urgundy is well-known for a large number of appellations and climats. But people seem to like the complexity. A generation ago, at Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard in Chassagne-Montrachet, what used to be one single cuvée is now four. Previously the four Chassagne-Montrachet premier crus Les Chenevottes, Les Champs Gain, Maltroie and Blanchots-Dessus all went in to the same cuvée. Today they are all bottled separately.
– Domaine Michelot in Meursault has an extensive range of village wines. Already 20 years ago he was harvesting and vinifying all his village parcels separately. I thought if he's doing that it's a crime not to do the same with our premier crus, says Caroline Lestimé at Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard.
In total Caroline Lestimé produces nine white Chassagne-Montrachet premier crus and three red. In addition there is a bit of grand cru from Bâtard-Montrachet, red Santenay premier cru from Clos de Tavannes, a handful of village Chassagne-Montrachet and the most recent acquisitions in the Hautes-Côtes.
– There is a growing interest in terroir, in different parcels of land, explains Caroline Lestimé. In the past it was less so. People were mainly interested in some of the premier crus, the most well-known. But as they became more educated – they began visiting the region – the interest grew. When I arrived at the domaine my first task was to start vinifying all the premier crus separately.
Caroline Lestimé arrived at the family domaine in 1989. Since then the domaine has moved towards organic wine-growing and obtained its certification from the 2011 vintage.
– Ten years ago I decided to stop using herbicides, says Caroline Lestimé. I wanted to protect the soil, the identity of the terroir. Then in 2010 I decided to cut down on the use of sulphur and copper, and go organic. I was not sure whether I wanted to become certified, but in the end I decided to go for it.
– It been a long process, something which has to do with my father and the people working for us. It took some time to convince them that it was a sensible decision. Three or four years ago I went to the Loire valley, where there are many organic wine-growers. When I met them they told me that ploughing the vineyards, which I was already doing, was the hardest part of the conversion to organic and that there was very little left for me in order to be completely organic.
As Caroline Lestimé puts it, the family has "always" been making wine in Chassagne-Montrachet. That is to say for the past 300 years or so.
– It's not always been under the name of Gagnard. Originally it was Paquelin. My father was a Gagnard, his mother a Coffinet. Today the name Pacquelin does not exist in Chassagne-Montrachet, but for 200-300 years it was the family name.
Caroline Lestimé describes the changes she has made at Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard as fairly small.
– I have changed the way of working a bit, she says. I introduced new barrels. And back then they chapitalised a lot, so I have reduced that.
– Ever since I started I have been convinced about the importance of terroir in Burgundy. So I try reflect the terroir in my wines, bring the terroir into the glass. In my mind I always have the image of a classic Burgundy wine, the wine I try to make. I don't want o make a wine which is too opulent, so I try to keep some freshness and minerality; a balance between acidity and sugar. That's why my wines usually are a bit closed when they are young. They need time to become more approachable.
Today Chassagne-Montrachet is well-known for its white wines, less so for its reds. This has not always been the case. In the past the production of red Chassagne-Montrachet was larger than white.
– I am very proud of the red Chassagne-Montrachet, says Caroline Lestimé. It is not as sophisticated, it is easy to understand. One has to approach it like that, especially the village wine. At the domaine I try to keep them at a good bargain level. The négociants are very interested in red Chassagne-Montrachet because it is a wine that be appreciated quite young. Sometimes, depending on the vintage, it can be a bit aggressive when young. But keep it for a year, or maybe even five.
With white Chassagne-Montrachet being the more popular of the two, and therefore selling at higher prices, there is a danger involved. Not all land in Chassagne-Montrachet is suitable for chardonnay; some is better suited for pinot noir.
– Up until about five years ago people respected the fact that chardonnay should not be planted in the flatter parts of Chassagne-Montrachet, says Caroline Lestimé. Now I see that this is not always the case anymore.
– The people doing this will have to use oenological methods to give the wine richness. If they don't the wine will lack almost everything.
For a long time Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard did not own any vines below village appellation. Grand cru, premier cru and village, but no regional appellation. During the first years of the new millennium this changed when the domaine acquired land in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune near La Rochepot.
– It is very difficult to buy land in Chassagne-Montrachet since it is so expensive. So we bought some land in Rochepot, opposite of Saint-Aubin. At the time it was only grass and bushes there. In 2004 we planted pinot noir and in 2007 chardonnay. The appellation is Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune. It is white soil, limestone, and good exposure to the sun. Because of the altitude the grapes ripen later than on the Côte, usually eight to ten days later.
– We vinify these wines in the same way as our wines from Chassagne-Montrachet. Harvest is done by hand and we put the juice in barrels, with one third of new oak. The only difference is that the élevage is shorter. We usually bottle after eleven months.
© 2012 Ola Bergman