On the Trail

The French Whisky Est Arrivé

David Othenin-Girard
The picturesque area of Hérisson, home to an unusual French whisky.

The picturesque area of Hérisson, home to an unusual French whisky.

France is not a place known for its whisky. Wine, brandy, cheese—these are things that are distinctly French. But you may be surprised to know that France is the world’s top consumer of Scotch whisky by volume. More than thirteen million cases of Scotch are consumed there every year. The French are also well-known lovers of distillation. Whether in Alsace, Normandy or any other region, the French love to distill and consume spirits. It should be no surprise that over the last twenty years, nearly forty French whisky distilleries have opened up. These are often small, artisan distillers who make a tiny bit of whisky as part of their standard business, but some have committed fully to the category. Even more impressive, despite their countrymen’s astronomical consumption of Scotch whisky, these new distillers have, by and large, committed to crafting products that are completely unique to their region, even going so far as to specifically avoid influences from other types of whisky to ensure their distinctiveness. We’ve been on a search over the last year for the best, most compelling offerings from the wide world of French whisky, and we are now proud to offer these special products exclusively at K&L. 

When I first arrived in Uberach my worst fears were confirmed: the distillery doors were sealed shut. I’d arrived in town without ever actually making contact with the distillery. My emails to the website had gone unnoticed and the phones seemed to ring off the hook. After three unsuccessful days of scouring Switzerland for the next great single malt (it’s not in Switzerland), I’d decided to drive to Alsaceon a chance. But there I stood, the bright Alsatian sun gleaming and the unassuming little distillery looking like it hadn’t been used in years. In fact, everything about Uberach is unassuming. The strikingly beautiful drive from Basel had gone by in a flash, darting between the small Alsatian villages; they all start to blend together. I’d arrived early in the small, sleepy hamlet, not more than a bend in the road really, and nearly missed it. Just a grouping of several homes, most of them rather modern and not as picturesque as other villages in the area. A tiny boulangerie, a miniscule bistro and this desolate distillery were all I saw. As I drove through the sleepy streets I came across a small industrial area just outside town. Some modern modular buildings had been erected there, but again no sign of life. The local organic brewery sat silently, but I noticed a small wine shop in the corner.

I spent the next hour quizzing the shopkeeper about Alsace, eau de vie and, of course, malt whisky. Uberach, despite its small stature, was in fact home to two world-class distilleries. Alsace, you see, is blessed with an incredible abundance of fresh fruit. The finest soils and climate create what many consider to be the fruit basket of France. Until recently, distillers mostly made their living off their neighbors, distilling the excess fruit from local orchards and selling it back to the growers. The very best developed relationships with their best growers and began producing superior quality eau de vies. That’s how the Bertrand Distillery started some 150 years ago, their founder’s motto a good indication of the commitment to quality: “Seeking perfection through the love of a job well done.”

As I left the wine store, the shopkeeper assured me that someone would eventually be by the distillery to open up. I ducked into the little bistro and quickly realized the reason the streets had seemed so desolate: the entire town was gathered inside that little restaurant. Construction workers, businessmen, young professionals, all had stopped their work day by noon to walk into this restaurant, order a bottle of wine and enjoy some of the most exceptional food I’d had the whole trip. A glass of the local Pinot and the noix de veau with chanterelles put my worries at ease. After my exceptional lunch at Restaurant de la Forêt, I made my way back to the distillery.

By this time, the front doors were wide open, exposing the beautiful, antique alembic stills shining in the sunlight. I made my way around the building until I found a little office staffed by a very elegant woman. I think she was quite surprised to have an American there, and she ushered me into a small gift shop and introduced me to a distillery worker who walked me through the lineup. Stylistically, the range of casks, all sourced from French wine regions, function very similarly to the aging options in Scotland, with new and used French oak correlating with bourbon or virgin oak; Banyuls giving an almost Oloroso sherry quality; the Rasteau and Rivesaltes acting like port pipes and the vin jaune bringing some flinty mushroom, somewhat similar to the effects of a fino sherry aging. When I asked my guide 

if any of the malts we had tried would be available, he said almost certainly no. Everything was made in small batches and production is tiny, so he couldn’t guarantee that anything would be available. We’d have to wait for the owner, Mr. Metzger, he said. Demoralized, but not defeated, I thanked the generous staff, left my card and prayed for the best. As I was walking out, Isabelle called down from the office, “Wait, wait, I have Mr. Metzger on the phone.” I rushed back to the office and took the phone to hear a gruff voice ask me what I planned to do and why I was there. I said that I worked for one of the best stores in the States and that we would be honored to be their partner in California. Seeming surprised, but not at all shocked that I’d loved his whisky, Mr. Metzger said that I was the first American to ever visit the distillery. He then informed me that he won’t allow his product to be sold on just any shelf in just any store. He selects his partners exactingly for their commitment to independent producers, quality and integrity. I smiled and said, “You sir, I believe, are a perfect fit for us.” 

When I returned to Alsace this year, I finally got to meet the proprietor of the spectacular Bertrand Distillery. Jean Metzger is unflappable and direct, but also kind and gracious. He’s a total local, but loves to go surfing in Sri Lanka and works as a lifeguard at the local pool to make ends meet. He’s first and foremost a wine lover, wine before whisky without a doubt. It was this passion for wine that ultimately led him to attempt something special in the burgeoning category of Whisky d’Alsace. The AOC classification is finally done after nearly a decade of work (a big deal here in France), but distilling beer is not a new thing here. In fact, the distillery has a shared trademark (with two other local distillers) for an eau de vie of beer called Fleur de Biere that goes back many years. His first distillation of single malt (a wort containing no hops and 100% malted barley) was in 2003. While it was not the first malt whisky distilled in Alsace, Jean figures it was likely the second, and he makes a point of the fact that it was the first to be distilled with beer brewed in the same place as the distillation. The organic brewery next door is responsible for mashing and fermenting. This is why he calls it Uberach, homage to the place he feels is an essential element to the spirit’s character. Other than the sense of terroir that he’s trying to capture, the other element that is essential—as is true with almost all whisky—is the élevage, or aging.

That brings us to the barrels. Oh, God: the barrels he has are just silly. It’s a veritable Rolodex of France’s finest wine producers. It should be noted that while Metzger does work with some of France’s most renowned and exciting wine producers, he does not feel that the intensity of the wine influence necessarily means better whisky. Certain casks, like the first-fill Banyuls (a fortified wine something akin to port), turn out rich, inky whiskies that are obviously heavily marked by the flavor of the wine. Jean prefers those same casks on the second or third fill. He’s concerned with highlighting the malt and making sure the flavor of the spirit is not completely overshadowed by the cask influence. 

