Never having driven before in France, I thought now might be a good time to try, since I was flying solo in CDG en route to Chablis. Twice the average cost to ensure an automatic (shush, I am not proud that I do not drive manual) and a GPS later, I was white-knuckled on the autoroute. Thankfully, my imagination played it out much worse than it actually was at all. In fact, the drive to Auxerre, just outside Chablis, was rather quaint and memorable. I had Lionel Richie on the radio to calm my nerves and endless landscapes of Charolais cattle with their calves on my periphery (are you responsible for my favorite epoisses?). Even the cattle here seemed more relaxed than our American breeds, as they seemed often to be laying down with their young, living the good life. Sunflower fields were in full bloom, and as I entered the Auxerre, immense trees lined the roads, bending down as if to talk to me. It was one of the more enchanting places I have seen. Simple and pure, but an undercurrent of whimsy in its landscape seemed to ignite my mind. Well, either that, or my jet lag had me feeling slightly fuzzy at this point (who is that girl hugging the tree and talking to herself over there?)…
Winding my way through the quiet village of Saint-Bris-Le-Vineux, I found the sign for Domaine JH & G Goisot. I admire wineries/winemakers the way most people behold film and music celebrities. I have to admit, I am a superfan of Goisot and have been for years. Today I finally got to meet the young Guilhem Goisot, son of Jean-Hugues, who represents the new generation of Goisots. This estate was founded in the 1500’s, but really, as Guilhem explained, the current property they have been cultivating officially goes back to 5 generations of documented pedigree. It is said that even in their early years of the 1600s, women were out there alongside the men, doing what needed to be done to produce fine wine, despite the cultural norms at the time.
My visit began where it should in Burgundy: a survey of the soil types in this region. On a table, Guilhem introduced me to various examples of Kimmeridgean & Portlandian soils as well as the varied samples of clay from white to blue to red to brown as he explained its effect on the overall style of the wine (the darker the clay, often the rounder the style, for example). These words are just that, however, until I can truly get to know the wines on my palate. So I very much enjoyed our next stop: tasting & great conversation.
Guilhem was quite tall and soft spoken, humble and cautious with his English, he was much braver than I to have conversation in a foreign tongue. He had rosy cheeks and the face of a boy with eyes of earnest and wonder. His demeanor was welcoming and his focus for proper winemaking evident in his tireless talk of soil. I was in heaven, for I am a dirt addict.
He explained briefly the history of the Auxerre to me– how it had once been Chablis until it was dumped like bad date once phylloxera came through and devastated the entire region. It seemed a good moment for Chablis to start anew alone, and so it did. Auxerre pulled itself together, though, and not the least of the survivors was the long-lived and loved Goisot domaine. In recent years, they have fully converted to biodynamic agriculture (by 2004, they were 100% biodynamic in practice). When I asked him what he has observed as a result from this conversion, he immediately went back to, yes… the soil. Even in times of rain or mildew, the roots are healthier, they repair themselves and bounce back much faster. Not only that, but in light of the fact that the grapes have such variant ripening times, biodynamic viticulture finds them to come together at a similar harvest time more consistently. He admits, the work one much put in at first is immense, but the payoff is incredible and obvious. There is no other way to farm, in his mind. More than anything, the wines smell of soil, flowers and fruit moreso than chemicals. They smell like the product of farming not production. I asked about his preference for pruning for low yields versus green harvesting (dropping fruit mid season, so more energy is placed into the remaining fruit) to which he responded they hadn’t dropped fruit in over twenty years. Green harvesting one year only results in higher (and harder) yields to manage the next year, so it makes little sense for maintaining a healthy vineyard, at least for them.
We began with the reds, as seems to be customary in Bourgogne at many tasting I have been. You go in terms of acidity, it seems, versus tannin/body. I get it, as the whites were ever so bright and compelling in this order. All the wines (white and red) were from 2012, having just been bottled weeks ago from their time in barrel. The reds all see 35% new oak and the remaining in mature barrel (standard 228 liter barrels). For extraction of color and flavor, they prefer a less invasive, delicate form of pump over versus an often more aggressive pip-tannin focused punch down method. If they were in the Cote de Nuits, he explained, the reds could likely handle a little of both or possibly and exclusive consideration of the punch down technique. In Auxerre, however, the reds are meant to be floral and elegant– not as dependent on long aging and tannin development. The reds were all impeccably balanced and youthful, wearing the badge of wonderful ripe qualities 2012 was happy to supply after a rough start to the vintage. Each site (Les Mazelots, La Ronce and Corps de Garde) had their own expression. The first wore flowers from the dark chalk, La Ronce was a bit denser and darker in fruit due to the white and blue clay content, while the Corps de Garde reflected meat, pepper, finer grained tannins and fresh raspberries as a result of the white and brown clay in their kimmeridgean.
