Many of you have inquired about the tariff situation and how it will impact our portfolio. Let’s take a look at what we know, the good news, the bad news, and our plan moving forward.
Any non-sparkling, non-flavored, non-fortified wine labeled 14% ABV or lower arriving into the USA in a package 2L in size or smaller from France, Spain, Germany, or the United Kingdom is now subject to a 25% tariff, to be enforced at port of entry by US Customs Agents until further notice. Now there are plenty of exclusions if we think about this – Most notably any/all Sparkling Wine, wine from France’s warm regions (think Rhone), 3L bag-in-box wine, Modern-style Rioja, and Ribera del Duero to name a few – None of these categories are impacted. Other European countries, notably Italy, Portugal, and Austria, are also NOT impacted. Keep in mind the rest of the world (USA, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, etc) are obviously NOT impacted.
Global warming crosses paths with Trump policy again here, albeit in a twisted manner, as warm vintages (2018! 2019!) mean ABV’s that are 14.1%+ thus avoiding the tariff. Believe it or not we just shipped 2018 Sancerre with labs that checked in at over 14%! An unintended consequence will be the rise of the 14.1%+ “Cuvee Américain” – Our friends at Domaine Clos des Lumieres, for example, just selected all of their higher alcohol tanks for our upcoming Rosé and Rouge 750ml Cotes du Rhone bottlings, which keeps us tariff exempt at 14.1% and 14.2% ABV respectively! Clos Lumieres Rouge and Rosé in 3L Bag in Box format? Those versions will come from the lower ABV tanks! Silliness. We might as well have a laugh.
I know where your brain is going right now…What about the a legal 0.5% +/- margin of error that has traditionally been allowed by governing bodies on both sides of the pond? The thinking earlier this month was to have wineries pull up their lab analyses on all categorically impacted wines labeled 14% or below, and have them relabeled at 14.1% ABV if their labs came in at 13.6% or higher. Quick thinking importers encouraged this, and dozens went as far as resubmitting TTB label approval requests with new 14.1% ABV levels on anything that qualified this way. Unfortunately this strategy will not work – US Customs is running their own lab analyses against randomly selected 14.1%+ wines, and proceeding with a tariff on anything that shows American lab numbers of 14% or below.
The big losers? Burgundy, Beaujolais, Provence Rosé, most Loire, most lower tier Bordeaux, Southwest France, Alsace, Alsace, traditional Rioja, Rias Baixas, German Riesling, and Natural Wine (pretty much all Natural Wine…).
HERE IS THE BAD NEWS. Initially we hoped the issue would be resolved prior to the October 18th deadline, but as things stand today we see no resolution with nothing apparent in the works. There are a few different thoughts as to where this is going and when it will end:
Cyrus The Optimist: “Trump wants the tariffs to ‘sting’ but not ‘cripple’ and that they will quietly go away in early December once he has made his ‘point’ in Fox’s news cycles.” Colleen The Realist: “Tariffs will be reversed in about six months (this corresponds to the timing of the expected WTO resolution against Boeing subsidies, which is essentially a reverse case of the Airbus related WTO case that opened the door to the current US tariffs, which would in effect create opposite counter tariffs against American wine imported into Europe).” Zane The Pessimist: “Dammit we are stuck with these indefinitely, or at least as long as Trump is in office.” Mary The Alarmist: “Nooo….We will end up in an escalated trade war with Europe and that these could expand into additional categories and push tariffs as high as 100%.”
Our take at Grape Expectations is that we end up somewhere in the middle between Colleen and Zane.
HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS. Compared to most of our peers our business will be minimally impacted. Why? First off, we only have 200 items in the impacted categories out of the 1,200+ items we stock. Most importantly, we import almost all of the wines in the impacted categories directly. Why do tariffs make direct-importation a larger advantage than ever before? Let’s break out the calculator on an impacted bottle of cool-climate French wine we import, which also happens to be carried by a well-known national importer in the states we don’t operate in ourselves:
Let’s say you have a national importer bringing in a bottle of 13% ABV French wine from a well-known producer, who after exchange rate is paying the winery $4 USD per bottle. This company would pay roughly $1/bottle freight and tax, bringing the landed cost at their warehouse to $5 per bottle. This type of national importer has a standalone corporate office, a marketing budget, a National VP Sales, a team of Regional Sales Directors, and some Area Sales Managers for the major markets. Add to that the associated travel and entertainment that these employees bill on company cards, and all in all this means the company needs to add about a 25% margin to cover costs, plus 5% in additional margin so that they can end the year with the customary 5% net income that the Board of Directors expects their well-compensated CEO to generate. This means the importer sells to the distributor at 30% margin or $7.14/bottle. The distributor pays about $0.50/bottle in freight and state tax, takes its (very necessary to survive) 30% margin, and we are looking at a $11.19/btl wholesale price point for the retailer. The retailer takes a 30% margin and prices this wine at $15.99 for the consumer. The consumer happily buys this wine from coast to coast where it is a leader in it’s high-volume category.
