At first glance, everything separates them. Eric Pignal is in his thirties. Once a mathematician, he traveled the world to pursue his new career as a winemaker. From New Zealand to California, he learned the art of vinification and revealing a terroir while respecting the natural orientation of the wine. Emmanuel Sala is nothing like Eric. The Chateau’s joker is deeply rooted in Burgundy. Have him blind-taste any wine from the area, and he will know it. From the specificities of a parcel to the vintage effect, his mind – and palate – seem to remember every fact. When the time comes to blend our cuvees together, he has a secret recipe for success: a mix of savoir-faire and intuition. Manu, as we call him, has been working in the Clos Marey-Monge for eleven years. Anytime he would contemplate moving on to another vineyard, the spirit of Émilie caught him. “The Clos put a spell on me,” he said. On a warm summer morning, we sat down with the head and the heart of our winemaking team in the shade of the cuverie and asked them to share with us the story behind our Clos Marey-Monge Monopole 2016. They did tell us so, and so much more.
Manu, 2016 seems to have been a quite challenging year in the vineyard. What happened?
The Clos was confronted with late frost in late April, just after bud break. The sun came back the same morning, which accentuated our losses. It is not cold in itself that condemns the grapes, but the rays: the gel forms a film of ice around the berries, which creates a magnifying effect. The sun then burns the fruits. That’s why we light fires in the vineyard during frosts. The smoke allows us to reduce the impact of the sun’s rays.
Was the rest of spring any better?
Not quite. We endured long weeks of rain. Moisture has invaded every corner of the Clos. The walkways were so muddy that they almost became impassable. The vine did not appreciate. We did not manage to escape the epidemic of mildew that hit Burgundy. The rain did not stop, we started to be afraid of losing everything that year. 30% of our grapes have not reached maturity.
And the sun came back…
Eventually! Fortunately, our best plots have not been touched. Les Paules, Chantrerie, and Simone are protected by the wall surrounding our vineyard. Only a few vines have suffered frost. This was another story at the bottom of the Clos. Our parcels Grands Champs and 75 Rangs suffered. We had to work harder than ever to save the grapes. It was necessary to pluck, disbud and aerate the vines to allow the fruits to flourish. My whole team was in the vineyard daily. Summer has been more clement with us. The heat wave helped to dry and sanitize the Clos.
You started the harvest late September that year. That is later than most years…
I like that. Harvest was late, yet we didn’t face the development of rot because we had few clusters left. It took a long time for the grapes to ripen. It allowed us to obtain a lot of freshness, salivation, a beautiful fruit… And at the same time a dense, concentrated and very balanced wine. This is called a Burgundian vintage!
Once hand-harvested, the grapes are brought to the cuverie. Eric, can you tell us more about what happens then?
The grapes are placed on vibrating tables to be sorted by hand. We destem them before transferring the berries to the vats. The whole fruits macerate and ferment at the same time. They burst by themselves, under the effect of the weight and the carbon dioxide they give off during the fermentation.
Do you have a role to play during these processes?
We try to intervene as little as possible. We do some pumping at the beginning to prevent the wine from blackening, and we punch the cap as gently as possible to extract the tannins. The vintage must reveal itself. Our role is to be attentive enough to understand it and know what path it takes. It’s not up to us to decide. We are here to accompany her in the direction it chooses. By intervening, we tend to break this natural balance.
Once vinification is done, you proceed to aging. How does that work?
Once extracted, the wine is placed in Burgundy pieces. These barrels are larger than Bordeaux barrels, which allows for better breeding on the lees. During all the breeding, these natural deposits come to feed the wine. They drop particles that provide consistency and depth. These lees also prevent oxidation while reducing added sulfites.
Where do these casks come from?
Some come from Allier, others from Nièvre or the Vosges, all of which are neighboring regions. They are made of fine grain oak. We select them very carefully. We do not seek a toasty and vanilla side, on the contrary. We must not break the balance of the wine, but accompany it. We are looking for minerality, precision. The casks allow us to showcase these qualities. The wood of the Allier rounds, that of the Vosges tends to tend. We also adapt the proportion of new barrels to each wine. For Clos Marey-Monge Monopole 2016, we used 40% new barrels. It improves the exchanges with oxygen and creates well-rounded tannins.
After 20 months in these casks, Clos Marey-Monge Monopole 2016 was ready for blending. Manu, we hear you have a quite unique technique…
We start building the skeleton of the wine, using Grand Champs and 75 Rangs, also known as providers of the best well-structured wine in our vineyard. We then add the flesh, using the well-rounded cuvees from Micault and Les Paules. Chantrerie adds a spiritual touch to the blend with vines more than 100 years old, and Simone embodies the soul of our wine.
Do you use the same recipe every year?
The know-how remains the same, but the proportion of each cuvee varies according to the year. We call it the vintage effect.
Last but not least, can we drink Clos Marey-Monge Monopole 2016 right away?
Definitely. But you might miss the big chill it will offer in a few years!