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Richebourg is a king of a wine: the Colonnade of the Louvre, the Château of Versailles. You are impressed by its finesse, its length and its delicate sensations, endlessly changing. The fact that no element dominates the others enables you to appreciate all of its aromas, on the nose and on the palate. Force and subtlety in one wine ?
Richebourg reacts well to new oak, which it can dominate completely. It is therefore regularly matured in new casks of oak from the forests of Tronçais and Bertranges. It is easy to guess its depth and finesse, but this is a wine which is frequently discreet during the first months of its maturing period. To express itself, it needs a little encouragement (aeration, for example).
Richebourg requires very few tricks for it to express itself. There's no need to break up the cap or to control the temperature inopportunely; the vinification follows the general rules of the estate; no more, no less. The most important thing is to have ripe grapes to start with, which is not difficult, given the low yields.
Planted during the 1950s, this 'grand cru' vineyard regularly produces small grapes, perfect examples of 'pinot fin'. It is not particularly precocious and likes to take its time to mature; a characteristic which can also be found in the cask, once the wine has been made! The grapes present a fine balance between sugar and acids, certainly at the origin of this appellation's character.
The estate possesses about three quarters of an acre in 'les Verroilles', plus a tenth of an acre in 'les Richebourg', just below 'Cros Parantoux' (or close to an acre in total). The vines are oriented principally towards the east, and they are characterised by being planted in rows running north-south – a protection during hot years. Generally speaking, the site is fairly cool.
The sun at the end of the season enabled the grapes to mature perfectly and produce round and generous wines. This year was surprising in the way it aged: after a fairly fast start, as predicted, the wines have since settled down and now offer fullness and balance, with no sign of fatigue. No denying it, a shining light in the decade of the 80s. To be drunk sparingly: you should keep a few control bottles.
1985 Burgundy by Clive Coates MW / The 1985 vintage represents a turning point in the wine history of Burgundy. Before this date, on the whole, winegrowers made wine, merchants bought it, assembled several plots, if necessary, and sold it. Subsequently, more and more estates began to mature, bottle and market the wines themselves. In the meantime, many merchants had taken the opportunity to expand their own estates, so that, particularly at the upper end, they were more or less self-sufficient. In the 1970s, and earlier, there were barely around twenty producers – we think of Rousseau, Dujac, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Gouges, Lafarge and Leflaive – who did not sell in bulk. Many of today's super-stars bottled only a token quantity and were unknown to even the most perceptive merchant or journalist.
The emergence of these new areas is transforming Burgundy. In a very short time, almost everyone who had a grand cru and many who had a good premier cru were bottling as much as they could themselves. There was, of course, the question of cash flow. If you sold to a merchant, you were paid in full at the time of the next vintage. If you sold in bottles, you didn't get the money until about two and a half years later, after bottling 18 months after harvest and possible shipping in winter thereafter. We would therefore not be able, unless we were otherwise financed, to move from bulk sales to bottled sales overnight. I remember the late Philippe Engel explaining to me that the transformation for him took ten years.
The process was encouraged by local residents. Burgundy is a generous wine region. Most growers are on very good terms with their neighbors and are only too happy to help if there is a problem. Naturally, the best ones have a queue of potential buyers waiting to step in if one of the regular customers falls through. What could be more natural for the important owner of the much sought-after estate than to recommend a hitherto unknown young neighbor who was looking for business. If he or she was a cousin or in-law, so much the better.
Moreover, the quality was improving, and by leaps and bounds. The best growers went to Viti in Beaune then to the University of Dijon. Many left for a stopover in California or Australia, or elsewhere in France. Tasting each other’s wines with your neighbors has become commonplace. Firstly, selling your wine under your own label required you not to cut corners, which you might have been tempted to do if you were simply selling in bulk. Tasting your wine alongside those of your friends and reading a review of it in a wine magazine will soon tell you whether you are producing superior quality or not. Second, viticulture and viticulture techniques had become increasingly sophisticated. There has been a return to plowing and the elimination of herbicides and pesticides. The size of the harvest was taken into greater account. And finally the introduction of the sorting table: the greatest contribution to increasing quality of all. Today, everyone has a sorting table. The first time I saw it was Domaine de la Romanée-Conti when I was making a video in 1987. Finally, after a disappointing run of vintages in the 1970s and early 1980s, 1985 ushered in a series of high quality years that continues to this day. Burgundy has not had a bad vintage since 1984. Thirty years.
The consequence of all this is that it is increasingly difficult for everyone, not just the outside journalist, to keep up. Every year, new areas, worthy of exploration and waiting to be discovered. In 1985, I visited six estates in Gevry, four in Morey and Chambolle and perhaps eight in Vosne. Today I should visit 25 in Gevrey, and so on. A marathon for which I no longer have the energy. I am very lucky to have been there at the time and to have experienced what was an exciting time in Burgundy.