2020: The Year in Review January 21st, 2021

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January-February
It seems strange, writing in early January 2021, to think that a year ago I was actually in Hong Kong and mainland China, partly accompanying the annual Pearl of Burgundy tour of the region with a group of growers, and partly working with my colleagues at the Jasper Morris Inside Burgundy Wine School and Wine Bar in Shanghai. We were just starting to hear about the virus, but information was very sketchy and was not yet affecting daily behaviour.

Inside Burgundy wine bar

When I returned to Burgundy I started visiting some of the less well known producers in and around the Côte de Nuits. I also spent several days exploring the Côte Chalonnaise, mostly visiting established names. I had not realised quite how good Bruno Lorenzon’s white wines are (Mercurey and Montagny), nor the progress that has been made at the Clos du Cellier aux Moines. It was also very pleasing to see the steady return to form of Domaine de la Folie.

Côte Chalonnaise 2018

One happy event was a lunch with two generations of the Tollot-Beaut family – the three cousins currently running the domaine and their fathers – along with some bottles of Corton from the 1930s and 1940s that my friend Roy Richards had unearthed in Dijon. A memorable day, the last gathering of its kind for 2020 unfortunately.

Domaine Tollot-Beaut: A Flashback to the Forties

 

March-May
We were all agog for the biennial Grands Jours de Bourgogne in the middle of March, a week long event that covers the whole region from Chablis to Pouilly-Fuissé, a great source for checking out possible up-and-coming producers. Alas, but quite rightly, it was cancelled, just before France went into official lockdown. Other events such as the Bien Boire en Beaujolais two-day tasting went the same way. So too, very sadly, did our White Burgfest tasting which normally happens in late May. In a normal year we would have been able to provide much more information on earlier vintages than we have been able to do in 2020.

One good thing to come out of this period was the beauty of the weather, with clear blue, pollution-free skies, and though we were limited to walking for one hour and within one kilometre of home, the woods around us are so beautiful in the spring, and I could at least get fresh air exercise every day.

Spring walk

The other feature of this period was the emergence of the zoom webinar, and I am very grateful to my friends at 67 Pall Mall for inviting me to work with them in providing a series of Burgundy-based webinars which are continuing into 2021. These are all freely available on the site and cover various topics, some thematic, some interviewing producers, others an in depth discussion of a vintage or an appellation, sometimes indeed one specific vineyard.

Jasper on Zoom: With or Without Stems

Meanwhile, the vines were progressing cheerfully, having narrowly avoided early spring frosts. Vignerons were allowed out of lockdown to tend to their vines. Enterprising Thibault Liger-Belair invited sommeliers who were at least temporarily out of a job to come and spend a season working in the vineyards.

 

Summer 2020
Spirits revived a little with the advent of the summer. Though formal events were still not possible – and we were particularly sad to miss the 10 Year On tasting event, which would have focussed on the fascinating 2010 vintage – let us hope we can still reschedule this. I was now able to get out and about and taste with vignerons in their cellars, as well as taking long walks through the burgeoning vineyards. My major focus at this point was vignerons in the Côte de Beaune of whom I had heard good things but had never visited, or at least not for a long time. Christophe Diconne and Estelle Prunier in Auxey-Duresses, Alain Gras and the Buisson brothers in St-Romain, Vincent Dancer and Fabrice Bouard-Bonnefoy in Chassagne-Montrachet, and a long overdue return visit to Benoît Ente in Puligny.

St Romain

Meanwhile, rumours were circulating from abroad that Burgundy was suffering another 2003 season but this was absolutely not the case. It was warm, hot even, for most of the summer, but without any of the extremes of temperature of 2003, indeed not even approaching 2018 and 2019 in terms of heat spikes. But it was exceptionally dry. The wind only seemed to come from due south (hot and dry) or due north (cold and dry) with no westerly rain-bearing influence.

 

Harvest 2020
I won’t spend too much time on the 2020 vintage while people are busy digesting the current round of offers for the 2019s. Just to say that the grapes ripened early so many producers not only started but actually finished their harvests in August! Expect some exciting whites and more variable reds exceptional in some cases, suffering from excess heat and drought in others.

Harvesting Meursault Clos de la Barre

After the harvest I returned to both Chablis and the Mâconnais to complete my visits, or at least as many as have been possible this year. Three points of focus in the latter region this year:  the welcome and long awaited confirmation of 1er cru vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé (chapeau to Frédéric-Marc Burrier and his colleagues); my first thorough exploration of the Viré-Clessé appellation, which I confess I had not properly understood before; and a whirlwind speed-date tasting with the members of the Artisan Vignerons du Sud – I stayed put on one location and every 20 minutes another vigneron came by to show me their wines. Incidentally, the sunshine style of 2019 vintage sits better in the Mâconnais than in Chablis, where the aromatics of fully ripe chardonnay were often in competition with the classical marine characteristics.

2019 Chablis Report
2019 Mâconnais Report

 

Autumn 2020
My big surge of tasting the 2019 vintage began on Monday 28tjh September with an early morning start chez Jacques Carillon. The first month went well, with the pandemic always in the wings, but no restrictions on tasting, so the program could go ahead without worries. I concentrated on the Côte de Beaune for the first month, finding some ripe yet delicious 2019 whites and some very promising reds. My Instagram postings flourished and we now have over 15,000 followers.

2019 Côte de Beaune Report

November was more of a problem as a second stringent lockdown was imposed by government. A few producers cancelled my planned appointments but the word soon came down that professional tastings could continue if all the proper sanitary conditions were met. I went about my business discreetly (no social media) and was able to taste with all but half a dozen of my scheduled vignerons in the Côte de Nuits where there are some magical reds in 2019, but also a few over heated wines.

2019 Côte de Nuits Report

The third Sunday in November is the prescribed date for the Hospices de Beaune auction, which this year was obviously going to happen with a very limited physical presence. I was there in Les Halles, where the auction takes place, on the Saturday afternoon (in my role as consultant for the sale with Christie’s) – and two hours later the word came down that the sale had been cancelled, or at least postponed. In fact we were able to hold it a month later, on Sunday 13th December, with wonderful results on behalf of the Hospices de Beaune.

That apart, my month of December was spent writing up 3,000+ tasting notes for the 2019 Burgundy vintage, though you will be pleased to know that I took a break on 25th December!

I would like to finish by thanking your all for your marvellous support during this complicated year. JMIB has finished 2020 in a much stronger position than we started it, not least due to the great work by my team behind the scenes. You can now follow what we are doing not just through the usual social media but via our podcast channels too!

JMIB on Apple Podcast
JMIB on Spotify Podcast

@insideburgundy #jaspermorris #JMIBLive #JasperMorris #insideburgundy

 

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