Each month, we highlight one of the wines that are available to taste in our London Shop at 63 Pall Mall. George Turner, our Assistant Shop Manager, turns the spotlight onto a delicious red Burgundy made by Domaine de Montille.
After a tricky year of a cold, humid winter followed by a summer reaching sweltering heights of over 30 degrees, Domaine de Montille have managed to retain beautiful balance in this wine. The grapes come from their holding on the Premier Cru site, Les Perrières – a limestone-rich vineyard on a former stone quarry to the northern end of the village – which has brought energy and freshness to the wine. Due to the conditions of the year, two thirds of the bunches were pressed whole to bring a very pleasing floral bouquet on the nose and the palate. This medium-bodied wine has well-integrated crunchy tannins, with a profile of blackcurrants, raspberries and floral aromas that unfurl out of the glass.
What’s the story behind it?
After the significant vineyard holdings of Prosper de Montille were sold off, his descendant Hubert de Montille only inherited two and a half hectares – but today, his son now manages 17 hectares. Domaine de Montille are recognised for producing some of the purest expressions of Pinot Noir in Burgundy, with a traditional approach to winemaking: the grapes are partially de-stemmed with long periods of maceration; the liquids are aged in oak barriques (20-30% new oak) and the wine is bottled unfiltered. This 2018 Beaune perfectly encapsulates Domaine de Montille’s ethos and style: the winemaking reflects the purity and terroir of this wine, even during a season that would see a wine lean to being fuller-bodied.
What should I drink it with?
With game season in play, this would pair beautifully with partridge, guinea fowl or wild rabbit and ceps on soft polenta.
Visit us in our London Shop at 63 Pall Mall to sample this 2018 Beaune from Domaine de Montille.
This family-owned estate is at the forefront of the sustainable winemaking conversation in Bordeaux. For more than 15 years, Château Montrose has been championing vineyard health, waste management and greener ways of thinking. Here, we speak with Sales Director Lorraine Watrin.
Bicarbonate of soda is a rather unlikely product for a Bordeaux wine estate, but Château Montrose ships out tonnes of the stuff every vintage. Capturing the carbon produced during fermentation, and recycling it into this useful by-product, is just one of the innovations that demonstrate how far the estate is pushing its sustainability agenda.
Ch. Montrose is one of the leading lights of St. Estéphe, with a reputation that is bolstered by every passing vintage. Its grand vin is a particular favourite of the Berry Bros. & Rudd team.
“When the current owners took over the property in 2006, they had a vision,” explains Lorraine Watrin, Sales Director at Ch. Montrose. “We had a goal to reveal the beautiful riches of the terroir; but also a vision of sustainability, enabling the owners to hand this on to their children, and the children’s children because this is a family company. It’s a very important mindset: to preserve the riches of the terroir for the next generation.”
Data and nature at work
Low-intervention winemaking is one thing but, at Ch. Montrose, nature is getting a significant helping hand from data. The estate is currently carrying out a detailed study of its holdings. “The goal is to study the specificity of each plot,” says Lorraine. “Ch. Montrose is one huge, single vineyard – 130 hectares in one block. But within that you have forest and herbs and different terroirs.”
Understanding these precise microclimates, and how climate change is impacting them, is the key to Montrose’s long-term view. “Within the plot, the climate at the bottom of the slope is different to the top of the slope; we want to study that in relation to the soil and humidity,” says Lorraine. “We want to see whether better-adapted varieties can be planted. For example would it be better to plant some Petit Verdot instead of Cabernet Sauvignon. We’re looking at which of our massal selection Merlot, or massal selection Cabernet Sauvignon will be best adapted.”
So will the overall composition of the vineyards be changing? “You cannot talk about Ch. Montrose without talking about Cabernet Sauvignon,” says Lorraine. “Yes, we are going to increase the proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon for two reasons. Firstly, because of climate change because the temperature is going higher and it can cope with this. And also because the Cabernet is the signature of Ch. Montrose.”
Organic, but not certified
Ch. Montrose practices organic viticulture but, so far, they’ve eschewed certification. “We don’t use chemicals any more, we only use natural products and we practice organic viticulture, but we’re not certified,” says Lorraine. Like many winemakers, the necessary paperwork is a barrier – but for Montrose it’s more than that. Certification would stand in the way of their innovation.
“We aren’t certified, and we’re not looking for certification. Certification is hard – the paperwork and so on – but also we have a research and development programme to look for new alternative products in the vines. This means that some of those products – even though they are natural – are not in the approved list for organic certification.” If they were certified, this research wouldn’t be allowed.
Innovation beyond the vineyard
In addition to a flagship solar-panel green energy scheme, electric tractors, a laudable waste management programme, and a water recycling plant is Montrose’s real headline-grabbing initiative: its carbon capture facility. Lorraine explains they brought in outside consultants to help devise a system that could work around the clock. “When alcoholic fermentation has started, it has started – it’s running day and night,” Lorraine says.
