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Lying between Flagey-Échezeaux (home of the ÉCHEZEAUX appellation) and Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée occupies a middle position in the Côte de Nuits. The vines grow at altitudes of 250 to 310 metres and face east or, in some cases, slightly south of east. Vosne-Romanée, the central jewel in the necklace of appellations which is the burgundian côte, is not content with holding a mere four aces but boasts a total of six Grands Crus, each one famous the world over. A thousand years ago, it was the Cluniac monks of Saint-Vivant de Vergy and the Cistercians of Cîteaux who first realised the value of these very special plots of land.
One of these vineyards takes its name from Prince Conti who lost his heart to it in 1760. Romanée-Conti is one of the wonders ofthe world and has always been a singly-held entity. Next door to it, Romanée-Saint-Vivant recalls the medieval monastery of the Hautes-Côtes which is currently undergoing restoration and which is linked to it by its own path. La Romanée, La Tâche and La Grande Rue are also singly-held entities, as is Richebourg, whose mere name is enough to fill a glass.
These Grands Crus frequently give good results from long laying-down. As a general rule, they shouldn't be drunk under about ten years of age but sometimes they will be aged up to 20 or 30 years. Each appellation has its own distinct personality depending on its year of production and on the stage it has reached in its development. These flamboyant red wines fully express the subtlety and complexity of the Burgundian Pinot Noir grape. Their colour is a dark ruby turning crimson with age. Their wide-ranging bouquet is divided among small red and black fruits, violet, spices and, with time, underbrush. On the palate, this wine is well-defined with a powerful body. It is delicate, sensual, frank and full.
In addition to their powerful structure and exceptional longevity, these great wines develop tertiary aromas of truffle, underbrush, leather and fur. It goes without saying that strong-flavoured meats will do them justice : furred or feathered game, braised, in sauce, or simply grilled. Wild-fowl (eg Peking duck) or a nice cut of roast veal will be gently enveloped by the close-packed but elegant tannins of these mighty Pinot Noir wines.
Serving temperatures : 15 to 16 °C.
The vigneron's work throughout the year is nothing other than a dialogue with his natural environment. The dialogue often becomes a combat in order to lead the vineyards and the crop towards the harvest and away from the precipices that lurk and have names such as: Mildew, Oidium, Botrytis... and many others.
Rarely has a vintage been so close to the precipice and then managed to save itself so successfully as the 2010. At the moment that we are writing these lines, it is with joy and tranquillity that the village streets of Burgundy, somnolent under the sun, are filled with the rich scents that emanate from the fermentation vats while the vines, relieved of their fruit, and at peace, prepare themselves for the autumnal sleep and the gestation of the next vintage.
The beginning of the growing season was uneventful until the flowering, even though the wind on Palm Sunday - that according to tradition becomes the prevailing wind of the year - was a west wind. In other words, a wind that brings clouds and rain, contrary to the much desired north wind that provides dry weather and luminosity. In the end, the western and north-west winds were the dominant winds in 2010.
Let us review the significant events of the year, which required more than ever before: skill, experience and rapidity of intervention. If we wished to compare this vintage, full of challenges and traps, to a Homeric epic, we would say that the first quality of the vigneron was not the heroism of Achilles or Hector in the Iliad, but the prudence, craftiness and obstinacy of Ulysses in the Odyssey.
The flowering has always a major influence on the construction of a vintage: it is at this moment that, according to whether the climatic conditions are favourable or not, the vine is going to fertilize all or many of the clusters and berries it carries or only a few. In both cases, the influence will be decisive on the yield as well as on the quality of the wine.
In early June, when the flowering started, rain and low temperatures were prevalent and caused coulure (aborted berries) and millerandage (small berries with thick skins) In addition, the flowering that spread out over a good week had the effect of creating differences in ripeness between vines, between clusters and even between berries in the same cluster.
