……And in a jar, that’s Terroir!
The concept of terroir, as defined by wikipedia here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terroir, can briefly be summarized as a ‘sense of place’. Among wine lovers, it seems to be polarizing: it is either the pinnacle of wine’s transcendent expressiveness, or utter hogwash. For me personally, this singularity of character that emerges from the combination of physical and cultural forces unique to one place IS indeed a reality, and IS indeed what fascinates me most in the world of wine.
To give context to today’s introduction, the village of St Bris le Vineux is in the very northern reaches of Burgundy, just southwest from Chablis. It shares the same Kimmeridgian limestone base and northern climate as Chablis, where vines have been cultivated since the 2nd century. The area once belonged to the Chablis appellation, but after phylloxera cleaned house, it was cast down into the lowly Cotes D’Auxerre. Today, St Bris is a large area, spanning almost 10 miles in width with an amazing variety of soils and exposures. The appellation of St Bris is the only in Burgundy whose principal grape variety is NOT Chardonnay; rather, it calls Sauvignon Blanc the cepage of choice. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir planted there are labelled ‘Bourgogne Cotes D’Auxerre’. Just 150 years ago, there were 40,000 hectares planted to vine. Today, just 6000. Most people have never even heard of St Bris, and if so, they’ve likely enountered the racy but watered down wines of Chablis’ large negociant houses. Due to the prestige and prices fetched by their Chablis neighbors to the north, virtually no one has pushed the quality envelope in St Bris; the backbreaking work required to work these stony soils for the prices that the wines often fetch is tantamount to economic suicide. Thus, the investors continue to buy land in Chablis, and St Bris carries on its role as a ‘backwater’ appellation, most of whose fruit is grown for pure volume and sold off in bulk. Among this dormant potential, there is one shining star; one that is so bright, that it is almost blinding. The family behind these wines just might make some of the finest values in utterly delicious, transparent, complex, and terroir driven wines that you will find anywhere on the planet. When I debated whom to work with to best represent what this part of Burgundy has to offer, there was only one name that would do: Goisot.
-Allen Meadows of the “Burghound”
The Goisot family, http://www.goisot.com, has cultivated the vine in St Bris le Vineux since the 14th century. Their winery lies partially in the former garrison of the town, from whence they get the name ‘Corps de Garde’ for some of their wines. They own and farm all of their own land, thus every bit of what they make is domaine produced and bottled. Here, the women work alongside the men, as it has been for several generations; this is not, and was not, common practice…..At the helm of the domaine today is father Jean Hugues and son Guilhem, alongside their wives, Ghislaine and Marie. The domaine is 100% Demeter certified biodynamic, which is as hard core as it gets in organic viticulture. Within France, their wines are widely celebrated; 50-70% of their production is consumed domestically.
I met with son Guilhem on a rainy evening in January. He’s a big dude in stature, but with a gentle, quiet confidence in his manner. We ascended an outdoor spiral staircase into the magnificently renovated medieval chamber that now serves as their tasting room. There were beautiful abstract art pieces fashioned by a local wool maker. Guilhem explained to me the primacy of holistic thinking when it comes to thier vineyard management. Too often biodynamics is mired in the obscure esoteric elements, like buried calves’ horns and cosmic mumbo jumbo. At its core, it is very simple: to view the entire ecosystem as an interrelated network. If you create the healthiest total environment, it will make for the healthiest plants. When you see how a vineyard responds to ‘difficult’ conditions and stress, it is night and day: the biodynamic vineyards are stronger and more adaptable. The chemically farmed ‘sterile’ vineyards really suffer. It makes common sense to us when it comes to our own immune sytems…..plants aren’t so different.
In any case, Guilhem proceeded to show me the current releases, which have just arrived to the Delaware warehouse. They make an impressive 12 different bottlings, of which I’ve brought in 11! He explained to me the desirable locations for planting Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sauvignon Gris vines. One cuvee at a time, the relationship between the soil type and the wine’s character were starkly apparent. There is a brilliant trasparency and focus to every one of the wines that had me stunned from the start. I couldn’t help but realize that the minute attention to detail and devotion to vineyard health effected by the Goisots are the reasons why each and every cuvee has that crystalline transparency and purity. By the time that we got to the three ‘parcellary selection’ wines, their most extreme expressions of terroir, it hit me just how profound and humble this family’s work is. Guilhem, quiet fire burning, explained to me the three images you see above.
