Why Chez Bruce? Why are you in Wandsworth? Are the residents of SW17 really deserving of such perfection when you are a bit of a bugger to get to from NW London?
Tasting and lunch with Jerome Bressy from Domaine Gourt de Martens at Chez Bruce on Tuesday. Outside, it was threatening snow. Inside, it was Utopia.
No less a speaker than Jonathan Livingstone-Learmouth introduces the Domaine. He has incidentally just bought out a new book on Gigondas which you can buy here. You should buy it there – he is not only the world expert on the Rhone but he writes more thoroughly and beautifully on wine than just about anyone else in this field today.
Jerome grew up with the grape. From the age of 7 he would trundle a small cart into the vineyards when the fruit was ripe, select the bunches he wanted and then wheel them back to a makeshift shed which contained rudimentary equipment. At the time, his parents were selling the grapes to the local co-op.
In 1989, Jerome managed to convince his father that the future lay in organic viticulture and the conversion began. This was an extraordinary step, involving as it did a lot of extra work for fruit destined for the co-op where it would not command a premium. He started using biodynamic preparations in 1993 and now farms completely according to these principles.
Jerome’s first wines were made in 1996, the year that the family Domaine finally started bottling their own. Nick Brooks, their importer, first tasted these in 1997 and was slightly alarmed. They were southern Rhone behemoths, weighing in at 16% alcohol with an overblown intensity that made short work of the tongue. Jerome admits now that his wines have been through every permutation known to man in the intervening years – de-stemming, copious oak, a lot of extraction during fermentation – the whole circus.
hey have finally, well and truly arrived. He acknowledges that the work must happen in the vineyard and in the winery, he does the minimum. He no longer destems, there is no new wood used and he prefers a process of ‘infusion’ rather than extraction during fermentation. Sulphur use is minimal; generally only at bottling (which is done by hand).
Now though, t
Jonathan acknowledges how far they have come but says that the potential with Jerome was always obvious. He was, apparently, a ‘manic man’; one with a drive and obsession with getting things right and expressing terroir. This is the kind of drive which will inevitably, produce stupendous results sooner or later. He say “If you want to drink wine that is true, you always look for the manic man”. Winemakers who work in the round, connected to their vines and vineyards, alert to what nature is doing and how to work with it.
The 1990’s were not the decade of the manic men, says Jonathan. This was the age of the (often consultant) winemaker, dictating their desired outcome irrespective of the what the fruit was saying and it was under this regime that the monstrously unwieldy fruit bombs of the region first made their unsubtle mark.
What we are tasting today is a world away from these. Jerome’s yields remain very low (around 12 hl/hc) but this is due to the age of the vines (40% are 70 years) and not through forcing the issue with green harvesting etc.
Yes, there is ripeness but the often clumsy rusticity of Rasteau tannins is entirely absent in the reds and even the white (which is phenomenally good) has an edge balancing the opulence. There is a delicacy here, offsetting the vibrant intensity of the fruit and this is not a word very often employed to describe wines of the Southern Rhone.
Rasteau Blanc 2009 - 50% Grenache Blanc, 25% Bourboulenc, 15% Clairette, 10% Picardin, 5,-10% Marsanne, 5- 10% Roussane, Picpoul Blanc and Picpoul Gris. Fermented half in tank and half in 2 year old oak and bottle unfiltered.
Flavours of white chocolate, liquorice and acacia honey with white pepper around the edges and a clean, slatey finish. Combines both characteristic Southern Rhone texture with a delicate, fresh edge. Utterly delicious but sadly there is none to be had. Jerome only makes 1500 bottles a year.
Rasteau-Villages 2007 - 65% Grenache, 15% Carignan, 10% Mouvedre, 10% Counoise, 3 - 5% Vaccarese, 1-2% Syrah, 1% Muscardin. Open vat, co-fermentation for two weeks with gentle pump over; whole bunches. Aged in old wood and concrete and bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Crushed berries with fennel and hints of bergamot. Like the white, this narrows towards the back with a clean, spicy finish.
As above but the differences in vintage mean that the acidity is much more vibrant on the 08 and the spice less to the fore. There is a more meaty, savoury character to the flavours as well. They are both lovely, but this is
my favourite of the day.
2006 Vin Doux Naturel - 85-90% Grenache, 5- 10% Carignan, 0-5% Mouvedre. Not made in the oxidised style, with 90 - 100g residual sugar, fermented on the cool side for extra vivacious fruit. 21.5% abv.
chocolate, crushed berries and black pepper. Much more vibrant than what we are used to tasting with VDN's. Totally delicious.