Olivier Jouan on sustainable Burgundy, climate change, bottle weight, and green harvesting

On a rare trip to London, for him at least, I met recently met up with Olivier Jouan.

Whilst he's a sixth generation Morey-Saint-Denis grower Olivier, he became the first in his family to make wine commercially in 1999, having inherited some land unexpectedly. His first vintage was 2002, but his vines are much older. You can taste that immediately when sampling his range.

He's a burgundy producer of mostly red wines, who makes a series of six different reds and one white from, as you'd expect, pinot noir for the former and chardonnay for the latter.

He produces around 36,000 bottles, some 3,000 cases per year, from about seven and a half hectares in different parcels. His yields are lower than the average, but more on that, and why, a little later,

I asked David Harvey, his UK importer from Raeburn Fine Wines for his views on Olivier's wines. He helped translate our recent meeting.

David notes that, in his view, "his old-vine parcel in the Chambolle-Musigny lieu-dit Les Bussières (just across border from Morey La Bussière 1C) is worthy of 1C status. The Hautes Côtes Rouge from 45 yr old vines has remarkable depth for the appellation and incredible value, as does the Hautes Cotes Blanc which has wonderful density and concentration. If one was to describe the style of the wines here then they are, to our minds, reminiscent of the wonderful wines of Hubert Lignier – another great domaine within Morey St Denis vines."

One of the things I ask Olivier about is bottle weight. Having just recently handled a wine bottle that seemed, to my judgement to be approaching 1.5 kg in weight, empty, it's been on my mind.

He leans forward at this, seated across a table from me at 67 Pall Mall, and tells me earnestly he feels the same way. As of his 2014 vintage he's trimmed around 200 grammes from his average bottle weight. You can feel the difference when you hold the bottles, I noticed, but to the naked eye they look the same.

This is a simple salutary lesson that many other producers, not just in Burgundy, could take note of. You can save 20% or more in glass, lifting weight, transport weight, fuel and of course CO2, with some thought about bottle weight and specifications. Not to mention of course, the environmental and energy savings that must be in there at end of life, for recycling of green glass. All it takes is to make the choice, tell your supplier, and push for lighter glass wherever you can.

We also talk about climate change. His view, is depressingly similar to almost every other winemaker I've interviewed. Volatility is the danger, it's increasing, and it's tough to deal with, he tells me. He fortunately wasn't affected by the deadly frost of 2017 in Burgundy, but of course, so many others were, some losing their entire crop, completely unexpectedly.

One reason that Olivier is able to escape these Spring frosts that are so dangerous for budding vines, when they are at their most vulnerable, pre-fruit, is that he uses hard pruning early on, combined with old-fashioned low-vigour root-stocks. This delays  bud break by around three weeks later than current norms, and means that he has less on the vine earlier, so is less vulnerable to late frosts.

David Harvey, who translates, puts it this way:

"He takes limit yields severely, including hard pruning, and then an ‘epoussonage’ (rather than ebourgeonage) after bud-break, as the buds are easier to spot when a few cms longer, but still easy to rub off."

His approach to green harvesting is noteworthy too. Put simply, he doesn't like it, thinks it's inappropriate and so avoids it, feeling than it unbalances the structural balance of the grapes. He refuses to acidify, and avoids chaptalisation, meaning that all he gains in the vineyard, has to be won on the vine. Both these practices are highly unusual in Burgundy, so I am told.

Olivier has parcels (see further info below) in two Morey-Saint Denis 1er Crus, Ruchots and Riotte (next to Hubert Lignier's plot), and a whole acre of Grand Cru Charmes-Chambertin. His old-vine parcel in the Chambolle-Musigny lieu-dit Les Bussières (just across border from Morey La Bussière 1C) is worthy of 1C status. The Hautes Côtes Rouge from 45 yr old vines has remarkable depth for the appellation and incredible value, as does the Hautes Cotes Blanc which has wonderful density and concentration.

Olivier works his vines by hand organically (uncertified): he has no interest in attaining any bureaucratic validation. He takes limit yields severely, including hard pruning, and then an ‘epoussonage’ (rather than ebourgeonage) after bud-break, as the buds are easier to spot when a few cms longer, but still easy to rub off. He sets Pinot Noir for max 30-35hl/ha.

Vineyard details are below. I don't usually publish these but given we're dealing with Burgundy here, it's quite a complex area, and I thought this might be helpful:

-Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits: 5.5ha (blanc ~70yrs, rouge 45yrs)
-Gevrey Chambertin Les Seuvrees: 0.2ha planted 1954, 1st made 2013
-Chambolle-Musigny Les Bussières: 0.5ha planted 1951, ’61 and ’76
-Morey-Saint-Denis Clos Solon: 0.25ha planted 1978
-Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Les Ruchots: 0.3ha average 45 yrs
-Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru La Riotte: 0.3ha planted 1934
-Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru: 0.4ha planted early 1950s & 1960s

My pick of his wines is the Les Ruchots, for which the vines date back to 1934. I thought it was superb (and have bought half a case of). My tasting note said: "Concentration and reserve, great on the mid-palate and finish, juiciness, red and forest berries, secondary notes coming through." Its also very decent value for the region, at around £40 (NB should be £48 to £56 IB, depending on vintage) a bottle. Not cheap, but good burgundy hasn't been cheap for a long time. Particularly given the tiny amount of land he farms by hand, for such a wine, it's worth every penny.

Proper Burgundy fans will love his Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru and the La Riotte too. His more 'entry level' wines are also superb. With the due care and attention he applies to his small parcels, you can really taste the quality in all his wines. The Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits, for example, his white made with Chardonnay, would make fine summer lunch drinking at any table.

More details at: http://www.raeburnfinewines.com

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