The wine-growing village of Flagey-Échezeaux lies in the " Plain ", so-called, between Vougeot and Vosne-Romanée in the Côte de Nuits. Facing east, the Grands-Échezeaux vines are a prolongation of Musigny following the North-South axis of the Côte, but more regular and less broken in their layout. At the bottom end, the " Climat " known as La Combe d'Orveau separates them from Musigny. The Échezeaux vineyards, for their part, divide the Clos de Vougeot from the Premier Cru vines of Vosne-Romanée.
Grands-Échezeaux and Échezeaux both date their Grands Crus AOCs from July 31, 1937. Like the Clos de Vougeot (from which they are separated only by a wall), they were founded by the monks of the abbey of Cîteaux and date from the 12th and 13th centuries. Their name derives from chesaux, a word of Gallo-Roman origin meaning a group of dwellings, presumably referring to an ancient hamlet.
Belonging geologically to the Jurassic (175 million years BC), the GrandsÉchezeaux vineyards are fairly homogeneous and lie close to the upper part of the Clos de Vougeot. Gradient: 3-4%. Soil: clay-limestone overlying Bajocien limestone. Altitudes: 250 metres. The Échezeaux Climats have more diverse soils (largely bajocien marls with pebbly overlay). Altitudes vary from 230 to a little over 300 metres (13% gradient at mid-slope). Up-slope, the soil is deep (70-80 cm). Gravels, red alluvium, yellowish marl, etc., make up quite a complex mosaic.
Red: its colour is ruby, shading towards the darker tones of magenta and purple. Its bouquet is redolent of animal, spice notes, underbrush, and prune, evolving with age towards musk, leather, fur and mushroom. When young, its aromas suggest rose, violet and fresh cherry. On the palate, there is a heightened attack and an agreeable balance between supple tannins and fully-rounded flavour. The dense texture and tight grain of these wines fully open after 4-5 years in the cellar.
Wines so powerful and full demand to be matched with dishes of the same calibre. Virile, four-sided tannins cry out for roast lamb, rib steak, or joints of game. Autumn and winter dishes in the right setting match the profound and meaty personality of these great wines : braised beef or pork, for example, or any other good red meat. Fine, whole-milk, soft-centred cheeses will also do them proud.
Serving temperature : 15 to 16 °C.
At the Olympic Games, which took place last summer while the grapes were ripening, victory often depends on few things: a few centimetres or a few seconds, with the complicity of diverse circumstances that are beyond the athlete's control - luck is among them! even though the talent and the work accomplished the months and years before the competition are essential.
It is the same for the vigneron. The challenge that is proposed by the vintage is of course won or lost depending on the rigour of the "philosophy" he has applied, the soundness of the decisions he has taken over the year, but nothing is possible without some elements that are beyond his control like the favour of the climatic conditions... and luck! Things often depend on the number of sunny or rainy days and the "window" that opens the way to victory is narrow, often very narrow, even though we only take advantage of it according to the work that was done all along the year.
2004 is a year when the way was maybe more than ever blocked by obstacles and tests, as though Nature had decided, this year, to give the vigneron a complete catalogue of the difficulties it is able to imagine.
Yet, the winter and early spring were promising: February and March were dry with some favourable frosts. April and May were also dry and hot for the season, making the work in the vineyards (pruning, disbudding and first treatments) easier. Nevertheless, as a sign of upcoming difficulties, a significant bunch setting announcing a large crop followed the precocious bud break, in spite of the severe disbudding we did. It seems that the exaggerated heat of last Spring favoured the growth of exceptionally developed flowers.
Then, as a confirmation of the famous saying: "the wind that blows on Palm Sunday will be the wind of the year", the dominant southern and western winds totally changed the look of the countryside. The climatic conditions, that had been dry for the fast few months, became first damp and hot from the middle of June, with even hail in May, luckily of no consequence, then damp and cool in July and August.
The enemy that appeared virulent and implacable in the middle of Spring was not so much the mildew as the oïdium. The oïdium left its mark on 2004, mostly on Chardonnay, but also on Pinot, which is rare. The only efficient remedy we used in the middle of June, when the disease broke out, then regularly afterwards, was some sulphur powder. Without renouncing our biological treatments, we managed to control that curse quite well.
