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The vines were planted in two stages by Auguste and Pierre Morey. They are old, weak vines producing little (between 20 and 35 hl/ha). Badly affected by fan-leaf degeneration, they have improved considerably since the application of biodynamic preparations. The parcel is situated at the far south of Montrachet also facing south. The soil is fairly dark, quite deep and stony. It consistently produces wines rich in alcohol, balanced out by their marked acidity. A great deal of substance, these are wines to keep for a long time.
The Montrachet family consists of grand five Grands Crus grown in the two villages of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. These two share the Montrachet and Bâtard-Montrachet appellations. Chevalier and Bienvenues belong to Puligny, Criots belongs to Chassagne. These Grands Crus are the most southerly of the Côte-d'Or, and lie between Meursault in the north and Santenay in the south. Their origins go back to the Middle Ages - the work of the Cistercian abbey of Maizières and the Lords of Chagny. The wines of Montrachet (pronounced Mon-rachay) came fully into their own in the 17th century. There is no argument : this is the finest expression of the Chardonnay grape anywhere on earth. The Grand Cru appellations date from 31 July, 1937.
The underlying rocks date from the Jurassic, 175 million years BC. Exposures lie to the east and the south. Altitudes: 265-290 metres (Chevalier) ; 250-270 metres (Montrachet) ; 240-250 metres (Bâtard, Bienvenues, Criots). In the " Climat " of Montrachet, the soils are thinnish and lie on hard limestone traversed by a band of reddish marl. In Chevalier, the soils are thin and stony rendzinas derived from marls and marly-limestones. In the Bâtard " climat " soils are brown limestone which are deeper and, at the foot of the slope, more clayey.
The power and aromatic persistence of these lofty wines demands aristocratic and sophisticated dishes with complex textures : « pâté » made from fattened goose liver, of course, and caviar. Lobster, crawfish, and large wild prawns, with their powerful flavours and firm textures, pay well-deserved homage to the wine and match its opulence. Firm-fleshed white fish such as monkfish would be equally at home in their company. And let us not forget well-bred and well-fattened free-range poultry whose delicate flesh, with the addition of a cream-and-mushroom sauce, will be lapped up in the unctuous and noble texture of this wine. Even a simple piece of veal, fried or in sauce, would be raised to heavenly heights by the Montrachet's long and subtle acidity.
Serving temperature : 12 to 14 °C.
The Weather/ Immediately after budburst the vines in the best parcels of Meursault and Volnay were damaged by frost on Tuesday 14th April.
On 30th April, a hailstorm hit some of the vines already damaged by frost.
A second hailstorm on 10th July, in the white Premier Cru sector..
A year of extremes, the weather was either too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet but never at the right time.Flowering took place at the normal time, (5th to 10th June), it was quite quick but the vines were stressed which led to a lot of millerandage.July was hot and humid and nights were cool creating problems with oidium (in the Chardonnay) which was difficult to get under control. August was abnormally hot and some damage was done by the sun scalding the berries. Veraison was regular in the Pinot Noir.
The beginning of September was wet and there were signs of an attack of botrytis. Fine weather returned on Thursday, 17th.Harvesting began in sunny weather on 21st September.
Harvesting finished on 26th September, in a storm which heralded the return of bad weather.
We began with a few parcels of white which were ripe and then transferred to the reds:
21st September :
Charmes, young vines: 12.9° potential; yield: 20 hl/ha
Désirée: 13.2° potential; yield: 20hl/ha
Volnay Champans: 13.3° potential; yield: 20 hl/ha
Part of Volnay Santenots: 13.5° potential; yield: 18 hl/ha
22nd September :
Volnay Santenots (continued)
Meursault Perrières: 13.5 potential; yield: 20hl/ha
23rd September :
Volnay Santenots (the rest)
24th September :
Volnay Clos des Chênes: 13.3° potential; yield: 18 hl/ ha
Meursault Genevrières: 13.4° potential; yield: 15 hl/ha
Meursault Charmes (old vines): 13.6° potential: Yield: 30 hl/ha
Puligny Champgain: 12.8° potential; yield: 15 hl/ha
25th September :
Montrachet: 13.8° potential; yield: 32 hl/ ha
Goutte d'Or: 13.1° potential; yield: 30hl/ha
En la Barre (cuvée Meursault): 13.6° potential; yield: 22 hl/ha
Clos de la Barre: 13.3° potential; yield: 22 hl/ha
26th September :
Clos de la Barre (the remainder)
En Luraule (basic Meursault together with En la Barre): 12.7° potential; yield: 27 hl/ha
Monthélie les Duresses: 12.7° potential; yield: 38 hl/ha
Sanitary conditions were reasonable, there being between 5% and 10% botrytis. Good, consistent maturity in the Pinots Noirs but, very mixed in the Chardonnay. Yield was extremely low except in Montrachet and Monthélie, both unscathed by hail and frost.
