Discovery Tasting: Bouchard

29 March, 2021 @ 4:00 pm 5:00 pm BST

Founded in 1731 in Beaune by Michel Bouchard, Bouchard Père & Fils is one of the oldest wine estates in Burgundy, perpetuating tradition for nearly three centuries and nine generations.

Bouchard Père et Fils is one of Burgundy’s best known producers and major landowners on the Côte d’Or. Join winemaker Fédéric Weber and export director Europe Cyrille Harmel on a journey through the historic vineyards of one of the world’s most prestigious winegrowing regions.

From Beaune to Volnay, Le Corton to Chavalier Montrachet you will have the chance to taste wines dating back to 2014 from the best crus and monopoles from these famous slopes

This tasting will offer members an insight into Bouchard’s unique Burgundy heritage, tasting some of the domain’s most emblematic wines, including the famous Beaune Grèves Vignes de l’Enfant Jésus, Volnay “Les Caillerets” and Corton-Charlemagne; names which resonate with history. The tasting will also allow an opportunity to taste the Meursault Genevrières, offering a glimpse into Bouchard’s vineyard holdings where they are the largest owners of vineyards in Meursault and will culminate with the exceptional Chevalier-Montrachet 2015, of which Bouchard owns 31% of the appellation.

Discovery Tasting: A Journey Through Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils

Wines to be tasted:

  1. Beaune Clos de la Mousse Premier Cru Monopole 2015
  2. Beaune-Grèves Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus Premier Cru Domaine 2014
  3. Volnay Les Caillerets “Ancienne Cuvée Carnot” Premier Cru Domaine 2015
  4. Le Corton Grand Cru Domaine 2016
  5. Beaune du Château Blanc Premier Cru Domaine 2017
  6. Meursault Genevrières Premier Cru Domaine 2016
  7. Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru Domaine 2016
  8. Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru Domaine 2015

Hosted by

  • Frédéric Weber – Winemaker at Bouchard Père & Fils
  • Cyrille Harmel – Export Director Europe at Maisons & Domaines Henriot
  • Chris Losh – Co-founder of The Sommelier Collective

RSVP Discovery Tasting: Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils

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How I made wine in the driest place on earth

The size of Chile often takes visitors by surprise. True, east/west it’s tiny (no wider than Wales). But north to south it is enormous. If it were in the northern hemisphere it would stretch more or less from Sweden to the Sudan.

And as winemakers start to push into cooler, remoter areas sometimes, it seems, even they sometimes get caught out by its sheer scale.

The first time Alejandro Galaz, winemaker at Vina Ventisquero, went to visit the site of their new northerly vineyard, it was much, much further than he or anyone in his team had anticipated.

Alejandro Galaz takes a look at the unique soils of Longomilla – which he now knows is a long drive from Santiago

‘We didn’t know that there were flights we could take, so we went by truck,’ he says sheepishly. ‘It took ten hours, and we had to stop after seven hours to have a sleep.’

Instead of arriving in time for an evening meal and a good night’s sleep, the team just about made it for a mid-morning coffee the following day.

Meet the Camanchaca

The vineyard in question – Longomilla – is on the edges of the Atacama Desert, which trivia fans might know is the driest place in the world. This isn’t a problem for the vines, since they can be irrigated by meltwater from the Andes, running down the Huasco river.

Given the desert location, Galaz and his team were expecting to plant it with varieties that work in a warm area. Cabernet, Carmenere, Petit Verdot, and Mediterranean grapes like Carignan and Grenache were the top of their list.

But although Longomilla is 20km from the Pacific there is (unlike most of Chile’s vineyards) no range of mountains between the land and the sea. While there is a lot of sun, it’s cool and breezy.

And then there’s the Camanchacaca – the thick fog that comes in twice a day, from 10-11am and 5-6pm, heading inland, where it evaporates.

Camanchaca fog, rolling in from the Pacific to the Andes. Photo by Dick Culbert, Wikimedia Commons

This might be useful for vineyards, since it provides a bit of humidity for the vines, but it’s not so good for winemakers who have packed for desert conditions.

‘We were in the middle of the Camanchaca and it was freezing!’ says Galaz. ‘We thought ‘what is this? We’re in the driest place on earth – a place where Nasa put the Pathfinder robot to do the trials for Mars. Why are we so cold?’’

