Rosi Hanson meets Guillaume d’Angerville of the famed family domaine in Volnay, who is embarking upon the challenges of new grapes, terroirs and local acceptance in his Jura project Domaine du Pélican...
Domaine du Pélican: A Burgundian in the Jura
Picture the scene: in the elegant, two-star Michelin restaurant Le Taillevent in Paris, Guillaume d’Angerville of Domaine Marquis d’Angerville in Volnay is lunching with his wife, Pauline.
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This is something he does regularly, following in his father’s footsteps; like many winemakers, he appreciates Le Taillevent’s extensive wine list.
On this occasion (the year is 2007), d’Angerville is about to get a big surprise, which will take him in a new direction.
It is his habit to ask the sommelier to pick a white wine, not Burgundy, and serve it to them blind. The wine is poured, the sommelier withdraws.
‘It’s definitely a Chardonnay; it’s a Burgundy – he must have forgotten the rule,’ the couple agree. The sommelier reappears for the big reveal. It is indeed a Chardonnay, a 2005, but it’s from Arbois in the Jura, made by Stéphane Tissot (his wines are stocked by Berry Bros & Rudd in the UK).
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D’Angerville was taken aback by the quality of this Chardonnay. He admits he’d only thought of the Jura as a place his family had driven through on the way to ski holidays in Verbier.
Like most French people, he was aware of the big merchant-grower Henri Maire and his jokey ads for ‘vin fou’ from the Jura. They were his only way of identifying the region and he did not associate the wines with quality. D’Angerville set off on a mission to discover the Jura vineyards. Before long he was convinced that he wanted to make wine there.
Domaine Marquis d’Angerville is one of the leading estates based in Volnay, on Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune, and has been so for more than three generations. D’Angerville’s grandfather was a great champion of domaine bottling and authenticity.
His father continued that tradition and was instrumental in helping Americans to discover fine Burgundies, from his own estate and other like-minded growers. so you might think that the present marquis would be content to rest on these laurels and not take risks.
Indeed d’Angerville’s estate manager, François Duvivier, with whom he works in close partnership, needed some persuading about this possible new venture. Luckily Duvivier had friends in the Jura, and was prepared at least to visit the area. Today you would never guess that he’d had qualms.
One of the first things d’Angerville did was to phone Yves Herody, the geologist he uses for soil analysis of his vineyards in Burgundy.
‘I have a crazy idea to buy land in Jura,’ he said, tentatively. The surprising reply was: ‘It’s not a crazy idea at all – there are better terroirs there than in Burgundy!’ So began a quest to buy land, which lasted from 2008 until 2012.
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Domaine du Pélican wines tasted:
Timing it right
At that time some growers in the Jura were struggling to make good wine and find a market. The regional specialty, vin jaune, a Sherry-like wine that develops under a yeast similar to flor as it ages in barrel, may have been having a fashionable moment among sommeliers, but it remains niche.
Land seemed relatively cheap – to Burgundians. D’Angerville and Duvivier looked at many properties, all rejected by Herody.
Meanwhile, they were getting to know the beautiful, unspoilt region of Jura. Low hills, extensive forests and pretty streams make it a destination for hikers, and in winter there are trails for cross-country skiers as well as downhill runs for those who prefer something gentler than the Alps to the south.
The area attracts high rainfall – rain sweeping across France falls when it reaches the Jura’s west- facing hills and vineyards. Comté (a cheese loved by winemakers as a perfect match for both whites and reds) comes from cows that graze these lush, verdant pastures.
The d’Angerville team was happy to play the long game, but it must have felt as if nothing would come on the market that would tick all the boxes of geology, orientation, drainage and aspect that they sought. In 2012, however, they heard of two different properties that might fit the bill.
Five hectares adjoining the Château de Chavanes in the hamlet of Montigny-lès-Arsures, near the charming market town of Arbois, were available. A film producer had lavished money on the large house, and planted a scenic plot, Le Clos, next to it. Four other small vineyards completed the estate, which was worked biodynamically. Lacking the experience to market the wines, he was ready to sell the land, and the sale was completed shortly before the 2012 harvest.
