The Australia Day Tastings and the influential Artisans of Australia showcase late last year demonstrated the forward thinking and innovation of Australian winemakers. However, it’s not just on Australian home turf that this is happening. There is a group of three Australian micro-négociants doing brilliant things in Burgundy, too. Chrissy Rasmussen caught up with them, Mark Haisma, Andrew & Emma Nielsen and Jane Eyre. No, not that one…
When asked to pick two Pinot Noirs from anywhere in the world to demonstrate the ‘greatness’ of the grape, Jancis Robinson MW last week picked one from Mark Haisma, an Australian winemaker working in Burgundy – one of three micro-négociants whose wines we taste in depth.
It goes without saying that Burgundy terroir produces exceptional wines.
However, this also means that vineyards in Burgundy are amongst the most expensive and difficult to get hold of in the world. So newcomers to the area must find a way around traditional vineyard purchasing.
One way to do this is through being a micro-négociant – in other words buying/picking grapes from little plots (sometimes extremely little) from local growers.
I recently caught up with three Aussies doing this, during en primeur week. Their wines were very special indeed and all my tasting notes are at the end of this article.
Andrew and Emma Nielsen, Le Grappin (direct)
Le Grappin is a micro-négociant based in Beaune. I am a huge fan of Nielsen’s winemaking style (and their Beaujolais parcel wines that I tasted back at Noble Rot in November) so I was looking forward to trying these.
Before settling in Beaune, Nielsen worked in California (with Kosta Browne), Central Otago (with Felton Road), and the Yarra Valley (Coldstream Hills). Nielsen then made the journey to Burgundy working with Patrick Bize in Savigny-les-Beaune.
Nielsen now buys grapes from various growers, to express individual vineyard plots and characteristics. The wines are made in Fanny Sabre’s old winery, in Beaune.
By buying grapes from growers on small plots, Andrew manages to make some really rare wines – his white from Les Grèves (Beaune), is part of only 1% of total Burgundian Chardonnay produced in this premier cru. All wines are crushed by foot and pressed in Andrew’s 90-year-old basket press, in old large format barrels of 300-450L.
Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre wines (Liberty)
Yes her name is Jane Eyre…!
Eyre is from Melbourne, and was working as a hairdresser in 1998 when she asked a customer, who was the wife of wine writer Jeremy Oliver, if she knew any wineries offering work experience.
Next thing Eyre goes to Burgundy where she is now the winemaker for Domaine Newman, and has been her own micro-négociant since 2011 (sharing a winery with Dominique Lafon).
Her winemaking style is minimal intervention, with very delicate extraction and the resulting wines are soft, perfumed and gentle.
Eyre is also going to be making a Beaujolais from Fleurie (half from La Madone and half from a parcel on the other side). Along with Nielsen, this emphasises the movement and innovation going on in Beaujolais and with Gamay, as prices continue to go crazy in Burgundy. NB: wines 3, 4, 5 and 6 in my tasting notes had 20% whole bunch for freshness and an edge.
Mark Haisma (Flint Wines)
Haisma was winemaker at Yarra Yering, before joining the other Aussies in hopping across the pond in 2009. Mark makes several wines from individual Burgundian plots, including an Aligoté, which I was happy to see.
Trying all the wines side by side was fascinating, again, demonstrating the incredible nuances of Burgundy’s terroir. Burgundy’s soils will never cease to amaze me.
Haisma is doing this also with a Viognier, Syrah and Grenache from the Ardèche, as well as a Cornas wine, and with his project Dagon Clan, in Romania.
I can only hope that soon one day this will start happening further afield. A good example is the wines of the Thillardon brothers in Chénas, Beaujolais.
While separating individual plots of one cru/vineyard/region and so on, may not be that commercial (there is also the debate that consumers may not understand it), for high quality, niche wines of very small production it’s my preferred way of doing it.
It is the way for the wine to become a vehicle of its individual terroir. Wines like this excite me, and all three of the above producers are doing very, very good things for the world of wine.
And now for the tasting notes on two dozen bottles of interesting wine
Tasting the wines of Le Grappin:
1 – Le Grappin Savigny-lès-Beaune blanc 2015
Precise, tense nose of citrus, honeysuckle with an open, lifted palate of more citrus and some ripe apples and pears. Rich and lifted on the palate, with a nice brioche finish and a gentle waxy texture.
2 – Le Grappin Saint Aubin en l’Ebaupin blanc 2015
Direct mineral notes here, with a very zingy citrus nose with an unexpected richness and weight to the palate: a lovely buttery mouthfeel.