If you add a 25% tariff to this, you end up with a landed cost of $6/bottle, an $8.57/bottle price to the distributor, a $13.29/btl price to the retailer, and an $18.99 price to the consumer! Yikes.
But, you ask, what if you are a distributor who imports most of their wine themselves? That you work at our humbly appointed office space and import this same exact wine? You would pay the same $4/bottle to the winery and the same $1/bottle freight and tax for a landed cost of $5 per bottle. You would add the customary 30% distributor margin plus, say, maybe 10% extra margin to account for the financing/additional warehousing footage associated with direct importing, and you would sell this bottle for $8.39 to the retailer who would sell it at $11.99 to the consumer. Cool.
If you add a 25% tariff to this and keep everything else the same, you’d end up with a $10.49 price to the retailer who would sell it at $14.99 to the consumer, which still leaves you below the EXISTING pre-tariff national retail price for this item and this is with zero help from the winery.
What if we were to tell you that these are exact numbers on one of the best selling wines in our portfolio?
You mean to say Grape Expectations tariff-impacted prices will the same as or better than much of the pre-tariff status quo? Yes – Our ability to source directly puts us at a relative advantage as our West Coast Distribution pricing on own-imported products is generally 25% lower than similar quality (or in some cases exactly the same) products carried by national importers.
On a macro level this situation will mean fewer products in market. Many products carried by “old-model” national importers, small and large, will simply price themselves out of the market with these tariffs, if they stick around.
WAIT AREN’T WE ALSO NATIONAL IMPORTERS NOW? What does this mean for our distributor partners? We set up our “National” arm with current market conditions in mind (i.e. that margins would continue to compress in our industry), and therefore we are able to operate our National Portfolio at razor thin margin compared to industry standards (10-15% out of CA, and sometimes as low as 2-3% in the case of volume DI orders). Our offices and warehouses are paid for, and we reject the idea of a large national “sales team” instead assuming that our distributor partners prefer to manage their own sales internally, with the above-mentioned compressed pricing model used in place of “ride withs” as the recipe for success.
THREE LARGE QUESTIONS REMAIN:
1) Will the volumes of our country’s larger national importers and retailers allow them to renegotiate prices with suppliers in this time of political chaos and end up at a competitive advantage compared to smaller firms? This sounds interesting, but thus far we don’t see that happening. We are seeing the opposite this week actually, with massive reservation cancellations from major importers and retailers. There just does not seem to be enough room to budge when you look at the realities of the 2019 vintage in many tariff impacted regions (Macon saw 40% lower yields in 2019, for example). Bordeaux will be an exception here, where yields were very high in 2019, with backstock also at record highs.
2) Will this sort of increasing populist wave continue to push downward pressure on the Euro for an even more favorable exchange rate? This is very possible – Think about Boris Johnson and his drive yesterday to push Brexit through by Halloween. A weaker Euro Zone economy will push exchange rates lower than the already delicious 1.13 rate, negating much of the tariff induced price pressure (remember, just a few years ago we were at a 1.35 rate).
3) Will bulk bottling European wine within the United States become a “thing”? It just might – Wine importers in China, for example, deal with their own autocracy and tariffs, and bulk bottling is common practice in China to skirt these. Bulk bottling is already the norm now here in the United States with grocery-category New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc due to the insane price of dry goods within New Zealand (i.e. it is cheaper to ship giant bladders from New Zealand to California and bottle stateside). Remember, anything crossing customs in a package 2L or larger is exempt! We will likely have a go at bulk bottling assuming the appellations in question allow it (some will and some won’t). Several of us here have done this already in the past.
HERE IS OUR PLAN. New shipments of many of our tariff impacted items will arrive stateside between now and the end of the year (we turn inventory fast and often over here). These items will see, on average, about a 15% increase in price effective November 1, with our hope being that we will be able to negotiate a 10% discount on most impacted items with most our winery partners, thus covering the 25% tariff in aggregate. As I mentioned earlier in many instances this means that our “new” price will still remain lower than what you’ve seen “pre-tariff” in states serviced by other companies on these same items. Have we been spoiled in Grape Expectations-land all these years? Yes. But use your imagination and plug some of your favorites into Wine-Searcher to see what we mean.
Items stocked from impacted areas by our national importer partners will remain at the same price through the end of the year as these are purchased from stock already in the USA, and have a more sensitive baseline price due to the national importer-related margin economics mentioned earlier. It is important to note that none of this talk is intended to implicate our fine partners on the importer side – The importers we do work with (it is a short list) are firms who share our lean philosophy, bring us wines at sensational value, and we project similar 15% increases on their items as they negotiate pricing with their suppliers and receive new loads from Europe Q1.
Hopefully this clarifies the subject for you a bit. Here is to living large without tariff-related anxiety and to a strong finish to 2019.
Our lineup from Vignobles Saby is on fire these days, especially Chateau Bertin, Chateau Rozier, and Chateau Hauchat. Jeff gets down and dirty with the always loquacious Jean-Phillipe Saby of Vignobles Saby to break down current releases. We also get a sneak peek at a few new upcoming additions, including Chateau Reindent which will replace our entry-level “Chateau Saby” Bordeaux Superieur. Cabernet Franc as the future in Bordeaux? Jean-Phillippe thinks so and shares his thoughts on that front. There is a raging party going on in the background so apologies if there is some crunchiness in the background…
The final leg of this intense tour took us (fittingly) to Champagne, where we spent full days with both Champagne De Saint Gall and Champagne Moutard.
