Maison Olivier Bernstein Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 2015
Born in Touraine, Bernstein’s family business is rooted not in wine but in classical music. His grandfather founded Barenreiter, a publishing company famous for its scores by world-renowned composers such as Mozart, Bach and Schubert, and Bernstein grew up in a home where creativity and flair were valued alongside hard work. Olivier’s early business ventures took him into the rail industry working with TGV, but despite travelling the world to work both far (Taiwan and Venezuela) and near (Cassel in Germany) the pull of his desire to become a winemaker meant he returned to France. Taking his first formal steps towards fulfilling this ambition, Bernstein undertook a degree in viticulture in Beaune. “I needed to grow something for myself,” he says. “I had a precise goal: an ambition to make pure, balanced wines that combine both mouth-filling depth and magnificent delicacy.”
At the age of 35, he moved to the south of France (Tautavel, Roussillon) and acquired eight hectares of vineyard. “I bought a tractor and started out by doing everything by myself, learning viticulture and learning the industry. It was complicated, it was hard work but the successes were so rewarding,” Bernstein says. “My dream, though, was always Burgundy, and I made the move there in 2007.” Starting from scratch again, Bernstein began by renting space in Gevrey-Chambertin. It was here that he met Richard Seguin, the man who would later become his cellar master: “We began talking while sorting grapes – we were both the only people working a Sunday!” says Bernstein. In 2008, Seguin came to join Bernstein full-time. “I was lucky with the timing of my move,” says Bernstein. “I was able to take on some really interesting vineyards with wonderful old vines. Now, whether working on the vineyards I own, or those we rent, I am able to farm entirely as I want to. We do all the viticulture ourselves. The whole process from the vineyard to the bottle lasts around 30 months, during which we have a thousand decisions to make which will influence the wine – in those choices, there must be no compromise,” he explains.
In 2012 Olivier Bernstein was able to purchase vines in the Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru vineyard Les Champeaux and the Grand Cru Mazis-Chambertin. He has also settled into his fabulous premises in the heart of Beaune, an essential visit for the serious lover of Bernstein wines.
Today, Bernstein’s seven Grands Crus and three Premiers Crus plots have a wealth of old vines, which are fundamental to the quality of his wines. All but one of the Bernstein vineyard plots are at least 40 years old; most are between 60 and 80 years-old. While officially acting with negociant status, Olivier and his team take responsibility for the vineyard work on their plots.
Containing the largest Grand Cru in all of the Côte d’Or, Vougeot, the village, takes its name from the small stream flowing through it, called Vouge. Over three quarters of the village retains Grand Cru status, and a single vineyard at that: Clos de Vougeot (or simply, Clos Vougeot). Its mass—over 50 ha—retains the single name chiefly for historic reasons.
But today, Clos de Vougeot contains over 80 owners and shows significant soil and slope variations within its boundaries. The top, bordering Musigny and Grands Echezeaux, is calcareous and gravelly on oolitic limestone and exhibits wonderful drainage. The middle sections are limestone, gravel and clay with less of a slope. The lower part has little slant and is mostly made of clay. Historically the diverse parcels were blended but today the abundance of owners means that everyone has his own style. Exploring and understanding them is part of the allure of Clos de Vougeot.
In general a fine Clos de Vougeot when young will be dense and dark but juicy, with a pronounced austerity, and needs a good ten years to bring it to its full potential.
One of the most finicky yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is a labor of love for many. However, the greatest red wines of Burgundy prove that it is unquestionably worth the effort. In fact, it is the only red variety permitted in Burgundy. Highly reflective of its terroir, Pinot Noir prefers calcareous soils and a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality and demands a lot of attention in the vineyard and winery. It retains even more glory as an important component of Champagne as well as on its own in France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions. This sensational grape enjoys immense international success, most notably growing in Oregon, California and New Zealand with smaller amounts in Chile, Germany (as Spätburgunder) and Italy (as Pinot Nero).
In the Glass
Pinot Noir is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry and cherry with some heftier styles delving into the red or purple plum and in the other direction, red or orange citrus. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and a lively acidity. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount) it can develop hauntingly alluring characteristics of fresh earth, savory spice, dried fruit and truffles.
Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon and tuna but its mild mannered tannins give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry: chicken, quail and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, Pinot noir has proven it isn’t afraid of beef. California examples work splendidly well with barbecue and Pinot Noir is also vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.
For administrative purposes, the region of Beaujolais is often included in Burgundy. But it is extremely different in terms of topography, soil and climate, and the important red grape here is ultimately Gamay, not Pinot noir. Truth be told, there is a tiny amount of Gamay sprinkled around the outlying parts of Burgundy (mainly in Maconnais) but it isn’t allowed with any great significance and certainly not in any Village or Cru level wines. So "red Burgundy" still necessarily refers to Pinot noir.