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Hello everyone! Just in from the Côte de Beaune with some exciting news. Starting in 2011, we will be sourcing fruit from Volnay 1er Cru “Robardelle”! This cru is not too well known as of late, though it is situated quite well and has an an impressive history indeed. The vines of Robardelle are situated just a few meters from “Les Santenots-Du-Mileu” (on the other side of the road which separates Meursault and Volnay, though it is classified under Volnay) to the South and “En Caillrets” just meters from touching it’s North-West corner, both of which were classified as Tête de Cuvée by Jules Lavalle (1855) and by Camille Rodier (1920).

Directly across the same road and to the South is Les Santenots, which is less regarded than Les Santenots-Du-Mileu, though still quite good. The vineyard just above Robardelle, “En Chevret”,  is more the direct neighbor of of the more famous climat, though our plot of Robardelle is right on the wall, which places us quite close as well. There is only a small road which cuts between Robardelle and Les Santenots-Du-Mileu. Suffice to say, this is a small, exceptionally situated climat.

please forgive the spelling of "Meursault". This copy of the Kobrand map had the typo, will edit tomorrow...

To place the  Tête de Cuvée classification into context, the other original Tête de Cuvées from 1855 included Chambertin, La Tâche, La Romanée Conti, Corton, La Romanée, Grands Echézeaux, Clos de Tart, Les St-Georges, Clos de Vougeot, Musigny, Clos de la Perrière (Fixin), Les Grèves, and Clos de Tavannes. These were considered to be the best climats in all of the Côte d’Or.

The vines are just a bit over 35 years old on average

All of it’s neighbors are interesting, though in Burgundy, the soil is so fragmented that a neighbor’s land can’t always tell you about the land below your own two feet. With that in mind, let’s focus on “Robardelle”. “La Robardelle” was itself classified as Deuxième Cuvée by Lavelle in 1855 among other Volnays such as “Clos-des-Chênes” and “En Taille-Pieds”. In 1920, Camille Rodier placed “La Robardelle” into the highest classification for Volnay, Première Cuvée. Both Lavalle and Rodier noted “La Robardelle” at 4 hectares, 25 ares and 70 cents, which was later reduced to the current climat size at 2 hectares, 95 ares after the lower section to the East, toward the Route National 74 was declassified to village-level. Since 1936 the vineyard has been classified as a Premier Cru.

Road dividing Les Santenots Dessous (vineyards at left) and Robardelle (walled area at right) - both continue toward view of camera. The sheer proximity of the two is easier to see in this photo than in the map.

This is exciting news as I have always enjoyed the wines and history of Volnay. Unfortunately, Volnay is one of the hardest villages to buy grapes in, right behind Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée, this is for buying good village, 1er Cru are even harder. The vines are planted on a North-South which is a bit different than the surrounding vineyards. The soil here is quite shallow with a good amount variation in the size and type of the limestone here. You can find everything from pea-sized limestone to larger sized limestones which also vary in type, though they are typically found within the marne series. The soil breaks up easily in the hand, though it does have enough clay retention to hold in a sufficient amount of water. The average age of the vines are around 35 years old, with no noticeable yellowing on any of the leaves. There hasn’t been a lot of replanting lately, and the pieds look healthy and solid.

This will be our first Côte de Beaune fruit source. I have to admit, it has been quite a chore trying to figure out which vineyards would work well with what we are doing. A few things that I have been offered have been interesting, though they didn’t really feel special enough to add to the current fruit that we source. We aren’t too flooded with offers for fruit, though a few Grands Crus and Premiers Crus have been presented and I’ve passed them up. It seems we continue to get lucky with fruit.

While viewing this vineyard, it was really easy to see that some beautiful things are possible with this vineyard. This isn’t a shift toward more Côte de Beaune  wines in the future as I really just have a soft spot for Volnay. If something else special comes up down there, I will of course view it seriously. Though, truth be told, I have such intense feelings for Morey, Gevrey, Chambolle, Volnay and Vosne that I am trying my best to focus in these areas. In doing this, my goal will remain in staying small, only working with what I know to be potentially stunning. The fruit will be treated exactly as the others are. In a ‘normal’ harvest, I should receive 5 barrels worth of grapes from this climat. I will fill in with better shots in the near future.

Thank you for stopping by and reading!

