Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Au Pelson: a bourgogne in grand cru's clothing

When it comes to wine there are certain words or phrases that set alarm bells off in my head. These include: "charming" (substitute with coarse, or just bad!), "lip smacking" (do I really want a wine to smack my lips?), and "plump" (an adjective which is better used to describe overweight middle aged men). Another classic is "this wine comes from just the other side of the N74", a perennial favourite in Burgundy en primeur offers used to describe thin, sub standard wine from the bourgogne appellation. The N74 is the route nationale which marks the eastern boundary of the Cote d'Or. If the wine was any good, don't you think they'd find something better to say than the name of  the road adjoining the vineyard?

So, I was sceptical when I first heard about David Clark and his Au Pelson vineyard on the wrong side of the N74 (see map below). However, this is bourgogne with a difference.

A newcomer to the Cote d'Or, DomaineDavid Clark is at an immediate disadvantage to its neighbours with their portfolios of more illustrious vineyards, accumulated and inherited over generations. But don't be fooled by the lowly bourgogne appellation of Au Pelson. It may not be the best vineyard in burgundy, but Au Pelson is lavished with the care and attention befitting a grand cru. Not only is David Clark fastidious in the care of his vineyards (his blog gives an excellent insight into the amount of work required), but he also believes that low yields are essential to create great red wine. And boy are the yields low! The 2006 Bourgogne Au Pelson was made with yields of 32 hl/ ha. Not only is this well below the 48 hl/ ha permitted for village wine, but it is also less than the 35 hl/ ha permitted for grand crus! Indeed, Jean-Marc Fourrier, another disciple of low yields, made his 2006 Griottes-Chambertin Grand Cru with the same yield of 32 hl/ ha! Whilst harvesting the Au Pelson vineyard in 2008, Jan van Roekel of Burgoholic, observed the following ...

"The grapes looked in pretty good shape, and what really amazed me were the very low yields David gets from this vineyard. As far as I could see Anne Gros gets twice as much from her Bourgogne rouge vineyard. And her Bourgogne rouge is already such a lovely wine..."

Whilst this hard work has definitely paid off in creating superlative wines and earning the respect of his fellow vignerons, I cannot fathom the economics. With a total annual production of only 5,351 bottles, predominantly (over 80% of production) from lesser appellations such as bourgogne and passetoutgrains that don't command high prices, the profit must be marginal. Nonetheless, I am sure that David Clark's devotion to quality will sustain demand for such excellent wines that are in short supply, a combination which will no doubt drive prices higher.

But where is Au Pelson? Having wasted hours trying to find its location in Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine by looking at photos of the vineyard from David's blog and then looking at the shadows to assess the aspect as well as trying to identify geographical landmarks in the background, I thought I'd just ask David Clark. Here is his reply...

Hi James,

Thanks for the email and the kind words – I too am hoping there will be many future vintages to follow!

Does the attached jpeg help you find the Au Pelson vineyard? It’s an annotated screen shot from Google maps. Au Pelson is my biggest plot at 0.8085ha and although it is entirely with the appellation Bourgogne boundaries the central section is planted with Gamay. Since Gamay isn’t permitted in an appellation Bourgogne wine I harvest that separately for my Passetoutgrain. The vineyard is on a slight south-facing slope and the (long!) rows run North-South with the pinot noir at the top and bottom of the slope, covering about 60% of the area in total. It was planted in 1981 by Jean-Marie Roumier (father of Christophe Roumier who now runs Domaine Roumier in Chambolle). I bought it in 2005 as Roumier expanded into more profitable appellations!

I hope this makes it taste all the better!

Best regards,


Having definitely 'cracked' bourgogne, David Clark has set his sights on acquiring better vineyards on the Cote d'Or. Indeed he has already bought plots in, amongst others, Morey-Saint-Denis and Vosne Romanee. I only hope that any further acquisition is not funded with proceeds from the sale of Au Pelson, as was the case for Christophe Roumier when he sold the vineyard to David in the first place. I look forward to the delivery of my Au Pelson 2007 bought en primeur and to enjoying many more vintages of this wine and, if I'm rich enough, I might even dabble in his Morey-Saint-Denis and beyond.

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