I think that his most impressive whiskies are the oldest, with the most intense cask influence, but perhaps that will change as the quality of spirit and the average age improve. On that note, I did get a chance to taste a two-week-old spirit peated to 40ppm that has replaced the less peaty versions from earlier distillations. It’s clear that there’s been a massive improvement in the base spirit over the last thirteen years. This new spirit is full of sweet malt and earthy peat playing perfectly together. While it doesn’t feel like a young Islay (it is malted on locally sourced peat, of course), the closest thing I can compare it to is the wonderful young spirit coming out of Kilchoman. 

Unfortunately, due to many factors, the distillery can only produce a few weeks out of the year. With his small stills and bootstrap attitude, he’s filling less than thirty barrels a year. We’ll be lucky if we see any of Mr. Metzger’s exceptional single cask products this year, but in the meantime you can check out his wonderfully unique and utterly quirky assemblage he bottled for especially for us.

The next wild French whisky that we stumbled upon is the very unusual Hedgehog whisky from the commune of Hérisson in Allier. The Hedgehog is unlike any other whisky in the world. It comes out of one man’s passion and determination to make a truly unique regional whisky without the influence of any other production style or method. I mean, this guy—the whisky is distilled under the pseudonym Mr. Balthazar—literally didn’t do any research on other ways to make whisky. Located in the department of Allier, the center of France and the historic realm of the Duke of Bourbon, Hérisson (which means “Hedgehog” in French) is a popular summertime destination for theater lovers. Whisky lovers who venture behind the famous Church of St-Sauveur will find the workshop where Hedgehog was first produced in 1983. And on the wall inside the workshop is an old joke of W.C. Fields, slightly modified to fit the circumstances of this whisky: “One should always carry a small bottle of Hedgehog in case of a snake bite. And one should always have a small snake handy.”

The distiller starts with locally grown corn and malted barley, these he mills himself and blends in about 20% rye which is milled locally as his apparatus can’t get the consistency correct. These are then put through an enzymatic breakdown process of different temperature washes. The whole mash is then fermented on the grain using two proprietary yeast strains which the distiller has cultivated over the years from local sources. Fermentation is very slow, sometimes up to 14 days in small tubs. This unlautered mash is then distilled with all the solids (not unlike bourbon) on a small Holstein still built in Germany. The second distillation takes him close to 70% ABV, which is cut to 60% before filling in heavily toasted new French oak barrels. After a year of oak extraction, the spirit is transferred into ex-cognac barrels for another three to four years.

The result is a rustic, uncompromising spirit that’s as wild as the man you created it. Honey, oak, slight grappa notes on the nose are balanced by a supple mouth feel and a long easy finish. It’s truly unlike any other whiskey in the world. Undoubtedly some will turn their nose up at this unrefined specialty, but I find this hearty beverage ultimately delicious, unique and unpretentious in the best way. I would recommend some serious aeration before judging this whiskey as the powerful nose softens nicely with air. This whiskey is a labor of love and production is miniscule. We received a very small allocation, but it will likely sell quickly thanks to pure curiosity.

-David Othenin-Girard

The Cold Truth

Eric Story
This picture says so much. On the far right you can see the bud which was just starting to have leaves uncurl, but is now completely dried out and crisp. The cluster of the three buds show some damage but still have a fighting chance. The two shoots on the left have turned into gel. You can see them starting to completely die as the brown discoloration creeps up from the stalk. Then there is the ladybug which represents life and a new tomorrow.

This picture says so much. On the far right you can see the bud which was just starting to have leaves uncurl, but is now completely dried out and crisp. The cluster of the three buds show some damage but still have a fighting chance. The two shoots on the left have turned into gel. You can see them starting to completely die as the brown discoloration creeps up from the stalk. Then there is the ladybug which represents life and a new tomorrow.

The Sad Reality:

The last few days of April proved to be a disastrous and heartbreaking time for a very large number of winegrowers who make their living in the cooler climate zones of France. And, as typical of the media, the big money areas such as Burgundy and Champagne received the overwhelming majority of coverage. $Oh no, what will happen with the already heavily-overpriced and over-allocated wines?$ Well, also greatly affected was the entire reach of the Loire Valley where, depending on the sub region, anywhere from 25-100% of the crops were wiped out.

Jerome Billard, of Domaine de la Noblaie, in the vineyard inspecting what could have good potential to make a comeback. I really think the fact that he's such a down-to-earth, nice guy and family man may come through in his wines. His love for his vineyard is unmatched.

Jerome Billard, of Domaine de la Noblaie, in the vineyard inspecting what could have good potential to make a comeback. I really think the fact that he's such a down-to-earth, nice guy and family man may come through in his wines. His love for his vineyard is unmatched.

What Happened?

This frost or, “gel” in French, did not spare one single commune from the far west to the far east of the Loire; it took its toll on everyone grower and on every varietal. To put it simply: a massive low pressure front of sub-freezing temperatures came in and just sat down on the region at one of the absolute worst possible times. It was just as bud break was beginning and/or as young tender shoots were just unfolding their first leaves in order to receive the sun’s rays. At these sub freezing temperatures the tiny buds pushing from the vines basically freeze dry and the water within cells of the young tender shoots freezes, then thaws and turns into what almost looks like a translucent jelly barely holding its form—very much like freezing lettuce and then thawing it out. 

Even though there was devastation outside, Fred Niger of Domaine l’Eclu spent nearly three hours with me tasting and talking about winemaking philosophies. Here he’s dipping into one of his custom made amphora to grab us a taste of the future. It was great to hear his take on “natural wine”.

Even though there was devastation outside, Fred Niger of Domaine l’Eclu spent nearly three hours with me tasting and talking about winemaking philosophies. Here he’s dipping into one of his custom made amphora to grab us a taste of the future. It was great to hear his take on “natural wine”.

The Damage:

I arrived to the area just a few short days after this deep freeze took place. I was saddened by the news and the brutal reality of it, but as a winemaker here in California I was also very interested in seeing firsthand what the effects were in the vineyards and to talk to the winegrowers themselves. As I mentioned before: no area was spared. There was no way to not see the damage that had occurred. While in areas such as Muscadet, Savennières, and Sancerre, the damage was “limited” to anywhere from 25-60%, in other areas such as Chinon, Saumur, Vouvray, and Touraine it was more like 35-75% destroyed. By far, the worst that I saw was in Bourgueil, St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, and Montlouis sur Loire where they were absolutely devastated with 85-100% of their 2016 vintage totally wiped out. Now, for the bigger producers who have A LOT of land this will of course hurt them, but they will be able to move on. However, those smaller farmers who farm little parcels and only produce small amounts of wine each vintage, it really hurts.

