Our focus today is on two wines, from the Mâconnais region in the south of Burgundy and from the village of Fleurie in Beaujolais, made by the forward looking Burgundian winemaker Andrew Nielson of Le Grappin. There’s also a bonus beer from Berkshire brewery Siren Craft Brewing, brettanomyces fermented after blending with Le Grappin Rosé.
Le Grappin is the Beane based micro negociant project of Aussie – British couple Andrew and Emma Nielson. Andrew had been working in advertising with major publications all around the world, but that all changed when in Los Angeles in 2006 Andrew had his vinous epiphany over a bottle Dujac Clos de la Roche. Wine became Andrew’s life, and that year he spent the vintage with sought after Californian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producer Kosta Browne, subsequently working harvests with Felton Road in New Zealand’s Central Otago and Coldstream Hills in Australia’s Yarra Valley. It was at the latter that Andrew worked alongside James Halliday, pals with Patrick Bize of Domaine Simon Bize in Savigny les Beaune.
Andrew now found himself working in Burgundy, and it was whilst working at Domaine Simon Bize that he had the idea of becoming a micronegociant, celebrating the different terroirs of Savigny. Domaine Simon Bize is by Burgundian standards a large domaine, with 22 hectares of vineyard. Andrew saw much excellent fruit from different parcels all being blended together, and wondered how much more could made of it by selecting special parcels and bottling them separately. Andrew’s ethos is to celebrate overlooked terroirs and work in partnership with passionate growers who are willing to do things a little differently and apply some modern thinking when working the vines.
For example, Andrew’s red Savigny parcel is made up of 60 year old vines in lieu dit Aux Fournaux, high on the slope and affected by morning mists. Most growers pick too early to problems with rot, but whilst others are harvesting he manages the canopies and removes rotten grapes, picking several weeks later and intensively sorting the grapes. Andrew doesn’t put the Aux Fournaux name on the label, to avoid confusion with the premier cru vineyard with the same name.
Le Grappin, Du Grappin?
Le Grappin is based out of the last old cellar in Beaune’s old town, Fanny Sabre’s old winery. Andrew’s wife Emma balances her time between working for Barclays in London and Beaune, not yet having been able to give up the day job. The biggest cost for a negociant is buying in the grapes, and with prices escalating in Burgundy Andrew’s fruit cost has doubled in the last three years, meaning he’s had to increase prices.
Less expensive vin de soif wines (roughly translating as thirst quenching) sourced from Beaujolais and Macon are sold under the Du Grappin label, in bottles and ‘bagnums’, 1.5 litre bags containing the equivalent of a magnum. With an 80% lower carbon footprint than glass, these will earn you some environmental brownie points, while keeping the wine fresh for up to two weeks. In another bid to reduce wastage in packaging, Andrew doesn’t use capsules on any of his bottles. The Du Grappin label gives Andrew a little room to experiment with his winemaking and lets him keep Le Grappin small and concentrated on his top wines.
In line with his natural ethos, Andrew uses only a minimal amount of sulphur to protect the grapes and wine from oxidisation and damage from harmful bacteria during winemaking and bottling. While sulphur dioxide very rarely causes any adverse reaction in wine, and research suggests probably can’t be blamed for your hangover, many winemakers and drinkers believe they can mask some of the delicate nuances and even funkiness that can make wines so beguiling.
Andrew uses only light extraction on the red wines, extraction being process of macerating the skins in the juice to extract their colour and flavour. A light extraction is analogous to brewing a cup of tea for just long enough, without leaving it to stew too long and extracting the bitter tannins and flavour compounds, giving the resulting wines freshness and elegance.
Onto the wines. I’ve been enjoying two of the wines under the Du Grappin label from the Mâconnais region in the south of Burgundy and from the village of Fleurie in Beaujolais. There’s also a bonus beer from Berkshire brewery Siren Craft Brewing, brettanomyces fermented after blending with Le Grappin Rosé.
The region, located in the south east of Burgundy, has previously been regarded as a region of mass produced, modest white wine for early drinking. Now, a new generation of growers such as Andrew are making more complex barrel fermented wines from lower yielding vines, with equal skill and care taken to their rivals in the Côte d’Or.
The grapes for Andrew’s Mâcon-Villages wine come from 25 year old vines on the outskirts of Péronne, situated 20km north of Mâcon itself, with the Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran appellations to the south and Viré-Clessé to the east. Péronne is well regarded within the Mâcon-Villages appelation, being one of the 26 villages entitled to use the village name after Mâcon on the label – Mâcon-Péronne.
The Mâconnais typically has a warmer climate with more Mediterranean influence than much of Burgundy, ripening Chardonnay more reliably than in the Côte d’Or and resulting in richer wines. While the Côte d’Or vineyards run along a single slope, the Mâconnais is characterised by rolling hills surrounded by vineyards, with varying micro climates. Andrew’s vines, planted in limestone subsoil overlaid with clay topsoil, have a cooler micro climate, so the fruit tends to keep its acidity, resulting in fresh and vibrant wines.
