© Tina Xie, 20th April, 2020
Since medieval times, the Clos de Tart vineyard has sat within its stone walls in the epicentre of Morey St Denis. Throughout its long history, the estate has only changed hands three times and it remains as a monopole. Different to other vineyards which are open to access by visitors, the 7.53ha vineyard is completely walled up with its winery enclosed, majestic. Isolated and mysterious, the estate bears the weight of Burgundy history. When you open a bottle of Clos de Tart, the wine takes you back in time: its wines represent the style of the region in different periods. Indeed, Neal Martin has called it the ‘archetypal monopole in Burgundy’. My focus here today is to feature three recent regisseurs who brought Clos de Tart to new heights during their respective tenures: Sylvain Pitiot (1995 – 2014); Jacques Desvauges (2015 – 2018) and Alessandro Noli (2019 till now).
Sylvain Pitiot: 'Clos de Tart is Clos de tard.'
If the 1980s was the start of high-quality red Burgundy production, the 1990s was a step closer to its golden age. The first generation of professionally trained winemakers who left school in the 1980s gathered more practical experience and turned their focus toward the fruit quality and vineyard work. As was typical and fashionable in the 1990s, Pitiot favoured late harvesting for higher fruit ripeness, greater extraction for structure and 100% new oak for his wine. The wines tend to be robust, masculine and sturdy for long term cellaring.
Nevertheless, Pitiot’s objective was to translate the terroir and to produce wines that are faithful to their origin. He was one of the pioneers who invested a significant amount of time and effort in the vineyard. He collaborated with the world-famous agronomist Claude Bourguignon to conduct a soil analysis in this monopole and discovered great complexity, with three geological ages present in this historical clos. Pitiot also paid great attention to plant material, yield and sustainable farming practices. Vines were able to develop deeper root growth and consequently become more robust against unfavourable natural conditions and produce much concentrated and flavourful fruit. This dedicated work paved the way for the latter regisseurs – the vineyard will complete its conversion to biodynamic viticulture by 2020. Combined with Pitiot’s preferred practice of late harvest, fruits were fully ripe, healthy and rich. ‘Clos de Tart is Clos de Tard’, one of Sylvain’s favourite mottos, refers to exactly that! (‘Tard’ means late in French.)
While Pitiot’s winemaking was more traditional in style, he also embraced the benefits of modern techniques for cellar hygiene and healthy fruit. Pitiot rejuvenated Clos de Tart at the time. ‘Big’ vintages such as 2005, 2009 and 2010 are great expressions of Sylvain’s powerful and opulent style.
Sylvain Pitiot ©Linden Wilkie
Jacques Desvauges: ‘Clos de Tart is no more Clos de tard.’
Burgundy entered a true golden age from 2000. This era saw the inclusion of stems coming back into fashion as well as a tendency toward gentler extraction and less use of new oak. This is exactly what Desvauges did differently to Pitiot. As a result, wines of the 2015 and 2016 vintages commonly present much higher-toned aromatics of succulent red fruits and offer a beautifully shaped structure - finer tannin, greater precision and refreshing acidity.
Desvauges had huge respect for Pitiot and shared his gratitude to his predecessor during my visit to the estate in 2016. He was grateful to inherit the refined and healthy status of vines and detailed records of the vineyard. Following Pitiot’s direction and dedication, Desvauges completed the detailed soil mapping and started the biodynamic farming conversion. This allowed him to do much more precise vinification and blending.
Walking among the vines, Desvauges was excited to show us more ‘miracles’ of the Clos. The first was their unusual row orientation from north to south, just like La Romanée, with the vines planted perpendicular to this east-facing slope. In normal vintages, this system guards against soil erosion and maximises sun exposure for the grapes. In a hot vintage such as 2015, Desvauges was amazed how this system provided a shady protection for the rows of grapes below from sunburn. Other ‘miracles’ that happened in the Clos include its escape from a hydraulic stress in the heat-wave 2015, and from frost damage in the nail-biting 2016 season, during which its neighbouring vineyards suffered significantly – the Clos survived, undisturbed. These miracles happened for a reason – thanks to the all these regisseurs’ hard work in the vineyard – that vines are more healthy, robust and self-sustaining and they shine through time.
Right: Jacques Desvauges and Clos de Tart vineyard at the back
Despite his short tenure at the estate, Desvauges’ contribution has brought Clos de Tart to another height with more of its goûte de terroir being gradually unveiled. In his first vintage of 2015, Jacques decided to be the first one to harvest in Morey St Denis. Clos de Tart was no more Clos de tard. 2016 was perhaps the best Clos de Tart ever made, showing purity, salt-like minerality and freshness.
Alessandro Noli: possible continuation of Jacques Desvauges?
Clos de Tart was owned by the Mommession family from 1932 until 2017 when François Pinault’s Groupe Artémis acquired it. Noli became the new regisseur after Desvauges. Though I have not yet met Alessandro in person, I have heard great things – a purist with an eye on terroir and elegance. He seems have taken Desvauges’ work as a template and continues to discover more secrets of Clos de Tart.
To experience Clos de Tart is to experience the different phases of its life, transitioning from a traditional Burgundy to a relative modernist. With greater detail of understanding of its complex geography, more precise viticultural practices and a minimal intervention approach to vinification, Clos de Tart is yet to be understood fully and its potential is waiting to shine. It would be an inspiring experience to taste through its journey, as if reading a history book of Burgundy.