CHABLIS PRODUCER : JEAN MARC BROCARD
Jean-Marc Brocard came from a humble background working as a tenant farmer in Chaudenay. His introduction to wines came about when he married his soul mate Claudine in the early 1970s. Hailing from the neighbouring St-Bris-le-Vineau, Claudine is the daughter of a wine grower whose family had a history in wine growing dating back to the 1500s. His father-in-law’s wedding gift of a hectare of land, from which Jean-Marc successfully produced his first vintage around 1973, was his first foray into wine production. Despite the economic depression after the world war and the long periods of stagnation in Chablis that followed phylloxera destruction all through the 20th century, he went with his gut feel to unlock the unexplored potential in this region. Living so close to Chablis gave him an added advantage of studying the ins and outs of wine growing, before he established what others could not envision – that this region, ever since deserted after world war, indeed had a lot of potential to be revived! This vision is what helped the brand to become a pioneer Chablis producer. Gradually over the next few years, he started renting plots of lands from wine growers and building his wine production. At the same time, Jean-Marc also studied how to position his production. He saw a huge demand in England for French wines where he found his gap to plug; an export strategy focused on the UK, that worked very favourably to build his supply chain. Over the next couple of decades, his returns gave him requisite financial stability to start buying out the vineyards that he had rented from wine growers. Today the family works across 200 hectares of land in Chablis, more than 100 h of which he owns making them one of the biggest family owned producers in Chablis.
Vineyards around Jean-Marc Brocard estate. Grand Crus at the backdrop (Photo credit: Sumi_Sumilier)
I had the pleasure of exploring their sprawling estate, one of the biggest in Chablis I have seen so far and it was an absolute delight meeting up with Julian Brocard on a recent visit with Bourgogne Wine Board. Son of Jean-Marc, he has since, taken over day-to-day running of the estate as well oversees many strategic operations of the domain. His superior expertise on the technical side has added a unique dimension to the business. Joining his father, at the end of 1990s, he brought in sweeping changes incorporating highly researched sustainable forms of viticulture. Using his experience gained from working in the automotive industry in Paris, he joined the viticultural side of the business, working his way up the domain ladder and over the next decade, successfully converted 50 hectares of the total land (with more under way) under their domain certified as Organic and Biodynamic.
According to Julian, “The change we have noticed over the years after moving over from conventional methods is evidenced in the quality of our wines. There is more harmony of the vines with the soil and nature and we are able to maintain a consistent degree of freshness in our wines even in difficult years. Chablis is a tough terrain to achieve climatic stability. Vineyards with conventional methods see huge fluctuations in the quality of grapes, year on year when the weather changes. If there is high humidity one year, chardonnay turns less fruity and more vegetal. If there is a dry season, the grape production multiplies excessively, gaining excessive juice and fruitiness at the cost of concentration. With biodynamic vine life, the soil attains the perfect level of harmony with the vine system and a two-way interactive ecosystem begins to work over time. Hence the vines do not struggle when there are extreme climatic fluctuations. The result is that the grapes bear a consistent expression year on year”.
But the challenge of turning organic and biodynamic that started in 1997 was a mighty one and it took more than 10 years to realise their dreams during which many a times, there were moments when Julian smilingly reminisces his father speaking aloud his fears of losing it all and turning nearly bankrupt, with the burgeoning costs and the multiple failures they encountered through this tough phase. But Julian’s relentless and patient pursuit to quality convinced his father that this was the way forward for sustainability in the long run. It is only a decade later in 2007, that the estate turned around, with this new pedigree which has since, not only proved useful for their sustenance but also helped in leading the way for other Chablis producers who see J M Brocard as inspirational brand that models itself on an organic and biodynamic lifestyle, a revolution that is now spreading across France and many parts of Europe. Julian has a brother who is a full time negociant in Dijon. His sister works in St-Brie in the vineyards that belong to their mum. With matriarchal inheritance dominating the culture, she follows her mother taking up the vineyard role at St-Brie. A working lunch with Julian and his lovely wife Laurence, was a great occasion to understand the real-life dynamics of the Brocard household, which works with utmost dedication to find the perfect balance between personal and professional goals. Laurence, a full time mother of two active kids is the Ambassador for the estate promoting the wines across UK and US. Although French by origin, she and her siblings have lived and worked in England for many years (southern coast being their favourite region!) and are comfortably bilingual, switching between French and English with great ease. Representing the Brocard heritage with her distinguished grace, she is the perfect candidate to represent the wines for English speaking countries. Her brother Sebastien who welcomed us at the domain is also an extremely friendly and witty gentleman who seeks any excuse to bring out his love for English heritage! He now works on the estate retail operations. The domain promotes wine tourism and also offers tourist accomodations and a 4 star bed and breakfast, I was informed. Lunches are also provided at the Table de Jean-Marc Brocard.