Meanwhile, the flowering occurred during the last days of dry weather, between June 10th and l5th, under very favourable conditions. There was no shatter at all. The bunches of grapes were so big and full of berries that the large crop that we already anticipated in March was confirming itself. Fortunately, the older vineyards and the fine vines, that represent the greater part of the Domaine, were not affected by those extreme conditions, but we realized in June that it was necessary to thin out the younger vineyards (green harvest). This work was done in a refined and systematic way, often vine by vine, with extra staff during the entire summer.
In early August, even before the veraison, we could observe botrytis in the wet areas and on the vines that were loaded with big swollen berries.
At the end of the third week of August, things looked rather gloomy: the oïdium was still threatening, the mildew was attacking the upper young leaves, the botrytis was present, the damp conditions were persevering and it seemed that the yields would be large despite the green harvest... All these factors were putting into question the maturation and the sanitary condition of the grapes.
Later, on August 23rd, "to crown it all", some villages in the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits were very badly hit by hail. Our vineyards were also, but not so severely and in a very uneven manner: the lower part of the Romanée-St-Vivant and the Grands-Echezeaux were the most affected vineyards, but we observed also that, even if the leaves were slashed to pieces in those areas, the grapes resisted quite well. At this point, we already knew that the harvest would be difficult and very selective.
And then - miracle! : on August 25th until the end of our harvest, that is to say until October 5th, there was not the slightest drop of rain in Burgundy: six weeks of dry weather, luminous days and not too hot. The vineyards that never suffered from stress during the summer could profit to a maximum from the soil water reserves and the maturation literary exploded. We gained an average of 1 degree a week, up to 1,5 degree the third week of September. The acidities remained steady. The rot totally dried up.
In view of our small yields and fine vines, we were ready to harvest on September 20th. We preferred, however, to wait until the 25th. It was a good decision, since after a start in cool weather, the temperatures became warmer and a maturation stage by concentration began, which was particularly favourable to the last vineyards we harvested.
We started harvesting the younger vines on September 25th. This was the longest - 11 days - and the most difficult harvest we had experienced for a long time because of the very meticulous selection we required from our teams of pickers. We chose to limit ourselves to only one picking, but the selection both in the vineyards and on the sorting table at the winery was perfectly performed. The rotten grapes and the berries that had been hit by hail were eliminated, sometimes one by one. The grapes that we put into barrels were fully ripe and healthy. Our staff deserve that we pay tribute to them.
As a result: there is no cuvee under 13°; vinifications are over and most cuvees are 14° or more. We observed the same phenomenon as in 1999: the figgy berries, that were numerous this year, only released their hyper-sugared juice at the end of the fermentation. This phenomenon, which proves high maturity, also permitted longer macerations.
At the time of this writing, devatting is under way. After a few days of rain, the sun has returned to Burgundy. The vineyard is asleep, under a summer sky, in the middle of its glittering red and golden leaves falling little by little to the ground.
It is too early today to give a definitive opinion on these newborn wines. At the time of devatting, they show beautiful crimson colours, slightly purple, that are typical of good years. Bouquets are distinct and fruity. In the mouth, we can detect firmness because of good acidities, but also "sap" and a body that announces wines of good volume. But we still have to wait for the malolactic fermentations, that we of course do not want to hasten, to have a more precise idea of the quality of the vintage.
In conclusion, we have the deep feeling that we were close to defeat in 2004, but also that we managed to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity that the month of September gave us. We were hoping for it, but it was nevertheless miraculous.
Isn't this the challenge of the whole history of Burgundy when each year we have to brave northern and often difficult climatic conditions, but which, despite ail the obstacles they put in the way of the vigneron, will alone allow a complete, true and fascinating expression of Pinot Noir.
This year, the yield control and the meticulous selection were once again key-factors for success and had decisive influence on quality.
In 2004 more than ever, quality will depend on whether maturity was achieved or not.
As regards quantity, the successive operations we performed in order to control the yields and, in addition, the losses due to hail, resulted in a small crop.
Please find below the harvest dates and yields for each wine:
Harvest dates Yields
Romanée-Conti ................. Sept. 30th ............................ 26,55 hl/ha
La Tâche .......................... Sept. 25th&26th ................... 26,35 hl/ha
Richebourg ....................... Sept. 29th ............................ 27,25 hl/ha
Romanée-St-Vivant .......... Sept. 30th, Oct. 1st&2nd ...... 28,30 hl/ha
Grands-Echezeaux ............ Sept. 27th&28th ................... 25,50 hl/ha
Echezeaux ........................ Oct. 2nd, 3rd&4th ................ 26,50 hl/ha
Montrachet ...................... Oct. 5th ............................... 40,00 hl/ha