3 – Le Grappin Santenay Premier Cru Les Gravières Blanc 2015
Lovely energy, even on the nose. Green apple notes on the nose, with added stone fruit on the palate with a zingy mineral feel on the finish.
4 – Le Grappin Beaune Premier Cru Les Grèves 2015
From a difficult-to-get hold of parcel, of which only 1% is Chardonnay, this was a very interesting wine. A slightly more closed nose with a zippier lime and citrus approach, but with a much creamier and uniquely textural palate showing peaches and more lime which I really, really liked. In Nielsen’s words, it’s his “key lime pie” wine. Still a baby, of course.
5 – Le Grappin Savigny-lès-Beaune rouge 2015
Really direct, pure wine. Raspberries, cranberries and ruby grapefruit. Rich and lifted on the palate with bright exuberant cherries with a nice lifted finish.
6 – Le Grappin Beaune 1er Cru Boucherottes 2015
Richer fruit here: more ripe raspberries and cherries, with a lovely silky texture and good structure that bodes well for a long life. Nice fresh cherry finish with a little undergrowth.
Tasting the wines of Jane Eyre:
1 – Cotes de Nuits Villages 2015
Fresh zingy nose, with cherries, raspberries and actually a little fresh blackcurrant here too. Nice lifted finish with some spice.
2 – Volnay 2015
Very, very bright (perhaps the brightest wine of the tasting for me) and really dances on the nose. Classic Volnay in style with fresh and grippy, seriously pure cherry and raspberry fruit.
3 – Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru aux Vergelesses 2015
Lifted wine, more delicate in style than the Volnay. Slightly floral, with violets and a savoury, dry, herby finish.
4 – Beaune Premier Cru Cents Vignes 2015
Frozen raspberries and fresh cherries on the nose. Crunchier and grippier in style on the palate, with plenty of raspberries on the finish. Only had three punchdowns, as Eyre said, “it did everything all on its own.”
5 – Gevrey Chambertin 2015
Pure, direct, with richer cherries (some fresh black cherries here) and more mossy notes. A really lovely mouthfeel with a long, serious finish.
6 – Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Les Corbeaux 2015
This had 40% new oak. Bright cherries and raspberries, with a fair amount of forest floor complexity. The oak adds an additional extra layer of spice throughout the wine that really suits it, but it’s still a baby so it will be very interesting to see how this looks in a few years.
Tasting the wines of Mark Haisma:
1 – Aligoté 2015
Happy to see an Aligoté in the mix here. Half from barrel and half from tank. Lovely light, delicate fruit with lemons and white flowers on the nose. Sings on the palate, great precision.
2 – Saint Romain 2015
As it was a hot year, Mark blended his two parcels together (Le Jarron and Combe Bazin) to retain freshness. Lovely citrus, fresh but round palate with lots of citrus and a nice punchy finish.
3 – Viognier, Northern Rhone 2015
Really, really fresh with tons of energy. Floral, with apricot notes and a tense, slightly creamy finish.
4 – Bourgogne Rouge 2015
Nice bright cherries, very drinkable with lots of zest with a slightly spicy finish.
5 – Volnay Paux Bois 2015
This plot has particularly hard and stony soil. The wine is approachable with lots of raspberry fruit, fresh and with a lovely edgy, tense grip on the palate.
6 – Gevrey Chambertin 2015
Slightly softer and richer nose with plums, rich raspberries and cherries. Quite a big palate, with grip, that will open beautifully with time.
7 – Nuits St Georges La Charmotte 2015
Slightly more direct in style, with evident red and black cherries, and some mineral zing. Lovely persistent and muscular finish.
8 – Pommard Premier Cru Clos Les Arvelets 2015
Lighter, brighter and tighter in style with frozen raspberry notes on the nose. Lovely green side that I liked – a lifted wine, one of my notes was “stemmy?” – unsure whether some whole bunch here but it had a nice savoury zingy edge to it.
9 – Morey Saint Denis Premier Cru Les Chaffots 2015
Big aromas of black cherries and very ripe raspberries. I wrote “gives a lot”. It did. Beautiful expression of fruit with a big, rich, round finish.
10 – Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 2015
Fresh nose. On the palate, big, opulent fruit with sweetness – nice rich cherries, plums and a real crunchiness that will develop into an interesting texture with time.
11 – Ardèche Syrah Grenache 2015
Sweet, big tasty black and red fruit – a ‘yum’ wine. Very juicy, with some nice earth on the palate. Fresh finish with well-integrated tannins.
12 – Cornas 2015
Very well built wine, dense, pure and straightforward on the nose. Nice rich palate with black and red fruits – blackcurrants and some fresh raspberry on the finish, which is lovely and long.
All photos by Chrissy Rasmussen