Cheers

Ray

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As you can see from the above images, we’ve decided to number each of the three cuvées. With the variable of marbles inside the barrels, it is seriously difficult to know how many bottles we will have for each appellation. So, we will have the printer run the labels pretty much as you see them above with each label numbered. We have an excess amount being printed. After we get a full count of each appellation, we will go back and hand stamp or write in how many bottles were produced. Sounds fun? Please, feel free to drop by and share in the excitement. We may be able to use a few more hands. ;)

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Here we are. Not more than a week has passed since we received our first grapes of the year and now we are finished. Everything is tank and doing fine. No injuries, no car issues, just typical winery work, nothing more. This year brought a great amount of continued luck for us. Each of our vineyard sources produced fruit that was of exceptional quality. There was a good amount of sorting to be done here and there, though the fruit we kept is really exciting. In comparison to 2009, the ph levels are roughly .2 to .3 lower showing a great brightness. Alcohols are just a bit lower, showing on average .35-.4% lower in degrée. Due to shatter, the yields were naturally lower and millerandage was apparent in each vineyard with much more tiny berries in comparison to 2009. Skins were just a bit more crisp this year as well. Overall, I really have been impressed, in fact surprised at the quality of the fruit and of the lucky breaks that we received. One such instance was with Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru ‘Les Corbeaux’ where we received a much better parcel than planned due to planning on the day of harvest. We received a similar break with Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru ‘Aux Charmes’ due to a well known négociant coming late by 15 minutes (we actually had no choice but to have the cases filled up at that time). We were given their parcel as we were 15 minutes early. The lot was just 10 blocks closer to Le Chambertin, but we’ll take it!

The fruit from Le Chambertin was in a word impressive. As a devout terroirist I can agree with many thoughts and theories of the nuances between the numerous climats. In fact, this is what drove me to moving to Burgundy after all. With this in mind, it is always striking how much more Le Chambertin gives than the others. Truly, the others are really special vineyards, on incredible land. Some of the others are really breathtaking visually, such as Monts Luisants with it’s steep slopes and countless layers of pebbled limestone. However, with Le Chambertin, it has such a length when you even taste the grapes. It sounds like marketing, I try to keep away from describing the wines. But, really, this is something quite interesting.

With just 32 fruit cases filled we will be at around two barrels worth of grapes again. Last year pressed out to 2.5 barrels. I can’t say if this will happen again this year. Filling the tank was a breeze. The height of this baby wooden tank is roughly 5 feet, 4 inches. As with the others, I just brought the case of sorted and de-stemmed fruit to the tank and dumped in.

This year, it is important to note that everything was successfully 100% de-stemmed, unlike last year, when the Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru ‘Les Chaffots’ was partly hand de-stemmed, partly whole cluster and partly machine de-stemmed. The result was the Morey has a bit of a different ‘style’ which is really something that I would prefer to avoid doing as it clouds the perception of terroir. This year, the only difference between lots will be that the Corbeaux will be fermented in steel tank, while everything else is in wooden tanks. Beside this point, what one tastes should be only a difference in origin of the fruit, however this is described.

Last thing, just one day after harvest, I am back into looking for more fruit. I have an appointment to meet with a grower in Chambolle-Musigny to discuss 2011 fruit! Those that know me and have tasted the wines know exactly why I am very excited to get my grubby hands on some Chambolle-Musigny fruit.

Also, here is a picture to show just how low technology (some might say no technology) our setup truly is.

Thank you for your patience!

Cheers

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On Wednesday, we started to harvest our Grand Cru vineyards. Charmes-Chambertin ‘Aux Charmes’ was the first to be pulled in. And, with 7 barrels worth of grapes, this is also our largest cuvée. Thankfully we had the help of Mark Freeman (an American from Sonoma studying in Dijon) once again. Once he had to leave back to class we still had a large amount of grapes for my wife and I to process. We went late into the night, fruit case by fruit case (28 kg each) filling up the two wooden tanks (each holds 3.5 barrels). The fruit looks amazing. Tiny berries, excellent sugars and plenty of acid. There was much less sorting to do as well. As with every other lot, we are de-stemming 100% of the clusters and sorting out any jacks that may have fallen into the grape bins after de-stemming.

Charmes-Chambertin being filled in tank

Once in tank, the grapes are left alone to rest. They are sulphured but not punched down. They receive their first punchdowns once primary fermentations are finished. No typo here. There are very specific reasons for this. But, I’ll simply state that we feel that there is much to gain with this setup in riper years as well as lighter years.

Today, we are onto Le Chambertin, 2 barrels worth of grapes. We were set to go on Saturday or Monday but a call and visit from the courtier assured us that it was in fact this afternoon for this special vineyard. Time to grab a truck, generator (to allow 380 volt power for the de-stemmer) and get out there.

