This transcription was created thanks to: Ali Massie, Julia Wiggin, Esa Eslami, Megan MacCuish, and JJ Dal
[Brenna Narration]: Hi, this is Brenna Quigley, your personal geologist and terroir guide. Join me on a roadtrip through the geologic history of your favorite wine regions around the world.This is Roadside Terroir.
Season 2, Burgundy’s Cote d’Or is made possible by our season 2 partners: Becky Wasserman and Company, La Paulee, and Acker Wines.
We’re determined to keep this content free and accessible for everyone. We are still actively fundraising for this season and future seasons of the show. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, please get in touch by emailing us at email@example.com.
And if you’d like to support our show personally, please consider becoming an Insider or donating to become a Season 2 Patron. Insiders and Patrons have access to lots of cool stuff including extra photos, illustrations, and extended interviews with all of our guests. To learn more, check out our website roadsideterroir.com and don’t forget to follow us on instagram (@roadsideterroir).
Please, don’t drink and drive...and remember to keep your eyes on the road.
This episode contains explicit language.
[Clothilde Lafarge]: You have it?
[Nick Canepa, Sound Engineer]: Yeah, do you wanna hear?
[Clothilde Lafarge]: Oh, yeah!
::sound of underground spring running in cellar::
(indistinct fascinated whispering in French…)
[Clothilde Lafarge]: Ahh, it’s so nice!
Part I: Pommard
1.1 Arrival in Pommard
::sounds of footsteps walking to a car. We hear a car door open and close and then the engine starts and the car drives away::
Brenna (Narration): Today, we’re headed south from our home base in the center of Beaune. We turn onto the aptly named Route de Pommard, pass by La Dilettante, a couple of gas stations and the place we rented our car, and before we know it are surrounded by vineyards again.
Our goal is to understand some of the most polarized and distinct archetypes of the Côte-d'Or. We’ll begin by analyzing the rivalry between Pommard and Volnay, then wind our way back into the western slopes of the lesser known villages Monthelie, Auxey Duresses, and St Romain, where we’ll explore the concept of terroir through some substances other than grapes.
::sound of car driving continues in the background::
On our journey, we’ll see if we can uncover any scientific, historic, or cultural explanations for why these neighboring villages are so dramatically different.
As we drive through the last vineyards of Beaune and into the vineyards of Pommard, we veer slightly to the right, onto the D973, which takes us ever so gently upslope and immediately into the Premier Crus of Pommard.
Brenna (Narration): For decades, and probably centuries, Pommard and Volnay have been contrasted against one another. Even though the two villages share a common border, and both specialize in pinot noir, the wines from Pommard are typically dark, muscular, and tannic, while wines from Volnay are lighter in color, delicate, and elegant. For these reasons, they are often unfortunately typecast as the masculine and the feminine expressions of Burgundy.
We won’t use any gendered terms throughout our discussions of these wines, because well, it isn’t 1950 – and honestly, we think it's a bit of a crutch. Both the English and French languages are filled with descriptive, vibrant words to describe the nuanced personalities of these wines with much more flavor, precision, and clarity than these oversimplified and outdated descriptors.
That said, if you drink a few classic examples of Pommard next to a few classic examples of Volnay, It’s unlikely you would confuse one for the other. The reference books allude to the idea that Pommard has historically been the more famous of the duo. But today, Pommard is not considered among the coolest wines in the Côte-d'Or. However, many people, including Paul Wasserman, are hoping it's on its way to a comeback.
Paul Wasserman: Well, at first glance, Pommard is very much its cartoon. But if you start looking at some very specific vineyards, it’s this muscular wine, but that’s coated with incredible delicacy. The more you sip it, it becomes way more graceful than you first think. This tannic structure enabled Pommard to keep for a very long time. But Russel, my stepfather, and mom, Becky, they both talk of times when Volnay was almost impossible to sell and Pommard was the opposite…
Brenna (Narration): Others are not so sure, even if they see the immense potential of the vineyards. Here’s Daniel Johnnes:
Daniel Johnnes: Pommard became very popular in the old style French restaurants back in the 50s and 60s, but since then it’s not that popular an appellation. If there’s one thing that I can say in general in a very broad brushstroke about Pommard is that there is sort of an angular style to it. It is maybe a coarser grain and texture. But I think it’s a poor interpretation of the village itself. What’s missing in Pommard is a real dynamic leader of the appellation. I know there’s great potential, because we’ve all tasted great Pommard…
1.2 Clos des Epenots
Brenna (Narration): As we enter Pommard, there are village vineyards on our left, and Premier Crus on our right. These Premier Crus are some of the most classic examples of Pommard wines, and they’re all called Epenots, spelled E-P-E-N-O-T-S, Epenots, which have been further subdivided into either Grands Epenots or Petits Epenots. Somewhere along this border lies the Clos-des-Epenots, a monopole vineyard owned entirely by the Domaine Comte Armand.
Here’s a little French speaking tip I first learned when visiting this vineyard: when there is an S in the word that comes before a vowel, such as “des-Epenots”, you pronounce the S like a Z. So instead of saying “Clos des Epenots”, you say it all quick at once, like: “Clos-dez-Epenots” or even “GrandZ-Epenots”.
Paul Wasserman: Grands Epenots and Petites Epenots are two separate appellations, but you’re allowed to call them Epenots. But within them, there’s Epenots Clos de Citeaux, there’s the Clos des Epenots, there’s the Grand Clos Des Epenots, with the different spelling. There’s Grands Epenots, and there’s Petits Epenots. So those are basically all the Epenots sub-lieux-dits you have.
Brenna (Narration): In classic Burgundy fashion, the Premier Crus of Pommard are mostly restricted to the gentle mid- to lower- slope, before the gradient really picks up. Clos des Epenots, for example, appears completely flat, even though it does have a very gentle east facing grade to it. The lower side of the D973 and most of the much steeper, upper slope, is all Pommard village.
The Comte Armand received the Clos des Epenots as a part of a dowry from a daughter of the Marey Mange family. The Mareys were one of the most important vineyard owners in the Côte-d'Or in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. Originally they owned all of Epenots, but in the early eighteen hundreds built a wall around what they believed to be the best part of the vineyard and sold off the rest.
Paul Wasserman: Skip to several generations later, the Counts live in Paris, they’re very attached to the domaine. And since 1985 they’ve entrusted very young winemakers as régisseurs, so full managers of the estate. Paul Zinetti now runs it. It used to be vinified according to age. There’s been a slight change, it’s more vinified in blocks according to geology. You find big nodules of iron, I've picked up quite a few at the Clos and juggled with them because they feel good in the hands…
Brenna (Narration): You would think that this lower section of the Pommard Premier Crus is on very deep, clay rich soils. But when the Comte de Armand did a detailed geologic survey of the vineyard, they discovered the soils in the Clos des Epenots are only about 50 centimeters deep, and sit upon highly calcareous marl and limestone gravels. There is clearly variation within the Clos, which these talented young vignerons have been working to understand for decades. However, there is even more variation across the greater Grands and Petits Epenots vineyards that surround it.
The wines from the Clos des Epenots have seen a long history of greatness, and because they have been made by a series of young, talented, outsider winemakers they provide a unique lens into the changing styles of the region, and how the expression of a great terroir shines through changes in style, hand, and vintage. If you ever have the opportunity to taste a vertical of Clos des Epenots, don’t pass it up.
Paul Wasserman: I was fortunate once to go to a vertical, when we went back to 1864. And it was absolutely stunning. It was glorious and this is the thing about aging and Pommard and tannin, these tannins just enabled the wine to age. We had it in 2006, and it was still alive. It was very delicate because by that age wine loses a lot of its power, but what remains is essence of wine, perfume, delicacy, with all the tannins resolved. They’re absolutely glorious and very much alive. It’s extraordinary.