Champagne Moutard + Moutard Pere et Fils
Lucien Moutard began producing Champagne under his own name in 1952 from grapes grown on his family’s land in the Côte des Bar. The Côte des Bar is situated in the Southeast of Champagne’s boundary, about 2 hours in a car from Champagne’s capital in Reims. You can think of the Côte des Bar as an island in and of itself, as the subregion is actually isolated from the rest of the Champagne. This “underdog” terroir is super hot right now, and for good reason…The Côte des Bar was “kicked out” of the greater Champagne region in the early 1900’s, producers rioted, they’ll have a permanent chip on their shoulder, and are therefore more experimental and rebellious. Whereas most of Champagne is relatively flat and densely planted to vines, in the Côte des Bar you’ll find a bucolic, relaxed, “backwoods” vibe where vineyards are leisurely interspersed with forests and streams. Unlike the rest of Champagne where Chardonnay is king, in the Côte des Bar Pinot Noir dominates, making up 85% of plantings – A slightly more Southern location compared to the rest of Champagne means that it is warm enough for Pinot Noir to thrive, and Pinot Noir was the grape originally planted in the area by monks. Large amounts of clay are interspersed with the limestone in the soil here – This means a bolder fruit profile in the finished wines. The region is dominated by small growers, whose focus is on making singular/interesting wines.
Drive into the sleepy village of Buxeuil and the first thing you’ll see is the start of the Moutard family’s expansive compound which is peppered throughout the village and snakes below streets in the form of tunnels and cellars. If you weren’t aware of the fact that the family operates the second largest distillery in Champagne, this is worth noting, as this is where all of their pressed juice goes – A huge advantage as they only “need” to use free run juice in their Champagne. Most of you know Champagne Moutard by their perennial NV Grande Cuvee Brut, which is probably the best selling indie Champagne in the United States. From their singular bottling of the endangered Arbanne grape to some fun and juicy Pet Nat, we were looking at a table full of Champagne and Burgundy (the Moutard’s recently acquired a Domaine just North of Chablis). The young Alex Moutard is a winemaker coming into his own, and his focus these days is clearly on minimal/no dosage micro bottlings from specific plots.
The big takeaways were 1) Alex’s single-vineyard, non-dosage “Climats de Champagne” wines (aged and bottled under the more traditional steel staple cork closure instead of beer cap for ageing and a cage), which we will be pre-selling next month, and 2) Their two Pet Nat bottlings, which we purchased all available stock of and are something that we expect to turn into a staple here. A few highlights are below:
Champagne Moutard NV Brut “Grande Cuvée,” fresh, full, whole-fully pleasing
Champagne Moutard NV Brut “Reserve,” 100% Chard, fresh, spicy, creamy mouthfeel
Champagne Moutard NV Brut “Champs Persin,” 100% Chard from the Persin vineyard, beautiful texture, balanced acidity (if you remember one of my top picks in the December pricebook)
Champagne Moutard NV Brut Rosé “Prestige,” 50 Pinot/50 Chard, 15% still wine, 2010 base vintage. A bit oxidative for Frank and Jeff. Great for those who might like a lower acid rosé Champs
Champagne Moutard NV Brut Cuvée “Sans Soufre,” 100% Pinot noir, no sulfites added, bright and lively, super nice label
Champagne Moutard 2010 6 Cépage Brut Nature Rosé, barrel-fermented, 1/6 each PN, CH, PM, Pinot blanc, Petit Meslier, and Arbanne, 8 years on lees, exotic, delicious
Champagne Moutard 2009 6 Cépage, very low dosage (3g/l), aged longer in bottle than rosé, intense, complex,
Champagne Moutard “Les Troncs” Pinot Noir Brut Nature, dense, intense, interesting
Champagne Moutard “Vignes Chiennes” (Bitch Vines) Chardonnay Brut Nature, clear in appearance, bright floral and apple notes, creammmmy texture, me likey
Champagne Moutard “Les Perrières’ Pinot Noir Brut Nature, bright, citrusy, a bit of tropical fruit, fun
Moutard Pere et Fils “Richardot” Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes, rich, powerful, full-bodied
Moutard Pere et Fils 2017 “Rosé des Riceys,” Pinot noir, fun, different,
Moutard Pere et Fils 2016 Irancy, native yeast, showing well, fun, different pinot noir
Moutard Pere et Fils 2016 Bourgogne Epineuil Rouge, native yeast, big pinot, fun
Moutard Pere et Fils 2018 Pet-Mout, fun, tasty, cute label, no brainer, this will fly
Moutard Pere et Fils 2018 Pet-Mout Rosé, a little strawberry and cream, fun stuff
This was an eye-opening experience, whether we were talking about touring some of the Grand Cru vineyards in Avize, to visiting Champagne Le Mesnil (where more than half all Mesnil’s Grand Cru fruit is processed), learning how the organization works (true to fashion, it’s owned and run by the farmers), learning how farmers are actually paid, and of course, tasting the wines (both reserve still wines and finished bottles). If you are still reading this you are saying ok that is all great but how did we get here in the first place?