This type of flowering that reduces the quantity of grapes to ripen is often favourable to quality, especially when the weather conditions are difficult as in 2010. This not very fertile and uneven flowering was the first significant event of the vintage. It will not determine the final quality, but will have a strong influence on it.
In June and July, an alternation of hot, but never scorching, and humid periods led to the development of mildew and early botrytis. As is normal with organic agriculture, the anti cryptogamic fight had to be extremely thorough and continuous. Since it can only prevent or protect, but not cure, the risk of defeat was always present. As a consequence, both experience and close observation were essential.
The fight against the enemies of the vineyards belongs to Nicolas Jacob, our vineyard manager, and his team. They did a remarkable job, and the vineyards entered the veraison process (change of colour of the grapes) and the month of August in a very satisfactory sanitary condition.
August was outstandingly humid and cold - precipitations reached record levels and ripeness progressed slowly. This was the second significant event: climatic conditions were unfavourable from August throughout September with heat and storms succeeding one another, but the qualitative structure of the grapes (small berries with thick skins) confirmed itself and even consolidated. Thanks to their solid structure, the grapes could stand the botrytis that set in at the end of maturation.
By early September, as we were approaching the harvest, planned for the 20th, it was hard to be optimistic. The weather remained uncertain with western and southern winds bringing with them humid heat and storms. We were in a situation typical of northern vineyards: as often the case at the end of the vegetative cycle, the heat coming from the south boosted the ripening of the grapes, but also brought storms that favoured the development of botrytis. Even though the grapes were well resistant thanks to their structure, botrytis and maturation were progressing at the same time. As a consequence, before deciding on the harvest date, the vigneron had the difficult task of finding a happy medium in order to harvest ripe grapes without there being too much damage.
On September 12th, a violent hail storm destroyed a part of the Santenay vineyards. This storm also brought a lot of rain to the Montrachet area, which, combined with heat, resulted in a spectacular development of botrytis in the white wine vineyards.
Luckily, Vosne-Romanée was not hit and could still benefit from sunny days. Once more the Pinot Noir showed its capacity to produce sugar very fast, just before reaching full maturity. This maturity was physiologically reached on September 20th. But as the vineyards had never experienced during the course of the year the stress of dehydration so useful for a complete ripening of phenolic compounds, we decided to let the grapes benefit from the sun until they reached full maturity.
It is rare that the weather during the 8/10 days of harvest does not concentrate all the climatic characteristics of the growing season. That was indeed the case in 2010, a "cyclothymic" year, if ever there was one.
On September 22nd, we harvested very healthy grapes in Corton and the following day it was the turn of Montrachet. Perhaps because of the storm that broke out on the 19th, maturity was very high and the percentage of noble rot significant.
On Friday, 24th, while we were starting the harvest in Vosne-Romanée, storms arrived and brought in a single day very important quantities of water to the vineyards. Humidity set in and remained until September 30th when the Sun returned. As a result, the progression of botrytis was regular, but the maturation gained at the end of the vegetative cycle was definitely acquired as well as the resistance of the grapes with small berries and thick skins. We can look at this as the third significant event of the vintage. Nevertheless, due to the progression of botrytis, a severe selection was necessary.
Once again, our experienced team of harvesters performed their traditional "haute couture" work. On the one hand they left aside for a second picking the vines bearing big or not ripe enough berries. On the other hand they eliminated from the grapes the parts that had been affected by botrytis. As a result, after Bernard Noblet and his team had put the finishing touches on the pickers' work on the sorting table, only the perfectly ripe and healthy grapes were kept for the vats
The vineyards were harvested in the following order:
September 22nd ..... Corton
September 23rd ..... Montrachet and Richebourg (beginning)
September 24th ..... stop in the morning - afternoon : Richebourg
September 25th ..... Richebourg (end) and Romanée-Conti
September 26th ..... La Tâche (beginning)
September 27th ..... La Tâche and Romanée-St-Vivant (beginning)
September 28th ..... Romanée-St-Vivant
September 29th ..... Romanée-St-Vivant (end) and Grands-Echezeaux (beginning)
September 30th ..... Grands-Echezeaux (end) and Echezeaux (beginning)
October 1st ........... Echezeaux
October 2nd .......... Echezeaux (end) and second picking
October 5th ........... end of second picking
Given the harvest proceeded in cold weather, the natural pre-fermentary macerations that resulted permitted the thick skins of the grapes to slowly release tannins and anthocyanins. At the time of this writing, after around 17 days of vatting for the first vats harvested, the wines show good colour and an excellent tannic structure which should give them a strong aging potential. The acidities are exceptionally good and, as mentioned above, the fermentation aromas are noble.