The resulting wines were made before the team was familiar with the terroirs. It must also have been a challenge making wines for the first time from the local white Savagnin grape, along with red varieties Poulsard and Trousseau, as well as the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir they were used to. They were surprised, and delighted, by the quality and decided to put them on the market under their newly created label Domaine du Pélican, taking the bird from the Arbois crest.
Hardly had the first purchase of land gone through when, like the proverbial buses coming along together, d’Angerville and Duvivier were able to buy another 5ha in AP Arbois.
This was a stroke of luck as they considered the plot, Grand Curoulet, to be one of the best in the appellation. Although it had been neglected and needed extensive replanting, it had the advantage that its former owner was a proponent of natural wines and the land had hardly been treated with chemicals.
D’Angerville is often asked whether he makes his Jura wines using Burgundian techniques.
‘I have sometimes said that I make Pélican wines in a Burgundian way,’ he says, ‘but by that I simply mean that they are non-oxidative.’ His dry white Savagnin, which he considers ‘typically from the Jura’, is topped up in barrel to prevent oxidation. This is known as Savagnin Ouillé.
‘Given that the term ‘Savagnin’ can describe both a non-oxidative and an oxidative wine (a potential vin jaune that has not developed flor during seven years of barrel ageing), the phrase “made in a Burgundian way” is useful to clear the potential misunderstanding,’ he explains. As if to confuse the issue, he now makes vin jaune, but his first will only be ready in 2022.
‘The Chardonnay is perhaps closest to what we do in Meursault, but still it is unmistakably not Burgundian,’ he emphasises. He considers Barbi, one of the plots planted to Chardonnay, deserves to be vinified separately as it is ‘a special place’, facing south. In fact he is convinced that his grandchildren will be applying for premier cru status for Barbi.
‘My red cuvée, Trois Cépages, is clearly not made in a Burgundian way because it’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Poulsard and Trousseau. It is not possible to make Jura wines in the same manner as in Burgundy because we have to adapt to the local terroir, and to how the plant behaves in such a terroir. That is one reason why this Jura project is interesting and sometimes challenging.’
There have been some welcome surprises. In 2016, when vineyards in Burgundy were decimated by frost and then hail, the Jura was untouched. A great deal of rain fell but the Pélican vineyards showed no sign of mildew, which the Burgundians cannot explain. ‘We are still at the very beginning of the learning curve,’ says d’Angerville.
Were he and his team welcomed by locals? ‘They were not so keen about our arrival! These guys were selling three-quarters of their wine locally, not even throughout France. The visibility of Jura wines is very small.’ He explains that the region’s entire wine production comes from about 2,000ha, equivalent to just three Burgundy villages.
He won over the suspicious winemakers when he told them that he planned to promote Jura wines all around the world, in all his existing markets. ‘They understand now,’ says the former international banker, who remains sensitive about mentioning his previous career. ‘I don’t want people to think I’m doing this as an investment. I love the place, the land and the people.’
And he is learning. ‘When I taste at fellow winemakers’ estates in Jura, I note their ability to be relaxed about how their wines evolve during maturation in barrel. By comparison, Burgundians are a little paranoid about “protecting” their wines. For example, I’m impressed by the quality and long-lasting character of the no-sulphur wines some well-known Jura wine producers are able to produce. There’s something to learn from that.’
D’Angerville appreciates the chance to taste at other estates. His own remains discreetly hidden; there is no sign outside. The day I visit, the battered old wooden door to the vat house and cellar is firmly shut. It seems deserted. Then a shout, and the owner comes running down the narrow muddy road, from his neighbour, the respected, well-known winemaker Jacques Puffeney, who has become a good friend. Over the past few years they have clearly done a lot of talking and tasting.
Puffeney is ready to retire and, with no children interested in taking over, he has decided to entrust his vines to Domaine du Pélican – surely a sign that the Burgundians are now fully accepted.
Rosi Hanson is a food and wine writer whose latest book is Recipes from the French Wine Harvest.
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