Ok – Let me digress just a second into an all too familiar story these days. Family farmers in, let’s say, middle America, are getting squeezed due to soy or wheat prices being down for whatever reason and operational expenses continuing their never-ending march upwards. A farmer can get by for a year or two by tightening their belts and taking out loans. But there’s comes a time when the last resort has to be looked at; selling the family farm. There’s always a buyer, but it’s usually not the neighbor. The result is a higher and higher concentration of farmland is controlled by fewer and fewer hands. Not an ideal situation. And the same thing is happening in France, well, actually the entire world. Here at least we can offer up an example of how this story might be different.
Enter Champagne de Saint Gall. You probably already know about how the growers of Union Champagne (de Saint Gall being the company’s own Champagne) control more Premier and Grand Cru vineyards than any other entity in Champagne and that they sell the majority of what they produce to the large Houses. For me, however, the story lies in this organization’s mission to not only produce fine Champagne from some of the best vineyards in the region, but too also strive continue the to maintain the culture and character of Champagne as a whole. The message one comes away with is that for this to be successful, the small farmers need to be able to survive and make a decent living. We’re not talking about farmers who set out on their own to join the world of farmer fizz. They own enough vineyard land to make a go of it. No, we’re talking about the majority of farmers in the region that own an acre or two and don’t have the money, marketing chops, or desire to commercialize their own label. These guys are farmers, people. Their tiny parcels have been handed down from generation to generation. People in Champagne don’t sell their land because they know that once they do, they would never be able to repurchase it again, unless they won the Powerball and that’s not in France…yet.
And this is where the Cooperatives come in. Union Champagne has set up a system whereby the farmers are paid well for their fruit. In great years where there’s more abundance, there’s a formula that allows for a certain amount of still wine to be processed beyond the annual limits (yes there are limits) and then these reserves can be tapped into in a more difficult year to offset the lower quantities of that vintage. They would then be paid for the fruit processed in that bumper year. Kind of like a savings bond smoothing out the roller coaster ride of the stock market. The end result is a much more stable local economy and more small, family-owned vineyards remaining just that, family-owned. This takes off the some of the pressure to increase yields and just sell to the “big guys” directly. These growers are then able to adopt changes in farming practices, under the advice and tutelage of Paul-Antoine Dauvergne, Union Champagne’s young vineyard guru. All this has the end result of a higher quality of fruit being delivered to the nearby co-op facility (there are 14 such facilities under the Union Champagne umbrella) to be transformed into delicious, non-bubbly, Champagne gold. From there the still wines are transported to the central winery in Avize where they are stored, blended, bottled, cellared, disgorged, and packaged, all this under the watchful eye of cellar master, Cédric Jacopin. Not an easy job I guess.
Union Champagne has long since made its mark on Champagne, but for Champagne De Saint Gall, this is only the first in many steps to solidify the future of Champagne and its real assets; the farmers. Mais oui, we did taste a couple of Champers:
Champagne de Saint Gall NV Brut Selection, round, full-bodied, acidity on the low side, a crowd pleaser
Champagne de Saint Gall NV Brut Tradition “Premier Cru,” more acidity, seems better balanced, really nice
Champagne de Saint Gall NV Blanc de Blanc “Premier Cru,” laser-like focus, bright, elegant, nice mouthfeel
Champagne de Saint Gall NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blanc “Grand Cru,” chalky mineralty, acidity not as bracing as I was expecting
Champagne de Saint Gall 2012 Blanc de Blanc “Grand Cru,” full, broad, deep, pretty powerful stuff
Champagne de Saint Gall NV Rosé “Premier Cru,” beautiful, fresh, classic,
Champagne de Saint Gall 2004 “Orpale,” rich, minerally, dense, pretty fresh considering its age, yum
…Coming down the tube will be a new package for the 2008 vintage as well as a vertical in an elegant wood box. Don’t wait – be part of the cutting edge.
We cannot think of a better way to wake up then to have Frank take us to a nearly abandoned Abbey at sunrise followed by a trip into Vincent Dauvissat’s hallowed cellar, and that was just the start…
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Petit Chablis, concentrated for the ac, tight, but pleasant.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis, more complex and saline, tension.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Sechets,” dry and austere, nervous.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Vaillons,” more fruit and fat.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “La Forest,” shy, fresh, typical.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Preuses,” other dimension, powerful, complex, finesse and tension.
Domaine Dauvissat Camus 2017 Chablis “Clos,” fatter, but also drier, salinity, mineral.
