BY STEPHEN TANZER | JANUARY 26, 2017
François Bitouzet described 2015 as “a very silky, balanced year for Volnays” despite the challenging conditions. “It was a very dry year with strong oidium pressures, even worse than the last bad oidium year, 2004,” he told me in mid-November. “We had to treat the vines every eight days during the period before and after the flowering; we couldn’t allow a window for the oidium to become established. Of course, the combination of the sulfur treatments and some échaudage [scalding of the grapes by the sun] in early July risked burning the fruit. But the grapes remained firm and there was almost nothing to eliminate at harvest time.” Bitouzet began picking his Pinot Noir on September 2 and, with potential alcohols around 13%, 2015 was the first year he did not chaptalize at all. Yields in his village holdings were low due to hail damage during the previous three years, but his crus produced a healthy 40 to 42 hectoliters per hectare.
Bitouzet carried out a ten-day pre-fermentation cold soak at 8 to 10 degrees C., using dry ice on top of the closed vats to chill the juice. Once the fermentations began, he drained ten liters of juice, poured it on top of the cap, and then punched down twice a day for five or six days. At the time of my visit, the premier crus were in tank and Bitouzet was planning to bottle them in March.
Domaine Forey Père et Fils
Régis Forey was a very late harvester in 2015, picking after the rain “because the maturity had been blocked and the grapes were not ripe.” Forey maintained that the grapes gained acidity as a result of the rain but did not lose sugar, and that the seeds got riper; he believes the resulting wines are crunchier and better balanced as a result. He destemmed all of his fruit in 2015, and did very little chaptalization and no acidification. And he minimized his extraction to two pigeages and one remontage per day during the early part of the fermentation and every two days toward the end. Forey still uses a very high percentage of new oak but emphasized that he uses “very little toast.”
Forey compared his young 2015s to his 2010s “in terms of tension,” but even though the newer set of wines features mostly very healthy pHs, they show a distinctly dark-fruit character and most of them come across as a bit chocolatey or chunky. In November, I preferred Forey’s 2014s, and even though he’s confident that his 2015s “will be great for consumers and restaurants,” he also favors the earlier vintage.
Domaine Fourrier/Jean-Marie Fourrier
“Two thousand fifteen is all about texture,” said Jean-Marie Fourrier in November. “The signature of the vintage is its silkiness.” Fourrier’s wines are not hugely colored. “If we had done a lot of pigeages, we would have extracted too much tannins along with more color,” he explained. “It was too easy to overextract in 2015. The tannic wines, and those that were made with stems, will probably shut down in bottle. Too much use of stems or new oak might have compromised the sucrosité of the 2015s, along with their drinkability.” Fourrier ages his wines in about 20% new oak across the board, maintaining that it’s the quality of his lees that give his wines their glyceral quality.
Fourrier did not start picking until September 10 and was happy to get a full 100-day cycle between the flowering and the harvest. “People started leaf-pulling right after the flowering, and that had consequences in the warm summer,” he told me. “We retained the foliage and thus had no rush to pick.” Potential alcohol levels ranged from 12.8% to 13.2%, and Fourrier destemmed all of his fruit “to slow down the pH and because extraction was so easy. In my style, 2015 is a child of 2010 and 2009.”
As the cellars remained much warmer than normal in November and December of 2015, the malos finished by the end of February. And almost all of the wines had been moved into tanks a week before my visit. Fourrier began taking this approach with the 2012 vintage, when he realized that the portion of his barrels that was staying empty for six months each year developed higher levels of volatile acidity. “Now we’re keeping more freshness,” he maintained.
