oulanges-la-Vineuse in northwestern Burgundy is one of the region's lesser known villages. This is far from the illustrious villages on the Côte d'Or, and far from the international reputation of the neighbour just up the road - Chablis. This village, entitled to the regional appellation Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse, has a dozen or so of winegrowers.
– The lighter style of the Coulanges wines used to be regarded as something negative, explains one of the growers, Jean Pierre Maltoff at Domaine Maltoff. But now we have managed to create an identity of our own, something that sets us apart from Irancy.
Domaine Maltoff has been around for a quarter of a century. Officially it all started on January 1, 1986, but it was not until they had bought a house that they actually begin working. The first vintage was 1987.
– Neither my wife Odile nor I come from a family of winegrowers, says Jean Pierre Maltoff. I grew up in a family of farmers, in a small village called Lichères-près-Aigremont, which is between Noyers and Nitry. It is just at the beginning of the Serein valley; at the beginning of the Chablis vignoble and right below the Tonnerois plateau. Everything changes there. There are no vines there. The main occupation is cereal and sheep farming.
I was the younger of two children. My brother went to work with our father, but there was not enough work for me so I went on to other things. My wife and I wanted to rent a house in Coulanges-la-Vineuse. Before becoming a winegrower I had a job in Cravant, a few kilometres from here. My wife worked at the Caves Bailly.
The village of Coulanges-la-Vineuse sits on top of a little hill 14 kilometres south of Auxerre and 30 kilomtres south west of Chablis. It has some 900 inhabitants and the appellation Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse is spread out across Coulanges-la-Vineuse and six of the neighbouring communes.
– We have been trying to establish Coulanges as a wine that is approachable, that is easy to taste thanks to its freshness and good structure. It is interesting to compare the appellations Irancy and Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse. The Irancy style is more structured; it is wines to keep, but they have less freshness than the Coulanges.
The portfolio at Domaine Maltoff consists of four red wines, two white and one rosé. In addition to this there is a Crémant de Bourgogne and a Ratafia de Bourgogne rouge. Back in 1986 the domaine only covered four hectares. Today it is 14 hectares and the average age of the pinot noir vines is 35 years, while the chardonnay vines have an average age of 15 years. The annual production is between 50 000 and 60 000 bottles. Close to 70 per cent of this is sold through the domaine. Very little is being exported.
Three of the reds are appellation Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse; three different cuvées – Cuvée Classic, Cuvée Aime de Maltoff and Cuvée Prestige. The fourth wine is a Bourgogne Passetoutgrain.
– The oldest cuvée of the three is the Classic, says Jean Pierre Maltoff. I have had this since the very beginning. It is usually a very good indication of how the vintage will turn out.
– The Cuvée Prestige followed in 1989 and in 2000 Aime de Maltoff. The latter is a play with words – the letter M and the verb aimer (like, love) – both are pronounced the same way.
– The Cuvée Aime de Maltoff is a selection from the different cuvées in the cellar. The choices are made in order to produce a wine with a delicate style, a wine with intensity and less tannins than the Cuvée Prestige. The wine is then kept in barrels with medium toast for nine to eleven months.
– The Cuvée Prestige is richer on the palate. There is sous bois and blackberries. And like the white Cuvée Prestige it benefits from decanting.
Domaine Maltoff's two whites are both appellation Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse. This is by the way an appellation that allows all three colours – red, white and rosé. The white Cuvée Classic does not see any oak and there is no batonnage, stirring of the lees. The Cuvée Prestige sees some wood, barrels that are at least five years old, during six to eight months, with batonnage.
– The oak gives the wine more roasted aromas, of nuts and notes of honey and vanilla, says Jean Pierre Maltoff. The Cuvée Classic does not benefit from decanting, while the Cuvée Prestige does. The first should be served at 10° C/50° F and the latter at 13° C/55° F.
For the rosé Jean Pierre Maltoff uses grapes from young vines, which have not had the chance to develop a large roots system and therefore lack much of the character of the terroir.
The appellation Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse covers a variety of soil types – Kimmeridgien, Portlandien etc. Even though there is a certain style for the appellation, this variety of soils, together with different producers and different exposure for different parcels, creates many different styles within the framework of the appellation.
During the past decade efforts have been made to re-establish the reputation of the Auxerrois region. In the past the surface area under vines was very large. But the phylloxera destroyed most of it at the end of the 19th century and the region has not recovered since.
– For financial reasons we have developed oenotourism, wine tourism, says Jean Pierre Maltoff. During 25 years we have created a portfolio of customers. Seven years ago we began with chambres d'hôtes and a demand for table d'hôte had us including that as well a year and half ago.
© 2010 Ola Bergman