Please enjoy this previously unpublished memoir from my trip to the region last year. -Andrew
Everything does really happen for a reason. All I wanted to do was sleep, but I had the extreme fortune of being seated next to the friendliest person in France. After sitting down next to me on the train in his assigned seat, he proudly proclaimed “ahh, life is good, a comfortable seat.” Life is good, I thought, but I was tired. It was just after 6 in the morning and having slept for 3 hours the night before, I was looking forward to a good nap on the train. But my charming new travel companion had other plans, asking my many questions about where I came from, where I was going, and what my business was in France. We had a nice chat and he proceeded to tell me about his friends who lived all over the US, even in far off places that I had not even visited myself. Towards the end of our ride, he took out his business card and scribbled his personal email address across it, and sincerely asked that I come to visit him in his home town of Normandy next time I am in France. After meeting the friendliest person I’ve encountered on the road, I may just have to.
It was indeed a late night before and well deserving of a nap. A late train into Paris caused me to miss the first half of my meeting with a very important winemaker who came from Israel to meet in Paris (it’s a lot closer than San Diego after all). More about this another time, but that afternoon meeting was followed by an extended dinner and tasting with another very notable French winemaker, which lasted late into the evening. So, finally back to the hotel past midnight, after another glass of wine and time to answer emails and repack the suitcase, it was one a few short hours before the alarm clark was blaring at 5am to get me to the train on time.
Greeting my at the station were some new contacts; new for me that is, as there’s nothing new about them. Georges Taieb and his son Yoni Taieb are carrying on the legacy of an over one hundred year old business. The legacy began with their ancestors distilling the family recipe for arak/anisette in North Africa, and then eventually relocating and expanding the operation in France. Since then, they have been very involved in the production of notable Kosher French wines, the likes of which we’ve been happily enjoying stateside without ever giving them credit. After we spend some time together over the first of many of the day’s espressos, recovering from our respective trips to Burgundy, it becomes clear to me that they may prefer to remain under the radar, but they let their wines do the talking for them.
We hop in the car and head over to the first of our two appointments for the day. We’re a little bit late, in a place where no one is in a rush. I’ve heard about this winery forever, tasted once or twice, but I’m very interested to see it in action. Domaine Chantal Lescure is in the town of Beaune, just off the center of the town. It’s a smallish looking building with an adjacent warehouse and visiting room. We are greeted by the man who makes it all happen, Francois Chaveriat. Francois is a very energetic person with laser focus and a lot of depth. He has been with the Domaine since the very beginning, serving as the winemaker over 30 years ago when the late Chantal Lescure was still selling her wine to be bottled by other producers. After her passing, Francois was asked by her family to become the head winemaker and help the winery unleash its full potential producing wines from their very well situated vineyards in the region. He accepted this role, and never looked back.
Entering the small looking building, it’s clear that I’ve misjudged the size as we descend into the expansive underground caverns where the wine is stored. These caves never cease to amaze me! Often dug out by hand, these caves are constantly at the right temperature and humidity for aging wine, irrespective of the season. There are two barrel samples available for me to try, the 2016 and 2017 Pommard. Pommard is a very well known appellation in the Cote de Beaune that creates deeper and darker Pinot Noirs. The higher elevation and cooler vineyards create smaller fruit that increases the concentration of the skin. Furthermore, with the organic wine growing practices in this vineyard, there are less interference with the vines ability to absorb nutrients from the soil, resulting in higher quality fruit. It’s certainly evident with these wines. The 2016 is very balanced, deep, and elegant. It’s also extremely young, and will need some time to settle after bottling (which has since taken place). The 2017 is a racier vintage and was very elegant as well, it will be more of a medium term wine in terms of aging and should be more approachable upon release (later next year). All in all, a lovely pair of wines, and the unique ability to showcase the importance of vintage (since they have been producing this kosher Pommard most years since 2010, one is able to compare the same vineyard over the various years produced).
The next appointment, after a recharge at a local espresso bar, was truly the first of its kind. I was told by my hosts that they met a fantastic winemaker who was interested in dedicated kosher wine production. Little did I know how literal this description would in fact be. We pulled up to a building with a rather regal courtyard. Inside of some large wooden doors just below the ground floor, was another dank cavern full of barrels and winemaking equipment. What I came to find out was that I had just entered the first fully kosher winemaking space in Burgundy, ever. The owner, Jean-Philippe Marchand, had taken the charge of kosher winemaking to a new level by facilitating the kosher blends of his wines in their own space, where they can receive all the attention they need without the extra traffic and complications from adjacent non kosher winemaking.
The only thing more impressive than this dedicated kosher facility were the wines themselves. Produced from four different vineyard sites, these wines were serious expressions of their respective sub-appellations. We began with a lovely cuvee from a generic appellation, which was supposedly within proximity to some Grand Cru sites. This blend was a beautiful young Burgundy, something that would be lovingly enjoyed while its bigger siblings would age. The first village wine was from the commune of Volnay. This is a delicate, feminine wine that had a deceiving pale color, which revealed lovely aromatics and structure. Similar to its more famous cousin Pommard, except perhaps a more feminine version with great suppleness and length.
The next wine was from the village of Nuits-St. Georges, from a single vineyard held by the Marchand family for generations, called Aux Herbues. This small vineyard is actually the northernmost in the appellation, and shares a border with the highest ranked appellation of Vosne Romanee. This cuvee is certainly more weighty and muscular than the Volnay, as can be expected. Intense aromas of red fruit, licorice, some toast, with a hint of flinty minerality. Relatively big tannins yield to a plush mouthfeel from the blend of oak barrels across different stages of use. This blend clearly punches above its weight class and will be a real joy to drink and cellar.
The final reveal of this visit was an old vines blend from the famous village of Gevrey-Chambertin, The appellation is named for Gevrey, the name of the town, and Chambertin, the most important vineyard within the area. The term old vines, or vielles vignes, is applied to this wine since it comes from some of the most mature vines that the Marchand family holds in the region. This is a big wine with intense aromas of raspberry, violets, and herbs, almost reminiscent of a Pomerol (Merlot based Bordeaux). Medium-full bodied, which can be expected from a wine of this caliber at this state, the wine has a great finish that goes on and on. I am expecting great things from this lineup, and will look forward to monitoring the progress of these exciting, authentic wines from this ever important part of the winemaking world.
The rest of the day was characterized by a lovely picnic lunch on the hillside overlooking the valley, some missed trains, excessively long one way highways without turnouts, more espresso of course, and a crowded train ride back to Paris. All in all, this was a thrilling reorientation to the region and the important footholds that are making the goods available to discerning wine lovers who happen to keep kosher.
Domaines Chantal Lescure and J-P Marchand are available for purchase from LiquidKosher.com