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Three great winemakers from the Yonne (Chablis and Saint-Bris)

Three great winemakers from the Yonne (Chablis and Saint-Bris)

Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2011-02-21

On the borders of Champagne, Burgundy and the l’Île-de-France, the Yonne département has two vineyard traditions that enjoy an exceptional terroir: the Auxerrois and the Chablisien. Jean-Hugues Goisot, in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux and Alice and Olivier De Moor and Thomas Pico in Courgis, near to Chablis, are three out-of-the-ordinary winemakers at the forefront of a renewal of Burgundy viticulture.

Jean-Hugues Goisot at Saint-Bris-le-Vineux: “Organic winemaking is a high technology business”
Great Burgundy whites for just 10€ per bottle? Yes, it does exist! To find them, make your way to Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, 9km from Auxerre, and ring the bell at the entrance to the domaine Goisot in the centre of the village. The Goisot family has handed down its winemaking tradition from father to son since the 14th century and their wine cellar dates back to the 11th century. Whether it’s the Côte-d’Auxerre, Sauvignons de Saint-Bris or a simple Burgundy Aligoté, every Goisot wine impresses you with its fresh, clean and silky smooth character. Don’t make the mistake of serving them alongside more prestigious bottles (such as a Chablis, Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet) which may have difficulties withstanding the comparison!
Jean-Hugues Goisot is an exceptional winemaker for whom work on the vines is what takes priority. His organically cultivated estate has been certified by Écocert (the French organic certification) since 2000. “From this date onwards the vines have reinforced their natural defences. Their roots have foraged to a depth of over 2 metres (whereas they were previously stalling at 10cm below the soil’s surface) giving the wines a real depth of minerality.
In the year 2000,  just 0.5% of Burgundy’s winemakers were certified as organic. Today 6% are organic producers - “We’re a minority, but this awareness is progressing amongst the Bourguignons. The fact that large estates have turned to organic agriculture (la Romanée-Conti, Drouhin and Comtes Lafon for example) is the best argument in favour of it.”
Far from being retrograde, Jean-Hugues Goisot sees organic methods of viticulture, using high levels of technology as being completely avant-garde: “You have to know the way the soils function, make specially adapted tools, avoid the first rain waters (which are laden with pollen and various residues), revitalise the water, aerate the vines, dose the preparations according to the plots of land and stimulate their natural defences...” All of this requires personnel who are properly trained. So what is the end result like? As far as the palate is concerned the domaine’s wines have increased in complexity and freshness, rivalling the finest Chablis, situated 20km from Saint-Bris. In the majority of Burgundy whites, the natural acidity of the fruit is concentrated on the tip of the tongue alone; but in this case the limestone minerality carries the freshness of the wine throughout the palate. This extreme purity is what makes Goisot’s 2008Côte-d’Auxerre so fascinating and they’re a real pleasure with a good jambon persilléor scallops.
Another of the domaine’s specialities is the famous fié gris, a rustic and all but forgotten Sauvignon that’s been rehabilitated by the Goisots who were won over by its subtle and spicy fruit. The creamy and oily palate gives off exotic notes of lychee and orange peel, yet it doesn’t hold back the character of its original terroir, which like Chablis, is rich in shells and chalky loam (from 6 to 11.70€ for a bottle.)
Alice and Olivier De Moor in Chablis: “Our wines are like a photo image of the place.”
Chablis shares with Champagne the “privilege” of being the most imitated and counterfeited white wine in the world, so much so that in certain New World countries, the Chardonnay grape variety is even shamelessly termed “Chablis.” This reputation, which has enabled the vineyards to be passed down through the centuries until the present, is what guarantees today’s winemakers their annual “rent.” In other words it has created a level of vested interest which makes any kind of reappraisal very difficult. Daring to cultivate the vines using organic methods, without weed-killers and pesticides means taking the risk of losing 30% of your harvest. Why do this when it’s so much easier to continue “as we’ve always done before”? Also why bother tiring people out by harvesting manually when harvesting machines are authorised under the Chablis appellation?
The soul of this vineyard created from scratch by the monks from the Cistercian abbey of Potigny in the 12th century, continues to find its expression through the wines made by a handful of elite vintners, unaffected by the tempting Sirens of “cash pot terrains.”  
If you go by Raveneau and Dauvissat, the “popes” of this appellation (they are key figures, yet they haven’t had anything to sell for ages!), certain atypical vintners have restored a strength of character to Chablis wine, which had been missing in recent years. Alice and Olivier De Moor, from Courgis fall into this camp. For this charming and enthusiastic couple, it is simply a question of making wines close to their origins ( ANDY: il ne s’agit que de faire des vins proches de leur origine et qui expriment l’esprit du lieu.)  and which express the spirit of the place. “Twenty years ago we created a generation of winemakers with the emphasis on oenological competency alone. The aim was to produce technically mastered wines. This has never been our philosophy.”