Laura Semeria, of Terra Laura/Domaine de Montcy. What a fantastic treat being able to walk through her vineyards and see what amazing things she has accomplished. As you can see from the weather in the background it was a somewhat of a dreary day, especially considering the circumstances. But her enthusiasm and passion made all of that go away. Yet another wonderful organic grower in which you can feel the spirit throughout the vineyard.

Laura Semeria, of Terra Laura/Domaine de Montcy. What a fantastic treat being able to walk through her vineyards and see what amazing things she has accomplished. As you can see from the weather in the background it was a somewhat of a dreary day, especially considering the circumstances. But her enthusiasm and passion made all of that go away. Yet another wonderful organic grower in which you can feel the spirit throughout the vineyard.

The Spirit:

I’ll be honest: I was extremely nervous about showing up and asking producers to taste me on their wines and take up their time after such a catastrophic event—what horrible timing it was! However, as has happened every time I have visited the winemakers of the Loire, I was greeted with smiles, hugs, and an inherent optimism which can only be described as infectious. Even though the full scope of what happened had already sunk in, each and every winemaker was positive and had an outlook which can only come from people who truly know, understand, and love the land they work. Also keep in mind that these people aren’t sales suits from the city that can take a bad can of tuna and sell it as fancy caviar. These are farmers who bleed, sweat, and have an integrity which is hard to match. I have to say, I was so happily impressed with the resilience and the positive long range outlook in which they carried—hopefully some of it rubbed off on me.  

We will remember the frost that terrorized France's vineyards in 2016. However, I'm certain the spirit of its most committed winemakers will overcome that immense obstacle.

-Eric Story


The Spirit of the Working Class

David Driscoll

We have a tendency in America to think of whiskey as the blue collar spirit; the type of down-home drink our everyman ideal enjoys at the end of a long day. A shot and a beer. A small respite from the toil and trouble of the night shift. Yet, is a glass of Bourbon really the drink of the American masses when it's being produced by multi-billion dollar conglomerates, most of whom are headquartered outside the country? Is a shot of Jameson or Bushmills still the pride of the Irish proletariat when the country's three main producers are owned by French, Mexican, and Japanese corporations? Whiskey is big business these days. In fact, it's so lucrative that most of the brands we cut our teeth on have become part of incredibly large drink portfolios, destined to dominate the world through volume and market share. That being said, where should the common man look these days to get a shot of something robust and warming, made by the people, for the people? The answer is Gascony, France. Indeed, Armagnac is truly the last major brown spirit region untouched by corporate hands.

Life in Gascony is a simple one with simple needs and simple pleasures. A loaf of fresh bread. A plate of fois gras. A glass of rosé with lunch and a small serving of Armagnac afterward; that's it. You enjoy the simple things of Earth's existence—the things that make living worthwhile. While many Americans continue to be intimidated (and therefore put off) by the refinements of the French lifestyle, there's nothing snooty or highbrow about la vie de Gascogne. The people of Château de Pellehaut, for example, are no different than you and me. The Béraut family lives a simple life in the countryside of the Ténereze, not far from the small village of Montreal-du-Gers. They like to sit outside, eat, drink, and talk; just like us. Their wines are not expensive, nor are their brandies. They are humble, but well-made necessities of living.

Unlike most whiskey producers, the folks at Pellehaut (and most Armagnac houses) handle every step of the process—from the vineyard to the still to the barrel to the bottle. Located near the town of Montreal-du-Gers, Pellehaut has 140 hectares of fruit in the Ténarèze and they mature their distilled spirit in a variety of different casks. Owned by the Béraut family, which purchased the estate after WWII, the property is run today by the sons of Gaston: Matheau and Martin, who have apprenticed at Tariquet, Beycheville, and even Au Bon Climat near Santa Barbara. Today they grow mostly ugni blanc and folle blanche grapes, which are also used in their simple, affordable, everyday wines. For maturation, they begin with new oak (of various types), but often transfer the brandy to 400 liter barrels when the wood becomes too dominant a flavor. There's nothing fancy going on at Pellehaut, just good, honest brown water from folks with humble ambitions. To me, it seems like many American drinkers dream of Bourbon's ideal, while the romance actually lies in Armagnac. There are many similarities between the two spirits. Both are aged in new oak, both have rich wood flavor, and both are made in an unpolished, bold, unabashed style. For a simple introduction to the genre, check out the Pellehaut "L'Age de Glace" for less than thirty bucks—an exclusive at K&L that just came back into stock. For something more intense, check out the 2001 Pellehaut 15 Year Old at fifty bucks. There's nothing that comes close in the whiskey category for that price.

But that's because there ain't no fifteen year old whiskey for fifty bucks. Fifteen year old American whiskies these days are trophies. Fifteen year old Armagnacs, however? They're just simple necessities of living for reasonable prices.

-David Driscoll

Bordeaux Trip Highlights

David Driscoll

Since I was the head photographer on this past Spring's trip to the 2015 Bordeaux en primeur tastings, my colleagues asked me recently if I could compile a photo album for the gang of six—the rag tag group of K&L tasters who fearlessly packed themselves into a blue minivan for eight straight days, drinking from morning until midnight, pickling their livers for the benefit of our customers. While I posted quite a few shots during that period while live blogging here at On the Trail, I thought I'd post a few additional romantic images that didn't quite make the cut—just to get you in the mood! Every time I think I'm tired of drinking red wine, I look at these photos and I get right back into the Bordeaux frame of mind.

The stunning grounds of Pichon-Baron set to the tune of the morning sun. While the others went in to say hello and prepare the tasting, I ran outside to take advantage of the lighting.

The tasting at Cos d'Estournal was done in a moody and atmospheric room with no other illumination other than from the table itself. Many of the château-sponsored events are as fashionable and artistic as they are delicious! But that's the French. That's why we love them.

Our second morning found us in the cellars of Lynch Bages while the cellar master was checking the wine via candlelight for color and concentration.

While exploring the vast cellars of Mähler-Besse, Ralph discovered some Mouton from his birth year: 1955. 