1.3 Pommard and Dolomite
::gentle sound of car driving along the highway::
Brenna (Narration): As we continue along the D973 we make our way through the village of Pommard, which sits right in the center of the Combe de Nantoux. This combe is prominent, wide, and extends back into the slope all the way to the village of Nantoux. The combe provides much of Pommard with a significant amount of alluvial material, as well as a good blast of cool air.
The influence of this major combe is one factor that helps to define the terroir of Pommard, along with characteristically deeper, iron-rich clay soils, and another mysterious geologic factor…
Francoise Vannier: So I went with my hammer, and I started and… which rock is it? I can’t recognize it…
Brenna (Narration): Here’s our local geological guide, Francoise Vannier. Francoise was hired by the GEST, a group of local vignerons, to create a detailed geologic map of certain vineyards from the northern end of Volnay, through Pommard and the southern end of Beaune…
Francoise Vannier: I was really completely lost, and I understood that everything here, most of the limestone, were submitted to a strong dolomitization.
Brenna (Narration): Dolomite is a strange and mysterious type of limestone. If you remember, limestone is a rock made up primarily of calcium carbonate. In dolomite, about half of those calcium ions have been swapped out for magnesium. Dolomite is pretty common in the rock record, but dolomite forming conditions are extremely rare on Earth today, and, in fact, it’s difficult to find any good examples of dolomite that are younger than 66 million years old. Geologists refer to this phenomenon as “the dolomite problem.”
::sound of rock hammer steadily hammering rock::
Francoise Vannier: So I break the rocks along the walls…
Brenna (Narration): In the rock record, dolomite is often associated with high stands of sea level, so some scientists think it may have to do with Greenhouse conditions, or possibly evaporitic conditions. But, honestly, nobody really knows. What we do know is that dolomite has more magnesium than regular limestone, and often has some extra ferrous iron as well, which can sub out for some of that magnesium. It’s slightly harder than regular limestone, but is considerably more porous, meaning that it’s capable of holding lots of water, and it often breaks down into a soft sand.
Francoise Vannier: So, here Brenna, you’ve got a piece of hard dolomite, but we will see soft dolomite. And this is dolomitized facies. You see, there is no shape. It’s just a, uh…
Brenna: It’s just kind of like a hard lump?
Francoise Vannier: Yeah.
Brenna (Narration): Francoise points out examples of both hard, intact dolomite, and the softer sandier sections. Notice the difference in the sound of her hammer on the different rocks…
::sound of a rock hammer hitting different dolomitic rocks, some with a sharp snapping sound, and others with a dull thud::
Francoise Vannier: It’s not marl, but it’s a soft rock. Quite powdery, easy to scratch.
Brenna: And so you think that this was the dolomitized Ladoix?
Francoise Vannier: This one? I think so, yes, I think it’s Ladoix.
Brenna (Narration): Francoise explains that the dolomite in Pommard is patchy and unpredictable. She says there are other sections of dolomite in the Côte-d'Or, but this amount of it seems to be unique to Pommard.
Brenna: So they were quarrying…
Francoise Vannier: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They were taking it to sell it, I don’t know where. And I think in the Hautes-Côte de Beaune some small quarries were still active in the middle of the twentieth century…
Brenna (Narration): She also goes on to explain that a lot of the dolomite has been quarried historically, for its magnesium, for industrial uses. Some of this magnesium was used for soil amendments, but magnesium also has the ability to decrease the melting temperature of certain substances, so has been used in the iron industry, and also for the production of crystal. Much of the magnesium in the Côte-d'Or was used specifically for a crystallerie developed by Marie Antoinette herself…
Francoise Vannier: So, if you could have a specificity for Pommard, but including also the northern part of Volnay and the southern part of Beaune, for instance Le Clos de Muche, it’s the occurrence of a strong amounts of magnesium in the soils due to the dolemite. I’m not saying that it is the reason why wines in Pommard are strong, with strength, and so on. I don’t have the explanation. But, one specificity in Pommard is a huge amount of magnesium due to the dolomitization.
1.4 Rougiens and Bouley
::Driving sounds transition…::
Brenna (Narration): As we continue through Pommard, there are some striking, austere and powerful Premier Cru and Village vineyards that extend back into the combe itself.
Paul Wasserman: There are lieux-dits in Pommard that are incredible, and on the north end towards Beaune, on the very top of the hill are Petits Noizons and Les Vignots. Which are incredible lieux-dits but of course Leroy also makes a Pommard Les Vignots and they’re exceptional lieux-dits, you know…
Brenna (Narration): And on the southern side of the village, the greatest Premier Crus are located about 30 meters higher than those to the north such as Clos des Epenots, on a steeper, more irregular and jumbled up slope.
Brenna (Narration): We’ve made our way to Pommard Rugiens, which is easily regarded as one of the most important vineyards in Pommard. This vineyard is divided up into two parts – Rugiens-Bas, the most prestigious and Rugiens-Hauts, which sits directly above it.
Thomas Bouley: So we have two different age, and this part is more white soil…
Paul Wasserman: It’s lighter…
Brenna: It’s not as red…
Thomas Bouley: The sunset is behind the mountain so, at the end of the day it’s colder here than Rugiens-Bas.
::Footsteps on dirt::
Brenna (Narration): We’re joined in Rugiens-Hauts, by Thomas Bouley of Domaine Jean-Marc et Thomas Bouley, based in neighboring Volnay. Thomas is an excellent example of a Volnay winemaker who has a sneaky knack for making expressive, thoughtful Pommard wines.
::Upbeat musical transition::
Paul Wasserman: I heard about him because of his peers, whether it was David Croix, Olivier Lamy, or Nicolas Rossignol… other people said: Thomas has this incredible sensitivity towards vineyards, he’s probably the best among us and I didn’t really understand it at first because it’s subtle but he has a huge feeling for the vineyards. But also he’s a great winemaker, classically styled winemaker, very careful use of sulfur, and the result is wines that have slowly built towards greatness because everything he does is subtle. And yeah he’s definitely a great part of a certain group of winemakers who are very very talented, talked about, and emulate one another in this sort of really enriching competition.
::Footsteps on dirt::
Thomas Bouley: The border of the appellation is just there… and you can see the exposition…
Thomas Bouley: So we can go left, go up to Vaumurien and then go down into Volnay, the view is…
Paul Wasserman: Okay
::Driving on gravel sounds::
Brenna (Narration): From Thomas’ parcel of Rugiens-Hauts, we get back in the car and begin to climb up into the high slopes of Village Pommard… where the soils become white, and chalky.
Paul Wasserman: And that hill in the sun, opposite there, that’s a…
Thomas Bouley: Noizons… Vignots…
Paul Wasserman: Yeah, they’re amazing lieux-dits.
::Thomas Bouley agrees, car sounds::
Thomas Bouley: So before when I was younger, my running here, we could feel the air flow and really, really, really cold. The road is the border. So, it’s Pommard side, and Volnay and this part is Pommard, now Volnay…
Paul Wasserman: (Laughs) You snooze, you lose.
::Musical transition, car driving sounds::
Brenna (Narration): As we all make our way through these higher Pommard Villages vineyards, and get closer and closer to Volnay we can’t help but notice that it feels like we’re getting closer to Volnay.
Part II: Volnay
2.1: The Ducs of Volnay
Françoise Vannier: Okay, uh, Volnay.
::Beeping car sound::
Françoise Vannier: Whoops, okay got it.
::Car sounds fade::
Brenna (Narration): Pommard clearly sits low on the slope, right in front of a significant combe and on top of its associated alluvial fan. In direct contrast to this, the village of Volnay sits much higher on the slope, just barely below its tree-capped crest, and in front of a comparatively tiny little, mini-combe. The center of the village of Volnay sits about 50 meters higher than that of Pommard, and even if this doesn’t sound that significant, it gives the village a much more elevated, mountainous feel to it. The slope is quite steep here as well, even within the town, making the narrow roads feel all the more perilous.
Daniel Johnnes: Volnay is one of the great villages of Burgundy, now is it because of the terroir, or because the producer’s and the history? I think it’s a combination of both.
