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Chambertin – Domaine Armand Rousseau
Chambertin gained a reputation from the patronage of Napoleon I, who is rumoured not to have drunk anything else and watered down his Chambertin with plenty of water. He favoured it at five to six years old and never drank more than half a bottle with a meal. When the ex-Emperor was exiled on St. Helena, he was forced to drink claret, since that was easier to ship to the isolated island.
The Rousseau Domaine was started at the beginning of the 20th century by Armand Rousseau who, at his majority, inherited several plots of vineyards in Gevrey Chambertin. The Domaine premises with the living house, the storing places, the cellars and the winery, are situated in the oldest part of the village, near the 13th century church.
From 1959, after Armand Rousseau's death, Charles Rousseau was at the head of a Domaine of 6 ha which he continued developing rapidly thanks to his great knowledge in oenology, and his experience, by acquiring new vineyards, especially in "Grands Crus" areas. He decided to turn principally towards export, and, after the USA where his father had already starting to sell his wines right after prohibition at the end of the 30's, he developed the exchanges first with Great-Britain, Germany, Switzerland, soon afterwards to all European countries, then to Canada, Australia, New-Zealand, Brazil, etc. and lastly Asia in the 1970’s.
His son Eric joined him at the beginning of the 1980's to take care more especially of the vineyards and the vinification. In 1993, Corinne, Charles's elder daughter, after many years of professional experience in export abroad and in France, came back to the Domaine and in her turn took in charge the commercial relationship with customers.
Domaine Armand Rousseau is the largest landowner of the Chambertin vineyard with a total of 5.3 acres. The 32 acres of Chambertin Grand Cru represent some of the finest and most storied Pinot Noir acreage on the planet and with all producers included typically produces less than 60,000 bottles. Chambertin is the beating heart of the red Grand Crus of the Côte d’Or sitting high on the hillside and bordered by Latricières-Chambertin to the south and Clos-de-Bèze to the north.
Vinification: Grapes are meticulously sorted as they arrive in the winery. Following a cool maceration the must travels by gravity into barrel where it will stay for the entire vinification process lasting typically 18-24 months. Each Armand Rousseau wine is blended unfiltered.
Burgundy writer Clive Coates refers to this Grand Cru as perhaps the finest red wine in the world. Always a tour de force, this wine has uncanny balance. It is very structured, dense, and powerful, it has firm, ripe tannins, yet it is not heavy. It has uncommonly long length on the palate.
Vintage 2003: A surprising vintage…to follow closely !
After a cold and snowy winter, the sun started to appear at the beginning of March and never left ! The months of February and March were very dry with no rain at all (40 to 50% less than normal). There was some spring frost at the beginning of April, but the Côte de Nuits did not suffer from it compared to the vineyards situated in the south of Burgundy. Then, weeks followed weeks in a climate that had never been seen in Burgundy, with sun shining every day, no rain, very few showers, and with very high temperatures, in spring as well as in summer. One had to go back to the end of 19th. Century to find similar weather !! Even the 1947 and 1976 records were beaten !!
Therefore, the growth of the vine was extremely fast from April onward, and at the flowering, around 25th. May, we planned to start the harvest very early, at the beginning of September, with a production slightly smaller than average. The months of June, July and August were very hot, with temperatures around 40°C, with no refreshing air at night, and most of all with no rain whatsoever. At the beginning of July, we started to note some grapes burnt by the sun while the "véraison" had already started.
From 15th August, everything went very fast. The grapes had reached maturity and the "ban des vendanges" was decided for Tuesday 19th. August !!!
We started the harvest on 23rd August, with our regular team of pickers. Temperatures were still very high, so we only picked in the morning, from 6.30 am to around 1.00 pm not to bring into the winery grapes which were too warm. The air conditioning system worked at its maximum capacity and each vat was also refrigerated individually.
The first analyses of the grapes revealed a low acidity and a maturity irregular in the different vineyards. Actually, the extremely high temperatures tend to stop the maturity of some grapes, but the potential alcoholic strength was promising.
An important selection was made in the vineyards to eliminate both burnt and dried berries. Therefore, the 2003 production was 30 to 40% less that a normal year, with yielding in juice even smaller, 40 to 50% less.
Once the grapes were in the winery, we had to watch very carefully the development of bacteria favoured by the low acidity and pay even more attention to the temperatures in the vats, while limiting the 'triturage' to prevent oxidation. The vinification was short, about 10 days, and now that the wines are in barrels, we are surprisingly pleased by the quality of this vintage, so particular. Quantities are tiny, the smallest ever recorded, but quality is there.We could notice a good colour extraction and a good concentration due to the thick skins and the extremely low yields in juice.
A most particular vintage which will remain in memories of future generations of Burgundians !In Autumn 2004. after a racking at the beginning of September, the vintage was presenting itself quite favourably, and especially very different from what we had thought it would be year before. Though low in acidity, all the wines showed an unbelievable freshness and a great finesse ! We could also note a very beautiful concentration of small red fruit, with 'griotte' cherry dominating, no over ripeness, and, quite surprising, the terroir specifications are very present in each appellation with beautiful minerality.