Many more pics to come!

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Just this last Saturday we began 2010′s harvest for Maison Ilan. Luckily we had some help this year as we doubled our production from our first year, 2009. Let’s get to the chase and mention the quality of the fruit. First off, the fruit is amazing! Sure, as a fellow consumer I have heard the same thing that you have, ‘ask a winemaker their favorite vintage and and they will respond that it is the current vintage’. I know. But, really, with the amount of heat during the year coupled with the cold and rains of this year, I truly was hoping that there would be some balance that would be figured out on the vines. Thankfully, it seems to have worked well.

We harvested the premier crus over the weekend. No we are waiting until Wednesday to start on Charmes-Chambertin and on Friday, we will pull from Le Chambertin! There are some spots that were more damaged with rot, hail and mold this year. Though, thankfully in Morey St Denis and Gevrey-Chambertin (where we source), the fruit was of excellent quality. Of note, there was a bit of sorting to do. There was sorting to do in 2009 as well. Overall, I think the raw material has loads of potential. I’ll be sure to fill in tonight with a larger update. However, I just wanted to let everyone know that all was fine for the start of a great harvest.

Back to work for now!

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Just three days before the start of vendage and the rest of my wooden tanks are in! It seems like I waited forever. Of course, a month can seem like an eternity if we are speaking about winery equipment being delivered just before harvest. Looking at them, they were certainly worth the wait. I do wish that I would have specified that I wanted just one more for the Les Corbeaux lot. However, it makes sense to possibly use the stainless steel tank (tucked in behind the ‘large’ tank on left) for assemblage just before bottling. All things considered, it worked out very well.

You can see in the photos that the spacing is tight, to say the least. The space was used for winemaking many decades ago, but was then used as a typical garage. I’ve done my best to serve the space well by returning it into a cuverie. There is just enough space to enter in between the tanks for cleaning, some room for storing punchdown tools/shovels. And in the main path, there is enough room to pass through with fruit cases filled with de-stemmed grapes before being dumped into the tanks by hand. There is also enough head room to either use a punchdown tool or to use your feet to punchdown. This really is a small point due to my rare punchdown schedule.  All in all, it is exactly what I was shooting for. I’ll just have to make sure that everything is well ventilated during primary fermentations. Luckily we have a huge set of doors at the entrance that open up the whole side of the cuverie.

There is also some tasks which I have to complete since I now have wooden tanks. Being new tanks, it is necessary to fill them with water prior to the harvest. Tonight, just 30 minutes after installation, I was in the cuverie spraying down the interior walls of the tanks to take away some of the coloring from the oak, as well as some harsh bitter tannins that rest on the surface of the walls. When you fill the tanks a bit and let the water rest for say 15 minutes and then drain, the water rushing out of the bottom spout is almost like a brown tea color. Certainly not something you want in the wine. I will rinse the walls roughly 3-4 times a day until Friday night. I will then fill the tanks and leave them overnight to allow a thorough soak. The water is then drained and the tank will be ready to be filled with destemmed grapes.

The remaining days before harvest will be filled with settling random things, such as walking the vineyards, charting sugars and acidity, as well as making sure all of the equipment is functional and efficient. This last part isn’t too much of an ordeal as there simply isn’t that much equipment to sort out. Most of the work is done by hand…literally. Since we will be pulling fruit from multiple vineyards on Saturday the 25th, I have enlisted the help of a few local buddies to find a few guys to lend a hand. Should be fun! ;)

Cheers!

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This year has truly been an interesting one. At times, I worried there may too much cold, others too much heat and a few times many of us worried about the rain. As a few older winemakers here in Burgundy have told me, ‘worrying doesn’t make your wines taste any better’. Truly the weather is something that you cannot entirely predict and you certainly cannot control it.

Much of the threat during this year has been focused on the prospect of dilute berries due to the rains as well as berries bursting, due to the vintage characteristic of having large proportions of millerandage, where there is a large proportion of both small berries as well as medium to large berries. With small berries such as this, water can certainly make for difficult situations. This is all, of course in theory. In practice, some berries did inflate which may cause some dilution of sugars and flavors. Though, in the vineyards I walked over several hours the fruit profile and the numbers looked impressive as well. Of note, due to the extra gaps left from the millerandage berries, water was generally allowed to evacuate the clusters quite well minimizing other water issues such as mold and rot. All things considered, due to the moisture of the vintage, I will be well sure to keep an eye on the fruit in the vineyard on before and on the day of the harvest as well, attempting to do a strong triage (sorting) in the vineyards to minimize the sorting at the fixed table.