South of the Mâconnais is Beaujolais, stretching 34 miles from the granite hills immediately south of Mâcon to the flatter land north of Lyon. The granite based and sandy topsoils of the northern part of the region are ideal for draining, warming, and ripening Gamay. Thirty eight communes in this region are may use the Beaujolais-Villages appellation, with ten Beaujolais Cru villages, that produce wines with their own distinctive characteristics, identified by name.
Andrew’s vines are in his favourite village Fleurie, one of the Beaujolais Crus, and in 2015 made a wine with grapes from 80 year old goblet trained vines planted at the top of Poncié vineyard, one of five best regarded vineyards along the ridge above Fleurie.
Beaujolais has traditionally been scorned by committed wine drinkers, associated as it is with the fanfare surrounding the annual November release of banana flavoured Beaujolais Nouveau, nowadays however, forward looking producers are making much more serious Beaujolais. Fleurie’s are traditionally a more feminine expression of Beaujolais, however those grown in more clayey vineyards, particularly the south facing Poncié can be sturdier in body and longevity.
Du Grappin Mâcon-Villages 2014
Andrew presses the grapes without sulphur dioxide, chills down to 10°C to separate the solids from the juice, then racks the juice into old large format barrels where it undergoes natural fermentation. There it remains on the lees for 7 months before being bottled after a light filtration.
Pale lemon colour.
Medium intensity. Delicate lemon citrus, with tropical banana and pineapple hints. Subtle oak, hinting at honey and vanilla, creamy lees character and white floral blossom. Some herbal eucalyptus and vegetal asparagus hints, and slightly reductive funk.
Dry, medium minus body, high acidity, medium intensity, medium finish. Pungent white pepper spice joining the aroma characteristics on the finish.
Excellent, clean and elegant. Burgundian in style.
Du Grappin Fleurie Poncié 2015
The hand picked clusters for Andrew’s Fleurie Poncié were fermented in an old concrete tank for three weeks, without any crushing or pumping over, undergoing what Jules Chauvet’s scientific writings call a fermentation aromatique (another name for carbonic maceration). After 21 days the clusters were pressed and completed their fermentation using natural yeasts, before being bottled unfiltered after nine months in old barrels.
In carbonic maceration whole clusters of grapes are fermented in a sealed vessel filled with carbon dioxide to prevent contact with oxygen. The intact berries undergo an intracellular fermentation process, where enzymes convert the grape sugars to alcohol and cause the temperature to rise to between 30 and 35°C. When the alcohol reaches 2% after about a week the berries begin to die, and begin to release their juice or are pressed before carrying out a normal alcoholic fermentation, resulting in a paler red wine with low tannins and fruitier aromatics. Andrew has a device that injects carbon dioxide into the bottom of the tank, working its way to the top and protecting the grapes during carbonic maceration.
Medium intensity ruby, bright with some garnet hints towards rim.
Aromatic, lots of red raspberry and hedgerow bramble fruit on the nose, with moodier, darker cherry and mushroomy forest floor notes. Some slightly rubbery hints, and with greener herbal notes of mint and nettle joining the party.
Dry, medium plus acidity, low tannins, medium body. Red fruit, with more peppery spice than the nose, and a cocoa and charred barrel characteristic. Medium plus finish.
Excellent. Nice balance between fruit and funk, enough complexity but overly so, quite elegant and refined.
Siren Funkier Feet
This is a brettanomyces fermented ale was blended with Du Grappin Rosé wine, aged with the grapes for three months, then barrel aged for two years.
Le Grappin say that this wild ale that underwent a secondary fermentation along with foot crushed Gamay juice in October 2013, so the precise process isn’t completely clear, but needless to say, funky is the imperative word…
Opens with a satisfying champagne bottle like ‘pffft’, pouring a dull reddish brown colour.
Quite a yeasty nose, like a slightly funky aged Champagne, rye bread. Red cherry and raspberry fruit, with some lemony meringue like notes.
There’s a sour, live yoghurt, sensation on the palate. Red fruit again but with sweeter creamy character, strawberries and cream, vanilla yoghurt. Full bodied, with creamy and yeasty Champagne like character, crossed with a Framboise Lambic beer, almost reminiscent of a crumbly white Wensleydale cheese with Cranberries. Good lemony acidity, though more zesty meringue than sharp juice, and distinct tart pink grapefruit. After two years still quite lively and evanescent, suggesting some secondary fermentation has gone on in bottle.
Really complex, elements of sour lambic fruit beer, with the depth of an Orval like bretted Trappist ale, along with yeasty aged Champagne and lots of funk. Nothing overpowers though, the sourness is fairly restrained, and there’s less funkiness than might be expected after two years for the brettanomyces to work their magic. Superb, complex and intriguing, but still extremely drinkable.