my cave. Barrel by barrel we have been knocking off the wooden bungs, filling the buckets and then re-closing the bungs before grabbing the next bucket to fill.
From there, we carry the buckets with around 15 liters of wine, one in each hand, up the two sets of stairs leading out of my cave. Using two overturned fruit cases as steps, I carry each bucket up over my head and into the 1600 liter stainless steel tank for the assemblage, or unifying of all of the barrels within one cuvee. Once the contents of the last bucket is placed into the tank, the wine settles for a short time before we begin the next stage of bottling.
We have a patio outside of our kitchen on the second floor (first floor in France). Well, I should say that we have what would be a patio if we used it for doing more than just the occasional BBQ or as a nice place to eat raw oysters on Friday mornings after dropping off Bella at school. But we don’t. While it would be a useful place to enjoy outdoor dining, or simply hanging out I found out that what it is exceptional for is a staging area for bottling by gravity. That is, after you carry up a few 300 liter stainless steel tanks. The valves on the large tank on the ground level are opened, a barrel filling gun is used to train the flow of the wine escaping from the valve as it again fills the black buckets. Two buckets are filled, and carried up the twenty-five odd stairs to the patio outside of my kitchen and gently placed into the tanks. One side of the hose is connected to the valve of the small tank, with the other end snaking down roughy 15 feet to the bottling machine where the flow is strong enough to fill the inside of the bottling machine, arriving at the onboard tank. Place and empty bottle on the conveyor belt, make sure enough corks are in the hopper, turn the Nitrogen on for vacuum and press play. A few seconds later a bottle is out the other side, ready for labeling and capsuling.
I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Thanks for reading
The 2010 Corbeaux and 2011s will be shipped from my door in Burgundy within a week. I can’t wait for you to enjoy them!