Brenna (Narration): This little mountain village also holds historical significance, which has been preserved in the names of several notable vineyards. According to Jasper Morris, in the 11th Century the Duc’s of Burgundy built a big chateau here, in which they would eventually entertain the Kings of France. This Chateau, which no longer stands today, was apparently used as a sort of “summer home” for the dukes, as a respite from their homes in far-away Beaune.
Abbe Bavard wrote that Duke Hough the IV preferred Volnay because of its, and quote “hillside so well situated, its waters so clear, its atmosphere so pure, its views so grand, its wines so delicate, and all its produce so tasty”. Impressively, 800 years later this all still rings true.
Several vineyards within and adjacent to the village of Volnay sit upon the foundation of what was once this elaborate chateau. Many of these vineyards are now monopoles, and are absolutely precious to the vigneron who own them now. These include: Clos des Duc owned by the Marquis D’Angerville, Clos de la Cave des Duc not owned, but tended to by Benjamin Leroux, and Clos du Chateau des Duc owned by the Lafarge family. To mistake one for the other is a major faux pas…despite the similarity of their names each precious vineyard has a drastically different situation, soil, and expression than its counterparts.
We begin our tour of Volnay at Thomas’ Clos de la Cave, which appropriately sits just above his own cellar at the top of the village and just above Benjamin Leroux’s Clos de la Cave de Ducs below. We hike up to the very top of the slope, where we can overlook the entirety of Volnay in front of us.
Thomas Bouley: So here it’s Clos de la Cave, so it’s really not so much clay, around 20%, with many stones and gravels… and on the ground we have white soil, like marl? on the ground, but it’s really deep soil, the bedrocks really deep. When we dig the new winery, we had a profile of 7 meters.
Paul Wasserman: Still no bedrock? Crazy.
Thomas Bouley: Exactly.
Paul Wasserman: You don’t expect that on “au-dessus”.
Thomas Bouley: No and we have the forest at the top, so with a warm climate June/July the sun was behind the forest so it was cooler than the rest of the plain.
::Car rolling sounds::
Brenna: Can we go to the top?
Paul Wasserman: Walking?
Thomas Bouley: Yep.
::Walking sounds, footsteps on gravels::
Thomas Bouley: And with the slope and sometimes…
Paul Wasserman: It’s steep! Ça fait du bien aux cuisses.
Thomas Bouley: Oui! From here’s it’s 33% of slope. Here. But we have beautiful view!
Brenna (Narration): From this vantage point we can see the steep Premier Cru vineyards on either side of us, and the gentle swells and undulations in the slope as it flattens out below us…many of the monopole vineyards are tucked within humble stone walls of the village, and often look more like private gardens than historic sources of excellence.
Thomas Bouley: So this is Volnay, Clos de la Cave, so that’s Volnay Village, and just behind the wall, is Volnay 1er Cru. So that’s the border. Clos des Duc, Clos de la Cave (Village) and Clos de la Cave des Ducs and Clos du Chateau du Duc is just there.
Brenna (Narration): The wines of Volnay are much like the village itself…they sit high in the air, seemingly weightless, beautiful and gently contemplative…but without even a hint of ostentation.
Paul Wasserman: So who loves Volnay? So they’re not peacock wines. They’re not bullies. They’re not Olympians. A lot of people think it’s just delicate and pretty and yummy - that’s why they like it. But actually there can be pretty stern tannins, they’re just smaller than Pommard, but they can be very stony and tannic. It’s never looking down on you. And it feels really good and pretty and elegant and graceful and also incredibly complex. The greatest wine I’ve ever had in my life comes from Volnay. Period. Also, there’s a lot of talent in Volnay. And a lot of historical talent in Volnay.
Brenna (Narration): Volnay is a relatively small and compact village, and everyone seems to agree that there are around 4 basic terroir zones, even though they might disagree slightly about their boundaries… and we’re on a mission to explore them all.
Brenna (Narration): There are steep vineyards on white soils in the northwest, such as Clos des Ducs and Pitures. Below them are vineyards that border some of the great Pommard vineyards we just visited, which share a taste of Pommard’s richness and strength. There is a small cluster of vineyards within the village itself, including the other two Duc namesakes: Clos de la Cave des Duc and Clos du Chateau des Duc, as well as the legendary Clos de la Bousse d’Or. South of the village, and once any evidence of dolomite has conveniently disappeared are the most classic expressions of Volnay including Taille Pieds and Clos des Chênes high on the slope, and Champans and Caillerets just below them… Finally, just south of the Volnay border is Santenots, which though technically belongs to Meursault, has the right to be called 1er Cru Volnay Santenots when planted to Pinot Noir.
Paul Wasserman: Lastly, you have Santenots. It’s the most powerful of all the Volnays. It’s always got dark fruit. It’s interesting dark fruit, it’s not heavy. It remains fresh. Incredible aging potential, but it’s in Meursault.
::Tires rolling sounds::
2.2: D’Angerville Terroir Tour
Brenna Narration: For our next stop, we head back down into the village, and just around the corner to Domaine Marquis D’Angerville…to visit with the ultimate gentleman, Guillaume D’Angerville, himself… Domaine D’Angerville is easily one of the greatest domaines in Volnay. They farm biodynamically, and make wines that are true to the style of Volnay while also being perfectly expressive of their individual terroirs. Historically, Guillaume’s grandfather was one of the first to begin estate bottling their own wines in the 30s…and worked tirelessly to preserve the reputation of Volnay’s terroirs from some less-than-honest negociants of the time… he also played a huge role in officially classifying the individual vineyards.
Guillaume D’Angerville: Yeah, this one was made by my grandfather probably 120 years ago. My grandfather arrived here in 1903 or 1904. But he was an artist and one of the first things he did was open a big window to create his studio. This is facing north, you know, this is the preferred light for artists. He created that huge window. Which when I redid the house I hesitated to put back the original windows like the level below but I decided, no, I need to keep it the way that my grandfather had made it. And so, he had no real job before when he had arrived here. But his uncle who gave him the property when he died was his godfather who had no heirs of his own. In his will, it specified that it would be perfect because, Sam, that was my grandfather’s first name, Sam will have gone past the age of passions. He was 35 by the time he arrived here so his godfather thought his passions would be behind. But the estate was non-existent at the time because phylloxera had destroyed everything. Of course. He proceeded to replant the entire estate and we owe him what the property is today. He was part of the I.N.A.O. Institut National des Appellations d'Origine; and he also wrote down the hierarchy of Burgundy together with Henri Gouges in Nuits-St-George. The two of them together were mandated by their peers to do this. And that was the beginning, of course, of what we now know that everyone wants to do. Like he said in his own words, he wanted to fight for authentic wines. Authentic wines, is, was his motto.
[Musical transition, drums]
Brenna Narration: The garden of the Domaine is the steep and regal, Clos des Ducs, monopole vineyard… Guillaume loves to point out whenever it’s within sight.
Guillaume D’Angerville: So we’re here at the Clos de Ducs, its very peculiar parcel because it sits on the Northern hill of the village. But, bottom left corner of that hill. So you can see when you look at the Clos de Ducs that the slope to the East is almost equivalent to the slope to the South. So that there is that double exposure. The soil here is typical marls, marnes blanche, white marls, with a high content of limestone. Lower content of clay in spite of the fact that it’s quite high on the hill. It still has quite a deep soil. About 3 feet of soils before the rock. It’s never really suffered from erosion too much. And there is excellent drainage, of course, because the double slope is there and each slope is quite steep. Yeah, so, there is never any excess water on the surface.
[Sound of a babbling brook, water trickling over rocks]
Guillaume D’Angerville: And what we are hearing here is precisely my next point. Which is the fact that underneath that particular area there are a series of underground springs. And those springs move around and are always positioned at exactly the same place but one part of it comes out in the middle of the vineyard there.
Brenna: Is that what that is?