Further discussions revealed some of the changes they have undergone in the winery front, following the partial conversion to organic and biodynamic so as to reflect the purity of the wines. A nearly complete withdrawal of new oak serves their philosophy of producing wines as fresh and pure displaying their terroir expression. Rarely is new oak used and that too only for their Petit Chablis and Chablis Village wines, where the barrels when used are the bigger 15hl, 25hl or 50hl (foudres) capacity. Premier and Grand Crus as a matter of practise only witness old oak. Concrete eggs are also used, the sizes vary between 6 to 15 hl. The reasons for the introduction are manifold. Firstly, it helps in promoting micro oxygenation and softening the wines. Apart from this, they also help keep the lees stay fresh for longer with the rounded shape of the egg promoting uniform circulation of lees flavours, without the need to do frequent stirring or racking, adding more complex notes as fermentation progresses. This in turns makes richer and textured wines without adding undue oak and smoky flavours. These eggs have brought back the ancient Roman amphorae philosophy of wine making aimed at expressing terroir. Also, the Brocard philosophy incorporate letting their wines stay on the lees for as long as possible till the wine is bottled.
The general rule of thumb at the Brocard winery is :
Petit Chablis : aged on the lees for roughly 6-8 months after fermentation
Chablis : aged on lees for round 10 months following fermentation
Premier Cru and Grand Cru and Biodynamic Crus : aged on the lees for 12-14 months and then stored in bottles for 8 months before release.
The wines I tasted are below with my ratings out of 100:
2016 JEAN MARC BROCARD
2016 (Tank Samples)
The 2016 vintage was an overall very small and a stressed vintage due to frost playing major havoc on the vines and hence the lees ageing is far less for this vintage to keep the freshness and energy alive on the wines. Most of the organic wines were lost in the 2016 vintage and so ageing for the balance wines that were produced have been limited to a short period of around 8 months for the Chablis wines. Also its been decided that for this vintage, Grand Crus and Premier Crus also will be bottled earlier by 2-3 months atleast. The reason being that they want to retain the freshness in the wines and not age and tire them by letting them stay on lees for too long. These will also be released earlier than usual vintages.
2016 Petit Chablis
Green apple fruit expression, lemon and citrus tones with a huge zingy acidity, quite sharp and tingly on the palate (88)
Apple and pear weighted, there is good floral elegance here with distinct lime and lemon steely notes, reasonably pronounced and mouthfilling. There is softness in character, refreshing acidity and purity with some spicy white pepper undertones. (92)
2016 Montmaine, Premier Cru
Fermented half in steel and other half in oak tanks, the wine is crisp, precise, fresh with notes of youthful exuberance, honeysuckle notes and marked refreshing acidity. Peach, pink apples and apricot help create the length and fruity expression to the wine. Great potential for ageing. To be bottled in August 2017. (93)
2016 Mont de Mileu, Premier Cru
Delicate wine with with smoky and toasty spices, lots of stony peach and nectarine fruit character, the richness is just about coming up and there is minor carbonic maceration which is making it tingling, adding petillance and spicy notes. Purity and austerity stands out in this wine. Lot more expression yet to be added but positive potential in terms of its developing structure. Date of bottling not yet decided. (93)
2016 Fourchaume, Premier Cru
Minerally and quite zesty in its expression. Rich and rounded notes of lemon sorbet, ripe apricots and passion fruit. Green apple vibrance coupled with a balanced delicate vanilla, cloves ending on a lingering spicy finish. Aged in 100% old oak which is over 4 years old giving it sturdy grippy structure without being overly smoky. Potential to age highly notable. (95)
2015 JEAN MARC BROCARD
2015 Chablis (organic certified but not biodynamic), 12.5 % abv
