Vignoble de Flavigny-Alesia (Burgundy) |

The press, a few vats

Asked about his experience with the De Montille family when Alix de Montille hired him, Cyril Raveau says that he worked 4 years there as cellar master [chef de cave in French] and he ended up coming back here at Flavigny because in 2010 he was called back by the owner (who lives abroad) who needed to replace his predecessor who had left abruptly; she (the owner) had a project of bringing up the quality in her domaine, so he came back to vinify the vintage 2010. At De Montille as a cellar master he’d be in charge of the vinification of both the reds and the whites, négoce and estate wines. Alix eventually left her responsabilities to her brother Etienne and she has been working on something different since.

Asked about what his experience at De Montille taught him, Cyril says that there are a lot of things he learnt, like the fact to vinify 50 different appellations, the handling of the élevage in barrels, or the art of vinfying with whole-clustered grapes also, which is pretty specific. For the whites he worked a lot on the press programs because it’s strategic for the whites, and on this issue he worked with Jean Marc Roulot who has a good experience on the way to program the press. At the time when he arrived at De Montille they were restarting anew with a new chai & vat house and an increasing share of négoce wines.

In the vat room

When he came back here he didn’t try to make De Montille wines, because it’s a different situation and history, with vines that have been replanted 20 years ago, on terroirs they’re still in the process to gauge and analyze. THey had begun to have an idea of these terroirs circa 2005 but there was still work to do. They also work on varieties that aren’t Burgundian (like the César, the Pinot Beurrot and the Auxerrois), trying to find the right vinification modes so that these varieties express themselves beautifully. The wine range at Flavigny has thus been re-organized since he came back from De Montille, it began for the vintage 2014, it needed some time to put in place he couldn’t have it change overnight in 2010 when he came back. For the non-Burgundian varieties they changed the vinification, the yields, changing also the picking date and the maturity, either earlier or later picking compared with what they used to do before. Cyril considers they have considerably increased the qualitative level of these wines [which were already sought-after cuvées in this domaine before 2010].

More vats

On the Burgundy varieties, for the Aligoté and Chardonnay first, he implemented what he learnt at De Montille and with Jean-Marc Roulot on the pressing modes, except that he works with an oldtimer press, a Vaslin that is not pneumatic, but it’s still possible to manoeuver its press style delicately, you just decide appropriately when you have to pause the pressing and when you have to start again. By the way it was a big help when he arrived at De Montille to have this prior experience on this oldtimer Vaslin, this way he really understood the press programs of the pneumatic press, it’s like pigeage, when you never did it by hand you may make mistakes when programming an automatic pigeage..

For the reds, even though they had already begun to identify different terroirs at the end of 2005, they now have a certitude about 3 particular soils, very different from each other, with 80 % of the Pinot Noir sitting on a terroir, and the rest either on blue marls [marnes bleues, that can be found in Bandol but are unwelcome here because these marls tend to retain the humidity] or on Jurassic debris from the cliff above (also found in the soil of the Romanée-Saint-Vivant].

Barrel cellar for the reds

For the repartition of the wine volume for the Pinot Noir it’s roughly 50 % from the blue marls (cuvée Atrium) and respectively 30 % and 20 % for the cuvées Castellum and Oppidum. For the whites he prefers to make a cuvée per variety rather than dig further on the terroir issue.

The whites and the reds get their élevage in different rooms. This is the room for the reds, it’s a bit colder than the one of the whites, which is good because it delays the malolactic, something good for the Pinot noir because the racking is not done at the same time. Many of the barrels are empty now because last year the volume was so low because of mildew. And this year like many others, they lost a lot with the frost of late april. Here last year this room was filled with 85 full barrels (from the vintage 2015) stacked on 3 levels to gain storage room, this wine has been bottled since and now they have a mere 6 full casks… Usually they keep the barrels full so that they don’t have to use a sulfur wick but this time they couldn’t fill the barrels right away. This year they estimate they’ll pick 15 % of a normal harvest, and they’ll certainly purchase grapes to compensate. They’ll make rosé in particular with some of these purchased grapes because last year when they did one for the first time it was a big success, the wine even going out at the top in a blind tasting.

