22 October 2013

yonne bike trip: alice et olivier de moor, courgis

Alice and Olivier de Moor were the main reason I'd long been keen to do a bike trip around Chablis.

Along with their neighbor in Courgis Thomas Pico, the de Moors represent a small but ascendant generation of Chablis producers whose non-interventionist, low-sulfur wines are steadily approaching the aesthetic heights of the regions' established greats. But even as their Chablis becomes more sought-after every year, the de Moors still operate like underdogs, continually refining their pioneering work with Aligoté and branching out into superb négociant projects.

In short, theirs is among the most exciting domaines I know of, an exemplary model for how to effectively make and market honest wine in a quasi-industrialised, marquee region. Alice also makes a mean gateau aux pommes.

Olivier was out in the vines when we arrived. Alice, who in the divide of duties handles much of the cellar work, led us through to their newer cellar space, which they insulated from heat by fortifying it with local stones.

From tank and barrel we tasted through 2012 Aligotés, Bourgogne Chitry, and several Chablis parcels. What struck me most was the variation among the barrels of Chablis; each very much had its own distinct personality, testifying to the delicate challenge the de Moors face in deciding how to blend them each year.

The de Moors two lieu-dit bottlings are emblematic of their evolving, non-dogmatic approach. Their "Bel Air et Clardy" Chablis is a blend of wines from the two vineyard sites, of which total holdings are 1ha. Alice explained that through some unfathomable administrative quirk they were allowed to put two lieu-dit names on the bottle, but not just one.

The Bel Air vineyard is flat, with clay-limestone soils. Fruit there is quick to ripen, and the resultant wines often resemble those deriving from parcels used for the de Moors' "Humeur du Temps" Chablis bottling.

Clardy, on the other hand, is more Kimmeridgian clay, and the de Moors have noticed that over the years its richer, more structured wines are coming to resemble those derived from the Rosette vineyard, presently bottled separately. So they don't rule out one day bottling Rosette with Clardy.

Rosette, for its part, consists of south-east exposed marne soils, tougher and more packed than in other parcels. Fruit ripens more slowly there and is harvested later. A 2011 we tasted from bottle was panoramic, sweetly atmospheric, and longer than a three-mile driveway - like the virtuosic opening tracking shot in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil.

In a blog post a while back I raved about their late-harvest Aligoté cuvée, then titled "Reversibilité." They've renamed this cuvée "Autre Vallée" and changed the label as of 2011. Everything else about it, happily, remains much the same: it's still a spell-binding contrast of sternness and volupté, displaying tender crême anglaise notes atop the grape's characteristic mineral slabs.

Alice is originally from the Jura. She and Olivier met in winemaking school, and in 1989 planted vines to augment Olivier's family estate in Courgis. Their first vintage bottling their own wines was in 1995. In 1997 they ceased using selected yeasts for fermentation. They became certified organic in 2005. They use homeopathic quantities of sulfur at bottling, having experimented with sulfur-free winemaking in 2002 and 2003, to mixed results. Since 2004, they have also forsworn chaptalisation.

The de Moors began making wine en négoce in 2009, yielding marvels like their tiny-production Bourgogne rouge, made with help from an employee who formerly worked with Yvon Metras in Beaujolais. That wine and another Chablis are labeled  "Vendangeur Masqué," or 'masked harvester.' The red derives from grapes purchased from Vincent Thomas of Domaine de la Chappe; some of the Chablis fruit is purchased from Thomas Pico.

Olivier returned from the vines in time to join us for a marvelous lunch Alice had prepared. My friends and I had kind of a haul ahead of us that day - 45km to Isle-sur-Serein via Noyers - so we probably ate like pigs and drank like sparrows. But of course no one protested when Olivier a lovely bottle of Hautes Côtes de Beaune rouge by Claire Naudin, a natural Burgundy producer based in Magny-les-Villiers whose work we all admire.

That domaine's website, by the by, is a thing to behold: in a section entitled "Philosophie," Claire Naudin exhaustively records her experiences and opinions of most aspects of contemporary 'natural' winemaking. It's rare for any vigneron to be so transparent. For a Burgundy estate, it's almost unheard of.

But that volubility and that passion to communicate is something one also finds chez de Moor. Its evidenced in every aspect of their operation - from the Jean Cocteau quote on their Aligoté, to Olivier's hand-drawn pruning shear motifs on their labels, to their ready invocations of Flaubert and Vermeer in interviews. They plainly and unself-conciously consider their wines an art form. And they're right to.

Alice et Olivier de Moor
17, rue Jacques Ferrand
Tel: 03 86 41 47 94

Related Links:

Yonne Bike Trip: Le Bistrot des Grands Crus, Chablis
Yonne Bike Trip: Vincent Dauvissat, Chablis
Yonne Bike Trip: Domaine Colinot, Irancy
Yonne Bike Trip: Atélier à Jean, Vincelottes

2011 - Beaujolais Bike Trip
2011 - Jura Bike Trip

A magnificently comprehensive 2012 piece on Alice and Olivier de Moor at WineTerroirs
A shorter 2006 piece on Alice and Olivier de Moor at WineTerroirs, featuring pictures of Olivier with much larger hair.

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