“We were struggling to capture all the carbon at night, and we needed an autonomous system that could run by itself. When we started, we captured four tonnes of bicarbonate of soda. In 2020, even though the yield was low, we managed to capture 10 times that. When we have a normal crop, we should produce around 80 tonnes.”
No such thing as a normal vintage
Perhaps a normal yield and a normal vintage is a thing of the past? “It’s hard to make predictions,” Lorraine says. “It’s certainly different to when I was a little girl. One thing’s for sure, and that is that the climate is changing and it’s not stable,” she explains.
But Montrose isn’t shrugging its shoulders. “We have to look around us and make changes step by step,” Lorraine says. “Here, we are in the middle of nature – we’re by the river, which is three kilometres across, and helps us regulate temperature. Nature is doing good things. When we farm with birds and insects and biodiversity, nature can manage itself.” These things, Lorraine explains, help Ch. Montrose support their vision of the future – one for the next generation.
We’re Carême fans in my family. Vincent and Tania Carême truly understand the character and potential of Chenin Blanc, having made wine in both Vouvray and Tania’s native South Africa. We popped a bottle of their Brut for my grandmother’s 99th birthday. It was joyful, crisp and uplifting; it delighted her. So it was with confidence that we later snapped up a bottle of the Spring – which is now a firm family favourite.
Here, there are wonderful aromas of fresh quince, baked apple and white peach. The palate has bright, strong acidity. There is a little richness to the body, and a slightly chalky feel from the limestone – making it perfect with a plate of parmesan biscuits for the six o’clock apéritif, and for more experimental food pairings. My grandmother turns 101 next month, so I’ll be getting us a case – at least.
This was one of the first wines I ever tried at Berry Bros. & Rudd. It was an unfortunate place to start – I now expect everything to be just as sensational. Aligoté is the “other” white grape of Burgundy, and it’s where to look when seeking excellent quality and value-for-money. Don’t confuse Aligoté with aligot, a rather pleasing French dish of cheesy mashed potatoes.
Marc Colin – who has now passed his domaine down to three of his children – seeks purity, elegance and length in his wines. This one certainly delivers. The bouquet is complex: plenty of squeezed lemon, some candied peel and a hint of wet sea-pebbles. These flavours are matched on the palate, along with striking acidity and a suitably round texture. There’s a satisfying, saline finish thanks to the old vines (two of the three parcels are over 70 years old) and thoughtful vinification. This wine is a sensational summer crowd-pleaser. It would be a very welcome guest at a long lunch – especially if paired with oysters.
Benjamin Leroux tells us that “happiness is no further than the edge of your feet”. You can feel Benjamin’s love for Burgundy in his wines. His intellectual and measured vinification methods focus on the individual expression of grape and terroir. A first-generation vigneron, he has created a masterful range of wines from all along the Côte d’Or; this is a superb example.
Pommard wines are traditionally known for their strong tannic structure, dark fruit and powerful, slightly savoury character. It’s no wonder that Victor Hugo described them as “night in combat with day”. But this wine has a little more softness and elegance. It comes from the Rugiens-Haut Premier Cru, which is just beside Rugiens, one of Pommard’s finest vineyards. You are immediately seduced by open, ripe red-cherry flavours and a sweet roundness on the palate. With a little patience, however, this wine will evolve into something truly remarkable.
From Champagnes aged on the seabed to wines matured in a barrel made from a kilo of gold, Leclerc Briant’s more extreme ideas read like marketing stunts. But the wines are no gimmick. In fact, in the words of our Buyer Davy Żyw, these Champagnes are “imaginative, creative, terroir-driven and vinous”. Here, we speak with Pierre Bettinger, Sales Director, about the philosophy at the heart of the brand.
“The philosophy here is to place nature in the centre of everything we do,” says Pierre Bettinger, Sales Director at Leclerc Briant. “We believe nature is more intelligent and more powerful than us. And it will make a much better job of making wines than we could. By placing nature in the centre of everything we do – philosophy, structure, actions and winemaking – we try to express the quality of our terroir in the purest way.”
This idea – low-intervention, nature-first winemaking – is absolutely at the heart of the sustainability conversation. But it’s not a new direction for Leclerc Briant. “Leclerc Briant was one of the first wineries in Champagne to farm organically in the 1960s. And the very first to farm biodynamically in the 1980s,” Pierre explains.
“We continue to work this way, but not because we want to do things the way they were doing them in the past. We believe it is the way to make great wine today. Our purpose is not to produce organic or biodynamic Champagnes; it’s to produce the best possible wines with the talents and terroir that we have. Organic and biodynamic are not a truth, or a crusade. It’s just our choice.”