Flavigny on the hilltop

We drove around the vineyard with Cyril, the weather was very nice and dry and it was good omen for the maturation. The total vineyard surface of the domaine hasn’t much changed, it’s now 13,5 hectares, all at close distance from the winery and in sight of the medieval village of Flavigny on the top of the hill (picture). This beautiful village has had monasteries and convents for centuries (since 719 AD) and to this day. Speaking of the potential for added surface, Cyril says that in this area there’s room for 12 more hectares on soils fit for viticulture. The whole area around Flavigny was covered with vineyards not so long ago, say late 19th century (there was maybe a total of 150 or 200 hectares, Cyril says) and many parcels, apart the ones farmed by the Abbey, owned by workers or families for their own consumption.

Lyre trillising

When this domaine was founded in the early 1990s it reinvented everything as viticulture had all but vanished for decades, and at the time among other experiments (like bringing a few varieties from outside) they had planted vines on lyre, in the attempt to get more exposition to light, but they’re reverting back on the issue, the result being not fully positive. Cyril has already brought a number of rows that were formerly trellised on lyre back to the regular single mode. With the experience conducted here and also by others in the Chanpagne region they noticed that the problmem is there’s aways one of the twin branched that shades the other. the usual argument in favor of the lyre system is maturation, but here in this region there’s no deficit in sun exposition, the plant gets quickly its needs, and the problem with the lyre is the diminished heat on the grapes. The heat, especially from the veraison process, props up the phenolic maturity and eats malic and tartric acids, transforming them into tannin, aromas and more. He shows us inside the lyre how there’s a problem because the leaves are too many, and the trimming machine can’t fully cut the unwanted foliage in the bottom of the V. Add that to the shade caused by one of the vine branch on the other and this is a real problem.

Vines that were converted from lyre to straight

Asked why he keeps the height of the vines relatively high, Cyril says it’s mainly for the back of the workers, he works himself in the vineyard and it’s very harmful for your back to bend all day on low-hanging vines. And even if he replants he’ll make sure to raise the vine so that workers can do their tasks without bending over all the time.He says that by the way the hardest season in the vineyard is in june, when they put the shoots around the wires under a hot weather, and winter is comparatively more bearable, because you can dress warm and work will keep you warm. About why on the Côte they have lower vines it’s in part because they plant at 10 000 vines per hectares to counterbalance the scarcity of available surface and also because a few decades ago they began to use straddle tractors (which aren’t fit for high trellising).

These converted vines are pretty healthy with a harmonious repartition of the bunches, he’s happy with the result; of course, the tields are half what they were wit the twin-branch system of the lyre.


Pinot Noir on the Oppidum parcel

The conversion of lyre to straight trellising is an arduous process, you don’t do that overnight, it takes a few years, but it works, Cyril showed us a few such converted rows (they converted 70 ares). They’ll compensate the lower volume of fruit by planting another row between the existing rows, there’s enough room for that, 3,3 meter, this will make roughly a 1,6 meter width between the rows after that. For the tools, Cyril says that a small crawler tractor would do a good job or even a small tracteur vignerons.

Speaking of the yields Cyril says he keeps them at 40 hectoliters/hectare and for the reds 30-35. The lyre can yield big volumes, like what they produced in 2008, it was at a rate of 80 ho/ha, but he lowered the yields since he came back.

Aerated earth

The Oppidum parcel sit on the upper slope below the woods and they had a few losses because of foraging wild animals, so they put nets at the end of the rows, the animals venturing rarely deep in the parcels. these pinot noirs were to be picked around september 20, this was the estimation (based on blossoming) at the time of this visit, with at the beginning the plot of Auxerrois, but there’ll be interruptions depending of the varieties, the Chardonnay for example being picked early october..

For the soil management, there used to be some herbicide used before he came back but now it’s over they do weed control through plowing only. We grabbed the earth and it was indeed of a smooth, aerated quality, it’s not compacted like on most conventional vineyards.

Atrium 2015 (Pinot Noir)

back at the winery, we went with Cyril to the barrel room to taste a few reds :

__ Atrium, Coteaux de L’Auxois 2015, Pinot Noir. Entry pinot-noir cuvée of the domaine. Nice vivid color with transparency. Flowery on the nose, peony, gourmand. Supple & balanced mouth, with acidity. Length. Sells well, Cyril says, and the price tag at the domaine is 9 € tax included.

The reds

__ Castellum Coteaux de l’Auxois 2015, Pinot Noir. Also nice light color, obviously no forced extraction. Refined nose. Very nice wine, chewy, silky gourmand with just what you need for tannins. Good deal for 11 € tax included at the domaine. This wine was racked from the barrels in 2016 after the harvest. He buys used casks in Burgundy domaines which he trusts, sometimes they’re as young as one-wine old.