One of the most intimate and revelatory tastings we experienced on the trip was at Vieux Château Certan with director Alexandre Thienpont. A few of us thought it was the best wine of the vintage, but I'm sure the church-like atmosphere had a lot to do with that.

I woke up early one morning while staying at Château Beauregard and took some photos of the grounds. There was a pond out back that looked like a moat to a castle with lili pads that reminded me of sliced vegetables.

I probably have about a hundred of these action shots from afar with the gang strolling Tarantino style into various estates. 

Deep into the now-epic Latour dinner with château director Frédéric Engerer, it appears the esteemed winemaker is struggling to hear one of Clyde's many jokes. That or he can't believe his ears! I've thrown in the towel (literally a napkin) on my confit.

Mood and lighting are once again important when tasting with the giant negoçiant Joanne. Alex Pross is preparing himself for the onslaught.

Most of our time in Bordeaux was spent doing this. Here we're in St. Emilion with Angélus director Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal.

We spent a lot of time doing this as well. Here Phil and I are traversing the underground cellars at Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, looking for the perfect wine to pair with lunch. 

Speaking of wine with lunch...I'm getting thirsty.

-David Driscoll

The Renaissance of the Italian Spirit

David Driscoll

When we think of the world's great spirits, we commonly think of Scotch whisky, French Cognac, American Bourbon, and London gin. One could go a bit further and include Mexican tequila and Canadian rye to the mix, but one thing's for sure: few people—if any—think of Italy when they think of distilled spirits. We hear "Italia" and immediately we dream of wine, pasta, fine leather goods, and Mediterranean living. A few of us have smuggled a bottle or two of limoncello back in our suitcase, but beyond that we typically look elsewhere for our hard liquor. That perception has begun to change drastically over the last few years, however, as American cocktail enthusiasts continue to dig deep into Italy's past in order to improve their creative libations. The result has been an interest in Italian heritage not seen in the United States since Coppola and Scorcese captivated a generation of film fanatics. Sweet cocktails went out of fashion domestically almost a decade ago, replaced by a pre-Prohibition fascination with more bitter, herbaceous, and spirit-heavy libations. Italy's vast selection of traditional herbal liqueurs—normally associated with older generations—began to interest a new generation of drinkers. As Negronis and Black Manhattans began appearing on drink menus between San Francisco and New York, a hunger began to spread for more cocktail-friendly Italian spirits—one that has yet to be satiated. 

If you need proof of the booming Italian spirits business, look no further than Campari and Aperol—two products that continue to post double-digit sales growth numbers year after year in the States. Beyond the two red giants, however, lies an entire world of historical and traditional Italian liqueurs and amari (amaro is the Italian word for "bitter" and is also the name for a type of bitter Italian liqueurs) that is slowly evolving into the mainstream. I spoke with my friend Orietta Varnelli this week, head of the Varnelli spirits company her family has run since 1868. She said to me:

What American trade and media are doing about Italian traditional spirits is amazing and all producers have to be sincerely grateful. It is crazy to say, but only thanks to the wind which comes from the U.S. there is an evident revival of Amaro also in Italy and more generally in Europe.

There's a long history of American stars reviving their careers overseas. Jerry Lewis in France. David Hasselhoff in Germany. Nicholas Cage in China. Sometimes what is considered stale, antiquated, and passé at home is considered rustic, traditional, and romantic abroad and that foreign interest can often spark a new renaissance of appreciation. In the case of traditional Italian spirits, it seems the American thirst is now rekindling an interest back across the pond. Given the spirits spotlight, however, don't expect Italy to give in to simple stereotypes or generalizations. There's a lot more happening in Italy right now besides amaro. We've been been keeping our eye on the region for a few years now and have discovered some wonderful gems that transcended our expectations and pleased our palates.

Nestled into the hills of Emilia Romagna is the Villa Zarri distillery, a small production run by Guido Zarri with a stunning portfolio of traditional Italian recipes and impeccable aged brandies. The Cognac-style brandies are distilled on an alembic pot still from trebbiano (the Italian version of ugni blanc, same as Cognac) and aged in French Limousin oak for at least ten years. They are unadulterated, have no added caramel or sugar, and are like fuller, richer, more interesting versions of their French cousins. I was absolutely smitten with the ten and twenty-one year old brandies the first time I tasted them; so much so that I immediately requested barrel samples to hopefully purchase older, higher proof selections directly for K&L in the future. Guido was excited about working with us on a project and provided us with an incredible 1991 vintage 24 year old brandy at cask strength, combining the richness and the finesse of great Cognac with the power and depth of a fine single malt Scotch. It's not only one of the best brandies I've ever tasted, it's one of the most reasonably-priced spirits I've ever tasted for the quality involved. Guido also makes walnut and cherry-macerated brandies in addition to a fantastic amaro. He's one of the most exciting small distillers we've ever worked with and we would never have found him were it not for the new focus on Italian distillates. 

Our pal Oliver McCrum, long one of our most trusted names in Italian wine imports, has also helped bring more boutique, off-the-beaten-path producers to K&L over the past year—scouring the Italian countrysides in search of unique and interesting spirits. One of the most popular additions to our selection has been Sicily's Amara: one the most incredible and delicious orange liqueurs you've never tasted. Located on the east coast of the island, just miles from the active volcano of Mount Etna, are the blood orange orchards that Rossa Sicily harvests its incredible citrus from. The zest of those volcanic-grown oranges is macerated with base spirit and sugar to create a simultaneously sweet, bitter, and spice-laden elixir of incredible depth that can be sipped on its own, mixed into a cocktail, or poured over ice with a splash of soda. 

But it doesn't stop there. We've recently received in new products from Marche producer Meletti, Piedmonte distiller Bordiga, and Romana aperitif legend Mancino. We're convinced this is just the tip of the iceberg. Italy has a long tradition of distillation and, like Guido Zarri, there are a number of small producers with incredible stocks of delicious spirits. The renaissance is in full swing, but it's just getting started. Stay tuned.

