Chantal Michel at Domaine Tortochot in Gevrey-Chambertin.

here has been Tortochots making wine in Gevrey-Chambertin for generations. Today’s Domaine Tortochot, run by Chantal Michel, covers twelve hectares and includes four grand crus. For Chantal Michel making wine is her second career. She spent 15 years in finance before returning to the family domaine, a domaine which her father Gabriel Tortochot was not entirely sure whether he should take on just before World War II. Back then it was difficult to make enough money from wine.

Mazis-Chambertin in Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy.– Those were very different times, says Chantal Michel. My grandfather Félix died when he was just 40 years old. My father was just 17. He discussed with his mother what to do with the domaine. He could focus on the vineyards, but at the same time a job at the post office would pay as much as if he was making wine.

Other things were different as well. There were some vineyards in Morey-Saint-Denis. These came from Gabriel Tortochot’s mother, but when she died he decided to let some of them to Domaine Georges Lignier in Morey-Saint-Denis.

– My father didn’t want to work the vineyards in Morey-Saint-Denis, explains Chantal Michel. He felt they were too far away. It’s two kilometres to Morey-Saint-Denis from Gevrey-Chambertin, so it was definitely another time. The growers here in the village were not interested in the vineyards of Morey-Saint-Denis. They were proud and thought that Morey-Saint-Denis was not as famous.

Chambertin in Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy.Today the Morey-Saint-Denis vineyards are back with Domaine Tortochot. But Chantal had to wait a long time for them, a very long time.

– I have a Morey-Saint-Denis cuvée called Renaissance, rebirth. Georges Lignier had rented the vineyards for 18 years. The lease came to an end in 1996 when I had decided to return to the domaine. My father knew this, but he decided to renew the lease for another 18 years. You can imagine how I felt about it. In the end I had to wait for 18 years. Twice. That is the reason why I decided to call it Renaissance.

The Renaissance cuvée is a blend of grapes from two different premier crus in Morey-Saint-Denis – Clos des Ormes and Clos Baulet – with 60 per cent coming from the latter.

Chambertin in Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy.– There was some Chambolle-Musigny premier cru Les Sentiers as well. My father was not interested in that either. Difficult to imagine today.

Originally it was Paul Tortochot who, in 1865, began buying vineyards. After the arrival of the phylloxera – in 1878 in the Côte d’Or – all vineyards had to be replanted and the price of land fell drastically.

– At this time it was very easy to buy vineyards. Paul began modestly with some vineyards. Félix, his son, then took on the domaine and started bottling.

For Chantal Michel the time away from Gevrey-Chambertin and the vineyards eventually took its toll. After 15 years of working with budget plans and forecasts at American companies she felt it was time for a change.

Lavaux-Saint-Jacques in Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy.– Initially I did not think of it as a job for me. Our father had told me and my sister Brigitte that women were not suited for work in the vineyards. But at 35 I decided it was time for a change. I had lost interest in what I was doing. But before I returned I wanted to have an education. I did not just want to return to the domaine and work together with my father. So I went to the university in Dijon and the Institut Jules Guyot.

– In 1997 half of the production of the domaine was sold in bulk to Joseph Drouhin. I began changing things and my father told me I was changing too much, that it wasn’t Chateau de Marsannay I was running. He couldn’t understand what I was doing. He was 80 years old at the time. I had a new bottle cellar for built and there was a need to find new clients, because the existing ones were approaching 80 years as well.

Chambertin in Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy.Since 2013 Domaine Tortochot is certified organic.

– You can make good wines from traditional vineyards where chemicals are being used and you can make good wines from organic vineyards. With the people working in the vineyards in mind we chose organic. Also, the vineyards are surrounding the village and there is a school in the middle of the village. With the prices we have in Burgundy, my guess is that within ten years all wines have to be at least organic.

Together the four grand crus – Clos de Vougeot, Charmes-Chambertin, Mazis-Chambertin and Chambertin make up ten per cent of the surface area of Domaine Tortochot. Of the four the parcel in Clos de Vougeot is the smallest. Just 21.33 ares, squeezed in between the parcels of Château de Santenay and Domaine Coquard-Loison-Fleurot.

Chantal Michel at Domaine Tortochot in Gevrey-Chambertin.– I only have seven rows in Clos de Vougeot. They are not in the best part, but the vines are old. A normal year I produce three barrels. Chambertin is a masculine wine, but Clos de Vougeot is completely masculine, austere.

The average age of all vines at Domaine Tortochot is 55 years. The Chambertin vines are 40 years old. The ones in Charmes-Chambertin are 55 years old, and the ones in Mazis-Chambertin 45 years old. The parcel is located right in the middle of the appellation, below Latricières-Chambertin. The Mazis-Chambertin parcel is in Mazis-Bas, the lower section.

– In Chambertin we are at the very top, says Chantal Michel. Just below the forest. The government is responsible for maintaining the forest, so every ten years they cut down some of the trees. Every time they do that I get a better yield, because the vineyard receives more sun. Up there we also have a problem with roe deers. In dry years they eat the young Chambertin leaves in the spring. Without leaves the vines are no able to perform the process of photosynthesis. Normally I produce six barrels of Chambertin.

The four premier crus in the portfolio make up another ten per cent of Domaine Tortochot. There is Lavaux-Saint-Jacques and Champeaux in Gevrey-Chambertin, as well as Les Sentiers in Chambolle-Musigny and Aux Charmes in Morey-Saint-Denis.

– Lavaux-Saint-Jacques is a cooler place, Chantal Michel explains. There is always a wind blowing there. I always have difficulties obtaining a good maturity there. In the spring there is often problems with the flowering. Quality is good, but yields tend to be low. It is a very mineral wine. Very pure.

© 2019 Ola Bergman