Guillaume D’Angerville: Yeah, the green patch that you see there and it’s hosed down it comes down here and you can hear it here. And it’s always flowing, that particular spring. Even in dry years it’s flowing. And an easy way to uh, verify the importance of those underground springs of course, is that even in those dry years that we’ve seen several of in the recent past. We’ve had a higher yield than Clos des Ducs than in other parts of the Premier Crus of Volnay. Which means the hydric stress is less of course because of those underground springs. So, that another peculiar aspect of that particular terroir. Climat, we call it, which makes it very special.
[Sounds of spring water running]
Brenna Narration: These natural springs seem to set Volnay apart from other villages in the Côte d’Or… when I asked Françoise why the village of Volnay sits at such a high elevation compared to other villages along the cote she replied that it most likely had to do with access to water.
Brenna: Do you know why Volnay is so much higher?
Françoise Vannier: Probably due to the springs. A few centuries ago the houses were built where the water was and probably the spring was there and the relationships with the water was very important a few centuries ago.
Brenna: And that is the one thing that everyone seems to talk about in Volnay, are the springs…
Françoise Vannier: Hmm.
Guillaume D’Angerville: There is that element there and there is also that breeze coming from the separation of the two hills. Always like a breeze, it is especially important of course in the summer when it’s important to keep Pinot cold at night and so that’s a refreshing element also for the vineyard.
Brenna: Well if you have time we would love to see a couple different, diverse vineyards
Guillaume D’Angerville: Yeah. What kind of car do you have?
Brenna: Well… (laughing) it’s called a Clio .
Brenna: (laughs again)
Guillaume D’Angerville: ok, uh... (hesitant)
Brenna: It’s “okay”.
Guillaume D’Angerville: Because I have a 2 seater (laughs)... so?
Brenna: Okay we can squeeze into mine too, we can all fit into one? Or whatever you prefer…
Guillaume D’Angerville: You think so?
Guillaume D’Angerville: Okay, lets do that then - it’s easier.
Jerusha Frost: It already has dirt from yesterday so it’s ready for the vineyard!
[Upbeat musical drumming transition]
Brenna Narration: So, this is how I ended up driving around the Marquis D’Angerville in our extremely dirty, scrappy little rental car along the steep and perilous roads of Volnay…
[Driving sounds, tires rolling]
Guillaume D’Angerville: Next it's going to be a very steep slope. So we're going up the south hill here. Okay, so you, you do understand the villages in between the two Hills. Now we're up going up the south hill. Blow your horn at the top and turn left.
[Car horn beeps]
Brenna: Oh wow.
Guillaume D’Angerville: So this is a slight detour through Taillepieds here, because I want to show you, uh, from above. So turn right here. This is my Taillepieds here, so you can park.
[Sounds of car stopping… unbuckling seat belts]
Guillaume D’Angerville: So, you see the Clos de Duc. Um, you see the church to the left of the church in between the two trees - that's the Clos de Duc we were in. So, you see the slope south and the slope east. So here is the south hill.
Brenna: It's like a diamond shape.
Guillaume D’Angerville: Like a diamond shape exactly. And here Taillepieds on the south hill, uh, same sort of altitude as Clos de Duc perhaps a little bit higher. But in the open wind , as you can tell, a lot more in the open wind than Clos de Duc is. Very steep also, “Taillepieds” means cuts your feet. The legend is the name of the vineyard is because people used to ruin their shoes when they were working in the vineyard. And then behind that road is Champans and Caillerets is a little bit over there to the south of Champans. But you can tell that quite a steep slope here and then the slope is less steep into Champans. When we see Champans from the bottom. You will realize that is much less slopey than Taillepieds, but it’s a very long rose from the very of the roads from the bottom of the slope to just above mid- slope.
Brenna: It’s even kind of like… convex.
Guillaume D’Angerville: Yep, it is. The expression of this Taillepieds. I think reflects more the wind and the cold and the high altitude than it does warmth. It’s always a more reserved wine in my range, a colder wine, even in sensation. But very long lasting.
[Upbeat music with drums]
Brenna Narration: We leave Taillepieds and head down the steep slope to Champans, just below the D973.
Guillaume D’Angerville: Are you prepared to drive down there?
Brenna: I’m ready.
Guillaume D’Angerville: Go for it then.
[Drumming music, sounds of tires struggling on gravel]
Guillaume D’Angerville: You see the two cars, voom - that's the limit of Champans and that's the limit of the parcel itself. And of course it's the initial part over there. It's quite slopey. And then it's much less slopey at the bottom. You can see here, it's almost. Yeah, flat. That's the real beginning of the slope, right there, long rows, about 300 yards long, but the top is very shallow soil and the bottom is quite deep soil. So, uh, that's, that's what I was saying earlier. Um, you know, depending on where you are in the parcel is different, but it's the overall combination that makes sense and works well. So, Champans in many ways is considered as the archetype of Volnay 1er cru… almost in the middle of the appellation, and in the middle of the slopes, it brings together all the main characteristics of Volnay ....
Brenna Narration: The next vineyard we are going to see is the Clos des Chenes, which, if we’re being honest, we didn’t visit with Guillaume, but visited instead on another day with the esteemed and beloved Lafarge family.
Paul Wasserman: The Lafarge is, almost an estate that's outside of time… Michele never gave into any fads, including there were never any clones planted at Lafarge, there was I don’t think much use of herbicide whatsoever, they were in the early proponents of biodynamics, if we’re talking about Volnay having a lack of ostentation, then you can double up with the Lafarge’s having no ostentation whatsoever, so it’s a double whammy of, reality… in a way. Soulful, very soulful wines…
Brenna Narration: We’re joined in the Clos des Chenes, by the son of the late Michele Lafarge, Frédéric, and his daughter Clothilde who returned to work full time at the domaine in 2018. Frederic explains that their parcel of Clos des Chenes is special because it exists at the corner of 4 of the greatest vineyards in Volnay…
Clothilde Lafarge: Voilà, Clos des Chênes.
Frédéric Lafarge: We are in Clos des Chênes. Our parcel of Clos des Chênes is very very spéciale. It is the first parcel of Clos des Chênes after Taillepieds. In the middle of our parcel, we have the changement – Caillerets on the right, Champans on the left – it is a terroir very complex, with a very good intensity. It is a very red soil, with 30 centimeters of soil then after we have the limestone rock. This part of Clos des Chênes, between the road and the little road, to me it is the best part of Clos des Chênes because it is very complex. And after the little road, the soil is more clear, and it is Clos des Chênes with more tannin, more austerity.
Clothilde Lafarge: It’s really interesting because the soil is really different, and when we taste Clos des Chênes from the neighbors, it’s completely different.
[Peter Burrows]: I always have difficulty imagining it, but this is very clear.
Clothilde Lafarge: Ah, what is that? What kind of rock is it?
Brenna: I think it’s some kind of crystalized calcite within the limestone.
[More background discussion] Gold, maybe not? Gold limestone?
Clothilde Lafarge: Ah so I can call it Grand Cru now? Thank you!
[Laughing, French commentary, cars speeding past in the distance]
Brenna (Narration continues): From Clos des Chênes, we cross the road down to the lower side of the D974 again into Caillerets. It seems like everyone who makes wine in Volnay has a little bit of Caillerets, and loves it dearly. As Guillaume says…
Guillaume d’Angerville: There is a saying in Volnay that says “if you don't know Caillerets, you don't know Volnay”, so…
Brenna (Narration continues): Thomas Bouley’s parcel of Caillerets is just below the Lafarge parcel of Clos des Chênes.
Paul Wasserman: Why is Caillerets the best terroir in Volnay?
Thomas Bouley: The exposition, it is southeast. There is not as much clay here, very light soil. Like a layer of slate, of stones, here.
Paul Wasserman: Aptly deserved name: Caillerets…it means small stones. Wow, and it’s hot in the afternoon here, because of the stones.
Thomas Boulay: Yeah, we never need gumboots here.
Paul Wasserman: Rubber boots? You’re right, it’s gumboots but only in England.
Paul Wasserman: In America, it’s rubber boots.
Brenna (Narration continues): Caillerets is a big vineyard, and quite variable. The d’Angerville parcels are just a bit further south than the Bouley parcels.