Lamblin & Fils
Lamblin & Fils 18 Sauvignon de Saint Bris, fuller style, dry, freshLamblin & Fils 18 Aligoté, soft, flabbyLamblin & Fils 18 Bourgogne Blanc generous, goodLamblin & Fils 18 Petit Chablis, quite good, roundLamblin & Fils 18 Chablis, more acidity,Lamblin & Fils 18 Chablis 1er Cru “Vaillons,” bigger, classierLamblin & Fils 18 Chablis 1er Cru “Montée de Tonnerre,” tight, mineralLamblin & Fils 17 Bourgogne Rouge, balanced, richer than prior years, wowLamblin & Fils 18 Bourgogne Rouge, surprisingly good, this will be fun
Domaine Nathalie & Gilles Fevre
Gilles’ Grandfather and father both held the position of President at the leading cooperative La Chablisienne, and Nathalie was the head winemaker at La Chablisienne for 12 years (until recently all of their harvest was delivered to La Chablisienne). You’ll see several different label iterations from this domaine in the market (when we signed them on we had options), and ours pays tribute to the Fèvre family legacy by referencing ancestors Marcel and Blanche.
Fevre Fevre 18 Chablis, nice, fresh, rather full, easy styleFevre Fevre 17 Chablis 1er Cru “Fourchaume,” finesse, cool, more mineralFevre Fevre 17 Chablis 1er Cru “Monts de Milieu,” 15% barrel, fuller, mineral, tensionFevre Fevre 17 Chablis 1er Cru “Vaulorent,” 15% oak, some new. Salinity, crisp, juicyFevre Fevre 17 Chablis Grand Cru “Preuses,” more new wood, more extraction, full, minerality, fantastic.
Domaine Masson Blondelet
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 17 Pouilly-sur-Loire Chasselas, fresh, typicalDomaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly-sur-Loire Chasselas, better, fresherDomaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Sancerre Rosé, complex, fine, smokey, Melanie likes this after 18 months in bottle and we therefore took a stand on the 17 last summer, and get the 17 from us while you canDomaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Sancerre Blanc “Thauvenay,” fine, cool, mineralDomaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Les Angelots,” vibrant, mineralDomaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Villa Paulus,” bigger, tight, not as much finesseDomaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Pierres de Pierre,” salinity, floralDomaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Pouilly Fume “Clos Paladi,” full, rich, fineDomaine Masson-Blondelet 14 Pouilly Fume “Tradition,” mature, boringDomaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Pouilly Fume “Tradition,” fresher, better, more balancedDomaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Sancerre Rouge “Thauvenay,” skinny, dry, not much fruit left
Overall this was a memorable/productive visit and tasting. We have a gem here. The lesser wines are the best value-for-money as is usually the case in our travels. If you are a restaurant or retailer reading this, you ought to put on an event where you taste guests on each of the three soil types in Pouilly Fume using each of this Domaine’s three releases – We have a transcript from what was an interesting but “too poor of sound quality” podcast episode for you to use, which you can access here. Want a custom cover for your event? Call our California office and ask for Logan.
Domaine Bigonneau 18 Pinot Gris Rosé, typical aromatics and flavors, crisp, very good, we reserved all avail production (this is technically not a Rosé, btw even though it looks the part!)Domaine Bigonneau 18 Reuilly Blanc, easy, fine, great valueDomaine Bigonneau 18 Quincy, step up, more concentration and complex, very goodDomaine Bigonneau 16 Reuilly Rouge, lovely Pinot aroma and fruit, we reserved everything availDomaine Bigonneau 17 Reuilly Rouge, fuller, fatter, perhaps less focused, we reserved everything avail
Cash flow permitting we will probably just buy a full container to save on logistic costs (remember this is the middle of nowhere). Our only complaint in the past was the packaging and WOW have they stepped that game up! Well done Virginie!
Monmousseau 18 Rosé d’Anjou, bright, deep, ready early FebMonmousseau NV Cremant de Touraine “Cuvee JM” Brut, the category defining Touraine Cremant, nice balance, magnums available which is funMonmousseau NV Cremant de Touraine “Cuvee JM” Brut Rosé, rounder, more strawberry, prettyMonmousseau NV Cremant de Loire “Brut Zero,” well made, bone dry, interesting but probably not something that would have pull so a no for us.Monmousseau NV Cremant de Loire Brut, mostly sourced from Touraine which gives this a bit more personality than most in the category, full, goodMonmousseau NV Cremant de Loire Rosé, pale color, slight yeastiness, one more g/L of dosage than the regular Brut.
