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Maison Ilan Cartons

Hello everyone. We are finally nearing shipment of our 2009s!!! Sure, I’m a bit sad to have my first vintage not be under my protective watch for the first time since buying the grapes in 2009. I knew, even back then while in disbelief while surveying the vineyards that these grapes were going to change my life. Not only did I learn much more about wine than I thought possible just a few years earlier, but I grew in a lot of ways and found parts of myself that I needed to adjust if I was going to do the best I could for these grapes.

During harvest, I spent day and night looking at the barrels, smelling the gasses in the air of the chilly cuverie. I’d drive from Beaune to Saint Aubin where I was renting a tiny section of a warehouse to do my fermentations just to have my lunch by the barrels. Every new smell, sound and nuance was a miracle. I had faith in the terroir, of course. But, it was always a shock to say it was ‘my wine’ that I was protecting. Long story (cut short here, will be fleshed out in the book), but one of the fellows I was renting the space from had grown worried about sharing space and threatened the toss my barrels out of the cuverie and empty them in the streets. He stopped liking me after seeing my appellation and an extreme difference in philosophy. He called me a coward for my lack of oak and extraction. His partner, who I admire to this day provided a calming voice of reason and we dodged a bullet, so to speak. The need to move however was evident,so we needed to act…and quickly!

Once we found a home in Nuits-Saint-Georges, I felt as though I was free from a great threat. Finally I would be able to care for and look after my wines privately.  Moving the barrels from the warehouse was easy thanks to folklifts and the high ceiling of the cuverie in Saint Aubin. However, my cave in Nuits-Saint-Georges posed a different problem, stairs. I decided quickly that I didn’t want to pump out the wines at the top of the stairs to transfer them to another empty barrel already resting in the cave. Traditionally, you would connect a rope into a set of two hooks at the top of the stairs. This rope would be wrapped around the full barrel and then shimmied down the stairs by two men below and two men above the barrel. This didn’t sound like a safe option.

I decided to have an empty, resting barrel inside of the cave. The full barrel was at the top of the stairs. I used a food-grade silicon tube to transfer the wine using gravity. It took around 3 minutes for each barrel to fill. 11 barrels were finally filled and stayed inside the cave until they were bottled in April of 2011. Looking at the bottles always excited me. Each time passing them, the memories of my first harvest in Burgundy would play out in front of me as if I was watching it for the first time.

Now, with only a couple of weeks (2 or so) away from shipping our 2009s, I am both excited and a bit sad to see them leaving. Thankfully, many of you will now be able to share these bottles and experiences with each other.

Thank you again for all of you that have been patient, supportive and enthusiastic during this first chapter of our journey.

Cheers,

Ray

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A brief Harvest reflection

Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru "Les Feusselottes"

Just got done placing everything into barrel besides Le Chambertin.

It is always a time of having mixed feelings for me personally. You go from looking at the bare vines to getting excited about the developing grapes, and veraison strikes. The maturity of the grapes increases and the anticipation just builds. I’m never anxious, just excited. Things go from being pretty sleepy around here to dizzyingly busy with trucks and tractors carrying loads on the main streets and side roads. The noises seem to escalate, much more tourists and people working in the vineyards are seen everywhere. The places I visit during the year worrying about having a less wrinkled shirt now see me drenched in rain, grape juice, muddy shoes and usually a beard and cut, wine stained hands. Beer disappears off of shelves everywhere. Everyone seems to ask you about the harvest, asking when we will ‘attack’ and even the most shy of my neighbors wants to speak with me about the growing season and the upcoming weather.

It is a beautiful time, something that I really wish I could somehow capture and save.

The once decently-cleaned courtyard here in Nuits is littered with beer bottles, random grapes that rolled away from one of us (most likely me), well-used fruit cases and usually some wine soaked clothes that got tossed into a corner somewhere. The feeling that you get from having visitors come to help you, interested in being a part of the harvest has a way of creating lasting friendships. Each vineyard that we visit during the days before harvest are inspected, spoken about and studied. Within a few days we are back in the vineyards and helping with the field sorting, lifting up fruit cases onto tractors on the steep vineyards, and moving cases to the end of rows as well. Filling up my truck with the fruit cases always fills me with a curious feeling. I’m of course happy, but I feel as though I am taking away a parent’s child. With this feeling, I always think, ‘don’t screw the wine up’. Its not that I’m not confident, but there is an obligation. The grower’s want their fruit to be purchased, sure. But, they want and more to the point need for great wine to be the result of their terroir and hard work. To fail in this wouldn’t be acceptable.

