Domaine Didier Montchovet, Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs
Some of our favorite grower Champagnes are rightly described as “Burgundian,” in that they are crafted from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from vineyards that enable grape and soil character to shine, even in sparkling form. So no one should be surprised that today’s naturally farmed blanc de blancs, grown and made in Burgundy, is right up there with the Champagne elite.
What I am surprised by, however, is the price, given what non-sparkling whites and reds from Burgundy regularly fetch. Add in the incredible pedigree of Didier Montchovet’s Crémant de Bourgogne and suffice it to say that my mind is blown: (a) it hails from a single parcel of heirloom vines; (b) it’s a vintage-dated blanc de blancs of incredible refinement and focus; and (c) it’s made by an unsung hero of Burgundy’s biodynamic farming movement. That’s a heck of a lot to put into a $39 bottle of sparkling wine, especially given Montchovet’s outsized reputation in Burgundy. His biodynamically nurtured blend of Chardonnay (80%) and Aligoté (20%) is a hyper-focused, mind-bending sparkling gem, steeped in Hautes-Côtes de Beaune terroir and worthy of a proud nod from its up-country Champagne cousins. It delivers the goods, believe me!
Every appellation in Burgundy produces sparkling wine, even Vosne-Romanée. And while the same specifications and requirements for vintage Champagne do not apply to sparkling wine from Burgundy, it’s by no means a free-for-all. Since the inception of the Crémant de Bourgogne classification in 1975, Burgundy claims some of the strictest rules for sparkling wines in France (including hand-harvesting in whole bunches, the use of small boxes with perforated bottoms, and the same pressing protocols as Champagne). Growers cannot simply declassify their worst grapes or least successful vats into crémant since they must declare their ear-marked vineyards intended for crémant before the end of March. Didier Montchovet does all that and more.
Montchovet, along with Jean-Claude Rateau, played a key role introducing the concept of biodynamic viticulture to Burgundy, during a period when it faced much skepticism, even ridicule. In 1984, with his wife, Christine, Montchovet leased a half-hectare of vines where he applied organic/biodynamic practices. After expanding his holdings with another 2.5 hectares, he released his first vintage in 1990 and became one of the first biodynamic winemakers to be certified by Demeter. He attracted a handful of inquisitive vignerons to his winery in Nantoux, up in the Haute-Côtes near Pommard, among them Lalou Bize-Leroy, Anne-Claude Leflaive, and Aubert de Villaine. Inspired by Didier’s work in his vineyard and with his livestock (whose manure was used for compost) they applied biodynamics to their own more prestigious vineyards. Not long after, biodynamics began to be taken more seriously. Whilst Leroy and Anne-Claude Leflaive were hailed as pioneers, the real revolutionaries such as Rateau and Montchovet were written out of the story. Imagine if either grower owned Premier and Grand Cru vineyards?
Montchovet’s passion and dedication for organic/biodynamic viticulture did not sit well with his family’s approach and he was destined to break out on his own. Since the initial acquisitions of 3 hectares and his first vintage of still wines in 1990, Didier’s holdings grew further, adding two large plots from the communes of Bouze-les-Beaune and Nantoux. More vineyard acquisitions would follow to total nearly 13 hectares today, as well as the construction of a gravity-fed winery and expansion of the domaine’s facilities in 2014. With one glance at the vineyards it is easy to see that Didier follows a different path with more than half of his vines planted in the Y-shaped, “lyre” trellis system. Didier believes there to be many benefits for this method including better circulation for the grapes preventing disease, better exposure for the soil to plant grasses and cereals increasing biodiversity. The added benefit of the grapes growing higher off the ground also makes it easier for the workers to pick standing up. Even the organic fertilizer is all produced on the property from their livestock minimizing the carbon footprint of the winery. There’s also an elaborate rainwater collection system in place.
Today’s 2018 Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs is made exclusively from ECOCERT/Demeter certified grapes grown in Montchovet’s “En Cras” vineyard in the village of Nantoux. It is a four-hectare, southeast-facing site on Jurassic clay-limestone soils, planted to Chardonnay and Aligoté vines ranging in age from 30 to 45 years old. All the hand-harvested fruit is naturally fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. After fermentation, it remains more than a year in tank before it’s bottled. After almost another year, the wine is disgorged with a five-gram dosage, then held another year before being released to the market. This rare and exceptional Crémant requires an all-purpose stem and a temperature of 45-50 degrees. An alluring, focused bouquet of apple compote, lime, lemon tart, macadamia nut interplays with salty, umami notes laced with savory minerals and honey. The palate is caressed beautifully with an energetic lather, defined by marked flavors of ripe pear, warm toast, fresh earth, green apple, citrus, and crushed stones. Soft, fine bubbles encircle a supple yet clean mouthfeel with a long, dazzling finish. Pinpoint freshness from the Aligoté and roundness from the Chardonnay sets the stage for this Champagne-adjacent gem!