-David Driscoll


A Napa Valley for American Beer & Whiskey

David Driscoll

It’s hard to know exactly where to start when attempting to summarize what could be an eighteen page New Yorker length article into an easy-to-skim K&L blog post, so let’s just dive right into it. Here’s what I knew about the guys at Westland distillery going into my recent trip to Seattle: they use local barley, local peat, and local oak to make a large percentage of their whiskey. They do so, however, because it actually makes their whiskey better, not simply because it’s fashionable in the food and drinks business currently. Of course they also enjoy supporting local farmers, making a product that’s regional and distinct, and working within the Seattle community to strengthen the ties of industry, but—unlike a number of exploitatively-local spirits—flavor is first and foremost on their minds. To better understand just how committed the gang at Westland is to creating a better tasting single malt, the two Matts (distiller Hofmann and sales manager Freerks) invited me to accompany them north of Seattle to the Skagit Valley, a fertile farmland known mostly for its tulips. They were vague on the details of our field trip, promising me that I would understand the significance of our appointment when I met our hosts. We were starting at the Mount Vernon outpost for Washington State University known as the Bread Lab where Dr. Stephen Jones was waiting for us. 

Dr. Jones is a bit of a folk hero in the food world (read this related article in New York Magazine) and let’s just say he’s not very popular with Monsanto. He’s a professor and a breeder of wheat, barley, beans and various small grains and one day he decided he was tired of big agriculture telling him what did and didn’t constitute quality when it came to commodities. “The commodities market has no room for flavor,” he said with a chuckle as we stood in his barley breeding field outside the main office, “Once you start operating outside of it you’re free to focus on quality.” What large scale producers want in their wheat are characteristics that allow for high-speed, industrial baking that in turn allow for consistency and efficiency. Once all that starch is processed they add the flavor back in later with additives, chemicals, and other mystery ingredients (like caramel in your whisky). Fortunately for us, Dr. Jones wasn’t interested in breeding commercially-viable grains for Wonder Bread. He was interested, however, in breeding flavorful, unique, and interesting grains that would flourish in the Skagit Valley soil, giving chefs, bakers, maltsters, brewers, and distillers like Matt the chance to work with real terroir. Dr. Jones is dealing with tens of thousands of different species, many of which have a unique flavor and flourish in the nearby soils; none of which are of interest to operations like Miller or Anheuser-Busch.

Terroir in barley? I’ve heard of that idea before; the concept that unique strains of barley growing in distinct regions of the world may be just as important to a whiskey’s ultimate flavor as certain grapes are to the character of a wine. I’ve even tasted a few local barley whiskies from Springbank and Kilchoman, a Bere barley expression from Bruichladdich, and an experimental barely release from Glenmorangie. They were indeed unique, but how thought out were they in origin? Why did the distilleries choose those particular strains? Did they taste better? Were they more interesting? Or was it simply a fun little exercise in locavore politics? Perhaps it made for a better story than it did a whisky. It’s tough to know how important the inherent flavor of barley to whisky is when you have no real point of reference. As we walked through the barley rows, each with its own individual strain, I noticed the difference in breeds—the various colors, the different shapes and sizes. “Barley has historically been grown in the region as a way to replenish the soil,” Matt Hofmann said to me. “The farmers would then try to sell it off as feed and maybe break even before replanting their more profitable crops.” 

“What we need to do is find a way to make it profitable for them,” said a voice from behind me. 

A man in aviator sunglasses was approaching the field, looking a bit like Lou Reed from a distance. It was Wayne Carpenter, the founder and director of Skagit Valley Malting—a company created roughly five years ago to begin malting some of Dr. Jones’s difficult local grains for commercial operations like Westland. “The Skagit Valley is a unique climate,” Wayne said to me after we shook hands. “There are only six others like it in the world and the barley that grows here is higher in starch and lower in protein, which is exactly what you want if you’re a brewer or a distiller. The problem is the kernels themselves are fatter and more difficult to malt.” 

“That’s where you come in?” I asked with a smile. Wayne grinned.

Just up the road from the Bread Lab is the Skagit Valley Malting facility where Wayne has set up what could be the greatest malting production ever created. In fact, when Matt and Matt first visited the site and saw the machines up close, Wayne forced them to sign a non-disclosure agreement because he was still patenting the technology. Wayne is an interesting guy, a former military fighter pilot who was very successful as a computer engineer and mathematician during Silicon Valley’s processing boom of the early nineties. “We’re using technology to malt more efficiently. We’re not going backward,” he said to me as we walked into his lab. “Some people see what we’re doing here and they write it off because it’s modern, but we’re keeping the important elements in place.” I made a joke about Amish hipsters and we all laughed. In the food and drinks business the branding of “hand-crafted” has become a bit ridiculous, especially when much of what’s said to be “hand-crafted” isn’t all that good. At Skagit Valley Malting they’re incredibly focused on efficient and effective processing, it’s just that Wayne is doing so in the name of flavor, rather than at the expense of it. What’s even more compelling is that he’s invested more than ten million dollars in order to do so, all of it from his own fortune. 

“Barley does not want to be made into beer or whiskey,” Wayne said as we moved over to his on-site testing brewery; “What it wants to do is make other little barleys, so it’s up to us to convert the starch into sugar before it tries to sprout.” Some strains of barley are more difficult to malt than others, which is why they’ve been phased out by the agriculture industry; they’re too difficult to work with on a large scale. But it just so happens that many of those difficult strains are the most flavorful when malted properly. Like I mentioned before, I’ve only tasted a few barley-specific whiskies in my lifetime. Part of the reason more distillers don’t experiment with various strains of barley is because they don’t know exactly what the resulting whisky will taste like. When you’re talking about years of maturation time, waiting around to see test the results isn’t exactly the most attractive business model. That’s why Wayne uses beer for flavor analysis rather than whiskey. Making multiple batches of identically-malted brews, each with the exact same amount of hops and yeast allows for a more realistic side-by-side comparison. “These are called ‘smash’ beers,” he told us; “Single Malt And Single Hops recipes. Everything is exactly the same except for the type of barley used.” All five were unique, and one in particular—a beer made with locally-grown Skagit barley—was simply to die for. It was indeed more flavorful and more delicious, and it did indeed make a better beer—just like he had pointed out back in the field. 

While Wayne hasn’t done much in the way of marketing, the word is out in the food community about the various flours he’s been able to mill from his flavorful homegrown malting. The bakers from San Francisco’s legendary Tartine were scheduled to visit this week, and Wayne has similar appointments with Dan Barber and the team from Blue Hill in Manhattan. They’re apparently thrilled with the breads they’ve been able to make from his collaborative work with Dr. Jones and there’s even been talk of specific tasting menus. Can you imagine it? Barley-specific bread paired with beer and whiskey made from the same strain? The possibilities are endless. What struck me most of all was something Wayne said before we left: “Silicon Valley helped make Napa what it is today. Without heavy investment and a market for those wines it could have become another Danville.” Wayne thinks the Skagit Valley could do for barley what cabernet did for St. Helena. Can you imagine that as well? A Napa Valley-like home for craft beer and whiskey just outside of Seattle? Wayne isn’t just imagining it, he’s banking on it—literally. From what he told us, there are already a number of big craft beer names looking into property just across from his malting center. Even I was practically itching to buy a plot of land nearby after he finished talking. I meet Bay Area tourists every day who plan on spending a few days in wine country. Why wouldn’t a veritable beer country have the same appeal in the Pacific Northwest? 

