his is the story about how the Wild West was won - Burgundy style. Domaine Michel Gros is located in Vosne-Romanée, one of the most prestigious villages on the Côte d'Or. The domaine has been the sole owner of the Vosne-Romanée premier cru Clos des Réas for the past century and a half. But the Hautes-Côtes, up west of the Côte, has played an important part in the history of the domaine. Today more than half of the production comes from the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits.
– My father was a bit of an adventurer, says Michel Gros. He would visit people in villages like Arcenant, Marey-lès-Fussey, etc. During five years he bought close to 1000 parcels of land there. Then he spent another five years regrouping them.
Exactly half of Domaine Michel Gros' 22 hectares produce red Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes. Another three hectares, added in the early 1980's, produce white of the same appellation. The remaining eight hectares are village appellations in Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Morey-Saint-Denis and premier crus in Nuits-Saint-Georges and Vosne-Romanée. There is also a small parcel of grand cru, one fifth of a hectare of Clos de Vougeot.
– Back then it was the renaissance of the Hautes-Côtes, says Michel Gros. All the vineyards there had been destroyed by the phylloxera at the end of the 19th century and very little had been replanted. During the 1960's and the 1970's it was the winegrowers of the Hautes-Côtes and a few from the Côte, like my father, that began replanting the area.
The Hautes-Côtes is the area on top of the Côte d'Or escarpment, and the adjacent area of various valleys and slopes. Only two appellations, both regional, are available – Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits and Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, both created in 1961. The Hautes-Côtes de Nuits vineyards of Domaine Michel Gros are located around Arcenant at an altitude of between 360 metres and 420 metres.
– When my father started the climate was a bit cooler in the Hautes-Côtes, says Michel Gros. So it could be quite difficult at times, especially in late vintages. The area has benefitted a lot from global warming. For me 1985 was the turning point. That's when the climate began to change. We began to harvest earlier. We have seen the same changes on the Côte, but not to the same extent. The last 15 vintages or so have been very favourable for the Hautes-Côtes.
The work Jean Gros, Michel's father, put in up in the Hautes-Côtes took ten years. Five years of buying and regrouping all the parcels and five years of clearing and planting the vineyards.
– In 1970 he had managed to regroup the parcels into a single one which covered six hectares, says Michel Gros. One of the reasons the Hautes Côtes hadn't been replanted was that it was so fragmented. There were many small parcels and many owners. Often the parcels were only a few square metres.
He sees a bright future for the Hautes-Côtes wines. The soil is good, the replanting was done with good quality clones and most of the vines are now between 25 and 40 years old.
– We treat these wines exactly the same way as our Vosne-Romanée or Nuits-Saint-Georges. 18 months of élevage. But there is one thing. This cellar is special in that we use foudres, very large oak barrels, for the Bourgogne and the Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits during the first six months after harvest. In April we blend and put the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits in ordinary barrels.
The monopole of Domaine Michel Gros – Vosne-Romanée, Clos des Réas – celebrated its 150th vintage in the Gros family in 2009. This premier cru covers 2.12 hectares and is, as the name suggests, surrounded by a wall.
– I have done some research, explains Michel Gros. The Clos, as we know it today, is about 200 years old. The current wall was built between 1800 and 1810. I don't know if there was an older wall before that. En Réas was mentioned in documents at the Cîteaux Abbey, but I don't know if that referred to the Clos or to the lieu-dit next to it called Aux Réas.
Clos des Réas is triangular in shape. At the northern end, next to Place de la Mairie, is a small house dating back to 1930. It used to be a winegrower's house, but is nowadays only used to accommodate harvesters once a year.
– It's not a very practical house, smiles Michel Gros. It too is triangular in shape, which means the rooms are triangular. Not very easy to furnish.
The house does however protect the vines in the Clos des Réas from the east wind. That, in combination with the surrounding wall, provides a special micro-climate.
– The most important is the fact that the wall protects the vines from both the east wind and the north wind. Inside the Clos des Réas it is slightly warmer. We always harvest two or three days earlier here than in the rest of the village.
– This adds to the character of the wine. In general it is quite a soft wine. No hard tannins. One reason is that the grapes are always very ripe in the Clos des Réas, almost bordering on over-ripe. Ripe tannins, supple and soft. I believe the soil and the micro-climate have a big impact.
The vines range from 15 to 50 years of age. Every ten years part of the Clos des Réas is uprooted and replanted. The wine sees 50 per cent of new oak.
– There is about 50 centimetres of red soil with limestone. The subsoil is oligocene marl, with salmon coloured veins and large limestone blocks. Clos des Réas is a bit special. Normally with marl there is not much stone. But in Clos des Réas there is very much. It is very well drained. When it rains the water passes very quickly through the soil. I would say this is one reason why Clos des Réas produces wine of high quality.
© 2012 Ola Bergman