Guillaume d’Angerville: You can see, of course, that here it is quite slopey but Champans, at the bottom, is quite less slopey. You can recognize, just by seeing it, that the top of the parcel will be quite different from the bottom of the parcel. Some people would argue, “well, if the top is so different from the bottom, why don’t you separate the two?” Well no, it’s precisely because they are together why they make a wine that is so distinctive.
Brenna (Narration continues): And the Lafarge parcel, always the enigma, is just a bit lower on the slope…
Brenna (narrating from the car): Wow, the clouds are so dramatic.
Clothile Lafarge: Yeah, but at least we have a little bit of sun, which is nice.
::Sounds of driving, seatbelts clicking apart::
Frédéric Lafarge: 25-30 centimeters of soil, and after, we have the limestone mother rock. And the name is Cailleret because we have a lot of minerality in the wine.
Brenna (Narration continues): Their parcel is on a very flat section of the vineyard, and part of it has recently been replanted in a manner unlike anything that has ever been done in the Côte d’Or. Instead of neat, straight rows, the new vines have been planted in a perfect spiral.
Frédéric Lafarge: This older vine is 64 years old. And after, you have the new parcel planted in ‘20, in a spiral. And if you would, we will walk and not speak, then after, we speak… It's an experience.
Brenna (Narration continues): We walk silently, winding our way around the edge of the vineyard towards its center…
::Soft music, sounds of feet slowly pacing through brush::
Frédéric Lafarge: We have a lot of energy… And it is very quiet, and I think for the grape, too, it’s better because it’s a very good expression of terroir with the energy of the place.
Frédéric Lafarge: I had this dream to work in biodynamics. We work a lot with the vortex, and old civilizations in South America, like the Mayans, work with the circle. I think it’s very interesting… and I’m very happy that it is possible in the Caillerets.
Clothile Lafarge: And, of course, it’s all by horse and by hand. [Frédéric agrees]
Brenna (Narration continues): Clothilde tells me later that this has been a dream of her father’s for probably 20 years.
Frédéric Lafarge: And now we have the mother rock. It is a very zen, very meditative place.
::Slow tonal music, sounds of walking through grass::
Brenna (Narration continues): We head back to the cellar, rethinking everything we thought we knew, and everything we thought was possible in the Côte d’Or.
::Music and walking sounds continue::
Brenna (Narration continues): Back at the domaine, we visit Lafarge's private vineyard garden, the Clos du Château des Ducs. We’re joined here by our friend, another Wasserman associate, Peter Burrows, who helps to translate.
Frédéric Lafarge: Ok, here we are in Clos du Château des Ducs, it is a monopole of the domaine, 0.6 hectare, it’s a very great terroir of Volnay. The soil is argilo-calcaire, very brown with a lot of little stones. We have 35 centimeters of soil. And between the soil and the mother rock, we have then 25 centimeters of a little stone in the limestone. It is a terroir climat with lots of energy, a tonique place…
Brenna: Do you think the walls here add a human element to the terroir?
Frédéric Lafarge: Yes, it is very early. And since ‘16, very often we picked before the other premier crus because the wall protects from the wind, and the chaleur, the warmth at night is very important, and the maturity of the grapes arrives very quickly.
Frédéric Lafarge: We have chickens, ten chickens and one rooster… ils grattent le sol et mangent beaucoup d'insectes, et ils amènent tout une animalité. C’est important d’avoir des animaux qui complètent le terroir et le climat.
::Laughs, jokes in French::
Peter Burrows: It brings an animal element to the terroir, that brings life and it’s important to bring life to the vines themselves.
Frédéric Lafarge: And we are lucky because we eat very good eggs, they are eggs of premier cru.
Frédéric Lafarge: It is very rare!
Brenna (Narration continues): We end our Volnay vineyard tour by descending into the ancient, small, and humble cellar of Domaine Michel Lafarge… tasting wines out of barrel at Lafarge is a truly moving experience. [Sounds of wines pouring from thief into glass] The wines are absolutely superb…quirky and alive, serious and profound, yet somehow a bit mischievous…not unlike the Lafarge family themselves. We didn’t say much during this experience, just tasted quietly and let it all sink in, as the sounds of the underground spring that flows along the wall washes over us…
::Sounds of trickling water::
2.4 – Volnay Tradition
Brenna (Narration continues): There is a lot to Volnay that seems to transcend our current understanding of terroir. Here’s Jasper Morris.
Jasper Morris: We don’t have to forget that Burgundy is so much about the people. Even though we go on and on about the glories of the terroirs, this vineyard and that vineyard, but the people matter.
Brenna (Narration continues): There is a rich history and tradition here that is fully encapsulated by the people who guard it. From the Marquis d’Angerville protecting the integrity of his village, to the humble spirit of the Lafarges. But the story of Volnay wouldn’t be complete without mentioning another legendary character, Gerard Potel, of Domaine de la Pousse d’Or.
Jasper Morris: Gerard Potel, he came in from outside and created something spectacular, including his first vintage, 1964. But Gerard Potel was also a very strong character… didn’t suffer fools gladly. You sort of had to earn the right to go and taste there. So you’d see these big formats being drunk here at special occasions, and the wines were just really lovely. He was just a really good winemaker, who made lovely wine, and had a lot of personality, and was an important part of the history of this town.
Brenna (Narration continues): Older vintages of Domaine de la Pousse d’Or are easily some of the most coveted bottles in any Burgundy lover’s cellar, especially those of their flagship monopole vineyard, Clos de la Bousse d’Or, which roughly translates to “Clos of Golden Earth.” I should mention here that the domaine sold following his sudden and unfortunate passing in 1997.
Gerard Potel quickly established himself as one of Burgundy’s great winemakers in the early 1960s–and many important domaines of today still cite his impact. Jacques Seyess of Domaine Dujac, famously worked a harvest at La Pousse d’Or, and today, both of these two men are now considered some of the most pivotal characters in Burgundy’s modern history.
Gerard Potel was the first in the Côte d’Or to sort his grapes at harvest and made careful efforts to improve the concentration and seriousness of his wines. Plus, he was a big fan of whole cluster fermentations. It’s hard to imagine what Burgundy would taste like today without his influence.
Daniel Johnnes: True greatness comes a little bit from the terroir, but I believe in the magic of the druid that's stirring the pot. When you talk about true greatness, as in Gerard Potel, it’s not just the terroir, it’s something beyond that… because Burgundy is such a magical place for reasons that we can't explain.
Part III: Monthelie, Auxey Duresses, and St Romain
3.1 Driving Through Monthelie and Auxey Duresses
Brenna (Narration): Just South of Volnay, there’s a huge break in the slope – a major valley cuts back into the Cote, creating the opportunity for vineyards with unusual orientations…
If we were to continue south we would abruptly plunge into Chardonnay vines and the village of Meursault Instead we choose to continue on the D973, which wraps around the same slope as Clos des Chênes, and continues due west –off the beaten path of the east facing Côte d’Or –into the quiet villages of Monthelie and Auxey Duresses, and the dramatic cliffs of St Romain…
::piano plays and Paul Wasserman’s voice fades in::
Paul Wasserman: So, you have a choice here. You can go through Monthelie, Auxey to St Romain.
Brenna: It’s a beautiful view
Paul: It is beautiful
Brenna: What are we looking into?
Paul Wasserman: Auxey Duresses, Monthelie and the Valley of Monthelie…
::Paul Wassweman’s voice fades into the background::
Paul Wasserman: Monthelie produces a tiny bit of white, but it's mostly a red wine village. Clos des Chênes is already a pretty tannic vineyard especially for Volnay, it’s a little chunky, a little structured. It gets more so when you hit Monthelie. So, the structure gets really amped up. They used to be considered a little rustic, but with changes in climate, farming and winemaking, but really climate, I think, they’ve really rounded out. Juicy, the structure is tasting more crunchy.