Once the fruit is brought to the house in Nuits, I begin with setting up the sorting table which is not much more than a laminated piece of wood placed and drilled onto a small, cheap, wooden table from Ikea. Three to four empty fruit cases are placed around the table to hold the discarded fruit. A de-stemmer is placed just after this table, with the entry point being roughly one foot above the height of the table. Two Fruit cases are placed under the de-stemmer to catch the berries, with another two placed at the other end of the machine to catch the discarded stems. The tanks are given a hot rinse (to clean) and then another cold rinse (to cool back down) just prior to being filled.

One full fruit cases are emptied onto the sorting table and spread out so we can see everything well. If berries are laying on top of each other it will be too difficult to notice the transparent berries that we want to toss out. At any time whether in the vineyards, while placing cases in to our truck, or at home, we will toss anything that doesn’t look like something we’d like to eat. All of the fruit that we wish to keep get tossed in by hand into the de-stemmer. Everything else is tossed or swept off and into the fruit cases resting new to the table. This method ensures that we touch each cluster and makes sure that we aren’t seeing one side of a cluster that looks flawless, only to miss an issue on a hidden side as it moves along a conveyor belt. The downside is certainly that the fruit is heated up with touching so much and if there is too much sun, the heat is even more of a concern. With all of this considered, I (and those helping) preferred the idea (perhaps not the extra work) of the manual table.

The fruit cases filled with de-stemmed fruit are hand carried to the short wooden (a few new additions meant renting some stainless steel versions as well) fermentation tanks. The smell of wooden tanks and fresh grapes is something that really needs to be experienced to be believed. Just lovely. Also, this is a good time to just smell and check how things are smelling. Once the tank is full, a bit of ‘odorless’ so2 is added. (During harvest, this has been the preferred version of the so2 products. Once in barrel, regular so2 is used.) It is important to note that I don’t have anything against sulphur. So, I use it. No punchdown is performed, the conical shaped tanks are covered with vinyl lids which keep in a fair amount of humidity and also hold loads of condensation which drops down onto the cap which will form over the next few days.

Over the course of the fermentation, three punchdowns will be performed by entering the tank and manually punching down with my feet. In doing this, no seeds are crushed.The first punchdown is performed once the temperature is near 31°C. While entering the tank, all doors of the cuverie/garage are opened and if co2 levels are high enough, fans will be brought in to aid in ventilation. Being inside of the tank with the wine is one of my favorite parts of all. There is an intimacy in being inside of the tank. The days leading up to this point have brought smells of fresh fruit throughout our home and into the adjoining courtyard. Once in the tank, the perfume is intensified. While the tank is generally warm, there are pockets within that are warmer or cooler than others. In treading inside the tank, these pockets are moved towards each other to create a more even temperature and hopefully ensure that cool areas do not persist. The berries are mainly unbroken, but as the fermentation has begun, they have swollen increasing the mass in tank and also releasing sounds similar to popping plastic shipping bubbles between your fingers. I can’t be sure why, but taking one in my hand and popping it always makes me laugh. As you stay in the tank, the co2 can be daunting, so it is wise to have a spotter with you, or wooden planks to straddle. I have my room ventilated well enough, and my tanks are short enough to not cause my to me too submerged that I am fine without much besides one to two people watching once I am in the tank. While punching down, it is important that other nearby tanks are covered to decrease the chance of ‘sharing’ between tanks, though it is in some way inevitable. If I need to punch down more tanks, I make sure to shower well before jumping into the next tank.

Throughout the fermentation, there seem to be really different fragrances that come from the tank. This is a good time to be observant as off odors could signal issues in the fermentation. Once fermentation is thought to be finished, the wines are allowed to rest for two to three days prior to placing everything into barrel.

The barrels are set up in their proper locations in the cave below our house. Using a few hoses attached directly to the tanks, the wine is filled into the barrels below using nothing but gravity, the hoses and a pistolet. Adjusting the hoses up or down here and there speed up, slow down, or stop the flow from above. Filling up barrels can fly by in 2 minutes if the line is smooth enough. Once the free juice (vin de gout, also known as gout de mere in older times) is emptied out, the 95 year old press is rolled into position and the wooden cage is assembled. There are three pieces to the cage. Once the cage is set up, I dive into the tank with the marc (left over grape solids which still contain wine) and begin to shovel out using nothing but a bucket and my hands. Someone stands besides the tank while catching scoops of marc into a fruit case. After being filled (or too heavy to continue holding) it is brought over to the press, and lifter over and into the cage. It is important to test the fitment of the wooden planks which will rest on top of this bed of marc before it gets too heavy. If it is too heavy, it will require massive efforts to align the press properly. Failing this, the boards which press down and onto the bed of marc will not fit. In other words, this needs to be done right or nothing will work.