Domaine Georges Lignier
My first visit to this estate in at least 20 years was a revelation, as this large domain, which had underperformed for so many years, has been put on a positive path by George Lignier’s nephew Benoît Stehly, who grew up in Dijon and had long had a desire to change things at the family estate. (Domaine Georges Lignier owns 16 hectares of vines, including important holdings in Clos Saint-Denis and Clos de la Roche.) Stehly began working with his uncle in 2002 and took over responsibility for the vineyards and winemaking in 2007. “But it was really in 2009 that I was able to put all of my ideas in place,” he told me in December. “My uncle wasn’t wild about winemaking, and he didn’t always do things at the right time.” Stehly quickly purchased his own bottling equipment and stopped filtering his red wines in 2009. He has also purchased additional tanks; previously he left each wine in tank for a month prior to bottling and thus had to bottle over a longer period.
One of the problems at this estate through the 1990s and early ‘00s was excessive yields, but Stehly emphasized that he does not want to produce tiny quantities. Although he initiated regular green harvesting and does more meticulous sorting of the grapes at harvest time, he told me that “20 hectoliters per hectare is not the best way to express Pinot Noir. Thirty to 35 is best, even 40.” In recent years he has cut back on plowing, as he believes it’s a bad idea to cut the roots, and he now uses grass between the rows to introduce some competition for the vines. There were a lot of old vines here but little replanting was being done. Stehly has been focusing on replacing dead vines rather than pulling out entire parcels, explaining that “a vineyard is like a city. I prefer adding one new family at a time to building a lot of new houses.”
Stehly’s more precise winemaking is dramatically evident in his delicate but sometimes lean 2014s, but to my taste 2015 is the best vintage here in decades. The top ‘15s offer an uncanny combination of power and finesse, with utterly captivating perfume. Stehly began harvesting early, on September 3, having moved up his picking dates just six days earlier. (He told me that he used to be proud to be among the last harvesters in the vines, but now he’s more concerned with balance, and he admitted that he picked too late in 2007 and made wines “without interest or energy.” Stehly described the potential alcohol levels in 2015 as moderate, adding that he finds wines that are over 13.5% alcohol following chaptalization “too burning, too heavy—they lose their freshness of fruit.” He chaptalized very lightly in 2015 to prolong the fermentations. Stehly does not decant much at the beginning: he begins with six or seven liters of lees per barrel, or much more than his uncle used. The 2015s had been racked and blended once, last August following the malols, and were returned to the same barrels with a portion of their fine lees. Owing to the low production in 2015, none of the post-malo wines were aging in the warmest of Lignier’s three cellars at the time of my December visit.
Domaine Ghislaine Barthod
Ghislaine Barthod picked in five days, starting on September 5. Potential alcohol levels were in the 12.8% to 13.2% range and she did not chaptalize. As usual, she destemmed all of her fruit. Barthod noted that despite the well-timed rains in ’15, owing to the heat of summer the grapes had very little juice, and she produced 25% less wine than in 2014. She relied on pumpovers to keep the cap wet, carrying out only a single punchdown per cuvée. The malos finished in the spring and the ‘15s were racked just prior to the harvest of ’16.
Barthod expressed the opinion that wines from Chambolle-Musigny are generally more sensitive to temperature changes in the cellar than Gevreys. With the early arrival of winter, the falling temperature in her cellar was “reconcentrating the ‘15s,” she went on, and the wines were also showing blacker fruit aromas than they did last spring.
Domaine Hubert Lignier/Hubert Lignier
The showers in August of 2015 “kept some sap in the grapes,” said Laurent Lignier in December, “but the freshness of the vintage is a mystery to me.” The Ligniers harvested on the late side, from September 8 through 15, although they picked most of their crus during the first four days, before the rainfall on the 12th. Grape sugars were in the high 13% to 13.5% range (the Morey-Saint-Denis La Riotte was 14.2%!) and only the Gevrey-Chambertin La Justice was chaptalized. The malos finished between January and May and the wines were still on their lees in barrel in December, not yet racked. Lignier now vinifies most of his wines with 15% to 20% whole clusters.
My tasting at Lignier has become a mini-marathon in recent years, as there are now quite a few négociant bottlings here. In fact, Laurent Lignier showed me no fewer than 14 Bourgogne Rouge and village wines before presenting his first premier cru.