In a matter of a few minutes, one can take the dog out, write a short letter, enjoy a roller coaster or smoke a cigarette. It seems brief. Maybe even insignificant oftentimes in terms of duration. But in light of natural disaster, each second is weighted with consequence.
Before making our way to Annecy, I was able to visit with a few more winemakers in Bourgogne. My appointments were in the Beaune– the site of such sadness this year… yet again. For the third year now, they have been pummeled with devastating hailstorms. Nearing the size of tennis balls in some areas, hail falling from the sky for three minutes with such intensity, many growers saw 40-80% of their harvest vanish in seconds. Those hit the hardest were in Pommard, Volnay, Meursault and Santenay. Several, we learned, are closing their doors and moving to greener, more consistent pastures, like those in the Rhone or the Languedoc. Others are dipping into the last of their savings and praying this does not happen next year, for they also cannot afford more of mother nature’s temper tantrums.
Our first visit was with Patrick Essa (son-in-law of Michel Buisson) of Buisson-Charles in Meursault. I caught him on the bottling line, as I walked in. He had a look of intensity and seriousness. He was polite, said hello, grabbed some glasses, and we marched down to the cellars. While he spoke English, he was comfortable in his French, which brought him relief when he realized my husband was conversational with his native tongue. It brought me relief as well, for I could learn a little more about his wine. He had an air about him that made me shy to ask too much, though. As though he hadn’t time for small talk or obvious questions. When I inquired on specifics for vinification, I was in return asked if I understood what it meant–if I had done it myself. I said, well, no, I hadn’t made wine myself, but I had studied it. A gentle laugh and motion towards the next barrel told me that I understood nothing.
To be fair, I agree with him. What can any individual truly understand in a book? There is a grand space between knowing and understanding the essence of anything, least of which the variable and personal project of winemaking, when one does not experience it. Still, I am certain I turned bright red, nervously swirled my glass of Bourgogne Blanc and shuffled on to catch the droppings of the thief from the next barrel.
We took a tour of the wines in barrel (mostly 2013s), from his simple yet delightful Aligote (floral, light, peachy) and solid Vielle Vignes Meursault which comes from a spot just in front of Puligny Montrachet, to an impeccably balanced Les Charmes from Meursault (it sits in a sunny parcel and reflects a more traditional, chubby style associated with this opulent region, though this vintage held its corset strings a bit tighter when it came to acid). We even tried a few reds as well as some other whites from his vineyards in Puligny and Chassagne. Perhaps my favorite in barrel was the 2013 Bouches-Cheres 1er Cru. While it wore the mark and weight of Meursault, it had a fierceness to its expression. This wine at once expressed nutty undertones and lime blossom in the foreground. It was the kind of wine you want to return to again and again in an attempt to peel away layers of these 55+ year old vines. In bottle, the 2012 Bouches-Cheres demonstrated considerable complexity and age-worthiness. The 2013 La Goutte d’Or was also noteworthy, as it had a more linear, tertiary quality to it. In bottle, the 2013 La Goutte d’Or had remarkable staying power and a little more overall activity on the palate in its youth. More of everything really here– body, acid, length, aromatics, flavor…
By this point, Patrick and my husband were practically best friends, talking of bicycles and collector cars, while I was off in my own world scribbling away in my moleskin journal of things I now know I will never understand, contemplating one shady vintage to the next and working through my amazement at the mark of fine work despite unfavorable growing conditions. He then pulled out an unmarked bottle, poured a markedly old white into his glass, then shared it with us. An outpouring of adjectives filled my nostrils– toasted hazelnut, creamed corn, lemon curd, bruised apple and white flowers. It was a 1984 Les Charmes. The acidity was persistent. The finish pushed three minutes in length. I was startled by the preservation of this wine– by how well the oxygen had kept its distance. This was a wine made by his father-in-law, Michel. And it was lovely.
I am only too proud to represent these wines in Colorado. Patrick is doing something very rare that needs to be recognized. He is coming at it from an angle that few others do– that of true understanding. He does not make a ‘marketable’ Meursault. His are lean, linear and lighter in body. He does not follow the lead of journalists, critics and the general palate. He understands balance and quality. He understands terroir and distinct character among his many parcels within a teeny 6 ha space. He understands that less is more. And he strikes me as someone who is incredibly resolute and hard to persuade otherwise. He understands his fruit as though they were his children. The evidence is written on the palate.