The Gondonne soils: composed almost entirely of compacted tiny oyster shells and fine gray silt. The most understated and taut of the trio, this is a wine of great finesse, with an airy coolness and mineral length. Guilhem referred to it as the most connoisseur of the three.
The Biaumont soils: A variety of limestone, blue oysters, and fossils. It is richer and quite explosive in both its fruit and mineral dimensions. Guilhem remarked that it gets quite finessed with age, inspite of always being a punchy youth.
The Gueles de Loup soils: ‘pur calcaire’ or 100% limestone. Both rich and palate stainingly mineral. A Wow wine.
Literally, every wine that I tasted had singularity and complexity. You can’t go wrong……
Here are the players, ladies and gents:
“ A fresh, spicy and exuberant nose that leads to nicely rich and vibrant flavors that possess fine mid-palate density as well as a lovely mineral component on the tangy and racy finish. This is very good for a “humble” Aligoté. ”
86-88 points Burghound “Outstanding Top value”
2010 Cotes d’Auxerre Traditionnel blanc $17 or $180 per case - a classic floral, citric, and mineral example of naked white burgundy. Chablis eat your heart out….Schildknecht says, “one of the region’s outstanding values”.
88 points Burghound “Outstanding”
2010 St Bris Moury $18 or $192 per case- A single parcel of limestone soils quite like that of the Gueules de Loup….sauvignon blanc on limestone!
“A pure and relatively refined nose that is also cool and classic sauvignon blanc in character complements well the intense and well-delineated flavors that possess an ample lashing of bright and racy acidity that contributes to the bone dry, balanced and solidly persistent finish.” 88-90 points “Outstanding Top value”
“ A classic sauvignon blanc nose of cat pee and lemon peel leads to very fresh and
88 points Burghound ‘Outstanding Top value”
2009 St Bris Corps de Garde ‘Fie Gris’ $22 or $240 per case - From old vine Sauvignon Gris planted higher on the hillside to control its ripening. Yields far less than Sauv blanc….
“A more restrained but equally ripe nose that is similar save for the additional mineral and mildly exotic fruit notes, gives way to rich, citrusy and admirably pure flavors that offer superb intensity on the bone dry and palate staining finish.”
89 points Burghound “Outstanding”
2010 Cotes d’Auxerre Traditionnel rouge $18 or $192 a case- a fantastic poor man’s everyday red burgundy….
“A ripe, fresh and very pinot nose that also reflects notes of red cherry and earth where the latter element can also be found on the delicious, rich and admirably pure flavors that display mild rusticity but excellent complexity on the serious and lingering finish. This offers excellent quality for what it is.”
88 points Burghound “Outstanding”
2009 Cotes d’Auxerre Corps de Garde rouge $23
2009 Irancy ‘les Mazelots’ $29 - from 90+ year old Pinot Noir vines.
“Here there is some evident, if subtle, wood influence but not enough to compromise the attractiveness of the notably ripe red cherry, raspberry and warm earth aromas. The very rich, round and delicious medium-bodied flavors possess even more volume and the textured mouth feel is attractive, all wrapped in a sappy, intense and again only mildly rustic finish that is supported by phenolically ripe structural elements. A very serious Irancy that is built to reward moderate
“ Here the slightly riper nose is actually quite similar to that of the Gueules de Loup if perhaps not quite as elegant as this is an overtly powerful and concentrated effort where the flavors possess an abundance of dry extract on the mouth coating, robust and impressively intense finish. This is a big Bourgogne but the quality is nothing short of amazing.” 90 points Burghound “Outstanding”
2009 Cotes d’Auxerre Gueules de Loup $35
91 points Burghound “Outstanding”
2009 Cotes d’Auxerre Gondonne $35
“ More evident if well short of intrusive wood sets of ripe if discreet aromas of mildly exotic yellow fruit, spiced pear and white peach. The rich, round, supple and quite forward flavors possess excellent volume and fine mid-palate concentration if perhaps not quite the same level of detail though they tighten up considerably on the very dry and explosively long finish. Like several of these ’09s, this delivers simply knockout quality for what it is.” 91 points Burghound “Outstanding”
We ended the tasting with a bottle of 1989 Corps de Garde. The amount of life and delicious multifaceted interest left in this bottle gave me an inkling of what these soils tended by this family are capable of. I left our gathering giddy at the prospect of showing these wines back in the states. There is just so much character and intensity in these wines; their authenticity is evident in every cuvee. If you haven’t had a chance to try Guilhem’s wines yet, check it out; you won’t be disappointed……
As always, with q’s or orders, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheers to the health of you and yours.