Brenna (Narration): Monthelie is an interesting balance of a few factors: there’s the cool air from the combe, contrasted with the afternoon warmth of the south facing slopes
Françoise has also pointed out that the geology of Monthelie is dominated by white marl…
All of this is quite reminiscent of the hill of Corton…
These white marls continue deeper into the valley toward the village of Auxey Duresses, where chardonnay plantings become a bit more common, and much more well known.
::Car driving in the background::
Paul Wasserman: So, Auxey, the thing about Auxey and it’s reputation and why it can certainly taste that way, is its high content in limestone. Here there is a minerality as violent as Chablis.
Brenna: Right, which is what a lot of nerds are into right?
Paul Wasserman: Yeah
Brenna: Ok, huh, I didn’t really know that, I really don’t know much about Auxey
Paul Wasserman: Well, nor does the rest of the world!
::Introspective music plays::
Brenna (Narration): In short, active limestone refers to the Calcium carbonate in the soil that is actively available to the plant, this means that it can easily increase the pH of the soil and that the Ca is readily available to the plant. A lot of active lime can actually be a harsh environment for the plant, and can make it difficult for the plant to take up other nutrients, such as Fe – remember the calcium encrusted roots that we saw at the top of Corton in our last episode?
Paul Wasserman: Auxey, I tend to consider a white wine producing village because the white wines are getting all the attention. The reason for this is that at the south of the village the hillside is the continuation of Meursault. So, the first vineyards when you leave Meursault and hit Auxey are up against really, really, exceptional Meursault village; that whole group of lieux-dits on both sides are exceptional. There’d some famous producers there: Roulot makes Auxey Blanc. It’s not just that side, and of course there is Leroy with d'Auvenay les Boutonniers, which is great. And will cost you the price of a small car. North of the village, on the other side and facing south: you have a handful of primer crus that face south except for a few. And there are very very striking wines there. Almost Chablis-like minerality in whites, almost white wine minerality in reds and this great, great crunchiness
Françoise Vannier: So, you have the Volney, Meursault, Auxey and Monthelies and there are some faults parallel to the valley but there are also faults into the valley. Even if from place to place you can have the same limestone you will also have this change in exposure. In Auxey I love this village because it is quiet…
::Introspective piano plays and driving car noises fade over the music::
Brenna (Narration): As we make our way further into the valley, the elevation begins to climb, and the soft, broad topography of the Côte de Beaune gets steeper and more dramatic…and off in the distance, appear the white, vertical cliffs of Saint Romain.
Brenna: That’s dramatic!
Paul Wasserman: It’s almost kind of like an amphitheater. This is where Sous le Chateau, literally “under the castle” is that slope, we are gonna get a better view of it. And this was where Combe Bazin is. This is a good place to show geology people.
Brenna (Narration): We see the vineyards of Saint Romain before we get into the village itself…The elevation at the lowest part of the slope here are still over 300 meters, or higher than the Village of Volna and the vines at the top of the steep slopes, such as Sous le Chateau, are well over 400 hundred meters.
Paul Wasserman: We are going to go into St. Romain and go up into St Romain le aux, because that is also where the Wassermans started.
::transitional music plays::
Brenna (Narration): The village of St Romain sits cozy and protected beneath the towering cliffs above, stone houses with tiled roofs and baby blue shutters line the steep little roads…Although it is remote and relatively unknown, there is a lot of heart in St Romain–locals come from all over the Côte for the scenery and the quiet…the experience of being here is authentic to Burgundy, but encapsulates the aspects of terroir that go beyond the vineyards and the wines. With that in mind, it’s time for a cup of coffee…
3.2 St. Romain Coffee
::Espresso machine and coffee grinder sounds::
Matt McClune: So, for me, this is a classic Yirgacheffe. It’s a washed coffee, grown at high altitude, like 200 meters in the forest.
Brenna (Narration): This is Matt McClune. Matt is a talented artist, now turned artist/coffee roaster and the owner of St Romain coffee. Matt and his wife Megan came to Burgundy almost 20 years ago. Matt had been working in restaurants in Boston, where he met Alex Gambal –one of the early Americans to start his own small negociant business here in Burgundy. Shortly after their meeting, Alex encouraged Matt to come and work a harvest…
::Espresso machine finishes pulling a shot::
Matt McClune: So, I worked with Alex and came back every year after. In 2004, I convinced my girlfriend to move and have an adventure, for a year or so. And that was seventeen years ago. What an experience! It was nice coming from Boston, to the center of Beaune, and you know at night you could hear the glasses clinking on the tables and its like: Ah France!
Brenna: So, what did you do when you first got here? How did you pay the bills?
Matt McClune: As it turned out, Alex actually, just bought a building in Beaune and he needed a site manager for the renovation. And he was like, “Yeah, Matt you can figure that stuff out right? You should be my foreman!” And like I don’t have the construction experience, nor do I have the french skills, but there I was. Everyday I was there on the job site talking to these like old school artisans. I was super great! Really sink or swim french, except that I was the bad words and the slang and the like. So then, I would go to the bank, to like try and get a bank account, and I would speak as well as I could. But, from their reaction I could tell that maybe what I was saying was not how you would say it in this situation.
Brenna: Like, “Give me a goddamn loan!”
Matt McClune: Yeah, yeah yeah! It was kind of like that! Right, right.
Brenna (Narration): And so, they stayed. Megan worked with a few wineries on the business side of things directing sales, and exports, while Matt continued working and focusing on his art. As we stand here tasting through his delicate and precise coffees, it's hard to believe he started this project less than 2 years ago, not to mention in the middle of a strict COVID lockdown.
Matt McClune: Yeah, what got me through the lockdown was diving into a project. Just twelve hours a day for months, looking on the internet and researching. So I learned that a Loring roaster would maybe give me an edge for one thing. And then I researched who I could train with, like the best person. So, I found the head judge of the nordic roast competitions and I messaged him. Then after some discussion he was like, “Hey, yeah, you can come train with me.” So I was up in Copenhagen for a week with this guy, awesome.
At this point I think everybody was reassessing what, and how they do things. What ecological impact we have, you know. So more people are composting, and thinking about buying local. So I thought: If i am starting this project now I could start to address all of these things from the get-go. So the first reason for Ethiopia for me was because it was the shortest circuit to France, ironically is Djibouti. Then as I was looking into Ethiopia I found out that, oh my god, it's the birthplace of coffee! You know, that all coffee originally comes from Ethiopia, there's thousands of varieties of coffee. You have an incredible range of terroirs in Ethiopia. Burgundy, for a lot of the world, is home to this light, delicate red wine. That can be super expressive but really light and pretty. Someone should do this with coffee, and I believe that Ethiopia is the right place to do this.
Brenna (Narration): All of Matt’s coffees come from Ethiopia he focuses on terroir-specific regions within Ethiopia such as Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, and Bokasso and experiments with both washed and natural methods; which have a lot of similarities to traditional and natural winemaking methods.
Matt McClune: Natural process is where the arabica cherries are picked at peak ripeness. They are brought to the processing area, where the cherries get spread out onto these raised beds and over the course of two to three and a half weeks they dry them out very regularly. There is a little bit of fermentation that happens, the fruit degrades a bit, but evolves in terms of its flavor profile. You will have potentially more cooked fruits or more florals. And these flavors are obviously penetrate the seed. And the phenolic ripeness of the seed continues to evolve and so then you get a little bit less acidity. So, you can have coffee that has a lot more flavor, fruity flavors or wacky flavors depending on how the drying goes. So that is natural process.
Washed process is much more safe, but it is a bit more work. You pick the cherries, then put them immediately through a depulper, which smashes them up a bit. Then you wash off the mucilage, and then you let them dry. So, it is basically like the phenolic ripeness of the cherries that you pick during picking whatever you have in the seed at that point, acid level and all that? You keep it at that point. So, then you have a coffee that is more pure, straightforward, clean and brighter acidity.
Brenna (Narration):The real skill he has been mastering however, is the roasting itself…
Matt McClune: A lot of people talk about roasting coffee like it's cooking a steak, for example. There are different ways that you can cook a steak and end up with different results. The same thing holds true with coffee.