“This is the local eco-system we’re talking about when we talk about Westland being a locally-made whiskey,” Matt said to me as we drove back towards Seattle that evening. I was flat out inspired. This is the model all locavores should be working towards. You’ve got local farmers sitting on some of the best barley terroir in the world, but they can’t grow it profitably without customers. With the help of Dr. Jones, Wayne Carpenter, and Westland, however, they just might create an entirely new economy for it—one where everyone wins. The farmers get paid, Wayne gets paid, Westland gets a better barley, and the customer gets a better beer or whiskey, all while working to be sustainable and improving the local agriculture. Isn’t that everything working and buying locally should be about? It gets better, actually. Apparently not only is Wayne’s malting technology better at malting the Skagit Valley barley, it only uses a fraction of the energy and water used by standard malting facilities. “It’s green as well?” I asked him with amazement.

“Yeah, but I was really just trying to save money,” he said in all seriousness; “I came into this as a problem solver, mainly.” Barley that’s more flavorful and cost-effective? I have to imagine it’s only a matter of time before Skagit Valley seriously revolutionizes the way we think about whiskey. Once again, Westland is leading the way. It was never just about making single malt in Seattle for these guys; it was about making single malt in an environment that is uniquely and geographically suited for doing so. The proof of that is in the pudding. It’s in the soils of the Skagit Valley as well. 

-David Driscoll

Rare Whisky From Burgundian Cellars

David Driscoll

Just outside the town of Beaune – the spiritual capital of Burgundy – is the sleepy hamlet of Bouze-les-Beaune: a collection of old stone dwellings that looks much like every other small village in the area. As you make your way there, through the well-known communes of Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton, you see signs pointing the direction to every producer in the area. Burgundy is one of the most highly-regarded wine regions in the world, if not the most. Yet, amidst the rolling hills of chardonnay and pinot noir vines sits one of the most unsuspecting collections of Scottish single malt in existence; a veritable treasure trove of mature whisky aging in top-quality sherry casks. If you can find the unmarked home, adorned barely with an address, you’ll likely be invited inside. The parlor is very unassuming. It seems like nothing more than a rustic French home—a classic milieu for the many winemakers in the region.

Not many Americans have heard of Michel Couvreur, and even fewer know that he passed away a few years back after more than five decades in the whisky world. Within the booze business, however, he's a bit of a legend. A Belgian-born wine lover who moved to Burgundy for the wine trade, yet vacationed in Scotland where he developed a taste for sherry-aged single malt. Believing he could possibly improve upon the quality of his beloved whiskies, he built an expansive cellar beneath his house and travelled through Jerez in search of the finest old sherry butts. He then contracted new-make spirit from his favorite Scottish distilleries and aged the whisky in his own private cave.

Again, there are no signs pointing the way to Michel Couvreur's facility and there are no signs posted upon it when you finally locate it. This is by design. They do not want to be found. With the demand for whisky what it is today and the tourist trade that has developed behind it, the small staff doesn't have the ability to serve as a public relations department. Getting an appointment isn't easy either. There is a series of screening processes guarding that path. Nevertheless, we made a special effort to connect with their cellar master, and an even greater effort (our own version of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles) to get to their cellar. It's a destination we had been interested in for some time.

Jean-Arnaud Frantzen has been working at Michel Couvreur for eighteen years and he couldn't be happier. He adores single malt whisky and its potential for greatness when you have respect for its process. He's carried on in Michel's absence and continues to build relationships in Spain where he travels frequently in search of the finest barrels. Unlike Scottish producers, he drives the butts back himself so that they are as fresh as possible, thereby eliminating the need for sulfur and inoculation. Couvreur has always been just as interested in the sherry itself, rather than just the whisky that was aged inside its former receptacle. 

"Every wine has its own story and each cask is different," Jean-Arnaud said. "We prefer to only use old casks, in which the sherry has sat for thirty to forty years."

In the single malt whisky world, sherry-aged Scotch is currently king. The richer, darker, and denser the sherry flavor, the more people go crazy for it. Whisky aficionados have become so savvy about sherry they now want to know how many times the sherry barrels have been used—was the barrel a first-fill or second-fill?—as a way to gauge just how intense the flavor might be.

Because of the Scotch Whisky Association's strict rules about single malt classification and labelling, Couvreur has always had a difficult time calling itself what it is: Scottish single malt whisky (or sometimes blended single malt whisky) aged in France. Today, many of the labels simply say "malt whisky" without any other designation. While the industry has sought to protect itself (and consumers) from imitators and frauds looking to capitalize on Scotch whisky's reputation, Couvreur is not a threat. In fact, his whiskies are so good and so innovative that they serve as inspiration for many of Scotland's best producers. Because the cellar is located in the heart of French wine country, Jean-Arnaud and his team treat whisky like French wine—they're looking for nuance and delicacy, not big alcohol and power.

Part of what allows them to achieve this nuance is the condition of their cellar. Where is that cellar, you ask? Why it's just behind that unassuming little parlor, hiding behind what looks like any other door.

Most people, when they think of a wine cellar, imagine a small room under the home where wine is stored that's no bigger than the square foot area of the house itself. Couvreur's cellar is not such a cellar, however. It's built into the side of a mountain and is absolutely gigantic (and full of aging whisky stocks). Imagine one sixty-by-sixty foot room, and then a hallway leading to another, and another, and another. The conditions are moist, the floors wet with pools of cave secretions, and the temperature is constant. The whisky ages very slowly, but certain parts of the cellar are dryer and warmer, creating the potential for different speeds of maturation. Casks are frequently moved from one part of the cave to another because of this. We tasted from a number vessels throughout our visit and were absolutely floored by the quality. The Couvreur whiskies are absolutely saturated with sherry flavor, but they're never out of balance. The richness and concentration is intense, but it's nuanced and balanced like a fine wine, which is fitting considering they're located in Burgundy.

