Finding Chablis deeply entrenched in the natural category while still delivering rigor and classicism is a challenge. For a while, hunting down ample quantities of Château de Béru, who's become a leader in the natural movement, was equally difficult, but thanks to New York importer Zev Rovine and his expansion out west, that's changed.
The Béru family has owned and farmed Château de Béru for four centuries, their eight planted hectares being known as some of the stoniest vineyards in all of Chablis. Since 2004, it's been overseen by Comte Éric de Béru's daughter, Athénais, and she quickly converted their farming to organic and biodynamic practices. Old oak is employed for élevage, and wines are fermented with native yeasts. No filtering or fining.
The wines really unfurl in the glass, opening up over an hour to reveal more luscious green apple, lime zest, toast, and almond paste, all held together with a brilliantly strict vein of minerality. For me, Chablis hits the highest notes when that broad wet stone mineral quality is met by a crystalline level of acidity.
I met Cole Thomas of Madson Wines at a 2019 tasting event highlighting "the new wave of Santa Cruz winemakers." Coincidentally, I was in town that weekend reporting on a story for SF Chronicle about four other young winemakers in the Santa Cruz region. I've been following Madson ever since, and I strongly believe that Thomas and his business partner, Ken Swegles, who also owns and runs a viticulture consulting firm, are among the next names to look to in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Madson produces terroir-driven Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, three varieties that thrive in the cool, foggy climate here. The majority of vineyards in the region are small, a few acres at most, planted in small clearings vying with the rigid, mountainous landscape, redwoods, and forest.
Madson prioritizes leasing vineyards and overseeing its own farming instead of purchasing fruit. All of the vineyards they work with have been converted to organics, with an additional emphasis on regenerative farming. And to top it off, Swegles and his partner, Abbey Crystal, live on and farm Ascona Vineyard high up at 2,450 feet elevation. In the cellar, it’s natural and spontaneous fermentation, neutral wood, minimal racking, and just a small sulfur addition at bottling.
The Santa Cruz Mountains are considered an ideal place to grow Pinot Noir, and most of the AVA is planted to that. But Thomas says he is always looking for Chardonnay vineyards, and for our sake, I hope he finds them because these are the wines that Max and I are really excited about.
The Chardonnays featured here represent the two sides of the region (ocean vs. mountains). Toyon Vineyard is on a steep south-facing slope in the Soquel Hills; planted on sandstone soils just 400 feet above Monterey Bay, the vines nearly have a front-row seat to the Pacific’s coastal winds, morning fog, and cloud cover. And Les Enfants du Soleil comes mostly from 1960s-planted, own-rooted vines near Boulder Creek where the soil is decomposed schist. Both wines gracefully express cool-climate Chardonnay—fresh, vibrant, mineral—but Toyon has a prominent salinity component while Les Enfants du Soleil carries slightly more depth and concentration.
Both Thomas and Swegles have built their careers here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After earning a degree in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz and working a number of jobs in vegetable farming and landscaping, Thomas discovered winemaking while working for local legend, Jeff Emery of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, where he also met and worked with Swegles. Together, they launched Madson Wines in 2018.
Note: Last week, SF Chronicle Wine Critic, Esther Mobley, wrote a glowing review of Madson Wines for her "Wine of the Week" column
Bernard, his daughter Anne, and his son Pierre are the best-kept secret in Burgundy's Côte de Beaune. They are largely consumed by a dedicated following in France. What is exported to the US overwhelmingly ends up on wine lists at The French Laundry and Eleven Madison Park. However, weekly hang-out sessions with Bernard Boisson after I would finish classes at the University of Dijon in early 2012 put these wines on my radar, and it was my mission upon opening shop to hunt them down.
Since Bernard retired, this release marks the first vintage exclusively labeled "Anne" and "Pierre" Boisson. The wines from this family may bear different names on the label, but they are all made in the same cellar, following identical principles. New oak is limited to 30% at most, with Bourgogne-level wines at 5% to 10%. The wines see long aging with no battonage, and family farmed lands have been free of pesticides and herbicides for generations.
The family's friendship with Domaine Coche-Dury has clearly impacted the style of wine here, one with a magical touch of reduction that so many try to emulate, with very few finding similar success. Here that reduction is executed brilliantly, offering a flinty and saturating mineral quality matched with deep texture and outrageous concentration and length.
Much like the Bourgogne Blanc from Coche-Dury, Anne and Pierre's transcend the humble appellation. All vines here are located within the village of Meursault. Anne's Aligoté is a wine that offers a transformation in bottle that elicits names like Leroy and Coche, yet at $39 per bottle, it's a serious fraction of the price.
The Meursault cuvées are where this domaine reaches its pinnacle. However, the dark horse in the lineup is the Auxey Duresses 1er Cru En Reugne Blanc. From a very steep hillside with little topsoil and excellent sun exposure, Auxey has been dubbed "Baby Meursault" before (in many cases, that's fitting), but this top bottling from the village outperforms much of what's regularly found in Meursault.