The Montrachet that has started its fermentation in vats should be sumptuous.
We cannot say much more at present; we have to wait a little longer before we can confirm our first impressions.
THE 2010 BURGUNDY VINTAGE
Compared with 2009, these figures represent a deficit of 25 percent in red and 16 percent in white.
It was a cold, drawn-out winter, some two degrees cooler than the average, though rainfall and sunshine were normal. There was one severe attack of frost on December 22nd, just before Christmas, which caused widespread damage on the upside of the main road from Beaune to Dijon. In many places the road is on higher ground, and the land dips before climbing up towards the premiers crus, thus causing a frost pocket. It is here, just as in 1985, that the damage has been done. Some vines have been killed outright; others managed a late push of vegetation which was either unproductive or far to late to be useful. This, and further depredations later in the season, have led to a crop some 25 percent less than the average (which is some 250,000 hectolitres, excluding generics, for the Côte d'Or).
Apart from a brief interlude in April the cold climatic pattern persisted right through until June 22nd. The vines flowered late and irregularly. Coulure and millerandage were widespread. There were isolated attacks of mildew. Conditions were the opposite of promising. The harvest would be late and maturity would be uneven unless there were to be a dramatic improvement in the weather.
Happily Burgundy then enjoyed a fine, even hot, period of several weeks until July 21st. The downside was that there were, inevitably, the usual storms, and in places, hail damage. On July 10th parts of northern Beaujolais and the southern Mâconnais were affected: Moulin à Vent, Saint-Amour, Leynes, Chaintré, Pouilly-Vinzelles, and the village of Fuissé. There was hail in some of the left bank vineyards in Chablis, especially in Vaillons. But the Côte d'Or and the Chalonnais seem to have been spared.
The weather in August was uneven; nice and warm, but with no lack of rain. We had oidium, here and there, and black rot elsewhere, in vineyards not properly looked after, especially in southern Burgundy and parts of Meursault. Together with the hail this has resulted in uneven quality in the Mâconnais, while further north the vintage is much more consistent.
Once into September the weather changed again. The wind changed to the north. It began to be much cooler during the night. Most days were dry and warm (though not hot – 25° maximum) but above all very sunny. It is sun, rather than heat, which ripens the fruit. Photosynthesis was able to continue right to the end, as the vegetation remained green. Acidities did not plunge; while the grapes continued to pile on sugar. Except where there had been prior hail or cryptogamic damage the fruit remained very healthy.
Apart from a few gloomy days around Tuesday September 7th, and a brief tempest in the evening of the 12th, which occasioned hail damage in Santenay and the southern end of Chassagne-Montrachet, the fine weather continued until Friday September 24th, by which time everyone was into their harvest. Picking began across Burgundy at more or less the same time: the 16th in the Beaujolais, the 18th in the Mâconnais, the 20th in the Côte Chalonnaise, the Côte d'Or and Chablis, though some waited until the 23rd. Following a pause on the 24th the good conditions continued with but brief stoppages for what turned out to be showers rather than more prolonged periods of rain. Most growers had finished by the week-end of October 1st.
All reports underline the same conclusion about the 2010 harvest. It has turned out a great deal better than one could possibly have imagined at the end of June. If only it had been drier in August! Not that August was wetter than the average, indeed in southern Burgundy precipitation was the same as in 2009.