Caves de la Loire “Les Anges” 18 Sauvignon Blanc, juicy, very goodLes Anges 18 Chardonnay, boring, but full and fruity, would make people happy thoughCaves de la Loire “Les Anges” 18 Chenin Blanc, crisp, more acidityCaves de la Loire “Les Anges” 17 Pinot Noir, good, a little short on character, but what do you expect for pricing this sharpCaves de la Loire “Les Anges” 18 Cabernet Franc, dry, aromatic, a little funkyCaves de la Loire “Elysis” 18 Rosé d’Anjou, fresh, nice sweetnessVignerons du Pallet “Les Petites Sardines” 17 Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, easy, soft styleVignerons du Pallet “Jubilation” 15 Muscadet Cru Le Pallet, complex, classO&T 17 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, showing well, good acidityDomaine du Grand Cerf 17 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, typical, full, juicyVins de Rabelais “Les Romances” 17 Vouvray, seems sweetish, but technically isn’t, apparentlyVins de Rabelais 15 Chinon “Fauteuil Rouge,” mature and rich, There is better value than this at LPLes Roches Blanches 17 Vouvray full, typical, freshChateau de Valmer 17 Vouvray, character, aromaticChateau de Brossay 18 Cabernet d’Anjou, flavor, full, some sweetnessDomane Croix St. Louis 15 Chinon, somewhat mature and boringChateau de Mauny 18 Rosé de Loire, some complexity and depthChateau de Mauny Crémant de Loire Brutt, fresh, soft, very goodChateau de Brissac 14 Crémant de Loire Brut, fine, balanced, softDomaine Touchais NV Saumur Brut, serious, dry and fuillChateau de Valmer NV Vouvray Brut, rich, full, long, bravo
Domaine Marcé 18 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, good body, ripeness, balanced acid, a lot of Sauvignon for the price.Domaine Marcé 18 Oisly Sauvignon Blanc, somewhat bigger and better but the price difference does not seem wholly justified this vintage.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille
The brother/sister team of Laurent Fayolle and Céline Nodin operate this small family estate in Gervans, where they produce Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, and St. Peray. Crozes-Hermitage is a somewhat weird appellation – Originally it was close to the Hermitage hill, stretching to the North, covering a mere 750 acres in Crozes, Largange, Gervans and two other tiny villages where the soils are very similar to Hermitage. Over time the acreage was expanded by a whopping 3800 acres, but in another area, South of Tain- l’Hermitage, on totally different soils. The idea was that more production would make it easier to sell. This worked for the “new” production, but not really for the “old” as production is lower due to the (granite) soils and rather steep hills. This also explains a rather big difference in prices between the two. Fayolle is one of the very few “original gangsta” producers left, as they are focused on making wine from individual vineyards in the original appellation boundaries, most notably on sites known locally as Pontaix and the Clos des Cornirets.
Almost all of Fayolle’s wine is sold within France. We will take what we can get.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 St. Peray, 100% Marsanne, some new wood. Fairly unknown, but lovely wine, dry, floral, lots of flavor.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2018 Crozes Hermitage Blanc “Pontaix,” (from barrel), bright, citrus, showing well.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 Crozes Hermitage “Sens,” entry-level C-H, 30 year vines, including some purchased grapes, some new wood. Dark, fat, tannic, tight, very promising.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2016 Crozes Hermitage “Pontaix,” single vyd, 40 year vines, 20% new wood. More elegant, fine, balanced.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 Crozes Hermitage “Cornirets,” single vineyard, 60 year vines. Just bottled, but showing well, tons of fruit and full.
Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille 2017 Hermitage, just bottled. Big boy, fat, concentrated, tannic, smokey.
Crous St. Martin
Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières
The highlights here, as usual, were the Cotes du Rhone, Sablet Rouge “L’Olivet,” the Cotes du Rhone, and the Gigondas “Les Mourres,” – All are naked examples of their kind and just screaming for the rustic bistro-like fare most of you enjoy making and devouring at home.
Domaine de la Charbonnière
Domaine Le Clos des Lumières
Domaine le Clos des Lumières is a 50 hectare family farm founded in 1946 by the grandfather of the domaine’s current vigneron, Gérald Serrano. The ambitious and talented Gérald Serrano is solely responsible for the recent “coming out” of this estate – Prior to taking things over in 2003 Gérald’s father was selling all grapes on the estate to the local cooperative. We had fun shooting VR pics with them, here is a look on Google Maps – They were intent on holding the pose which was basically perfect. The kid on the right? He is the newest generation, just started on the tractor, and you’ll get to know him well.
These guys seem to have a deep understanding of what’s going on in the vineyard and in the market, they are probably the hardest working partners we have, and as Frank will tell you it is pretty amazing to see how forward thinking they are. The potential here is huge, we have only scratched the surface. When they heard what we were up to last Spring in terms of the national expansion and the whole idea of “expecting some grapeness,” the Serrano family went out and bought another 70 acres of vineyard land, bringing their total holdings to 300 acres owned, plus substantial long term contracts. Between our two companies we have two parties ready to bring it!
Arnoux Pere et Fils
Vacqueyras’ oldest winery, Arnoux is centered smack dab in the middle of Vacqueyras center and takes up a few blocks with its various buildings. From modern operations to traditional ones to inexplicably idiosyncratic setups, we pride ourselves in our diversity of tastes! For better or worse! Jean-Francois Arnoux is the latest generation of his family to run the ship at this historic house, and take us through a Rhône lineup he did. Tasting notes are below but the short answer is that we’ve made the decision to double down on what Arnoux does best – the old school, and you’ll see more quantity and more focus on their Vieux Clocher line from us in 2019 and beyond. Below is a video walk through of what has to be one of the more timeless cellar setups in the Rhône Valley.