As you are shoveling out the marc, the co2 levels can become intense. There is a noticeable difference in the oxygen levels that you have once you are nearing the bottom of the tank, but you press on, filled with adrenaline. Due to my low count of punchdowns, there can be noticeable reduction in the lowest bit of the tank’s contents. This has happened twice, and in this situation, I have tossed out perhaps 15 kg of marc which normally could have been pressed. At this time, a special fruit case is fitted below the spout of the press. This fruit case was something I came up with. It is basically a fruit case with a ‘macon’ type/size valve (the same as all of my tanks) fitted on one end. With the weight of the marc that is piling up, this fruit case begins to carry a good amount of wine. The hose which was attached to the fermentation tanks is then attached to the collecting fruit case and the valve is opened, filling the next barrel with press/free run juice. My press is a common style from around 1920. There aren’t any electric parts. The fruit is placed into the cage, and once filled, the fruit will need to be leveled using plastic shovels. If this is not done, the wooden pieces that will come later will be off center resulting in an uneven press. The 8 thin boards go directly on top of the fruit, conforming to the interior of the cage walls. On top of this platform, there is a screw which rise up 10 feet that holds the press ‘bell/head’. Wood is stacked on top of this platform which yields more wine exiting the berries before turning the press. The wood is placed in a cross-hatch formation, with two pieces of wood at each layer. After four to five layers (depending on the quantity of marc being pressed) of wood, the top wooden blocks are placed just below the press bell.

A large iron handle connects to the press bell. Turning this handle clockwise moves the bell and wood onto the platform pressing down the marc releasing wine into the modified fruit case. It sounds difficult to turn when you see this old piece of machinery, but it is actually quite easy to turn, even when the pressing is at full pressure. It can be done with one to to people, as we have done the last two years.

With all of the wines in barrel besides Chambertin, I’m left with mixed feelings as I described above. I feel a sense of accomplishment in now seeing the names of the different appellations written on each barrel. And, to be able to see that in one spot of my cave there is a full year’s expression of a vineyard is nothing short of amazing. But, each time this happens, each stage that moves the wines forward, I feel some sort of loss of intimacy with the wines. You go from being in the vineyard to taking in the fruit, diving into a tank filled with nothing but wine to being completely hands off for the rest of the wine’s life. Knowing that those moments of closeness, tiring effort, frustration and accomplishment are fleeting, it makes me appreciate each step that I am a part of and wanting to be a part of more.

Of course, I understand that this may be one of the most boring, drawn out posts on my blog, but it was something that I felt compelled to express.

Thank you again for your patience in reading this

Cheers,

Ray

PS Final Numbers

Volnay 1er Cru “Robardelles” 4 barrels
Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru “Les Chaffots” 3.75 barrels
Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru “Monts Luisants” 4 barrels
Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Corbeaux” 1.25 barrels
Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Feusselottes” 1.25 barrels
Mazoyères-Chambertin Grand Cru 5 barrels
Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru “Aux Charmes Hautes” 8 barrels
Le Chambertin Grand Cru 5 barrels

Here are a few shots from the harvest taken from Philippe Shuller, Darren Brogden and myself

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Harvest 2011 will be here in just a moment. By the looks of scanning a few websites, it feels as though harvest threatens to be here tomorrow. Alas, we are still looking quite green in the vineyards, with no color change shown in any of the vineyards which I checked on today. Any moment now, the grapes will soften a bit, and flecks of red will move in, deepening, and remind of just how much more beautiful the region’s vineyards can be with only  the slightest suggestion of color. As it turns out, while the days seem to crawl early in the growing season, the last months leading to harvest seem to move at a consistently increasing pace, until you find yourself in the moment, doing your best to execute and modify your strategy as the logistics of harvest do not care one bit for your best laid plans.

With this in mind, I have begun to finalize harvest preparations. Just today, I confirmed my last fruit increase for the harvest. This is to say that everything that I brought on this year is fruit that I plan to have in the future – these are no one shot deals. Today I added 3 barrels worth of grapes for Le Chambertin from my same source as before. This brings my totals (providing a full harvest) to:

Le Chambertin  Grand Cru 5 bbls

Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru “Aux Charmes Haute”  7 bbls

Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru “Les Chaffots”  5 bbls

Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru “Monts Luisants” 5 bbls

Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Corbeaux”  2 bbls

Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Feusselottes” 2 bbls

Volnay 1er Cru “Les Robardelles”  5 bbls

Looking at the list above, I think that I will be taking a huge break from taking on any new sources for a while, unless it is is special. The goal, of course is not to have a lot of cuvées, but to work with special grapes and to preserve as best I can what makes them unique. This is a very tall order which I hope that I can live up to. Having a control of as much as I can requires a small production scale. Taking the fruit sources that I have has been done with the understanding that I am working inside of truly tiny, heavily allocated space (see:garage). If nothing else, it will be fun!

Cheers!

Ray

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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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