Just like Burgundy… ish

With the fog and the wine, daytime temperatures never top 25 degrees Celsius and can drop to 5 degrees Celsius at night. Galaz and his team realised quickly that their initial ideas for ‘warm climate’ planting were wrong, and instead put in Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot and some Syrah.

Pits were dug – revealing lots of (alluvial) round stones covered in white powder.

‘We understood that we were in the presence of limestone soil. And you know that all places that have that give pretty good quality wines.’

Alejandro Galaz, Vina Ventisquero

Unfortunately, things turned out to be a little more complicated. Because some of that whiteness in the soil was not limestone powder, but salt. And salt, as we all know, is really not good for grape vines.

Yep. That white stuff is actual salt. And no, nobody knows how the vines can survive here

Ventisquero had two vineyards in the area. The one closest to the sea (16km) had literally never been planted to anything before. It’s salinity levels were extraordinary – eight, even ten times what science said a vine should be able to tolerate.

‘Why the vines are living still, we don’t know,’ says Galaz. ‘Maybe they want to be there! Nature always finds a way.’

Ultimate terroir

Apart from growing very slowly and giving very low yields, this exceptionally tough terrain has a very definite impact on the wines.

‘When you taste the wines, I tell you, they are salty. And when you taste the berries, particularly in the white wines, you also find a little bit of that saltiness in the skins,’ says Galaz, who has been careful not to mask any of this character with heavy-handed winemaking. 

While a Casablanca Chardonnay might see 12 months of French oak, the Tara wines got only very old barrels – and eventually the team switched to ageing in stainless steel ‘barrels’ and small foudres (1500-2000 litres).

While a fan of the Pinot Noir, for Galaz, the Chardonnay is ‘the queen’…

‘The character of this place was so strong, to have another layer of complexity coming from the oak didn’t make any sense,’ says Galaz. ‘We need purity in terms of the terroir expression, because it’s already complex. We don’t need to increase it with another layer.’

Living la viña loca

At just ten hectares of vineyard and suicidally low yields (4hl/ha) this is very much a labour of love for Ventisquero. Alejandro happily admits that most other winemakers ‘think we are crazy’ and the accountants probably hate it too.

Yet this is an extraordinary project, and proof that Chile can create unique terroir wines.

‘(Chilean Sommelier) Hector Riquelme told us, “I can find minerality in a wine and some wines with a lot of salt. But to have both in the same wine is very unique,’’ says Galaz.

‘In a blind tasting, on the nose I don’t know if I’d even recognise it as a Chardonnay, and it’s 100% French clone!’

Alejandro Galaz, Vina Ventisquero

The winemaker has a feeling that Grenache and Cabernet Franc could be really exciting in this spot. But while he’s a fan of the Pinot, his star wine (and this journalist’s too) was the Chardonnay.

‘The Chardonnay is the queen,’ he says.

What’s in the glass, he says, is entirely the character of the place.

Interestingly, we discuss the wine for five minutes, and flavour never comes up. We are talking much more about texture.

Tara red #1 – the Pinot

For Galaz, the limestone ‘gives a kind of narrow feeling in the palate, but then the texture comes in.’

To me, it felt like an ibex climbing up a rock face: clattering chalk, glinting, sure-footed and muscular yet gentle.

It’s an extraordinary wine – a fascinating example of what happens when Chile’s wineries push the boundaries. And it’s not over yet.

‘There are a couple of really good high-quality Cabernets at 500-700m in the mountains, but other than that, there’s no expression of volcanic soils in the Andes,’ muses Galaz. ‘That’s a place that we have to discover in the future.’

Tara Chardonnay – ‘the queen’

Frankly, if they can make great wine in a salty wind-blown desert they can make it anywhere. And Alejandro Galaz, I’m sure, will be at the forefront of it.

The Tara wines are imported by Wine Treasury. Ventisquero’s Kalfu wine is imported by Seckford Wine Agencies. The rest of the Ventisquero range is brought in by North South Wines.

Santa Rita, Sideways and Sea Breezes

The Santa Rita Hills is one of the best cool-climate areas in the world. Located in the southern part of California, 148 miles north of Los Angeles it stretches for about 10 miles inland between the towns of Lompoc to the west and Buellton to the east.

