Tomales Bay Trip: Don’t forget the Bruno Michel

This past weekend, Cinnamon and I took a little mini-break up to Tomales Bay. We stayed at Nick’s Cove and made a trip out to the Hog Island Oyster beds, and we brought along a range of wine from star direct import producer Bruno Michel to have with our meals. It was a great success, and I thought I would take a moment to tell you all about them, as some of them are exceedingly rare and won’t last long.

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Bruno Michel has an entirely organic vineyard in an area called Sud-Epernay, certified by Ecocert since 1999 and works only from his own estate. He has two wineries—one in Pierry and one in the village of Moussy. He comes from a long line of vignerons, and his father, Jose Michel is famous for making long lived Meunier vintages. Bruno started out his career as a nurseryman, and is obsessed with his vines, doing all of his own massal selections and grafting personally—he does not have a single commercially bought clone in any of his vineyards. These vineyards are also some of the coldest in Champagne, so cool that you won’t find Pinot Noir in these villages as it just won’t get ripe; instead you find Chardonnay on the slopes and Meunier on the flatter pieces of land. This coolness, combined with the massal selections in the vineyard and the organic viticulture give us some of the most electric, detailed, and fine Champagne that we stock.

Recently, Bruno discovered some forgotten reserves in his cellar, which he decided to sell as still, Coteaux Champenois wines. We received only thirty six bottles each of these two, and Cinnamon and I made that number 35 by drinking one of each over the weekend. We had the 1993 Bruno Michel "Les Oubliées Blanc" Coteaux Champenois Blanc ($69.99) the first night at the lovely restaurant at Nick’s Cove. We paired it very successfully with crab cakes, as this is extremely dry, fresh wine despite its age. This was in tank until just a few years ago, and is made entirely from old vine Chardonnay from steep east facing slopes in the village of Moussy. It is very reminiscent of a great old bottle of Domaine William Fevre on the nose—if I had it blind that is what I would have guessed—but the acidity is higher and the wine is totally fresh, so I probably would have guessed a vintage in the early 2000s.

For lunch the next day, we picnicked at Hog Island in the rain. We had quite the feast, with both steamed clams and dozens of great fresh oysters, overlooking the water where they are grown. This place is a must visit for any oyster lover, and especially nice since you can bring your own wine and fixings if you reserve a picnic table!

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We started out with the new label Bruno Michel "Assemblée" Brut Champagne ($49.99) which is composed of 78% Chardonnay and 22% Meunier with 30% reserve wines. With warm sourdough bread notes from over five years on the lees and absolutely top tier texture, this luxurious Champagne hit the spot. This bottling always reminds me the Bruno is operating at the very top level—elegance and complexity like this are hard to find at any price. With the oysters and the clams, we moved onto his new Bruno Michel "Assemblée" Extra Brut Champagne ($59.99), which is replacing the Rebelle in his range. This very dry, concentrated Champagne is composed 20% Meunier and 80% Chardonnay from vines over 40 years old. He added zero dosage to this batch, but in the future might add a gram or two depending on the blend. This is exactly the stuff for oysters with laser focus, driven acidity, and plenty of excellent Champagne chalk. The oysters were the best I had ever had, thanks to our extra cold winter, and the pairing could not have been better.

We returned to our cozy cabin at Nick’s Cove, and started a nice fire. Cinnamon had packed some homemade boeuf bourguignon along with her instapot for warming it up for our dinner. We paired it with the 1993 Bruno Michel "Les Oubliées Rouge" Coteaux Champenois Rouge ($69.99), an all Meunier red wine from the same plot that he makes his rosé des rose from. This is savory, intense wine that will thrill fans of Poulsard from the Jura. It is required to have something fatty with this wine, as the acidity is still off the charts, even though the wine is now 26 years old! The complexity of this leathery, dry cherry and beet like wine was striking, as was the incredible power of the cut on the finish. This could last another 26 years easily!

A toast to you! Gary Westby

Gary Westby