Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Visit of Château du Clos de Vougeot - Bourgogne (and Champagne) Tour 2016 by ombiasy WineTours
We visited Château du Clos de Vougeot. While the Château du Clos de Vougeot no longer produces wine these days, it remains the symbol of almost a thousand years of Burgundy history.
In the 12th century, the monks of the Cistercian Abbey, the owners of Clos-Vougeot thanks to donations from wealthy Burgundy nobles and purchases made by the abbey, grew vines here. They build a wall around the precious land of the Clos de Vougeot, which still defines this prestigious appellation today.
Transformed into a Renaissance château, this historic place has become a Mecca for wine and Burgundy conviviality.
Since 1934, Château du Clos Vougeot has been the seat of the "Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin" (Brotherhood of the Knights of the Tastevin (tasting cup)), which found the place to be a worthy setting for its work to promote Burgundy wines worldwide.
Seventeen times a year, the Chevaliers du Tastevin receive guests at a high-level evening event called “Chapitres”. New chevaliers are inducted and a dinner in the great Burgundy tradition of conviviality brings together 600 people in the château’s winery. The 12 000 Chevaliers du Tastevin are organised into many “commanderies” around the world, from New York to Hong Kong, via Rio de Janeiro.
While the château is not strictly speaking open, you can visit a number of its working buildings built by the Cistercian monks in the 12th century: the winery that houses four huge presses; the cellar, a building dating from the 12th century and built to accommodate 2000 wine casks, or the dormitory of the lay brothers whose magnificent woodwork dates from the 14th century.
Clos de Vougeot (Clive Coates)
Burgundy is light on images. While in Bordeaux most of the château facades are known to wine-lovers all over the world, for the images are depicted on the labels on the bottles, Burgundy has only two immediately recognizable to outsiders: the interior courtyard of the Hospices in Beaune, and the Château of the Clos de Vougeot.
Like much of Burgundy, the origins of the Clos de Vougeot are ecclesiastical. In 1098, Robert, Abbot of the Clunaic Benedictine abbey of Molesmes, near Langres, north of Dijon, decided to form a new order. He felt strongly that the original virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience, laid down by the founding saint, had become too relaxed. The top ecclesiastics slept in comfortable beds, wore sumptuous clothes, and eat and drank like gluttons. Nor, it seems, were they very enthusiastic about celibacy. Robert only managed to persuade some 20 of his order to join him, but they duly left Molesmes and settled in marshy land some 15 kilometres east of Nuis-Saint-Georges. From the Latin name of the reeds (cistus) which surrounded their new monastery came the name of this new order: the Cistercians. Not having suitable land in the vicinity for the vine, the monks followed a little river, the Vouge, upstream until they reached the Côte. There amongst the mixed farming prevalent at the time, they saw vines. They bought a parcel of land, enclosed it within a wall, and set about constructing a winery and living quarters for those who would be responsible on the spot for tending the vines and making the wine. This edifice, much modified since, is today's Château du Clos de Vougeot.
The vineyard remained in church ownership, if not in ecclesiastical management, for parcels had been rented off to local laymen, until the French Revolution. Like most of the land owned by the church the Clos was sequestered by the state, and on January 17th., 1791 it was auctioned off to a Jean Foquard, a Parisian banker. He failed to settle the bill, and the authorities were forced to ask the old cellar master to continue to run the estate while they sought an owner with more reliable finances. Eventually the Clos passed to Jules Ouvrard, local deputé in the post-Restoration parliament, and also owner of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. This wine was made at the Clos.
Ouvrard died in 1860, and the Clos was divided into six parts to enable it to be sold. Six soon became fifteen, and inexorably the Clos became more and more morcellated. Today there are over 80 proprietors and some 120 different parcels. The Château belongs to the local wine promotional organisation, the Chevaliers du Tastevin.
The Clos de Vougeot is notorious for being a grand cru whose land stretches all the way down to the main Nuits-Dijon highway. Surely, we argue, the land at the bottom cannot produce grand cru wine? On either side we have mere village Vougeot or Vosne-Romanée. Of course this is an anomaly. But today it is set in stone and there is little we can do about it. And as Jean Grivot, who has vines which stretch up from the main road about two-fifths of the way up, will point out: 'When the weather is hot you need fruit from the more humid, water-retaining lower slopes. When the weather is against you you need the better drained upslope wines.' Back in the middle ages, as today at Maximin Grunhaus in the Moselle, we are told that there were three cuvées of Clos de Vougeot: that from the upper part, reserved for the Abbot and favoured guests, that from the middle, for the monks, and that from the lower slopes, sold off in bulk.
The largest owner of land within the Clos today is the Château de la Tour, with almost five and a half hectares out of just over 50. Theirs is the only wine matured and bottled within the Clos, in a nasty 19th. century building of no architectural merit whatsoever situated half way up the slope on the northern side. The wine used to be good, fell off a bit, but is now improving. This is the only proprietor to offer a vieilles vignes as well as a normal cuvée. Others with more than one hectare whose wines can be recommended include Méo-Camuzet, Louis Jadot, Leroy, Grivot, Gros Frère et Soeur, the Domaine de la Vougeraie, the Domaine Eugenie (Engel as was), Lamarche, Faiveley and Drouhin-Laroze.
Those with less than one hectare that I would look out for include: Hudelot-Noëllat, Arnoux, Bertagna, Bouchard Père et Fils, Confuron-Coteditot, J.J. Confuron, Drouhin, Clos Frantin (Albert Bichot), Anne Gros, Michel Gros, Denis Mortet, Mugneret-Gibourg and Thibaut Liger-Belair.
Clos de Vougeot is rarely a really great wine. I can only remember two such bottles: a 1937 Camuzet (predecessor of today's Méo-Camuzet, and Jean Gros' (father of Michel) 1985, the last vintage from vines planted in 1902. I still have a couple of bottles of this. No, Clos de Vougeot is a second division grand cru. But it is ample and generous, succulent and slightly spicy, and should be thoroughly enjoyable.
Postings: Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours: From Lyon to Reims - Wine, Food, Culture and History (Published and Forthcoming Postings)
Burgundy (and Champagne) 2016 Tour by ombiasy WineTours: From Lyon to Reims - Wine, Food, Culture and History
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Visit of Château du Clos de Vougeot
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