T Edward visits with Chantal Tortochot
This year, I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite Burgundy producers at TEW, Domaine Tortochot, where Chantal Tortochot spoke about the threats to Burgundy as we know it, her use of oak, and her experience of the 2015 vintage in Gevrey-Chambertin. Thanks Chantal! -Karen Ulrich
Five years ago, geological maps were drawn in Gevrey-Chambertin. The result of soil studies, the maps here very much follow the Grand Cru, Premier Cru and Village appellations that were initially drawn by the Cistercians. As Chantal Tortochot drew her finger along the map on the wall, she smiled, enchanted by the brilliance of Burgundy’s beginnings. “The monks wanted the best wines to attract the people to mass,” she said and laughed, “which led to the classifications.
And though Burgundy’s history charms, the future looks a little less bright. “LVMH just purchased a vineyard for 80 million euros,” she said. “In the next generation, quality won’t be the same, with a focus on profit, not quality.” It used to be that the government controlled the price of a vineyard, she informed us. But now that such sales include a brand and/or winery, vineyards are put on the market without the locals’ knowledge. And because the boundaries of Gevrey-Chambertin will never change, the only new additions to ever come on the market will be limited to Hautes Cotes de Nuits.
Thankfully, there are a multitude of stalwarts such as Chantal Tortochot, whose Domaine has been in the family since the end of the nineteenth century. Forever a purist, Chantal is a tour de force in the preservation and celebration of all things Burgundy. From organic viticulture (Ecocert certified since 2013) to spontaneous fermentations, Chantal is committed to terroir. “If we want to sell terroir,” she said, “yeast is attached to the terroir.” Only a fool would attempt to argue otherwise.
And though the ambient yeasts haven’t yet adapted to the higher sugar levels that are the result of climate change, Chantal said, “One must give the yeast some time to adopt, not add commercial yeast to finish the fermentation, but let the environment adopt.” In fact, in 1996, Chantal’s first vintage at Tortochot, she waited 18 months for the MLF to complete because the winter and 250-year-old cellar were so cold.
Typically, Chantal uses 100% new oak to age her Grand Cru wines for 18 months, but recently, she’s been using less, depending on the parcel. And while she realizes that the use of new oak isn’t “trendy”, Chantal relies on new barrels for their capacity to oxidize, fix color and stabilize tannins. Here, she employs solely French oak, made from 200-300-year-old trees, as opposed to American oak, which comes from 30-year old trees. With its finer grain, the French trees are grown and harvested according to the regulations of the state-owned forests.
In the cellar, we tasted the Chambertin GC 2015 (to be bottled next spring) from both a new oak barrel and a three-year-old barrel. The fruit from the latter was brighter with tannins that appeared mid-palate, as opposed to the up-front tannins with lusher berry notes that developed in new oak. The same could be said for the Mazis-Chambertin GC 2015, which we also tasted from new and three-year-oak.
For Chantal, 2015 was a winemaker’s dream that required nothing from the vigneron. “Even on the sorting table,” she said. “We only had to watch the [fermentation] temperatures. There was nothing to do.”