Creamy and rich in expression, there are notes of yogurt, baked bread that integrate well with sweet pineapple, apricot fruits. The body has good density and the acidity is racy but not tart. The texture is oily and smooth with some nutty notes starting to develop. 12 months on the lees. (89)
2015 Vielles Vignes (Organic certified), 12.5% abv
Lemon bread, pear and rich mature elegance in the wine. Very harmonious in its expression with vibrant acidity and fruit notes. There are hints of cheese and creamy roundedness developing well along with the flinty, stoney notes that give it a distinctly classy Chablis finish. The vines are 80 years old and seem to be consistently expressive year on year since they turned organic. A wine to be had with dinner for a celebratory occasion there are memorable lemon, white pepper notes on the finish. (93)
2015 Butteaux, Premier Cru (about to be bottled July-Aug 2017)
Butteaux is a special part of Montmaine Premier Cru. Aged in 100% old oak, appearance is deep gold colour and the nose has spice notes of nutmeg and cinnamon that are vivid but when coupled with ripe pineapple, peach and some hints of mango, this wine promises to be plump and precise with rounded minerality and powerful acidic tones. The tropical fruit notes are charming and the overall expression is balanced with beautiful complex notes of toast and cream. (93)
2015 Vaulorent, Premier Cru 2015
Vaulorent is an extension of Grand Cru Preuses and expresses beautiful complexity of the Grand Cru. With notes of lemon shortbread, butter and freshly churned yogurt, the wine is rich and seductive with charming pineapple and passion fruit appeal and peach blossoms. Very elegant expression and minerally appealing. (95)
2015 Bougros, Grand Cru
Bougros lies in the north west end of the Grand Crus. Aged in 100% old oak, the wine is still evolving with nutty, savoury cheesy notes blended into its lemon candy and honey expression. The soils are heavier and deep and in keeping with the terroir, the wine is equally intense and more-ish with a creamy texture and rounded finish. (92)
2015 Vaudesir, Grand Cru
Aged in 100% oak, there is lemon yogurt, tropical mango expression with a lemon tart finish. There is good spice mix in expression and the texture is more dense and plump but the vibrance and oily texture shows ample minerality with structured cedar and toasty notes underneath. A strikingly intense wine with potential to develop more complexity with time. (94)
2015 JULIAN BROCARD
(All Julian Brocard range of wines below are organic and biodynamic certified)
2015, Chablis Boissonneuse
Aged in 100% oak with 14 months on the lees, it shows apricot, peach and strong lemon flavours with pronounced flinty notes and possessing elegant linear acidity. Floral bouquet aromas remain all throughout and the wine has a long mineral finish. Makes a bold statement. (93.5)
2015 Beauroy Premier Cru, (7 lieux range)
Aged 100% in oak with 12 months on the lees the wine has been bottled only now in July 2017. There is freshness on the palate with hazelnut oil and pecan pie notes. Aromas of coconut, vanilla, smoke, cumin and cinnamon spices are dominating and the texture is creamy and dense with a full body expression and a bold toasty finish at the end. Very complex with potential to further develop. (93)
2015 Vaudevey, Premier Cru (7 Lieux range)
Plump and energetic wine with elegant expressive and dominant oak that balances well with the strong lemon, grapefruit, apricot, mango rich fruit nuances of the wine. The minerality is all pervasive and the finish is toasty with the refreshing zingy notes persisting well afterwards. (94)
2015 Cote de Lechet, Premier Cru (7 Lieux range)
With lemon candy, butterscotch and caramel notes, there is just the perfect ripeness across the palate, with superior depth and concentration. The core of the wine is broad and it is mouthfilling but gentle and mature in its expression. A nuttiness and spicy finish adds to the structural intensity. (95)
2015 Le Preuse, Grand Cru (7 Lieux)
Pronounced lemon tart notes, racy acidity, well balanced oak underlying the fruit. The wine has a pronounced personality with cloves, white pepper, nutmeg spices that complement its mineral expression and earthy body. Potential to age is huge. (95)
All of the wines are available in the UK through Berkmann’s and The Wine Society.
A very memorable tasting indeed. Many thanks to JM Brocard team for hosting me!