Volnay, 1er Cru Santenots

Terroir

Santenots has always been a highly regarded premier cru in Volnay, although it actually lies in the commune of Meursault. There is quite a lot of clay in this large vineyard making it more suitable for red wine and a rather fulsome, velvet red wine to boot, hence its inclusion within Volnay. The high iron content is evident in the red colour of the clay. Here the bedrock is Bathonian limestone, harder than that in En Chevret & Champans. There are plenty of small stones in the top soil with larger stones in the section from which my fruit came. I selected fruit from an area at the top and on the Volnay side of the domaine’s parcel. (It is below and adjoining Santenots de Milieu.) There is a greater percentage of rock mixed with clay & is easily differentiated from the sandier soil (a silty downwash) a few metres to the south and the heavier clay from the section lower down. It’s on a slight slope assisting with drainage.

Santenots was first mentioned in 1218 as 2 ouvrées were included in a package of Meursault handed over to Citeaux by the  Abbey de Tart.

Domaine

The fruit comes from Nicolas Rossignol. It is easy to spot Nico’s vineyards from the high and healthy canopies, which grandfather initially encouraged him to grow. In this film Nico explains.

He works with the lunar calendar for pruning, racking and bottling, but has a pragmatic approach to bio-dynamics, taking that which works for him. The vineyard management is a labour of love. The soil is lightly ploughed. The focus is on the life and energy of the soils and the vines. There is more about the domaine under Chevret.

Santenots is a large vineyard with a total surface area of 29 hectares of which Nico has two. He divides his vineyard into three sections based on the soil type. Each is vinified separately and then blended for barrel ageing. The top half on the Volnay side is stonier, closer to the bedrock, making tight, mineral and vigorous Santenots. As the soil becomes sandier towards Meursault the older vines in this section make supple, elegant and more refined, lighter wine. The bottom, with more clay, is typical Santenots Bas, softer and richer.

I followed the separate cuvées in 2017, tasting during vintage with Nico and his team. It was an easy choice. Never-the-less I walked through the vineyard looking at the grapes and the soil on the morning of the harvest in 2018 and chose the fruit on the rocky part, where the ‘ship heads’ protrude through the soil.

In the Winery

This fruit needs very careful handing, not to become too austere. I decided to use 30% whole bunch to give the wine some floral complexity but also the freshness, a minty lift that whole bunch contributes, which is helpful in a warm vintage. I put them at the bottom of the small 1000l tank, which I enveloped in an insulation blanket. It only just contained the grapes for my three barrels. I simply kept the cap rinsed for the first 5 days or so taking juice from the tap at the bottom in a bucket to tip over the cap, while waiting for it to slowly increase in temperature. It had a remontage and a light pigeage on the eighth day and a pigeage on the 9th day. With one further pigeage, just standing on the fruit and mixing it gently with my feet, that was all the extraction it received. I tasted each day, but there was plentiful, body and tannin. It was in the vat for 20 days, as it took its time to ferment. Many in the Côte de Beaune found this vintage slow to ferment , and this is exacerbated when working with small volumes, which are harder to keep warm. It is now maturing in one year old Francois Frères barrels, although I am considering moving one barrel to new oak for the second half of the ageing.

Style and When to Drink

Santenots is a full-bodied, generous Volnay with velvet depth to the tannins. The clay gives the richness and sweetness. When it is joined by some limestone this makes tannins a touch stricter, but also finer… this gives the palate more definition, tension and freshness. In youth  my Santenots may seem quite taut, but as it matures it should reflect the character of the terroir in a certain sophistication, which was apparent during the vinification, before it tightened up. It’s still Santenots, a fulsome Volnay, but with a tighter core and a touch more refinement.

Give Santenots time to mature in bottle. It would benefit from at least 6 years, at which point there will still be plentiful fruit. However it is best left longer, 8 years to shed youth for more complexity, and 10  years to 12+ to be fully mature.

Vintages Made

2018: In this hot vintage many vineyards were becoming quite parched particularly, on stony soil,  Santenots was picked on the 2nd September and had a strict sorting to remove any dried berries. The berries were small with a high skin to juice ratio, so the 2018 has plenty of structure. The heatwave has given it richness, but this is underscored with the stony minerality and freshness from the whole bunch. It’s both vigorous and restrained. It needs time to mature and will remain in barrel until early 2020. Sign up below to receive the early release offer in November 2019.

In Photo: 2018 harvest in Santenots, counting the cases as as the fruit is picked.

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