Matt McClune: And depending on the coffee you might want a different heat or a different way, the thing is at the end you want to end up with 205 degrees Celcius. So that means that here we want to meet up here. We will preheat the oven, introduce the coffee, which is room temperature. So, we drop the green coffee in and the temperature will dip a bit, because you have just put in five kilos of cold coffee. And then, at about four minutes the temperature starts to rise again. Now, the trick is: how do you bring it from here to here? Do you do it slow and low? That will give a certain outcome with the coffee. Or do you like, hit it with heat? Cause that will pop the fruit. You can do different things. The shape of this curve does everything: texture, sweetness, fruit, all that stuff.
::Drum riff stops::
Matt McClune: We are in Burgundy with light, delicate, expressive Pinot Noir and I thought: “Ok, if we are going to do something like this here, the coffee should be in line with this.” So, I thought that training in Copenhagen and learning to do a nordic roast would be the right way to go, you know? But the interesting thing is that Nordic countries get even less sun than we do here, than Burgundy. So their palettes are totally used to high acidity fruits. So of course, they can really appreciate subtle play of different acidities in coffee. And then to bring it here to Burgundy, maybe that was, maybe a little too far. I learned to do a Nordic roast, but I am trying to give it more silkyness and body.
Brenna (Narration): He’s an artist, with a new artform. Constantly changing and adjusting his methods to fit both the individual terroirs of the beans, while trying to match the local, consumer taste and terroir here in Burgundy…
Matt McClune: I started the project thinking this roast was right way to show Ethiopian coffee here in Burgundy. We are so used to talking about these things like acidity and balance but then not everyone can make a nordic roast, easily. It’s asking too much. So, it is a balance– how can you make a beautiful coffee that you think makes sense here in a place like this, but everyone has access too.
Brenna: So what is the reception of that?
Matt McClune: It is super fun. It is great to go to the market and have great winemakers from Burgundy come by and taste coffee. And being able to talk about terroir with something other than wine but still being able to use the same language and skills, like tasting skills, you know. It’s fun!
::bell ringing and music fades in::
3.3 Saint Romain Overlook
Brenna (Narration): Now that we’ve had a few too many coffees, we make our way up to the top of the central hill of St Romain in an attempt to burn off some caffeine… It's a steep slope with the ruins of an old chateau at the very top. There is a small park here, with a picnic area, and some of the most stunning views in all of the Côte d’Or. The cliffs are still behind us, illuminating the valley in the warmth of their reflected light…
Françoise explained to me that up close these cliffs of Bajocian-aged limestone rock aren’t as white as they seem, and are made up of fossils of ancient sea lilies, or crinoids. It is the same hard limestone you find to the south in the Maconnais, or to the east in the Jura, and just north of us in the little village of Bouilland, where the Wasserman's live today. I’ve always thought it was interesting that the Wassermans were drawn to both Bouilland and Saint Romain and have come to my own conclusion that there must have been something comforting, or inspiring, about these striking cliffs.
Brenna: This view especially underscores the width of the valleys of the Côte de Beaune.
Paul Wasserman: Mhmm.
Brenna (Narration): As we sit here, overlooking the valley and the route we have just driven… Paul explains the early days of his family’s history in Burgundy, and some of his earliest memories…
Paul Wasserman: When we moved permanently to Burgundy in 1968. We had rented a house in Saint Romain and that’s where we lived for four years and I was one and a half, so I don't have memories that predate Saint Romain. I went to kindergarten there…
Brenna (Narration): Paul also told me that they had the only bathtub in the village, and that sometimes the Inn next door would send over their fanciest guests for a luxurious bath
Paul Wasserman: And where we lived just opposite was the Tonnellerie François Frères which was small at the time, They’d never exported barrels. That's where we first had people like the D’Villaines come to our house. It was Aubert first, he wasn’t married yet, the Hansens: Anthony and Rosie Hansen who were starving young people in Burgundy. I think it was very entertaining for the Burgundians to see these strange creatures. My father had long hair which was not the fashion back then at all. Always walked bare feet. A lot of the French were amused and sometimes frightened. I’ve pretty fond memories of that part of my childhood actually. And we started the wine collection, we started putting wines in the cellar and in St. Romain is where my parents met the Mugnerets. My mom wasn’t into the wine yet…they loved the wine. Actually, incidentally Becky ( Wasserman) wasn't really allowed to go. Back then it was mostly my father going to taste. And once she went down to taste in the village and she hadn’t learned how to spit. And she came back up basically, clinging on the walls of the streets of St. Romain and her mother, who was quite stern and was living with us, gave her a lot of shit. Told her it was not proper for a lady to behave that way and things like that. And that’s basically Becky’s beginning in the world of wine: house wife, cooking, cleaning glasses, receiving all these people that were coming through.
Brenna (Narration): Not long after their time in Saint Romain. Becky realized she needed to leave her marriage for the sake of herself and her children. It was her connections to the wine industry in Saint Romain that gave her the encouragement and independence to do so.
Paul Wasserman: Well it was her first professional entrance into the world of barrels, not even wine yet. I think it was Jean Francois who approached her and said, “Hey you speak the language, do you want to see if you can sell some of my barrels in the US?” So she started selling barrels. By then we were already living in Bouillon, and by then we had wonderful characters coming to visit us Andre Chelachif, Selma Long, The Ponsi’s, The Letz from Eyrie vineyards. And Peter and I… My brother Peter and I were sent as teens to translate in the cellars and I remember taking a bus of American winemakers to Domaine de la Romanée Conti when I was maybe 13. Being handed a glass and told I could taste. Which was also a fond memory.
::town bell ringing::
Paul Wasserman: I mean they are big memories, the hearing of the barrels. (imitates the noise of a barrel being rolled and pounded) I mean it was a constant soundtrack to my life. The smell… It's a big part of my first memories.
Brenna: That explains why you’re into experimental jazz …you know…the banging on stuff…
3.4 François Frères
Brenna (Narration): For our next and final stop of the day, that’s exactly where we’re headed: The Tonnellerie François Frères… another absolutely definitive piece of Burgundian history and terroir. As we arrive, we’re greeted by our host, Max.
Max Gigandet: My name is Max Gigandet and I’m the general manager for François Frères.
Brenna (Narration): Max is cheerful, instantly likable, and a bit of a legend to winemakers around the world who use François Frères barrels. It’s my first time at a tonnellerie and we’re here for the full tour.
Max Gigandet: Yes, I think it’s easier to follow all of the different steps. So we use only oak… French oak, that we purchased from the French government. These trees are around 100 - 150 years, and when we buy wood, we can buy at the auction. So the idea is to get trees that grow slowly. All of our customers are looking for what they call tight grains.
Brenna (Narration): The tightness of the grain is defined by the tightness of the spacing of the tree's growth rings.
Max Gigandet: As you see, what we need to make the staves is only the bottom part of the tree – as soon as you’ve got branches, we can not use the wood to produce the staves. We will cut them, say 1 meter long, then we have to split the wood to produce the stave. When the staves are produced, after, we have to store them outside for what we call in French the “séchage”. In English, “seasoning” but in fact it is more like a maturation. We need the wood to be washed by the rain to eliminate all the bitterness and the sappienses. Also some mold that grows on the wood and change the component on the wood. And for François Frères we really believe about the natural seasoning. We are in Burgundy so we love to talk about terroir, as you do, we always say there is a micro-climate in Saint-Romain. It is what it is, but it works very well for the seasoning. In fact we have wind from the little valley, in winter we have some snow, sometimes fog, but the main thing also we are far away from any pollution. The wood is like a sponge, you want a clean environment here.
So now we will go…
Brenna (Narration): After seasoning, the wood is brought into the workshop.