Also of note, 2010 will mark the first year that my wife Christian and I will work together. She is quite knowledgable about wine and has excellent intuition. She has been involved in the project this whole time, so its great to be working with her.

While we are starting to pick on Saturday the 25th with all of the premier crus – Morey Saint Denis ‘Les Chaffots’, Morey Saint Denis ‘Monts Luisants’ Rouge and Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Les Corbeaux’, I am missing just a few important pieces of material. Due to my last minute additions of vineyards and corresponding volumes, my last two tanks have yet to arrive. They are (thankfully) assembled already.  They just need the final sanding and for the holes to be tapped for the equipment such as the valves and temp gauge. They should be at the winery by Monday. So, I’m not quite worried…yet.

There has been one spot of bad news on the tank front. Due to a mistake on my end, the order was not placed for the 5th appellation, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru ‘Les Corbeaux’ which I added after all of the other tanks were specified. Due to the  timing, the foudrieur was unable to allocate enough time to produce them at the last minute. The result is that I won’t be able to move forward with my plans just yet of producing each lot in the exact same manner with the intention of creating equal starting points to highlight individual terroir. I will need to ferment the ‘Les Corbeaux’ lot in the same stainless steel tank that I used for Le Chambertin in 2009. The lot should yield just over two barrels. All in all, this isn’t too much of a disappointment. The rest of the variables should be identical to each other.

As for now, I’m off to prepare a bit more for harvest.

Hoping for continued sunshine,

Ray

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Visas in hand!

Over the last year and a half I have been very busy. Goes without saying, sure. Making the wine, as so many people told me before embarking on this journey is certainly the easier part. A common question that I have been asked from friends has been regarding acquiring a visa in France. I’ve mostly replied that I had it all under control, which is true. I had used the 3 month vacation visa several times over that period of time. Thankfully only a few times did I get into situations where I was placed under the gun due to a lack of a full work visa. In effect, I was able to do quite a few things while on ‘vacation’, buy grapes, start a French company, set up a winery, acquire the proper licensing and produce wine…all on ‘vacation’.

As nice as this was, we needed something much more stable to live full time in France. Initially, I had been told about the grueling path to getting this work visa. Nothing about it seemed easy. There was a long list of documents which I read at the time filled with roughly 20 documents which were in French that I had no idea of how to obtain them. Throughout this time, I gathered my documents and kept doing everything I could with my limited access. I found ways to make things work. This was always the more difficult way to do things. But, without a visa, you really are pressed against the wall in every aspect.

Just two weeks ago, I was again placed under the gun. This time, my wife, daughter and I were required to apply for our full visas or we would place much of our life in France in jeopardy. I tried to remain confident. Yet it seemed that with the slim amount of time allotted us, there was a great chance that something, anything could go wrong.

Thankfully, we have continued to be blessed. Just yesterday, we all received our visas! This now gives us a world of possibilities. Having the work visa set up now is a tremendous achievement. This is quite important since I truly don’t know how far we would have gotten without it.

Well, that’s enough celebrating for now. Off to work!

Cheers

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Isabella Ilan at Le Chambertin

Isabella Ilan and I toured the vineyards yesterday and we took home a lot of photos. She also tasted a few grapes at Chambertin.

Finally! We have color in the vineyards of the Côte d’Or in 2010. Here are a few photos:

Clusters at Le Chambertin showing a bit of deep coloring

Véraison at Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru 'Les Chaffots'

Color showing in the clusters at Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru 'Monts Luisants'

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Today I just confirmed my newest vineyard source for Maison Ilan. I’ve been given some fairly impressive offers for fruit this year. You can’t take them all, however. And so I have chosen to continue to be terribly picky in choosing my sources. The vines of Les Corbeaux are situated just against the vines of Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru. This is to say that there are no barriers to speak of between these 1er Cru vines and the Grand Cru vines. The soil and exposure looks identical to the naked eye. I imagine there to be additional complexity in the soil adjacent to Les Corbeaux, though it would be gradual. The vines are after all approximately 3 feet away from the Grand Cru.

The vines here are on average over 60 years old. To be more specific, there is a minority in the vineyard of some that are around 45 years old, and some around 70 or so. The majority are just around 60 years of age. With this source, my sources in Gevrey-Chambertin and Morey Saint Denis lineup is a bit more firmed up and altogether more exciting. This makes 3-Premier Crus and 2 Grand Crus, all in fruit. I’m really looking forward to following their development.

Cheers!

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