__ Oppidum, Coteaux de l’Auxois 2015, Pinot Noir. Nose with small red berries aromas. More wood notes also, Cyril says this cuvée got a good share of one-wine-old barrels. The wine is not fully homogenous yet, needs more time before drinking I guess, Cyril says it’s always closed in the early years, and it was bottled relatively recently, in march 2017, Cyril adding that this cuvée needs a longer time than the others to recover from the bottling shock, he noticed that year after year.
The vinification is the same than for the other pinots, with racking just after the harvest. Sells for 14 €.

For the reds they keep about 10 % in whole-clustered grapes in the bottom of the fermenters in order to give suppleness in the temperature intertia of the load. They pick on the morning because they want to bring in grapes that are cool (they aren’t well equipped in terms of refrigeration units yet). They can pick the whites in the afternoon because they can cool down the pressed juice in a milk tank thereafter if the grapes are warm, settling down the gross lees in the same process. THe vinification lasts 3 weeks for the reds. Speaking of the yeasts, Cyril says that after coming back from De Montille he might have decided to switch to wild yeast right away, except that they lack experience here in this region because the winemaking traditions had vanished until recently, there’s no yeast ambiance in the cellars to keep the indigenous yeast alive and active, so they keep using selected yeast, trying to be pragmatic. In the future they’ll make the turn when they’ll be more secure.

César 2015

__ César, Coteaux de l’Auxois 2015. They worked a lot also on the vinification of this césar, an atypical variety in Burgundy even if in the context of the epic Battle of Alesia between Caesar’s Roman armies and the gallic tribes’ own, it may be appropriate to have it here… The wine offers a full mouth with a good acidity, supple wine with tannins there, but they’re well handled. Nose : aromas of raisined red fruits.

Regarding the filtration for the reds in general, Cyril says that in order to keep the lees in the bottom of the barrels, they make a hole above the bottom and rack the clear juice, slowing down at the end in order to take only clear wine. This way, they’ll just do a light filtration before bottling.

The whites

Regarding the vinification of the whites, they are trying to be very careful and precise for the pressing because that’s very important for the whites. The Chardonnay and Aligoté are vinfied in a very classical way, with the juice put into casks where the vinification will take place right away after pressing, they’re let

by themselves on the lees. They’ll go through their malolactic quietly the Burgundy way.

For the Auxerrois the vinification takes place in a vat but with more intervention in terms of temperature, keeping very low temperatures to preserve the aromatic side, same for the Pinot Beurot in rosé. Then as soon as the first fermentation is done, they rack and take the lees away, and one week away as the fermentation is waning down they rack again ant take more lees away, they do that 5 times until Christmas until it’s clear. They don’t want the malolactic on these two varieties because it makes heavy wines (although some people like it that way he concedes). This way he get the fruit and the freshness. They block the malolactic with SO2, making sure there’s 30/35 free SO2 in the wine, but the fact there’s no lees left helps.

__ Symposium, Coteaux de L’Auxois 2015, Chardonnay. Nice richness feel and balance. Nice tension. Sells for 9 € at the domaine.

__ Aligoté, Coteaux de L’Auxois 2014. Acidulous notes on the nose. Nice Umami feel in the mouth, the wine cats beautifully the palate, a pleasure. Sells for 7 €, good deal.

__ Auxerois, Coteaux de L’Auxois 2014. Aromatic nose. Even better that the Auxerrois we used to buy from there since the last 15 years or more. The wine is more refined. 9 € at the domaine. Note that all the label as well as the cuvées names have greatly improved, the odd, fancy labelling having hindered the sales (I remember a professional buyer telling me years ago that because of the ugly labelling he couldn’t add their wines to his portfolio). This has changed and with the focus on quality these wine deserve attention for those eager to explore the hidden treasures of Burgundy. they make a few other wines, including a sparkling, the sought-after rosé from Pinot Beurot (sold out) and Ratafia, see the price list on the right.

Harvest indeed started september 20
Mayors of Flavigny & Alise took part, along with a regional administrative representative

Small but nice harvest at Flavigny [from Burgundy newspaper Le Bien Public]

Vignoble de Flavigny-Alésia

Ferme du Pont Laizan

Flavigny-sur-Ozerain 21150

phone +33 3 80 96 25 63

Donmaine’s website

The wines

Flavigny is a well-preserved village off the beaten path

The church

Stately house

Cellars hint at old wine culture

Nice detached cellar entry

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