Max Gigandet: So, on the back we’ve got the first machine that we use to cut the end of the staves, to eliminate any defect that may happen during the seasoning, and then after we have a planer, a jointing machine. And also the main thing is the side to keep smooth, just to avoid any leakage, because when we make the barrels all the pieces of wood are assembled with hoops, and of course there is no glue, there is nothing, it’s only wood and the hoops, to keep them assembled.
Brenna (Narration): Customers can make several choices in order to customize their barrels including the size, shape, length of seasoning, tightness of grain, and of course, the toast.
Max Gigandet: So we can have a look to the toasting room…
::Sounds of hammers on wood and metal::
Max Gigandet: You know, so when the barrels are built like this we put the barrels on the fire. We keep a very high fire because we need to warm the wood. At this stage we also spray water on the outside and inside of the barrels. The water will help to smooth the wood, so the wood would be easier to bend… heat and water help for the bending. You can see we use all the off cuts of wood from the staves to make the fire. I told you, nothing is wasted…
::Sounds of sliding wood, metal, hammers::
Max Gigandet: So here we keep the fire for the toasting, you see the intensity is much lower. When we produce a light toast we will keep a low fire, and if we produce a heavy toast the intensity of the fire would be much higher.
Brenna (Narration): Typically the timing of the toast is the same, but the intensity of the fire changes.
Max Gigandet: Right now he is making, the customer requested, medium-light, if you want, because it’s not medium. He wants to be between medium and light so we call it “moyen/moins”
::Sounds of hammers on wood, light percussion music…::
Max Gigandet: Quality is very important, for us, but mostly for our clients, and consistency is the key. When you buy a barrel you expect to get the same quality year after year. The machine there, just make the chime and make the grove? How do you call that? The groove?
Max Gigandet: Yeah okay. And also the bung hole here. And after the Coopers they put some flour mixed with water inside the groove, just like when you cook a pie. At the beginning, we use temporary hoops, and then step by step we will put the final hoops on the barrels.
Brenna (Narration): The barrels are slowly formed as they rotate from station to station around the workshop.
::more barrel sounds, sawing, pounding of the hoops::
Max Gigandet: When the heads are on the barrels we have to check that there is no leakage. So, you can see we put some water inside the barrels to make sure there is no leakage.
::Sounds of hammers and light percussion::
Brenna (Narration): If any leaks are found, the barrel is repaired by replacing the entire faulty stave.
Max Gigandet: So all of the quality control is done step by step. This one is okay, so after we drain the water and let the barrel dry long enough, before to finish the project.
Brenna (Narration): Next, the temporary hoops are replaced with shiny new ones – so, more pounding.
Max Gigandet: You can get galvanized hoops like these, or on request you can have pre-painted, you know, the black hoops.
Brenna (Narration): Finally, the barrel specifications and producer label are burned into the wood using a fancy laser, and the barrels are packed up and prepared to ship.
Max Gigandet: So this barrel is going to South Africa to the Domaine Hamilton Russell.
Brenna (Narration): These custom barrels are all made to order, so they do not sit in the factory for long before they’re shipped off to their new homes.
Max Gigandet: In fact, we try to avoid to store the barrel for too long and usually we load one container every day.
Brenna: Okay, wow.
Brenna (Narration): Many wineries around the world use exclusively François Frères barrels… and of course they have many local fans as well including legendary domaines such as Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Coche Dury, Meo Camuzet and many others.
Max Gigandet: At the end, this is what our clients are looking for… all this detail, that make a barrel different. And I say, if you make wine in New Zealand or if you make wine in Australia, it’s quite different - it could be sometimes the same variety but the expectations are not the same… they may have different needs. There is some changes, not huge changes. But uh, and for sure for us we have to listen what our customer are looking for. We like to evolve and do a smooth evolution just to match the wine made today.
Max Gigandet: You’ve got to weigh the new generation coming on board, and they like to do something a little different. So instead, to buy two year seasoned wood, they will ask for three year seasoned wood, lighter toast. In terms of capacity, years ago we were not producing that many big barrels and now we do produce more barrels like 500L, or things like this. I don’t want to say it’s a new trend, I think it’s just a smooth evolution. You know, maybe it could be with the global warming, they look for something a little different, and the touch of oak that could be also different. All these little things, we have to fine tune the recipe.
Brenna: Do you find that even within one producer range that certain terroirs absorb the same oak in different ways?
Max Gigandet: Always, yes - I’m convinced about that. We see this everyday. You know some Grand Cru in Burgundy are aged for 18 months in new wood, and the wood disappears.
Brenna: People always say that it’s that underlying, finesse that you get from the appropriate use of oak… and that’s from… like, how is the tannin structure different from what you’re getting?
Max Gigandet: I think that, I really believe that, it’s from the understanding of the winemakers to play with new and older wood and to do what they have to do. It is their own job… us, our job is really to supply a barrel which is consistent, year after year, and as I said before you have different options… about tannin structure, you can go for longer seasoning of wood, you will probably get finer tannins, if you also combine that with very tight grain, again, you will expect the much finer tannins than with real open grain… so it’s all these details that make the difference.
Brenna (Narration): Artisanal coffee, cliffside picnics, and custom-made barrels may not be the first images that come to mind when you think about Burgundy, but we believe they are essential to understanding the heart of this place… Burgundy is the home of terroir–but it is also where the human and physical elements of the place have become the most seamless…
3.5 Auxey Morons Night Cap
::car driving on a gravel road::
Brenna (Narration): At the end of another very long day we head to the outskirts of the village. Its pitch black outside, but we’re following directions from Matt earlier in the day –we take a turn onto a gravel side road, cross a small bridge, and drive into a grassy lawn where we park
::car door shuts, footsteps in grass::
Brenna (Narration): Here we get out and turn on our flashlights in order to find and cross another small footbridge. The hidden house in front of us is Matt’s art studio, which doubles as a practice studio in the evenings for the local band the Auxey Morons… get it?
::Auxey Morons’s music plays, drums, harmonica, and base::
Brenna (Narration): The band was started by Chris Santini, who plays guitar and lives and makes wine in Auxey Duresses… The band consists of a group of mostly ex-pats who have made their life here, and are all involved in the world of wine one way or another…
They play mostly rock and the blues…swapping out instruments and vocalists as they feel like it…We’re late, so practice has already begun…but there is a table full of pizza, and a dozen or so open bottles of wine … between songs we mess around with the mics and talk about the wines …At first it seems like a stark contrast from our aristocratic morning with the Comte Armand and Marquis D’Angerville…but everyone here is connected by the wines and their attachment to this place
Chis had also started the Auxey collective, a bit of a wine co-op ...and hub of a few rebellious winemakers politely shaking things up in Burgundy I think about the Wassermans who arrived in St Romain over 50 years ago…and their casual dinner party’s with the de Villain’s and the Mugnerets and Jean-Francois …
…although we’re well off the beaten path of the Côte d’Or …we can’t help but feel like we’re right in the middle of something important …
[band practice outro]
Thank you to our guests: Thomas Boulay, Guillaume D’Angerville, Frederic and Clothilde Lafarge, Matt McClune, Max Gigonas (jee-gone-day) and Francoise Vannier…With commentary by Paul Wasserman, Jasper Morris and Daniel Johnnes, and the Auxey Morons.
This episode is made possible by our Season 2 partners: Becky Wasserman & Co, La Paulee, and Acker Wines…
Roadside Terroir is hosted and produced by me, Brenna Quigley
Recording and sound engineering by Nick Canepa
and original music and sound design by Jeff Alvarez
If you liked this episode, please share it and give us a review–it really does make a difference!
This season wouldn’t be possible without the support from all of you–Check out our website roadsideterroir.com to learn how you can stay in touch, and how to help support this season by donating, sponsoring, or becoming a Roadside Insider.
Thank you to Esa Eslami, Michael Sager, Ali Massie, Jerusha Frost, Julia Wiggin, and Peter Burrows, and everyone else who helped make this episode a reality.
Max Gigandet: It is also a service we can provide. You know, sometimes we have some guy out in the middle of Australia, and I mean, sometimes we have to shoot the guy, it is easier…
END OF EPISODE 3