Friday, 25 April 2014

A visit to Domaine Guillot-Broux - and finally, the wines are here!

The wines of Domaine Guillot-Broux are not entirely new to the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines list, since we featured a couple of cuvées a few years back, at the time they were (rather inexplicably) dropped by their UK agent, who bin-ended the remainder of their supplies. In fact, our introduction to these lovely wines came even earlier, courtesy of our friend David Bennett, who has a second home in southern Burgundy and has been a regular visitor to the Guillot-Broux estate, situated less than half an hour's drive away in the village of Cruzille-en-Mâconnais.

We first visited more than 2 years ago (although TLD had a migraine, so she slept in the car!). Our latest visit was in June 2013, when we were treated to an extensive tasting of wines from both bottle and barrel. As if I needed confirmation, after all of my previous positive experiences of the wines, the quality across the board was of a level which compared very favourably with so many other more esteemed (and considerably more expensive) growers in the Côte d'Or. I have written several times before about various Guillot-Broux wines, notably a few of the 2011's and 2010's, not to mention several bottles of a wonderful 1996 Gamay (see - it really is age-worthy stuff)! Below I have reproduced the tasting notes from my website on the new wines that have finally found their way onto our list. But first of all, here's a little history on the estate and some technical details................

The Guillot family have been making wines in Cruzille since 1954, when the current owners' grandparents, Pierre and Jeannine Guillot, started the first organic vineyard in Burgundy. Their son, Jean-Gérard, spent some years working on the family vineyard, before working for several years with Domaine de la Chanal in Brouilly and Bernard Michelot in Meursault. In 1978, Jean-Gérard returned to Cruzille, where he established Domaine Guillot-Broux with his wife Jacqueline, starting out with little more than a hectare of vines. By 1991 the estate had expanded to include further vineyards, and had also been granted official organic certification. During this time, Jean-Gérard's sons Ludovic and Patrice began working for the estate. Another son, Emmanuel (whose previous experience included 2 years as head sommelier at the St. James's Club in London) returned to the estate in 2000 and, following the death of Jean-Gérard in 2008, Emmanuel took over the reins as head winemaker. The estate now comprises around 15 hectares, with a number of small vineyards in the Mâconnais villages of Cruzille, Grevilly, Pierreclos and Chardonnay (which some say is the origin of the Chardonnay grape variety).

Tasting from barrel with Emmauel Guillot
The terrain of the Mâconnais region (and hence - to an extent - the terroir) differs somewhat from that of the Côte d'Or, with gently rolling countryside interspersed with numerous small hills and forests, rocky outcrops and valleys. Much of the region is given over to arable and livestock farming, yet is also widely interspersed with numerous vineyards. Mâcon and Mâcon-Villages are the basic appellations, whilst various villages which tend to make wines higher up the quality scale are permitted to append their name - hence Mâcon-Cruzille, Mâcon-Chardonnay, Mâcon-Pierreclos, etc. Despite this (all too typically) complicated hierarchy, the aforementioned appellations strangely apply only to Chardonnay and Gamay. Therefore, despite the fact that there are now some pretty impressive Pinot Noirs being made in the region, they can still only be labelled as humble Bougogne Rouge - even though, from the right terroir and in the hands of quality vignerons, they can be a match for their more esteemed Côte d'Or cousins.

Most of the vineyards of the Guillot-Broux estate are situated on east-facing slopes on clay-limestone soil, except for the 60-90 year-old Gamay vines in Pierreclos, which are planted on granite soil with a south-facing aspect. The nature of the soil in Cruzille particularly brings out mineral flavours, and produces wines which need a relatively long time to mature. Grevilly (in 2005, Mâcon Grévilly become Mâcon Cruzille) and Chardonnay produce fruitier wines that can be appreciated when young or can be kept for several years to develop greater complexity. The different characteristics of these varied terroirs and the wines they produce are reinforced by the Guillot's methods of cultivation - they only use natural methods of fighting parasites and disease, using a combination of ploughing, organic fertilisers (to feed the soil and not the vines), and organically-acceptable mineral sprays (copper and sulphites). They believe that respecting the soil in this way allows the vines to absorb all the elements they need to be healthy and balanced, thus producing healthy, balanced wines. In other words, to maintain the right balance rather than treat the consequences. Indeed, as well as being the oldest organic grower in Burgundy, the estate is essentially farmed (though not certified) according to biodynamic principles. 

Although the vines are, generally speaking, planted at a density of 8,000 to 9,000 per hectare, yields are still low, at between 30 and 55 hectolitres a hectare, with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity. This dense planting regime increases competition between the vines, making for naturally low yields and increased concentration of flavours and balance in the wines. All of the grapes are hand-picked, and then sorted in the vines before going to the winery. 

The grapes from the various plots and grape varieties are vinified differently, depending on the type of terroir, the vintage and the age of the vines. Fermentation is completed without the addition of cultured yeasts, whilst the use of SO2 and chaptalisation are kept to a strict minimum. The Chardonnay grapes are pressed immediately and the juice is put straight into 225 litre oak barrels, where both the first (alcoholic) and second (malolactic) fermentations take place. After malolactic fermentation, the wines are racked and either put back into barrels (single vineyard wines) or into vats (Mâcon Villages). The top cuvées then spend a second winter in barrels before being bottled, without fining or filtration. The Gamay grapes are put into small vats (50hl) without being de-stemmed. They are macerated and fermented on the skins, before being pressed 6 to 30 days later, depending on the vintage. During this time, the grapes are trod by foot or by using a long plunger once or twice a day. The Pinot Noir grapes are de-stemmed before undergoing maceration and alcoholic fermentation for a minimum of 15 days. After being pressed, the wines are matured for between 11 and 18 months in barrel, and then bottled without fining. The wines are only gently filtered, if necessary, or in many cases not at all. 