I have to say this was one hell of an eye opening winery visit and it reminds me why we take these sleepless, jambon fueled journeys in the first place. We’ve long admired Pelaquie’s best in class examples of Laudun Rouge and Blanc, but never experienced their bombastic Cotes du Rhone values firsthand, at least not with an understanding of the simple but magic approach that results in a pure, focused, rich yet slippery core of Grenache goodness in every sip (sorry to tease, but more on Pelaquie’s proprietary technique later via video post to coincide with the arrival of the massive initial load of Cotes du Rhone Rouge and Rosè we booked on the spot…check back here in 45 days). Packaging was always a bit of an issue here but that was taken care of when we walked into the office and saw not one but three final draft options for a revised label that matches the spirit of this house. We decided on the below wardrobe, and the reference to Le Rive Droite (aka the underdog left bank of the Rhone) fits the whole spirit at Pelaquie like a glove. Frank will be the first to say that this is the finest Tavel in Tavel. All of you must agree if your appetite for it last year is any indication. 2017 was the warmest year in Lirac/Tavel/Laudun since 2003, but for some reason the whites have the highest acidity they’ve ever measured in the appellation…probably due to the 2-3 months with absolutely no rain which basically meant concentrated everything. Luc Pelaquie believes that in order to make balanced Rhone whites you need to use slow ripening varietals (ie Bourboulenc and Clairette). More than a few people will tell you that this little area here is the very best in the Rhone for expressive whites. We certainly feel that way right now.
Domaine Pelaquie 17 Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun Blanc, led by Bourboulenc and Clairette but uses all six grapes allowed in the appellation. Very balanced, classic stuff even if rich this go-round
Domaine Pelaquie 17 Lirac Blanc, broad, waxy, full wood but plenty of accompanying acid, modern
Domaine Pelaquie 18 Tavel, firm but open, dark, settling out, another winner this year
Domaine Pelaquie 18 Cotes du Rhone Rouge (tank), rich and loaded with flavor, home run
Domaine Pelaque 17 Cotes du Rhone Rouge, garrigue loaded nose, lovely texture, almost silky, total steal
Domaine Pelaquie 17 Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun Rouge, superpie Laudun, Mourvedre adds the structure and spice needed to keep this interesting
Domaine Pelaquie 17 Lirac Rouge, MEATY! Only Grenache and Mourvedre used here, lack of Syrah gives this a specific personality. Lirac and Rasteau have the best Mourvedre in the Rhone, and if you add even 10% Syrah it totally changes the wine so as Luc would say, why add it. Lirac is planet Earth’s absolute temperature limit for Mourvedre.
We met with Olivier Santini, who owns and operates the iconic Domaine Paternel in Cassis. Olivier purchased Domaine Sorin several years ago after the untimely passing of Luc Sorin – This acquisition fulfilled his dream of vineyard property in Bandol and allowed him to feed the increasing demand for his Cotes de Provence Rose.
Domaine Sorin 2018 Cotes de Provence Rosé “Terra Amata,” pale pink, CDP rose with real finesse, very ready
Domaine Sorin 2015 Bandol Rouge, deep color, cherry, licorice, built to last but in the window now
Domaine Sorin 2016 Bandol Rouge, typical profile, but not nearly the complexity as the 15 and still a bit disjointed
Domaine Paternel 2017 Cassis “Blanc de Blancs,” aromatic, with dense palate that shows layers of stone fruit, plenty to get excited about here
The Cassis Blanc was an eye opener for me as I’d never been to Cassis or consumed the wines from this tiny AOP. Very little Cassis is exported as the demand is sky high in this gorgeous, touristed, seaside appellation. The pricing? As you’d expect pricing on AOP Cassis is extremely high. Frank will say way too high, I vote to offer some on a presell when the 2018 vintage is available as Olivier Santini will have a pallet or two available for allocation. I dare anyone to find a superior pairing with Bouillabaisse.
It is also worth noting that some time was spent tweaking the packaging on Sorin’s Cotes de Provence Rosé – The changes we made during our visit will debut not in this current vintage but rather with the release of the 2019 next winter.
The property is owned by Mrs. von Blanquet, an older lady living in Baden-Baden, widow of the founder of Gaggenau kitchens. The estate is 170 acres in total, all organic, mostly planted with rosé destined red varietals (mostly Grenache and Cinsault), along with red destined red varietals (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah), and whites including Clairette, Bourboulenc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Vermentino.
It is as historic a property as they come, all farming is organic, although the cellar is modern and efficient, where they produce 3 levels, Chateau Bas as we know it, the premium Pierres du Sud in 3 colours and the iconic Le Temple in red and white. The reds in the latter ranges are really good and so is the white Le Temple. All reds get decent “elevage” time, a minimum of two years in bottle prior to release. They all get more or less wood.
The Coteaux d’Aix en Provence is a relatively small appellation, there are some 70 producers including 3 cooperatives. The region is traditionally a red wine producer, the rosé trend is led by economics rather than custom, but it turned out that the area produces some pretty good rosés which seem to have a little more body than the more elegant examples we see from the Eastern part of Provence. The whites at Chateau Bas are rather full bodied and fat and age well, they are considerably better than average in Provence.