The modern era at Leclerc Briant
Leclerc Briant was purchased by its current owners in 2012; saved from being swallowed up by some of the neighbouring houses “which has happened many times before in Champagne,” says Pierre. Fortunately, the four people who took on the property shared a desire to continue making wine with “nature in the centre”.
Winemaker Hervé Jestin is renowned for being at the forefront of the organic and biodynamic movement. “He is the reference when you talk about organic and biodynamic bubbles – not only in Champagne where he has been making wine for more than 35 years – but also in Italy, England, Spain and Russia,” explains Pierre. “In 2012, he dropped his consultancy, except for Hambledon in the UK, to concentrate on Leclerc Briant. So, the wine is being made his way, not just in a historical way.”
The difference in taste
So, how does the idea of “nature in the centre” translate into what you can taste in the glass? One clear stylistic deviation from other Champagne houses is Leclerc Briant’s zero or low dosage wines. “This is a way to offer the purest version of what we do,” says Pierre. “To express the vineyard and the terroir, we want to take away sugar, which can act as make-up to hide flaws. All our classic cuvées are less than four grams of sugar. All our single-vineyard or speciality wines are zero dosage.
“We also reduce the use of sulphur. This is because we believe that your wine is alive – a living thing. If you handle the wine in the right way, then in time and with oxygen, it will behave in the right way so you don’t need sulphites.
“We try to align all our philosophy around sustainability. We use recycled glass for the bottles; recycled aluminium foil for the closure; the labels are cotton not paper.”
Biodynamics at Leclerc Briant
“When I try to explain biodynamic practices, it all comes back to common sense,” says Pierre. “It’s a bit like comparing oriental medicine to occidental medicine. In Europe, we wait to get sick, then treat ourselves with chemicals. In many Asian countries, they believe that if you treat your body well, and balance it with plants, meditation and so on, you can prevent yourself from getting sick. And in the vineyard this idea really works. The proof is what’s in the glass.
“We let the grass grow, we work the soil, we use horses, we have sheep in the vineyard. And we have all kinds of plants in the vineyard to enrich the soil. We also treat the vines with plants, with infusions, to prevent illness. Camomile, for example, is good for regulating temperature, and will help the plant deal with very hot or very cold extremes.”
It’s not a perfect system, but Pierre maintains that in the long-term, the biodynamic way will pay off. “There are challenges, and it’s one of the reasons why people don’t go in this direction. It’s true that when you convert to biodynamic practices, you lose yields; you lose volumes – but only for the first years. For a biodynamic vineyard to reach its full potential takes eight years. It’s a big commitment. It takes more manpower, it takes more attention, it takes more time.”
Innovation, elements and nature
Beyond championing biodynamics in the vineyard, there are a lot of other ideas and innovations at play – as Hervé’s ideas in the winery (and beyond) demonstrate. Abyss, Leclerc Briant’s (almost) impossible to buy cuvée, is aged at the bottom of the ocean, 60metres below sea level.
“It’s a crazy idea,” Pierre admits. “But actually it fits perfectly with our philosophy. We’re working with nature to have perfect ageing conditions: constant temperature, complete darkness, no oxygen, an equilibrium of pressure inside and outside the bottle and an environment totally undisturbed by mankind.”
Back on dry land, there’s no shortage of boundary-pushing ideas. “In 2015, we brought in five terracotta eggs. It’s usual in wineries to see them upright, but ours are on their sides as they would be in nature,” Pierre explains. “When they are standing, it creates a vortex and the wine moves – a natural lees stirring. We don’t want that; it tires the wine.
“Another first is a barrel that is, on the outside, stainless steel. But, on the inside, it’s gold. There’s a layer two microns thick. It’s a 250-litre barrel, and there is the equivalent of a kilo of gold in there.” OK. It sounds very flash. Why gold? “For many reasons,” Pierre says. “It’s not something we talk about a lot. We don’t want people to think we’re throwing gold flakes in bottles. It’s not marketing, it’s research.
“Gold is the purest metal. It’s loaded with energy. It has been fascinating to every civilization in the world at different times and in different geographic locations. Gold was always a sacred connection with God, and with the sun and there as a symbol of alchemy.
“The terracotta connects the wine to the earth; the gold connects it to the sun and solar energy and the connection between the two is the oak.” In 2016, a single-vineyard wine was matured in each of these vessels in turn, bringing the three ideas together.
Glass and titanium barrels
They are also experimenting with glass. “In 2019, we started using 300-litre glass globes. Glass is very interesting because is neutral.” Experimentation doesn’t stop there. In 2020, a 300-litre titanium barrel was trialled; it’s still too soon to judge the results of the experiment.
“I like the fact our winemaker is always questioning everything, including his own ways,” says Pierre. “We try to explore; we were pioneers, in many ways, with organic and biodynamic movement. We want to continue to be pioneers with these new innovations and break new ground.”