What make this region so unique for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay especially are the transverse hills. Most of the hills in California run north/south parallel to the Pacific. But here they run east to west. So instead of acting as a barrier to the cool sea air, they channel it inland. As a result the vineyards have a great oceanic influence.

There are two east-west valleys between Lompoc and Buellton. The most northerly one runs along Highway 246 between Purisima Hills to the North and the Sta. Rita Hills. It has a loamy, shale-rich soil (part of the Monterey Formation) and generally makes more generous wines.

The other valley runs along Santa Rosa Road, between the Santa Rita Hills and the Santa Rosa Hills to the south. Its terroir is mainly made of clay, shale, alluvial soil (by the riverbed) and diatomaceous earth. The latter is an agglomeration of fossilised algae that resembles limestone and is where the Sandford & Benedict vineyard was first planted. (You’ve all seen Sideways, right?)

Map courtesy of Santa Rita Hills AVA/Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance

Diatomaceous earth is composed of diatomite – sedimentary formation of fossilised diatoms (algae) – silica and clay and can be compared to limestone as it forms soft white rocks.

Limestone soils are famous worldwide for producing great wines for a number of reasons. Diatomaceous earth (such as limestone) has an alkaline pH due to their high calcium content; this helps the vines to absorb nutrients as well as promoting water retention.

It is particularly important in clay soils as it offers better soil structure and, in periods of dry weather, makes it easier for the roots to go deeper in search of the water and nutrients needed. Soils rich in calcium also lead to higher grape acidity late in the growing season (which is particularly crucial in the Santa Rita Hills as the latter is very long in the region) and lower wine pH.

Modern history

The region’s modern history started in 1970 when Richard Sandford searched the region to find somewhere to farm. He analysed weather records from the area and found that the further inland you go, the hotter it gets, with one mile roughly equal to one degree more of temperature.

With this information, he located a two to four miles wide micro-climate on which to establish his vineyard and in 1971 he planted the Sandford & Benedict vineyard, eight miles east of Lompoc, with his business partner Michael Benedict. It was a watershed moment for the history of winemaking in the Santa Rita Hills.

The 1980’s saw a growing interest in this vineyard with vintners such as Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat) buying grapes from there as well as the Santa Maria Valley.

However, the rise of the region took time and, by the 1990’s, the northern part of Santa Barbara County had become Chardonnay territory. The warmer Santa Ynez Valley had also become known for growing Rhône varietals.

It was only in 2001 that the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley became the Santa Rita Hills AVA.

The climate in the Santa Rita Hills is relatively warm and consistent all year long but rarely exceeds 27 degrees Celsius as it is cooled down during the growing season by the strong oceanic wind and fog from off the Pacific. The wind blows during the early afternoon sending the vine into a sort of “ripening dormancy” and allowing them to slowly mature and achieve the best phenolic ripeness without sugar spiking. Alcohol levels are, therefore, lower.

It never gets very cold. Even in January the average temperature in Lompoc is 19 degrees Celsius.

The climatic conditions (warm, not hot, cooling breezes and fogs) and soils make the region particularly suited for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But though they do, indeed, thrive here other varietals are also grown, such as Syrah and Grenache.  

Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non planted his Eleven Confessions Vineyard just a few miles east of the Pinot Noir holy grail of the Sandford & Benedict Vineyard, for instance. The vineyard is planted to Syrah and Grenache primarily with the addition of Roussanne, Viognier and Petite Syrah as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Muscat. The cool climate allows for harvest around the end of October and sometimes even in November. It is densely planted and produces on average less than 600 grams of fruit per vine.

During the early 2000’s, the trend was towards bigger and plusher expressions of Pinot Noir. This was partly due to the long growing season that the region enjoys allowing a longer hang time on the vines and pushing the maturity of the grapes.

But since the mid-2000s, the region has seen a resurgence in term of style that seem to go back to its 1970’s roots as regards ripeness levels. Lots of wines nowadays have a true sense of place and terroirs with bright minerality, tension and lean fruit with this hint of ripeness as a backbone.

6 Names to look out for

1. Sandhi

(Roberson Wine)

2. Domaine de la Côte

(Roberson Wine)

3. Melville Winery

(The Vineyard Cellars)

4. Ojai Vineyard

(Tiger Vines)

5. Sine Qua Non

(Berry Bros & Rudd)

6. Au Bon Climat

(Fields, Morris & Verdin)

You can read and learn more about California in the LEARN section.