ylvain Pataille is a passionate man. Mention Marsannay and he will spend hours sharing his wealth of knowledge.
– Of course, I could have had other appellations as well, but Marsannay is enough for me. It would be pretentious to say it is the best appellation. I prefer being one of the best in Marsannay instead. I know a lot about Gevrey-Chambertin, but this is my village.
Marsannay is at the top of the Côte d’Or. North of Gevrey-Chambertin and Fixin, and just south of Dijon. The appellation stretches over three villages – Chenôve, Marsannay and Couchey. Asked if he comes from a winegrowing family Sylvain Pataille will tell you both yes and no.
– My father wasn’t a winegrower, he says. My grandfather neither. In my family it all stopped in the 1930’s. With the financial crisis and the First World War it was difficult to keep the vines. My grandfather kept 0.2 hectare for his everyday gamey and aligoté. As a kid I spent a lot of time with him in the vines.
With no vineyards in the family Sylvain Pataille had to start from scratch when he felt he wanted a domaine of his own. He went to wine school in Beaune at the age of 14 and then to wine university in Bordeaux in order to become an oenologist.
– Since my parents didn’t have any vines my plan was to travel and make several harvests a year. Instead I got a job at a lab in Beaune, where I stayed from 1997 to 2001. I learnt a lot. But at the same time it was quite superficial. You try the wines during vinification and ageing. After that you don’t exist anymore. The wines are not yours. And the guy who made them has forgotten about you. I really needed to create something that I could call my own. I was born to work in the vineyards.
His first vintage was in 1999, when he was still working as an oenologist at the lab. At the time the domaine only covered a single hectare. Today it is fifteen times that size, all centred around his beloved Marsannay.
In white, apart from the aligoté bottlings, he produces three wines. Two Marsannay and one regional appellation, the Bourgogne Le Chapitre.
– Le Chapitre has very good soil, says Sylvain Pataille. It’s just west of the village of Chenôve and it is for this reason they decided to leave it outside the Marsannay appellation in 1987. They had this idea that the appellation ended just south of Chenôve, where you have Clos du Roy. In the past Le Chapitre was the most famous of all Dijon wines. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was considered to be on par with the grand crus. But today it is still classified as Bourgogne.
– It has more elegance, more finesse, more everything than Clos du Roy. The soil is the same. White clay, rich in iron. Le Chapitre is warmer. It is the steepest slope of the appellation. We always start the harvest there. There are five more owners in Le Chapitre – Jadot, Domaine René Bouvier, Domaine Jean Fournier, Château de Savigny and Domaine Machard de Gramont.
One of the two Marsannay whites is a blend of several parcels. The other comes only from La Charme aux Pretres.
– The reds produced in La Charme aux Pretres are generally awful, says Sylvain Pataille. But the soil is great for white wine. Rich and very mineral. Usually I keep the wine in barrels for two years.
In red Sylvain produces six different Marsannay cuvées and two Bourgogne rouge cuvées.
– I feel it is important to bottle the lieux-dits of Marsannay separately. We have always done it to a large extent here in Marsannay. Not so much in the Couchey part of the appellation, because they don’t work in the same way. Since we are trying to have some parts of the appellation upgraded to premier cru it is important to show there are differences. A Clos du Roy will never be a Longeroies or a Montagne. Each has a strong identity.
Having part of the appellation upgraded to premier cru is a long process. It began in 2002 and is still far from finished. In total 16 lieux-dits, about 30 per cent of the appellation, are candidates for this upgrade. Among the 16 are Clos du Roy, Montagne, Longeroies, Echezeaux and Champs Perdrix.
– In Montagne you are very close to the rock, says Sylvain Pataille. Very poor soil. It is facing south, but it’s a cool place since it is at the end of a valley. At the same time the forest and all the stones in the soil help keeping the heat a bit. We always harvest late there. The aromas are always ripe. It is a very generous wine, but with less volume than Longeroies or Clos du Roy.
– Clemengeots is part of Champ Salomon, just between Marsannay and Couchey. It is mid slope, with very superficial soil with gravel beneath. There are some very thin stones in the soil, laves as we call them in Burgundy where they are used for roofing. In Clemengeots the roots of the vines need to go deep down in order to find something useful. It adds a light minerality to the wine, something you don’t get in Clos du Roy, where the soil is chalky with clay.
Apart from the various lieux-dits bottlings Sylvain Pataille also makes a blend, the Marsannay L’Ancestrale. It is a selection of his oldest vines in Clemengeots, Ouzeloy and Clos du Roy. The age is between 60 and 80 years. The berries are small and the yields low.
– It is one third from each parcel. I use whole bunches. Classic vinification and always long ageing, about two years.
In 2011 he stopped producing the traditional Marsannay rosé. Too much of a technical wine, he thought. Instead he has got his Marsannay rosé Fleur de Pinot, which is an age-worthy rosé inspired by Château Simone. The youngest vines are 65 years old. The rest are 80–85 years old. Yields are low, between 25 and 30 hectolitres per hectare.
– I wanted to make a very serious wine, explains Sylvain Pataille. At tastings I don’t tell people it’s a rosé, because many are not interested in rosés. When they taste the Fleur de Pinot they often say ”This is not rosé, this is wine!”. My aim is to make a great wine using great soil, old vines and long ageing.
– For the Fleur de Pinot I look for the same minerality as for the whites. It is like a great rosé champagne. I use 45 per cent new oak, but after ageing the oaky flavours will disappear. It’s 15 per cent pinot gris planted in 1935, 70 per cent pinot noir planted in 1949 and 15 per cent pinot noir from Chamforey planted in 1954.
© 2015 Ola Bergman