Fairly relaxed for the reds despite the small volume. No adjustments were required in view of the ripeness and acide balance. Fermentation was slow and the wines spent between 18 and 20 days in the tanks, except the Monthélie (14 days). The colours are dark and healthy, and the tannins are elegant and ripe.
The whites required more skill:
Pressing was slow and light, last pressing separated out, lengthy cold settling, we had to use plenty of sulphur to counteract the odium. No adjustments were necessary. Fermentation was slow, some cuvées fragile when in contact with the air.
Not all the whites have finished alcoholic fermentation yet. In those that have, malolactic fermentation has begun.
The Reds : they are superb, a wonderful colour, aromatic, intense on the palate, lovely tannins (slightly superior to those in 1997), and unctuous. The colours are those of '90, '93, and '95 but the wines are more refined yet just as intense. Acidity is excellent. The wines should be well balanced; I'm hoping for a great vintage.
The Whites : difficult to taste and evaluate at the moment. Two tendencies are becoming apparent: one being of slender wines with freshness and elegance as in the Meursault, Clos de la Barre, Désirée, Charmes, Goutte d'Or and Montrachet.The other of heavy wines, with a tendency to oxidise, as in les Perrières, Genevrières or Champgain.
The fruit is less racy than in 1997, intensity is good and acidity also, although slightly more firm than in 1997. Worth keeping an eye on!
1998 VINTAGE in Burgundy
The 1998 vintage was born under good auspices and has real potential. In spite of the occasional capricious weather conditions, the harvest has given us wines full of promise ? some fruity and seductive, others meaty and more structured.
After brief cold spells in January and February, the vines enjoyed temperatures above the seasonal average in March. This mild weather was interrupted by cold and rainy conditions in early spring. More clement weather returned in May and got growth off to a good start though, later, a slight drop in temperature slowed down the end of the flowering period. Odium broke out but did only local damage and overall the health of the vines remained satisfactory. The summer was on the whole hot and dry. Some limited hail damage occurred. Whilst scorching temperatures in August led to rapid colouring-up (vérasion) and a promising start to maturation. Rain in September was fortunately concentrated at the beginning and end of the month. By and large, harvesting took place in excellent conditions under sunny skies.
As always, the quest for optimum maturity was the key factor in deciding when harvesting should begin. The composition of the grapes was good nut the presence of botrytis gave rise in many cases to a need for sorting ? more or less rigorously according to situation. On the whole, average sugar content and acidity levels were both satisfactory. The ?ban de vendanges? was lifted the 10th of September confirming a somewhat precocious year.
At Domaine Latour, we began the harvest on Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd and selected only those vineyards with more than 12° of natural sugar content. The grapes maturity appeared to depend on the age of the vines, the older vines with stronger roots were the most resistant to the drought and therefore in the best condition.
During the period of good weather, the grape juice was re-concentrated. Over 80 percent of our crop was brought in between Monday 21st and Saturday 26th in perfect harvesting conditions. Such was the urgency to harvest before the rains returned, that all available personnel at Maison Latour were mobilised in addition to the harvesters, for the first time in twenty years.
We were able to finish harvesting on Thursday 1st and Friday 2nd October, just before the weather pattern changed again. The careful selection of fruit in the vineyards and on selection tables at our winery ensured that only the very best fruit in the best possible condition went into the vat.
The red grapes that were harvested before the rains came, have good concentration and especially good colour. They have a firm tannic structure that will enable the wines to age gracefully, and the acidity is balanced, but not as high as in 1996. All of the fermentation?s this year were rapid which has helped to soften the wines, and retain that brilliant Pinot Noir colour.
The white 1998s from Domaine Latour are great. Our Corton Charlemagne was picked before the rains came, under fantastic conditions, with sugar levels of between 12.5° and 12.8°. It will surely be a great wine that will benefit from some cellaring. A small crop was harvested from Chevaliers Montrachet Les Demoiselles due to damage caused by the late April frosts, these grapes were of great quality and in a perfect state of physiological maturity.
To sum up the 1998 vintage; the white wines are expressive and pleasing, notable for their elegance and agreeable acidity. For the reds the colour is good and they have a balanced structure and well developed fruit underpinned by harmonious tannins, which bode well for their future.