While there we let Jean-Arnaud know we were looking to do a custom cuvée with Michel Couvreur, something rich and supple on the palate, but with peat. Within a few months we had a real winner on our hands: the "Overaged" Peated malt whisky, a marriage of single malts all over the age of twelve. The whisky has been so popular over the last few years that we're now on our third batch and, personally, it's my favorite by far. The sherry flavor is bright and fruity rather than savory, and the peat smoke is oily and phenolic, like something in between Lagavulin and Bunnahabhain. It's simply tremendous stuff. This year we decided to add a customized blend of the decadent "Blossoming Auld Sherried" malt whisky, a a recreation of the legendary malt whiskies of the Victorian Era—a time when Sherry and Scotch were both kept on hand in the cellars of England and Scotland's great estates and drawn for consumption as needed. Matured in one single butt of the freshest possible Montila Morales casks, this whisky is redolant of that great wine of Jerez in a way that's simply not available in modern bottlings. This ultra saturated butt from a solera started in the 1950s at Toro Albala is one of a kind and Couvreur is the only producer allowed to buy from the venerable Bodega.

Getting to work directly now with the estate is a huge win for us and for serious fans of sherry-aged single malt who shop with K&L. Working directly now, we’ve been able to negotiate pricing that makes these whiskies even more attractive to consumers in the know. If you’re a fan of smooth, rich, supple, and complex malt whiskies, then you owe it to yourself to try one of these royal blends. In the world of sherry-aged Scotch, Michel Couvreur is king.

-David Driscoll

On the Trail in Limoux

Keith Mabry

Back at the beginning of May, we visited with our friend James Kinglake of Domaine Begude. A lot of changes were happening at the vineyard; not so much in the winery’s practices (they are still certified organic) or with the new plantings (they just added a some new hectares), but rather James and Katherine’s daughter, Millie, had gone off to boarding school in England earlier in the year. The new decision was to move Katherine and her parents back to England to be closer to their only child. So the day we caught up with Begude we found James in the midst of a little chaos getting passports for the dogs (so much for open borders!), packing up his in-laws (who were living on the property), and getting the rest of the house ready so that they could live a life of dual residences commuting back and forth between England and Limoux.

When Domaine Begude was conceived, back in 2003, James and Katherine Kinglake left their lives in the financial sector in London and moved to the south of France to take over a winery and begin their family. Within months of arriving, Katherine was pregnant with Millie and the long project of restoring the house, building a new winery, and replanting a vineyard was underway. We began working with them on their 2005 release and now, some ten years later, we are working with the majority of their wine portfolio.  

We started with an off road drive around the property, never getting above second gear while climbing the sloping hills of the vineyards. James related stories of people sneaking on to the property to do a little of their own ATV driving, forcing the winery to put up barriers so people wouldn’t drive off into the nearby gullies or canyons which would not be fun for anyone. We talked about the new plantings of pinot noir, the hidden grüner veltliner vines, and the expansion of the role of viognier in the winery’s portfolio. We also talked about the difficulty of having neighbors that are not practicing organics and the effect that can have on their farming. Challenges seemed abundant everywhere.

After our off-road excursion through the vineyards, we did some tank and barrel tasting in the winery. James ran through our favorites, including the Bel Ange chardonnay (all stainless with a splash of chenin blanc) that has just arrived and the sauvignon blanc which is due in a few weeks. We also talked about some of the appellation’s rules regarding the use of the designation Limoux. Limoux, as an appellation, is most famous for its sparkling wines, but still white wine can be produced as well. Begude’s high end chardonnay is known as “L’Etoile” and being their highest tier wine is appellation designated. We tasted through various barrels and the results are outstanding. The chardonnays are pure and precise with loads of stone fruit flavor. Some wines are aged in a mix of new and used 600L barrels that are swapped out after the fourth or fifth use. A wine that we have really begun getting traction on is the standard pinot noir and the 2015 results are stunning.  Famed wine writer Jancis Robinson has continuously lobbied the appellation board for recognition of this grape in the appellation, alas to no avail.

After our tasting we hopped in the car and went to town for lunch at the restaurant l’Odalisque.  The restaurant is best known for its seafood (the Mediterranean is less than an hour drive from Limoux).  We had the sauvignon blanc as an aperitif with a little cappuccino of langoustine soup and a crab and cucumber salad.  But the showstopper was the viognier-seared sea bass, mussels and asparagus (pictured below).

Without a doubt, the 2015s are the best wines produced at Begude to date. The ripeness of the vintage translates well into the depth and character of the wine. Let’s not forget that, in general, the fruit they're producing is more mature, they’ve continuously gotten better at making wine, and they know what they want to deliver in the bottle. Lush, pure, varietally-correct wine for a fraction of what you would get in any other region in the world. And, they do it all organically while living a life that includes family and adventure. 

-Keith Mabry

Destination Beaune

Gary Westby

Burgundy is a great place to take a vacation. Cinnamon and I just returned from a week there and we had an unbelievably good time. We both love to cook, so we packed up our knife roll and rented a little one bedroom apartment about a half-mile outside of Beaune’s wall called Les Dominicaines which had a small but complete kitchen. We were very happy to be very near but outside of the city center and we had no problems walking anywhere we wanted to go in Beaune thankfully without having to worry about parking! If doing a lot of cooking isn’t your style, the Burgundy team always stays at the IBIS Styles, also just outside the wall, for a simple, inexpensive but high quality hotel where the internet always works. If you want to stay in luxury, there is no doubt that Le Cep in the city center is the place to go. We stopped in for a drink—it is something that everyone should see! We were determined not to work on this trip, and so we visited as many mustard factories as we did wineries—one each! No visit to Beaune would be complete without booking a tour at mustard great Fallot. This must be booked in advance, and is very much worth it. Taking in the smell where the mustard seeds are ground is worth the price of admission alone, I learned more than I ever thought I would about Dijon production and the tasting was fantastic. We came back with a year’s supply of mustard at giveaway prices!

I read volumes and volumes and tasted broadly and deeply of the wines of Burgundy before my first trip, but I was still surprised by the compact scale of the Côte d’Or when I first saw it. It is absolutely perfect for exploring by bicycle, and the folks at Bourgogne Randonnées rented Cinnamon and I couple of simple Gitane Hybrids with racks and handlebar bags for a day trip. I wish that we had rented them for the week. We could have taken the train to Burgundy and not rented a car! We planned on a twenty-five mile round trip ride from Beaune to Vosne-Romanée, but my over confident navigation had us doing hill repeats up to the top of Savigny les Beaune where we discovered (twice) a very interesting hotel called Le Hameau de Barboron. It was such a gorgeous detour to ride up the narrow road that I am glad fate changed our plans. We did not go inside- but this is a place we need to check out next time! We had our packed lunch at the cross of Corton-Charlemagne, and headed back by way of Aloxe and Chorey-Le Beaune. It was a great half day pleasure ride!