We then moved to their very tiny production of Aligote, a wine they couldn’t even make in 2013 sadly. It was everything you might want this overshadowed grape to be, as it held itself with tension as it balanced both body and acidity with resolute focus. Refreshing acidity on the finish was the perfect pair to temper the waxy, creamy presence up front. The complexity was not surprising once one learned that it came from 40-85 year old vines!
The Chardonnays were curiously independent from one to the next. We tried four altogether. The first– the Corps du Garde– was the most opulent of the three, but not in terms of aromatic prowess, rather in terms of palate occupancy. It was much like a wine from the Beaune, in fact, as its warmer weather location combined with the soil expressed that admirable balance of weight and acid. The Biaumont translated it extreme southern-focused location in its near tropical expression of terroir on the nose. Notes of pineapple and ripe stone fruit gave it an almost Maconnais flare. There is more clay on this site as well, and it seemed such on the more generous palate. Mineral characteristics dominate the finish, though, and make this wine the best of both worlds in the end.
The third Chardonnay was the Gueules de Loup. This wine coupled with my experience of the Sauvignon Blanc from this site a few wines later will forever change my perspective on Portlandian soil. So often in my industry, we are taught that the younger chalk soils of the Portlanian era somehow result in less complex whites than its older, more famous Kimmeridgean neighbor. In fact, Chablis on near exclusive Portlandian is, in a way, declassified to ‘Petite’ Chablis, so as not to be confused with the “good stuff.” But this wine was a head and shoulder above the others, in my humble opinion. In the lineup, its austerity and complexly woven nature was startling. Sure, the bouquet made you work a bit harder, especially after the Biaumont, but the payoff was a focused, precise white on the palate. These grapes are procrastinators, at least I like to think so. They reserve their energy for the bitter end on this parcel. It isn’t until the final weeks when suddenly they pull it together and ripen faster than any other site. As though pondering the harvest away, these wines are so thoughtful and careful when picking exactly what words they want to say out loud.
The final Chardonnay was the Gondonne. This is the one Guilhem explained takes the longest to really evolve in the bottle. It is often misunderstood in its youth but well-loved with patience. It has nods to tropical notes of banana and vanilla wafers but a surprising finish of salt to entice another sip for a second contemplation.
The three Sauvignon Blancs were about as divergent as the Chardonnays. The Saint Bris Maury, from the same site as the Gueules de Loup, smelled like seashells by the short. The name Maury came from the more familiar ‘mergers’ or rocks, which is the perfect description of this vineyard’s terroir. The Exogyra Virgula (which I always manage to make sound like a venereal disease when I attempt to say it) is a fancy way of saying blue oyster laden fossils in this site’s kimmeridgean soil. This allows the Sauvignon Blanc to express more floral notes. The finish on this wine was absolutely stunning, as it persisted for minutes and reflected a pithy song of white peaches and gardenias. A final Sauvignon Blanc from again the Corps du Garde kicked up the weight from its white and brown clay soil. Its character paired well to a little oak (50% neurtral) to balance the steel home of the other half. Still, however broad compared the others, its delicate backbone helped remind that this could be none other than Sauvignon Blanc.
My visit was so delightful. I all but forgot my jetlag and fell into a complete trance when confronted with such difference in soil from one grape and site to the next under one vintage. I was so grateful for this opportunity to have a thorough introduction to the soils of the Auxerre– a region so similar in soil but not climate of Chablis. This up front and personal meeting with Goisot’s wines was nothing short of magnifique.
By nighttime, my husband joined me, and we stay at the Auberge Pot d’Etain, an adorable, simple hotel in Isle Sur Serein, maybe a 45 minute drive from Goisot on charming country backroads. We were recommended this place by my boss, as the restaurant is the real deal. And it was. A heavy 12 inch by 12 inch leather bound book was before me, and every producer of quality in Burgundy that you can imagine seemed to have made the grade here. Okay, fine, they missed a few of my faves. Still, countless vintages and vineyards from the many greats filled each page in small type. We started with a 1998 Raveneau Butteaux and ended with a 1999 Denis Mortet village Gevrey-Chambertin– both for less the price of one of those bottles for retail in the states let alone on a wine list. Well preserved, these wines seemed like babies in the bottle, barely batting an eye that they were both about fifteen years old. The food was very traditional but the stemware reflected good sense, as we enjoyed our wines in proper Burgundian thin crystal alongside no better food for pairing: local cuisine.
And so, down to Beaune to further my Burgundian education. But first, a bbq at Dujac’s in the Cote de Nuits… Is this my life? I love it. I really do.