So I did a thing at a late night La Paulée after party...
A lot of us, especially Sommeliers who have decided to focus their studies and career on the wines of Burgundy, talk about the need to put boots on the ground in the region but few of us ever do.
Now I've made plenty of questionable decisions in my life, I did once single handedly try and bring disco back in 2003, and that night I made a decision that turned out to be only slightly less out there. I cornered one of the best winemakers of our generation Pierre Yves Colin, who (in full disclosure I've known PY for a few years now) allowed me to not only drunkenly accost him all full of 60's Taragona Chartreuse and wide-eyed enthusiasm, but is allowing me to come and live and work with him in Burgundy for the 2018 harvest at Domaine Pierre Yves Colin-Morey.
I reached out to Geoff Kruth about the best way to document this and provide the community with a direct line to Burgundy as well as hopefully some inside information on the 2018 harvest and Burgundy in general.
I'm going to try and check in at least 1-2 times a week with updates and to answer questions. There will be a lot to see on my instagram instagram.com/maxcoane, I promise it won't just be ridiculous bottle shots and food pics.
Let me know what questions you guys have for PY and I'll do my best to get them answered.
Friends, it’s Wednesday mid-morning and we’re slowly wrapping up the harvest at PYCM/CCM we have a party planned for Friday so that should be it.
To say we’ve been going hard in the paint for the last 10 days hardly covers the reality of it. The pace is hectic, especially when you have the sorting line for the rouge going at the same time as the pressoir for the blanc.
A brief aside about French.
In my opinion, and if others have had different experiences please chime in, it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL that you have some facility in the French language and experience with French culture. I am by no means fluent in French and they make fun of me for it non stop but I can carry a conversation and understand about 75% of what is being said to me. This is not only important because of the whole “when in Rome do as the Romans do” aspect of things, but its also practical. Winemaking can be very dangerous with a lot of moving parts and big chunks of steel moving about. I can’t imagine how dangerous it would be if I didn’t speak French at all.
For purposes of brevity I’ll discuss the white wines in this post and the reds in a second.
The Mise en Place for whites.
First allow me to dispel any rumors that PY makes all the wines for both his and Caroline’s domaine, because that is 100% not true. The work together side by side, though Caroline takes the lead on the reds because PY just isn’t that into it.
The grapes are picked by hand and start arriving at the winery around 8:30 am via tractor. Contrary to what people seem to think about what we do here we do not do anything to control the temperature of either the grapes or the juice from the pressoir until its done. We sort of course but its not an intense sorting, basically the grapes get a once over on the vibrating truck as they fall into the giraffe and then into the pressoir.
The process of transporting the grapes as well as the frenetic pace of the belt churning away causes the grapes to be crushed a little bit as they go so we don’t stomp them or anything, even for the reds.
There are two sorters on either side of the bin checking as the grapes go past and then two on top of the press spreading the material in an even layer. The idea is to get close to “vendange entiere” on the whites. The press runs about 3 hours in total.
The juice off the pressoir is allowed to oxidize a bit to deepen the color in a vat directly beneath it outside before it is pumped off into tanks for the night to slightly cold stabilize during which a bit of So2 is added. The next morning the juice is sent via gravity down to the cave for entonnage. There are absolutely no added yeasts and the wines ferment naturally in their barrels or in the case of some of the lesser wines in large format stainless. Interestingly this year Bâtard was the first to start fermenting but not the first picked.
Again we add nothing until the wines have finished Malo sometime in February and then a little more So2. Around harvest the next year the previous vintage gets taken back into the cuverie and placed into stainless tanks to settle before bottling.
Super straight forward.
I am constantly impressed that the list of things we do to the wine, vs. the list of things we DON’T do is heavily swayed towards the don’t side. Its remarkably hands off wine making. There is a confidence here in the terroir and also the process of just being Burgundian that we can all learn from. When you are born into something great, don’t fuck it up. Simple as that.
The other remarkable thing is just how modern almost Californian PY’s winery is. He says that the biggest influence on his winemaking after his own father Marc Colin was the time he spent making wine in California with David Ramey. The oxidization of the juice before settling which I’ve always thought was the “Jean Marc Roulot” method, PY says he learned from Ramey and Kongsgard in the 90’s.
Its a wild and tiny world we live in.
PY in the cellar
Great stuff Max, it is an awesome insight to give, as not that many people will get the chance to work a harvest in France, or anywhere else for that matter. I would echo a couple of your points. First, if you want to go work a harvest or spend any meaningful time in France it is essential to have some basic facility with the language. And second, I am always shocked to read otherwise educated wine writers talk about how oxidising juice is some sort of Burgundian innovation developed in the last few years in response to prem-ox. This has been absolutely standard practice in California wineries making Chardonnay and most other white wines since the late 1980s, largely due to work David Ramey did with Zelma Long at Simi Winery. Hardly surprinsing that PY learned about this key aspect of juice handling from the master, David Ramey.
The surprising part to me was not that he does it, but just how willing he was/is to give credit for it to Ramey. Last time I heard anybody in Burgundy say anything nice about another winemakers technique, let alone an American was...well...let’s just say it doesn’t happen a lot.