The Beaujolais are not as abundantly seductive as in 2009, but they are perhaps more classic. The fruit is fresh and delicious. The crop is small and quality is less even than in it was in the previous vintage. The wines are in their prime now.
Quality in part of the Mâconnais has been compromised by the July 10th hail. It is here that the 2010 vintage is at its most heterogenous. But nevertheless, where the fruit has been correctly sorted, we have a combination of good fruit, correct levels of alcohol, nice supporting acidity and no lack of character. The best are delicious now.
Growers in the Côte Chalonnaise are very happy, especially with their red wines. 'That makes three highly successful vintages in a row.' said one, adding that the crop was saved by the anti-rot treatments he had had to apply. Again the whites are fully ready and drinking very well.
As elsewhere a small crop in Chablis, as much through a lack of juice in the grapes as to the size of the crop. Good alcoholic dregees – indeed more in the premiers crus than in the grands crus – healthy fruit and nice austere acIdities.
Which brings us to the Côte d'Or. Once again not a lot of juice, owing to widespread millerandage, but more concentration as a result. The red wines showed very good fruit and the grapes were in a very good state of health. Alcohol and acidity levels are more than satisfactory, as are the initial colours. So if the red wines were not as glorious at the outset as in 2009, they were certainly very good, above the current average. And as they developed they seemed to get better and better. The character is more classic than in 2009 and the wines will probably last longer. This was not a vintage to go heavy on the extraction, particularly in communes such as Volnay and Chambolle. That aside, these red wines are consistent; in the Côte de Beaune said to be at their best in Pommard; while the quality in the Côte de Nuits was noted as 'très joli'. Indeed the more you travel north, as is so often the case, the better the wine. The Côte de Nuits benefited not only from a slightly later harvest, but from lower precipitation in August. It is here that the 2010 vintage is at its finest. It is a vintage which shows the petits fruits rouges flavours of a medium weight, ripe, but not that concentrated a vintage. The wines are more marked by their terroir than in 2009, according to Aubert de Villaine.
It was more difficult in the early days to pronounce on the whites than on the reds. One wine-maker spoke about 'explosive' aromas, on the side of the exotic, and colours which were less deep than he feared. There are good acidities, but the vintage will be less classic than the 2008s in his opinion. I'm not sure that I agree. Now that the wines are in bottle one can see in the very best wines a striking success: the grip of the 2008s and the richness of the 2009s. That said, it must be pointed out that the storm of September 12th 'turned' much of the Chardonnay fruit. If one did not pick immediatedly, one's wine was comprimised. The result is a heterogenity between the village and minor premiers crus on the one hand and the wines from the better-sited vineyards, not to mention the grands crus, on the other. This is clearly apparent in the wines of Chassagne-Montrachet: wines of only average quality, and many showing too much botrytis, in Morgeots and the vineyards on the north side of the village, such as Chenevottes, Macharelles and Vergers, but fine wines from the slope which runs from Caillerets down to Embazées. Of the three main villages, Puligny and Meursault are better than Chassagne. Proportionately the higher one goes up the hierarchy, the better the wine. At the very top levels there are many white wines which, as they should, promise to be still improving after the age of five, rather than, as seems to be more and more the norm, depressingly, by that time beginning to lighten up. Overall – and there are a few wines which already hint at premature oxidation - this is clearly a better white wine vintage than 2009. And firmer than 2008.
Prices rose, but not by much. Growers were already aware of the deficit in quantity when they announced their 2009 prices, so a gentle shading upwards (I speak in Euros), was the order of the day, except that the elastic between the village wines and the less fashionable premiers crus on the one hand, and the grands crus and top village premiers crus on the other, continues to widen. You will pay increasingly higher prices for Richebourg, Puligny-Montrachet, Les Folatières and Vosne-Romanée, Les Beaumonts, while Savigny-Lès-Beaune, premier cru and Paul Jacqueson's Rully, La Pucelles remain a bargain.
by Clive Coates