Chateau Bas 2018 Blanc, fresh, straightforward, some spice
Pierre de Sud 2018 Blanc, similar, but better
Chateau Bas 2018 Rosé, fresh, solid, fine
Pierre de Sud 2018 Rosé, step up, more depth
Chateau Bas 2018 Rouge, solid and quite serious, good
Pierre de Sud 2015, even better
We should consider the Pierre de Sud at some point, with the more classic label and bottle. When you all are ready that is. Let us know.
Day three was an eye-opener. Gerald Talmard introduces us to his friends and neighbors in Chardonnay, we gorge on wine soaked meat with the Jambon family @ Domaine Thulon, and finish up at Louis Picamelot’s brand new winery to taste what have to be the finest set of non-Champagne bubbles in France.
Our visit to Talmard is always quick, as this is an efficient father/son operation with only two wines produced. There is not much to talk about really as Gerald makes the best QPR Macon Chardonnay on the market and we beg for as much as he will give us. Talmard typifies 2018 as “2015, but more acidity”. He is right.
Talmard 18 Macon Chardonnay, fresh, good acidity, citrus, easy to drink.
Talmard 18 Macon-Uchizy, similar in style, more closed at this point.
He is playing with a new fermentation process that allows for lower use of SO2, and maybe that was where that extra paintbrush of Chardonnay goodness came from…We’ve rarely tasted wine this good at Talmard. Overachievement. 50,000 bottles available, 10,000 more than with the 2017! Let’s have some fun!
Cadoles de Chardonnay
All of you have such an appetite for Gerald Talmard’s bombastic values in Macon Chardonnay and Macon Uchizy that he simply cannot supply all of your demand! For this reason Gerald introduced us to his friends and neighbors at Cadoles de Chardonnay. This father/son operation is located several minutes from Gerald’s Domaine, and smack dab in the aptly named village of Chardonnay. Until several years ago the Domaine was selling all of their production to the local cooperative in Lugny, but they now make and sell wines themselves as their quality is just too good to be lost in a village blend. Here we have a family with deep/long ties to the land, and believe it or not they farm 10% of the total acreage in Chardonnay, all planted to Chardonnay of course! Everything is fermented in stainless steel, and most everything is aged in stainless steel save a dozen experimental barrels.
Cadoles de Chardonnay 18 Macon Chardonnay, lemon color, soft, fine, more complex and concentrated than Talmard. Priced a bit higher than Talmard but seems justified.
Domaine Thulon is located on the old estate of Château de Thulon (this castle towers over the Domaine), and was purchased by Annie and René Jambon in 1987 after they were “métayers” for 20 years on the same site (if the “métayer” thing, ie French sharecropping, is interesting to you have a look at this article by Andrew Jefford) Their children Carine and Laurent are now running the estate, and a passion for experimentation sets them apart from peers in the region. These are some of the best values in French wine we’ve come across in the last decade.
Domaine de Thulon 18 Beaujolais Villages Blanc, full fat, low acidityDomaine de Thulon 18 Beaujolais Villages Rosé, firmer. fresh, goodDomaine de Thulon 18 Beaujolais Villages, fresh, fruitDomaine de Thulon 17 Chiroubles, some reduction, dark, quite fullDomaine de Thulon 17 Regnié. firm, fresh, fruit, good acidityDomaine de Thulon 17 Morgon concentration, more depthDomaine de Thulon 17 Regnié VV, some wood aging, tightDomaine de Thulon 16 Regnié VV, open, niceDomaine de Thulon 18 Regnié, dark, full, roundDomaine de Thulon 18 Chiroubles, tight, a little dryDomaine de Thulon 18 Morgon, full, aromatic, concentrationDomaine de Thulon 18 Regnié VV, intenseDomaine de Thulon 17 Beaujolais Villages Blanc “Montagnier,” wood aged, a little funky, why throw wood at such a good thing?Domaine de Thulon 17 Viognier, nice acidity, probably not useful for us thoughDomaine de Thulon 17 “Cerise,” funky, we had divided opinions on it with Frank a big no and Jeff a “hell yes”
Phillippe Chautard is the newest generation in the Picamelot family tree to operate this venerable sparkling wine house in Rully. We are safe to say these are the finest sparkling wines made in France outside of Champagne, and some of the top bottlings will beat plenty of Champagne when tasted blind. Mr. Chautard just finished the construction of a breathtaking new winery which is cut into the side of a hill. Have a look at our newly posted 360 photos on Google Street View.
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs Heritage 1926, PBL/CH/UGNI, non AOP, Traditional Method, pretty tasty if lacking some focus
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 15 Pinot Noir Rosé, well made,. fresh, right color
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 16 Terroirs, PN/CH/ALI, fresh, quite complex
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 15 Terroirs, more mature, good
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 15 “Chazot,” PN from St. Aubin, full-bodied, big wine
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 14 “Jeanne Thomas,” CH 85- ALI 15, big, complex
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 14 “Reipes” 2014, 100 Chardonnay from St. Aubin, bigger, fine, complex
Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne 13 “Jean Baptiste” 80% Chardonnay, 20% Aligote, older, mixed opinions here, you probably won’t see this from us other than via presell.