icolas Rossignol has a firm grip on Volnay and Pommard, the two villages just south of Beaune. There are few cellars in Burgundy where you can taste seven Volnay premier crus and eight Pommard premier crus. In addition to these there is also a handful of village wines from both villages. Instead of blending the small parcels and just label it Volnay premier cru Nicolas Rossignol prefers to bottle everything separately.
– Friends ask me why I make so many different premier crus, says Nicolas Rossignol. By making many different wines you learn more, and you learn quicker. Experiences from one wine can be used for another. I find it interesting to have 30 different wines.
Domaine Nicolas Rossignol first saw the light of day in Volnay in 1997. Prior to that Nicolas Rossignol had been working with his father at Domaine Rossignol-Jeanniard, also located in Volnay. Back then he started out with only a few hectares. Today the domaine covers over 20 hectares and has an annual production of 110 000 bottles.
He outgrew his first cellar quite some time ago. The question now is whether he has outgrown the village as well. As he is standing in a large cellar that he is renting at the bottom of the village he explains that things have become a bit complicated. Domaine Nicolas Rossignol is no longer located in one single place. Instead it is spread out on several locations in Volnay, something that makes work more complicated and time consuming. Since the village is tightly surrounded by vines building new premises is not an option here. Instead he is considering moving everything to a new place outside Beaune.
But Nicolas Rossignol's wine portfolio is not only about Volnay and Pommard. It is practically all red, but on top of all the Pommards and Volnays there are wines from Beaune, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton.
– I just produce red wine, he says. Except for some Bourgogne chardonnay and some aligoté, but most of the time I sell it to a négociant.
– It is because when people come to me they are just thinking of red wine. If I had some Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet or Chassagne-Montrachet I would maybe keep it. But just Bourgogne or aligoté is not so interesting and I don't have that much of a feeling for white wine.
The range of wines at Domaine Nicolas Rossignol begins with the regional appellation, Bourgogne rouge called Héritière. It comes from old vines in the Crenilles, a plot near the Château de Pommard.
– It was planted in 1922 by my great-grandfather, says Nicolas Rossignol. First I wanted to call it Heritage. In France there are no rules for when you can put vieilles vigne, old vines, on the label; they can be five, 50 or 90 years old. So I did not want to put just vieilles vignes on it. But Heritage was too close to Hermitage.
– It has quite a special expression of the pinot noir, he continues. It's darker, a little stronger and a little bit more rustic. For me this is what pinot noir was a long time ago, not the new clones that we have for some of the other wines. This is more fresh red fruit and really elegant. It is made and aged like the premier crus. It is 15 to 20 per cent new oak and 50 per cent whole bunches. The yield is only between 29 to 34 hl/ha, about half of what is allowed for a Bourgogne.
Originally Nicolas Rossignol had no wish whatsoever of becoming a winegrower. He had seen the downsides of it and had his mind set on a different future.
– My father suggested I should try it for year. If I didn't like it after that I could do whatever I wanted. I was 14 or 15 years old at the time so I said yes. After a year I felt that something had changed inside me. I was closer to my grandfather and he taught me a lot about wines and vineyards. I continued at school and there is nothing that would change my mind now about my job.
Spending time in Nicolas Rossignol's cellar means a unique opportunity to taste several different wines from one single village; wines that come from different vineyards close to each other, but that are still different in character – the role of terroir. It is also an opportunity to taste several wines from Volnay and Pommard side by side, wines that are often said to represent two different characters – one feminine (Volnay) and one masculine (Pommard). Nicolas Rossignol will not agree with this. It is a much simplified view he does not share.
– Volnay Santenots and Volnay Ronceret are big wines with strong tannins, but the tannins are integrated in the wine. If you take a Pommard, even if it is a fine and elegant wine, you first have the wine when you taste, then the tannins take its place. The finish is just tannins, even if it is very elegant tannins.
According to Nicolas Rossignol much of the difference is due to the fact that Pommard is slightly cooler than Volnay. While Volnay is on a slope facing the sun the conditions in Pommard are a whole lot different. The village is on what used to be the riverbed, with a valley behind the village leading up to the Hautes-Côtes.
– That's why the tannins of a Volnay are riper and maybe rounder, says Nicolas Rossignol. The tannins of a Pommard are usually more foursquare and stronger, and finish the wine.
– You can find some really elegant and delicate Pommards, and some really powerful Volnays.
Nicolas Rossignol is often vinifying whole uncrushed bunches. It is not a technique he is using for every wine and every vintage. Instead it is a useful tool under certain conditions for bringing out the freshness of the wine. For the 2009 vintage he used 100 per cent whole bunches for the Volnay Fremiets and the Pommard Jarolieres, whereas the Volnay Taillepieds was de-stemmed completely.
– In 1995 I used a little bit of whole bunches, but I didn't have grapes that were ripe enough. What I hate about this technique is when you get this green flavour. Once you have it there it will stay for the rest of the life of the wine. So you need perfect maturity for this, really healthy grapes.
– So I abandoned this technique for a while. In 2002 I used it a little bit again and in 2003 a lot, because of the high maturity. In 2004, because of the hail, we de-stemmed everything. In 2005 and in 2006 we used some whole bunches. I de-stemmed quite a lot in 2007 because the maturity of the stems was not good enough. In 2008 and in 2009 we used a lot of whole bunches.
© 2010 Ola Bergman