Every winter Australian winemakers head to the Northern Hemisphere in their droves. Partly for a holiday, partly to drink Filthy Good Vino at half the price we pay in Australia and partly to learn from their compatriots by experiencing a different kind of vintage. As the cellars in Australia chill and the vines lay dormant, the vines in Burgundy are ripening fruit and the cellars are a hive of activity preparing for another intake.
Vintage in Burgundy is a polar extreme to the vintages I’d been doing at Yering Station. Appellation Controlée dictates that they can only plant three varieties, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Aligoté, all suited to the climate and all ripening at similar times. Most producers source fruit from a relatively localised area often across less than a couple of kilometres of area, compared to multiple regions spanning hundreds of kilometres with a diversity of varieties ripening months apart in Australia. End result the vines ripen in quick succession. Vintage lasts just three weeks, not, three months months I’d grown accustomed to. It’s more like a festival than a marathon!
Conviviality and Community
As vintage approachers, the vendagers (pickers) arrive. Everything is picked by hand, and, every pair of hands sleeps at the winery during vintage. In a still very patriarchal industry the mothers, wives and daughters prepare simple French faire, three times a day, to sate hungry stomachs, and, naturally there’s vino to quench thirsty mouths. There’s a genuine sense of conviviality around the shared tables.
One night, during a brief quiet spell, the family headed up to the main Restaurant in Chassagne for a feed. Several of the big families of Chassagne were enjoying a bottle and plate at the tables around us. As the night came to an end the Fontaine-Gagnards rose from their seats to pay the bill and head home. Jean-Claude Ramonet shouted from another table, what would translate to,”Thanks for paying the bill, we’re just going to have one more magnum of La Montrachet!” A wine that would cost $2000 if you found it on a list in Australia!
A little later, the Ramonet’s rose to leave. Having met them once before, and, having the confidence of a belly full of delicious food and a bottle of Filthy Good Vino, I shouted out to Jean-Claude “Thanks for paying the bill, we’re just going to have one more magnum of La Montrachet before we call it a night!” He laughed, paid his bill and left!
What happened next was to start 48 hours of pleasure like none I’d experienced before. We went to pay the bill and were told by the proprietor that Jean-Claude had already sorted it. Tradition dictated only one course of action was appropriate, we had to take a couple of magnums up to the Ramonet’s. A big night ensued followed by an invite to lunch at a roadside cafe the next day. The rules were laid down “Magnums ONLY!”
You’d drive by the cafe without a second glance if not for the invite from a local. Inside it was basic at best. A long table had been lined up for us. The first magnum was opened. It was nothing less than one of Ramonet’s very own 1985 Bâtard-Montrachet’s. And, from there, it just kept getting better! The rules were broken for two single bottles, one each of Le Pin and Yquem! Course after course of simple beautifully cooked food arrived at the table. Eventually it was time to go … but, not home! We weren’t the only guests at the table. Invites to share a post lunch vino followed and the Filthy Good Vino continued to flow. Eventually we made our way to a nightclub in Beaune where I was to witness one of the most conflicting sites I’ve every seen. This band of most hospitable vignerons, producers of some of the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the world, ordered a bottle of Black Douglas alongside one of “Jet Vingt-Sept” Green 27. Scotch and 27% Alcohol mint flavoured, mouthwash liquor! When in Rome!
After a big night on the dance floor, we were homeward bound, not really in a legal state. Naturally there was only one thing to do. Stop at the local Boulangerie. A few moments later under the warmth of a rising sun, we were eating “Pain au Chocolate” Chocolate Croissant and drinking “Poire William” with black coffee chasers!
The only thing I saw for the next 12 hours was the inside of my eyelids!
Learning to Chill! Listening to the Wisdom of Elders.
As a lover of all things beginning with “B” namely “Burgundy” and “Barolo”, having such an intimate experience in Burgundy ticks one off the bucket list. To observe the magic happening is so much more visceral than reading a book by an author who has not necessarily been told the whole truth!
The rest is still being written. Need another glass or two for inspiration. Here’s a couple of Pic’s as a teaser!
My mate Alex – He makes awesome Vino. Bottle is a Domaine Ramonet Montrachet
Domaine Bernard Moreau et Fils, Chassagne-Montrachet Vintage 1999