I’ve had an insatiable craving for Jura Chardonnay ever since drinking Stéphane Tissot's 2016 Les Bruyères Arbois Chardonnay. Granted, that was two years ago, and I've since learned that Tissot is a rare fish in the Jura's sea of white wines, many of which too brett-heavy or lactic-tasting for my taste. But continuing the search for gems, I'm adding another name to the list—here's my latest discovery (and obsession) that has jolted my love for Jura back to life.
Today, I’m happy to offer a lineup of François Rousset-Martin’s Chardonnays, Savagnins, and Aligoté.
Château-Chalon is best known for its sherry-like vin jaune, made from the Savagnin grape and aged under a veil of flor, but François is more interested in making his wines in the ouillé (topped-up) style. He’s also keen to explore his appellation’s micro-terroir, similar to what Stéphane Tissot has done in Arbois, farming almost two-dozen small parcels (all of which a hectare or smaller) in Château-Chalon and Côtes du Jura. Like the rest of the Jura, soils here are abundant in clay, marl, limestone, and François proves that Château-Chalon can produce just as soulful ouillé whites as the more popular Arbois and Pupillin appellations.
Whether it's the Chardonnay, Savagnin, or even the Aligoté, each flaunts its variety's typicity with invigorating enthusiasm; I use the word "electric" often, but it especially applies here. I'd be happy drinking any of these whites, but a highlight was the 2018 La Chaux. It leads with yellow citrus, laser acidity, and slight reduction, but with air, it opens into concentration and depth familiar to White Burgundy (All of the wines have slight reduction that integrates over time; decanting is a plus). Each wine is also vinified by climat (or parcel) with little to no sulfur and bottled unfined and unfiltered. You won’t see Château-Chalon designated on the bottle because these aren't made to vin jaune customs.
François grew up in Burgundy, and his family-owned and farmed a parcel of vines in the Jura. His interest in the science (and terroir) of wine largely comes from his father, a microbiologist for the Hospices de Beaune. Likewise, François's great grandfather taught him the mystic side of wine and family winemaking lore. He earned an enology degree and apprenticed in Rhône and Languedoc before starting his domaine in 2007.
Chardonnay // La Chaux really encapsulates the magic of ouillé whites here in Château Chalon. From 65-year-old vines, it's the most reminiscent of White Burgundy and the only parcel to be planted on limestone in addition to gray and white marl. The Terres Blanches is the only Jura parcel outside of Château Chalon. It comes from 40-year-old vines in the village of Lavigny, planted on gray and white marl. Fermented and aged in barrel for 15 months.
Savagnin // For Puits Saint Pierre, or Saint Pierre’s Well, the cuvée name refers to a climat within Château Chalon. This is the oldest parcel of the lineup (80-plus-year-old vines planted on gray marl) and the only wine that sees partial sous-voile; it's aged under flor for 6 months then topped off for 10 months. Cuvee du Professeur comes from a parcel named after François’s father, a professor at the University of Dijon. The 30-year-old vines are planted on gray marl. Aged and topped up for a minimum of 14 months.
Aligoté // This is somewhat of an outlier, as it's sourced from Bouzeron, the Aligoté-only appellation in Burgundy's Côte Chalonnaise. Like many of François's parcels in the Jura, Aligatô's single hectare of 40-year-old vines is planted on gray marl. It fits into the lineup with its atomic core of citrus, smooth-mineral texture, a brilliant reductive finish.
"This domaine's wines are refreshing, certainly, but they're concentrated, elegantly textural and incipiently complex too." – William Kelley, Wine Advocate (Aug 2019)
Eleni and Edouard Vocoret are some of the latest and youngest producers making waves in Chablis—not to be confused with Vocoret & Fils, the larger family domaine run by Edouard’s father, Patrice. With guidance from family and neighbors, including local legend Vincent Dauvissat, this young couple is starting off on the right foot, or better than that. Their wine already shows distinction.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2018 Eleni & Edouard Vocoret Chablis En Boucheran.
Boucheron is sourced from under one hectare of vines located between Premier Crus Vaillons and La Foret, neighbor to producers such as Vincent Dauvissat, Jean Collet, and Gérard Duplessis, to name a few. 40-year-old vines here planted on white clay and Kimmeridgian, a subsoil made of gray marl, limestone, and marine fossils, distinct to Chablis.
This dainty and delicate Chablis simply checks all of the boxes. It has all of the characteristics you look for: Fruit, saline, and bright acidity, especially with mineral and seashell at the forefront. The élevage in old oak barrels softens everything out in a way that makes the wine taste luminescent, what I would picture moon terroir to taste like. That same energy still glimmered into the following day, still elegant and sure of itself.
Edouard and Eleni met in 2010 while working harvest in New Zealand. In 2012, Edouard’s family gave the newlyweds their own five hectares of vines to tend to as they saw fit. They sold off the fruit for the first several years while tailoring the vineyard, then produced their first vintages in a family member’s garage. Prior, Eleni had worked as Vincent Dauvissat’s assistant winemaker and adopted his natural farming techniques. While, Edouard apprenticed at Domaine Barraud in Pouilly-Fuissé, which is largely why they do élevage in old oak barrels.
When we first tasted the 2018 Vocoret Chablis En Boucheran, I didn’t have any context about who these two vignerons were, how they're just getting their start—and the wine still exceeded my expectations, showing a budding craftsmanship beyond Eleni and Edouard's years.