Feast of Saint Vincent: A Burgundy Tradition

Salle de Fete de Givry

Salle de Fete de Givry

Each year in January, 80 wine villages throughout Burgundy celebrate the feast of Saint Vincent as the guardian of winemakers. While the officially designated feast date is January 22, many wine villages organize elaborate festivals around that date honoring the 20th century tradition of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. For example, on January 18 I participated in the Chevalier du Cep Henri IV de Givry, typically held the third Saturday of January. The village festivals will culminate this year on January 25-26 in Saint-Aubin with the Saint-Vincent Tournante, an elaborate festival with banners and flags, marching and drinking.

Because each village celebration is bespoke, my friends the Santens and I were not aware that the village of Morey-Saint-Denis celebrates Saint Vincent on January 22. We learned that very morning that the feast would be held at our hotel in Morey-Saint-Denis. The Castel de Tres Girard is just steps away from many fine vineyards including three that we planned to visit.

How generous it was of Sylvain Pitiot, winemaker for Clos de Tart, and Romain Taupenot, owner and winemaker for Domaine Taupenot-Merme to make time for us on feast day!

Entrance to Clos de Tart, an abbey built in 1141.

Entrance to Clos de Tart, an abbey built in 1141.

Through the enterprise of Cistercian monks, the story of Clos de Tart is intertwined with that of Cellier aux Moines in Givry, the vineyard where we started our wine journey as part of the Chevalier du Cep festival of Saint Vincent. The Cistercian monks of Citeaux Abbey planted vineyards in 1113, which is still known as Cellier aux Moines, and also assembled the plots known as Clos de Vougeot near Morey-Saint-Denis during 1109-15. In 1141, Cistercian nuns planted vineyards and started an abbey now known as Clos de Tart.

There have been only three owners of Clos de Tart in exactly 900 years. The Marey-Mange family succeeded the monks in 1791, and the current owner is the Mommessin family.

Clos de Tart is one of five monopole vineyards in Morey-Saint-Denis. It is also the largest with 7.5 hectares of vineyards within the clos (walled vineyard). Unlike many other vineyards, Clos de Tart plants its vines north to south. There are many advantages, including less erosion, more even exposure to sunlight as the sun moves from east to west, and the possibility of safely using machines for vineyard management and harvest in the lower to middle rows of the steep slope.

Clos de Tart vines looking westward.

Clos de Tart vines looking westward.

Sylvain Pitiot became winemaker in 1996. In the nearly two decades since joining Clos de Tart, he has gradually adjusted the viticultural process in keeping with his professional training as a topographical engineer and experience as a vigneron. In M. Pitiot’s own words, “time is our tool — don’t stress the wine”! In explaining this concept to us, several elements stood out as areas of focus in the winemaking process: temperature control is key, use of sulphur is tightly limited, no racking of barrels, no fining or filtration, and a one-month period to rest in steel vats after barrel aging before bottling commences by hand in small batches of four bottles at a time.

Barrel samples of 2012 Clos de Tart with Harry Santen and Sylvain Pitiot (L-R).

Barrel samples of 2012 Clos de Tart with Sylvain Pitiot.

M. Pitiot is gradually segmenting the property further, from six to 24 smaller climats, to become even more selective in how terroir influences the final wine. We were privileged to experience two barrel samples from 2012, one from a lower part of the vineyard, and one from the middle section about 50 meters away. They tasted quite different, and though there are some explanations for the variation, M. Pitiot admitted (with a smile) that there are too many factors involved to pin down an exact reason. Each climat is vinified and aged separately, and then blended (assemblage) before bottling. M. Pitiot tastes the barrel samples daily as the aging process nears completion. The wines we tasted will be bottled some time between March and May depending on M. Pitiot’s judgment of readiness.

M. Pitiot left us to join the festival luncheon at our hotel, while we drove to a sister property for a divine lunch at nearby Chateau de Saulon. The four-hour luncheon celebration for the vignerons, called a “paulee” in the spirit of the important annual harvest festival in late fall, included a six-course meal and 40 wines selected by the participating winemakers.

We learned these facts about the paulee from Romain Taupenot, who made time to provide a tour of his winery after the festivities! We spent nearly two hours together, learning about the Taupenot-Merme family history, exploring Romain’s philosophy of wine, and tasting six samples of the 2012 vintage ready for bottling in February.

Romain Taupenot with Ann and Harry Santen at Domaine Taupenot-Merme.

Romain Taupenot with Ann and Harry Santen at Domaine Taupenot-Merme.

Domaine Taupenot-Merme was created by the marriage of Romain Taupenot’s parents, although both families had been making wine for more than seven generations. Romain joined the family business in 1998 and took over as winemaker in 2001. The Domaine makes on average 80,000 total bottles of 19 wines from 20 appellations: 3 regional, 7 village, 6 premier cru (2 are blended), and 4 grand cru.

The aspect of making wine that is most important to M. Taupenot is for one to be able to experience his philosophy and related practices in the glass. M. Taupenot used the expression “juge de paix” to describe this experience, a metaphor in French which translates literally to “justice of the peace.”

Knowing that there are more than 100 parameters to take into account in the vineyard and making wine, M. Taupenot described his view of the importance to concentrate on three or four key factors. For him, a top priority is that oak should reveal the wine, not define it. Like Clos de Tart, Taupenot-Merme buys barrels from five different coopers. While Clos de Tart uses light and medium toasts, Taupenot-Merme uses only light toast. Other key factors for M. Taupenot are natural grape yeasts, temperature control, 100% destemming, cold soak of whole berries, and racking but no filtering.

Wine tasting at Domaine Taupenot-Mermet.

Wine tasting at Domaine Taupenot-Mermet.

The 2012 vintage will be ready for bottling starting in February. Our tasting included six wines: Gevrey-Chambertin (village), Gevrey-Chambertin “Belair” 1er cru, Nuits-Saint-George “Les Pruliers” 1er cru, and three grand crus from Corton Roguet, Charmes-Chambertin and Mazoyeres-Chambertin. Proving that tasting notes are only as good as one person’s notion of aroma and flavor, each of we three tasters preferred a different grand cru. My favorite: the Corton Roguet. It was complex with a rich mouthfeel and silky tannins, floral and elegant, with a hint of chocolate on the nose.

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