For the De Moors, care taken in vine growing is what takes precedence, and converting to organic methods has been a long journey: “We’ve had to learn by our mistakes.” Now with 15 years of experience their wines have attained a fullness and aromatic complexity that’s rare within the appellation. Without any makeovers they managed to restore the very soul of Chablis, with its cold landscapes, its plots of chalky soils brimming with oyster fossils and its grapes that ripen very slowly. The De Moors however refuse the clichés of Chablis’ legendary “minerality” and don’t pretend to conform to any pre-established “model”: “If you put two winemakers on the same piece of land, you’ll end up with two very different expressions of wine! Wine is a human creation. We simply make wines that reflect our  characters. As far as minerality is concerned, it’s become an overused word, people imagine it to be a kind of limited expression with a slightly acid taste and blocked aromas. We are looking to produce wines based on the fruit, by harvesting them when they are very ripe. The notes arising from the stone come about with time.”
As an “entry level wine” (a terrible expression!), the De Moor’s Bourgogne Aligoté is already outstanding, created from vines which are over 100 years old! Formerly known as the “poor man’s Chardonnay”, the aligoté is, according to Olivier, by no means a second rate variety; indeed his own particular example has a phenomenally long finish.
All of the De Moor’s Chablis have been designed with sharing amongst friends firmly in mind, like the cuvée Rosette, which is a long, tight wine with aromas of peach and is rich in natural acidity. A fine and unconventional ‘vin de garde’ (from 8 to 20 € for a bottle.)
Thomas Pico, Chablis’new young wolf
Remaining in Courgis, we come to the thirty year old Thomas Pico, who is in many ways the “spiritual son” of the De Moors: “They’ve taught me a lot, and I turned to organic methods due to their influence. That’s how I managed to revive my ecosystem: last year wild lettuces reappeared amongst my vines. They’d been gone since the 1970s!”
In 2006, Thomas took on a section of the vines on his family estate which he baptised the “Pattes de Loup – The Wolf’s legs.” Now with his third vintage year, this young blue eyed wolf has won the admiration of some of the most experienced tasters (the sommelier at the Bristol and the Caves Augé in Paris) by producing some very pure Chablis from grapes which are picked at a late stage in ripening: “Contrary to popular belief, the maturity of the grapes doesn’t suppress the minerality of the terrain, it brings it out.”
Thomas Pico’s Chablis 1er Cru is very rich and full-bodied; its rectitude, spine and slightly salty character are all very impressive. This is a future great for the appellation. As Olivier De Moor says: “It’s young people like him who are changing the habits of their parents.” (It costs between 12 to 20 € for a bottle.)
Domaine Goisot
30, rue Bienvenu-Martin
89 530 Saint-Bris-le-Vineux
Tel: +33 (0)3 86 53 35 15
Domaine Alice et Olivier De Moor
4-17, rue Jacques-Ferrand
Tel: +33 (0)3 86 41 47 94
Domaine Pattes de Loup – Thomas Pico
2, grande-rue Nicolas-Droin
89800 Courgis
Tel: +33 (0)3 86 41 46 38
Where to eat
At Noyers-sur-Serein, which is one of Burgundy’s most beautiful villages. The Maison Paillot is an exceptional place that makes all sorts of delicious charcuterie (jambon persillé, boudin, sausage, terrines, rillettes, saucisson...) and a Tourte à l’époisses – a crisp Burgundy cheese flan worth making the journey for. You can also have lunch there in a large dining room with a fireplace. The family kitchen highlights the delicious Burgundy produce such as bœuf bourguignon, duck with prunes, ham with Chablis, feuilleté d’escargots , foie gras with Burgundy truffles, farmhouse matured cheeses (Epoisses, soumaintrain, chaource and Affidélice) . The Market menu is 20 € and has a fine wine list.
Where to stay
Without hesitation, at the Château de Béru, surrounded by vineyards. This historic estate owned by the Béru family for 400 years is a small paradise masterfully managed by Laurence and his charming daughter Athenais de Béru. The wines which are organically produced are examples of the sound, reliable wines one finds in the Chablis appellation: fine, elegant and stylish. The 3 beautifully appointed rooms are available from 240 € for 2 nights, with breakfast and a wine tasting visit of the estate included.
An absolute must: Borvo smoked salmon
Established since 1980 at Chemilly-sur-Yonne, 14 km from Auxerre, Le Borvo became a gastronomic benchmark for smoked salmon. This company created by the very enthusiastic Daniel Raymond can be visited firstly as a living museum depicting the history of fishing and fish-smoking, with a whole range of films, photos and recreated fishing huts. The finest raised salmon from Norway, Ireland and Scotland are salted, smoked and sliced here according to the rules of the art. They make wonderful products that you’ll find in Paris' most prestigious grocery stores.

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