When in Burgundy, one of the most interesting historical sites is the Hospices de Beaune, a charity hospital founded in 1443 that is funded by the auction of barrels from its large, high quality land holdings. We took the self guided tour which comes with an audio hand set, and it was fascinating. Seeing the fantastic roof up close alone was worth the price of admission. Each year, the auction at the Hospices set the stage for the pricing of the vintage, and the boutique has some of their excellent wine for sale. Cooking with the Burgundian ingredients has been a dream for Cinnamon and I, and the quality of the raw materials exceeded our expectations. Much has been written about the Saturday and Wednesday morning markets in Beaune, and even if you don’t plan on so much as cutting up an apple, taking in the scene downtown on market day is a must. On this trip we cooked the best chicken we have ever had- the true Poulet de Bresse, a bird with its own appellation! We paired it with a 2010 Hospices de Beaune Volnay 1er Cru Cuvée Blondeau and alongside great chanterelles and homemade ratatouille. With ingredients on the level that you find in the Beaune Market, it is pretty easy to cook at your best!

We did so much cooking that we only ended up going out three times on this trip. Each of the restaurants that we visited are highly recommendable. On our first night we visited the storied Ma Cuisine, and our first sip of 2012 Domaine Vincent Dauvissat Chablis transformed us from travel weary wrecks into very happy Burgundy vacationers. The wine list here is enormous and very fairly priced. Don’t go in without a plan! We had decided ahead that we would get a great producers village Chablis and follow it up with a great Volnay, and sticking to the plan landed us with two incredible wines. I had the duck and Cinnamon the sublime pigeon roti, and they both went outrageously well with a very fairly priced bottle of 2010 Domaine Henri Boillot Volnay 1er Cru "Les Fremiets". If you want to get in to this hotspot, make sure to book your reservation just after you buy your plane tickets—it is always full.

We took a short drive down to Puligny-Montrachet for lunch at La Table, Olivier Leflaive’s very nice bistro, where the menu is fixed and you can choose between a nine and seven wine experience, almost all whites. It turned out to be an incredibly educational experience, up there with the best that I have done as a professional (and we only called about an hour ahead for our reservation!). The concept is simple: high quality food served with flights of wine. We had the nine wine run and were very impressed. The sommelier comes for each course with three wines and explains the names of the vineyards and the unique soil and micro-climate conditions that make each site special. We were bought both the 2011 Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet “Enseignères” and the 2010 Olivier Leflaive Volnay 1er Cru Santenots to go! The Enseignères site is a five minute walk from the restaurant and sits just below Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru, and we took a stroll up to see it. It is amazing to see how much difference a few meters makes in Burgundy, especially just after tasting the wine!

After giving our Gite’s kitchen a deep clean, we ate out at La Lune on our last night. This tiny restaurant is the hottest spot in Beaune and if you want to go make sure to make a reservation as early as possible. The cuisine here is Japanese/French and presented in a tapas style format. The ingredients are the stars and the big plate of grilled vegetables that we started with stole the show. Veteran travelers to the wine regions of France know how nice it is to get some vegetables and when they taste like they could be from Chez Panisse it is almost too good to be true! The wine list is very good with plenty of ready to drink, well-priced options. We decided to go with a bottle of Tarlant "Zero" Extra Brut Champagne.

We had a fantastic time in Beaune, and can’t recommend going for a visit highly enough. My biggest souvenir is in my stomach and it will be water and salad for a while for me now!

–Gary Westby

Final Stops in Burgundy

Trey Beffa

The French villages of Fixin and Marsannay were the last two stops of our Burgundy trip this past May.  The town of Dijon is located only about ten minutes away from Marsannay so it makes turning the rental car in at the station and hopping on a train to Paris very easy when we can start our journey home. Fixin is located about thirty-five minutes north of the town of Beaune. Neither Fixin nor Marsannay have the “big name” properties you'll often find in communes like Vosne Romanee or Gervey Chambertain.  I get the sense that the proprietors here are therefore excited to see us; almost like they're impressed we even drove past Gevrey Chambertain to make the visit. 

Our first stop of the morning was a visit with Pierre-Emmanuel Gelin of Domaine Pierre Gelin; a funny stop as the property sits right in the middle of the Burgundy “burbs”. The estate was created in 1925 by Pierre Gelin and Stéphen Gelin took over its management in 1969. He was succeeded by Pierre. The winery is new, having been completed in 2011; not at all fancy, but it is sparkling clean. It looks like a standard home with a rather large garage from the outside. We tasted mostly 2015's out of barrel but also mixed in a few 2014’s, which will be bottled in August. He, like most everyone else in Burgundy, is very excited about his 15’s. We loved his 2012’s and we were able to grab one last drop of them from our distributor just recently. These wines include the 2012 Domaine Pierre Gelin Fixin ($39.99), 2012 Pierre Gelin Fixin 1er Cru "Clos Napoléon" ($59.99) and the 2012 Pierre Gelin Fixin 1er Cru "Les Hervelets" ($61.99)

Our second stop of the day was at Domaine Bart, a perennial K&L staff favorite. Domaine Bart is located in Marsannay, just up the road from Fixin, and here we meet with current wineamker Pierre Bart—the sixth generation at the estate. He has been running the property since 2009 along with his uncle Martin—a portfolio with twenty-two hectares of vines mostly in Marsannay, along with a few others in Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Santenay. Only a modest amount of oak is used at Domaine Bart; zero for the Bourgogne rouge and entry level Marsannays and the others only use about 25% with the Grand Cru’s using 50%. Like the Gelin visit, it feels a bit like the suburbs again but with a much more classically French vibe. The cellars at Domaine Bart are more of what you would expect cellars in Burgundy to be. Cool, damp and dark, they lie underneath the winemaking facility. Here we also had a chance to taste 2015’s out of barrel and we were most impressed with the line-up. We look forward to getting these wines in stock in about a year.  We also tasted a few of the 2014’s out of bottle. 2014’s are showing very well and seem to be a bit more consistent the 2013’s overall. The 2014’s just arrived so look for them in stock. Domaine Bart’s wines are classic red burgundies with lots of earthy components mixed with a wonderful purity of fruit. They are great food wines and can be enjoyed young. 

-Trey Beffa