This parcel of land had been one of the best in the Mâconnais at the beginning of the 19th century, but was left out of the reclassification for vine-growing land in 1935. Uncultivated since the phylloxera epidemic, it was re-planted in 1983. 

A bright mid-gold/straw colour, leading to a pale rim. Wonderfully lime-scented, with an array of freshly-cut hay, basil and oregano notes, not to mention a strong perception of wet stone minerality. And that stony theme continues through onto the palate – a veritable double-whammy of bracing, citrus-tinged acidity and a dry, almost chalky mineral edge, which really does make your tabs laugh and your eyes water, in a most enjoyable way. There are plenty of tart Bramley apple and soft citrus fruit flavours, with perhaps the merest hint of something richer, like slightly under-ripe peach or apricot. All of which amounts to a pretty good knife-edge balancing act – with less fruit, the tartness might make the teeth jangle, but any more and it wouldn’t excite the taste buds so much. My goodness, this is lovely wine - and long, too! (£17.95) 

Despite the fact that the vineyards of Les Combettes and Les Genièvrières are contiguous, the two wines produced are dramatically different. Les Combettes is close in spirit to a wine from the Côte d'Or - woody, rich and full-bodied. 

A bright gold/straw colour, leading to a pale rim. Delightfully expressive, high-toned and almost prickly on the nose, with gloriously intense lime oil and fresh apple aromas, buttered toast and hints of peach and apricot. So wonderfully intense and flavoursome on the palate too, with bucket-loads of fruit and minerality, utterly mouth-watering acidity and a gentle herbiness. This really is the business - Côte d'Or quality at a much more sensible Mâcon price. A real stunner of a wine, to drink now, or to age for a few years. (£18.50) 

The terroir of the Perrières vineyard consists of Oolitic limestone, in layers of limestone slabs and a thin soil cover (20 - 40 cm). It is porous, making for good drainage, but at the same time very fragile and difficult to work, and was abandoned after the phylloxera epidemic for these very reasons. Comprising just 1.1 hectares, it was re-planted in 1978, with a density of 9,000 vines per hectare. Yields are between 35 and 35 hl/ha. 

The wine is aged for 18 months in second or third generation oak barrels without either fining or filtering. The nose is simply gorgeous - all prickly and zingy, scented with the oil of freshly-cut limes, hay, nettles and massive minerality. Not that it lacks in the way of fruit, though - spiced apple, dried orange and soused sultana aromas abound, in a wine of tremendous complexity and verve. All of which carries through onto the palate - and then some! You can spend an eternity picking out myriad flavours and nuances, whilst simply enjoying such a delicious, structured and compelling wine. It grips and caresses at the same time, with tremendous depth and concentration of complex, herb-tinged fruit and stony minerality, wrapped around a backbone of positively eye-watering acidity. Long, complex and utterly lovely, this is undoubtedly a wine to match many a Côtes de Nuits 1er Cru. (£19.99) 

From Gamay vines of between 60 and 90 years of age, grown on granitic soil in the village of Pierreclos. The translucent ruby colour and tremendously fragrant nose scores very highly on the come-hither scale. Cherry and redcurrant aromas abound, with subtle hints of spiced rhubarb, violets, new leather and damp earth, and perhaps a suggestion of fresh root ginger. The palate is delightfully fresh and invigorating, with a mouth-watering core of citrussy acidity and just the right amount of tannic grip to accompany the vibrant, tangy, spicy red fruit. Whilst superficially light and airy, it doesn't take too much scratching beneath the surface to reveal extra layers of complexity and flavour, which raise it to another level. It may be Gamay, but it is quite different to Beaujolais. Rather, it has a grace and elegance one might normally encounter in a light, vibrant young Pinot. A wonderful expression of the Gamay grape. (£15.95) 

The estate's top red, from an old, low-yielding vineyard on a mix of marl and limestone, comprising just 0.65 of a hectare, which was re-planted in 1956, with cuttings from Pinot Noir vines from the Cote de Beaune. With a planting density of 8,000 vines per hectare, the average yield is just 30 hl/ha - or just over half a bottle per vine! 

A beautiful, bright, translucent cherry/carmine red colour, with a complex, perfumed nose, combining red summer fruits, white pepper and spice, with subtle woody and earthy notes. A good swirl and a few minutes' air reveals yet more complexity, with hints of redcurrant, old leather and woodsmoke. If it sounds elegant, that's because it is - and the palate certainly lives up to the promise of the nose, caressing the tongue with waves of tangy cherry and redcurrant fruit nuances, not to mention something almost floral, like violets and fruit blossom, with a hint of fine white pepper for good measure. It simply exudes elegance, in an almost feminine way, embracing rather than squeezing, as do the tannins, which are fine and gently grippy, whilst the most gloriously juicy acidity carries the flavours all the way through to a long, lingering finish. At the risk of labouring the point, this really is *proper* red Burgundy. Is it worth 24 quid? Definitely. (£23.95)

Having harboured a desire to import from Guillot-Broux for several years (with so many growers in Languedoc and Roussillon to juggle, there never quite seemed to be an ideal opportunity) I could resist no longer. For these wines are simply too good not to be available in the UK, providing as they do (in comparison with more exalted estates to the north, in the Côte d'Or) a genuine source of 1er Cru-standard wines at Village wine prices. Oh, and the Gamays are pretty darned good, too!