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The Corton and Corton-Charlemagne vineyards are situated in one single block, though they straddle the notional border between Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton. They stretch between ‘En Charlemagne’, next to Pernand-Vergelesses, and ‘Le Charlemagne’, towards Aloxe-Corton. To have a plot of vines of this size in one contiguous block is unusual in the extreme, but that it should be the original plot, owned by the Emperor Charlemagne, is absolutely extraordinary.
Bonneau du Martray’s Corton-Charlemagne is a difficult wine to describe. This is particularly true when it is young. It can take a decade before it will say something more than “Stony. Wait.” But even with age it does not bloom in the same manner as the Montrachets do. In a way, it tastes like theoretical astronomy: we know that black matter exists, we can sense it, but we have no manifest proof of it. It’s a very beautiful agony.
In Making Sense of Burgundy, the best modern prose written about Burgundy, Matt Kramer is similarly cryptic: “Corton-Charlemagne is a wine of texture. It should give the sensation of heaviness without actually being heavy. Each mouthful is its own universe of flavor, never capable of being fully explored… Although Chardonnay has proven the ideal vehicle, one is not drinking Chardonnay with Corton-Charlemagne: One is drinking terroir.”
Even Jean-Charles, who has been at the domaine for every harvest but one since 1969, struggles to explain the mystery of his vineyard. “Something in Corton-Charlemagne fills your palate, but it changes very quickly into something impalpable. What is it made of? It’s difficult to qualify. It doesn’t saturate, it doesn’t blanket, nothing occupies a space of overt power, yet, at the same time, it is incredibly intense. It’s a very real sensation, but it doesn’t fit with the usual descriptions of wine… It is equally as impressive as the Montrachets. But it is of a different order.”
For lack of words, Jean-Charles has turned to painting: “Montrachet reminds me of Veronese: sumptuous, full, but at the same time balanced. Rubens comes to mind for Bâtard-Montrachet: the sensuality. But when I think of Corton-Charlemagne I have to go to a very different place. I find that Vermeer expresses it perfectly. His subjects are modest, nothing really: a girl with a turban, a woman reading a letter. And what is revelatory is only the light. That’s what is happening, I think, in Corton-Charlemagne.”
There’s more to it than analogy. With its west-facing slopes, Corton-Charlemagne is actually —physically— a wine born of unusual light. “I don’t know what effect it has on the vines”, Jean-Charles says, “but they function by photosynthesis. If they are getting good light, there’s a good chance that they are responding sympathetically.”
HARVEST REPORT 2013 RED BURGUNDY
As far as weather was concerned, 2013 was not your typical year. It was at times cool, then hot with severe storms, followed by heavy rains hailstorms and then dry times with some occasional warm periods. It is a vintage that growers are calling the ultimate terroir vintage. Whenever you have a vintage that is not over ripe or alcoholic, or under ripe and very acid, the terroir can show through. This is not a vintage that lacked fruit or acidity or charm, it had all three, but it did not have a lot of power or concentration. This was true for many, and especially those who went for more production, or panicked and harvested too early resulting in the lowest sugars since 2008.
The average temperatures for the first 3 months of the year were 5.4oF cooler than normal. Temps were normal in April; May temps were below normal resulting in a very late flowering – the last time flowering took place that late was in 2008. May was also rainy, 34% above normal rainfall levels. It was rainy in June as well which resulted in uneven flowering with shatter and a bad fruit set. This trend (of bad and uneven fruit set) has been going on since 2010 with 2012 having a particularly poor fruit set.
In July the weather became warmer with periods or rain and a devastating hailstorm on July 23rd. Hardest hit were the communes of Pernand, Savigny les Beaune, Beaune, Pommard Volnay and Meursault. Some of the appellations were so badly hit that 100% of their crop was lost, this was particularly the case in Volnay and Pommard. Some of the same appellations were also hit in 2014 making it 4 years in a row with significant hail damage. The fact that this hailstorm came late in the vegetative cycle caused the wine to have a very dry harsh edge which covered up what little fruit there was to begin with.
The amount of sunlight hours was very low in the first 3 months of the year, 30% below normal. However, in July the amount of sunlight was plus 20 in July and August when it counted most. It did not get really hot during the normal summer months of July and August. There were 8 days in July that hit 86oF and above and only 3 in August with the latter half of the month quite cool. As far as rain was concerned, there was nothing more then a trace from August 1st to the 24th, and then nothing much again until September 9th when 1.02 inches fell. There were periods of rain after the 24th, but nothing serious enough to cause any problems with rot.
The fact that it was cool during the month of August prevented any recurrence of mildew and odium which were problems in early July. The cool weather, plus the late flowering, meant that veraison occurred on August 15th and harvest did not begin until the last week of September. Growers harvested in October for the first time in years – not since 2008. The quality of the fruit was far superior in the Côtes de Nuits, as has been the case for many years, other than in the truly great years where all regions were successful. The fact that full flowering was between June 23rd and the 26th made for a later harvest but possibly one of the reasons that the soils were so expressive in the juice.
I was very surprised at the quality of the 2013’s – the fact that they were very fresh and juicy and low in tannins and were not green. They should be drunk in their youth, but some of them were far greater than I could imagine. It is possible that certain appellations are superior to 2012 in the Côte de Nuits if there was careful attention paid to production or hand sorting. It is not a vintage without problematic wines but there is a lot to enjoy.
As far as pricing is concerned, most wines were the same price as in 2012; no one went down in price and a few growers went up. There is very little wine to be had and prices are high in bulk with so many small crops. I am afraid that the lesser appellations such as Bourgogne Rouge are going to go way up because that was the category that was affordable, the Grand Crus from the Côte de Nuits are only for millionaires now.