It is a crisp February morning in Burgundy, and I climb out to the terrace on the roof of Bonneau du Martray’s winery so that I can get a better view of the village of Pernand-Vergelesses. I am about to taste the final blend of the 2017 vintage of Corton-Charlemagne, the wine awaiting you in this box, with Emmanuel, Bonneau du Martray’s winemaker. Last time I was at Bonneau du Martray, the 2017 vintage was in barrel, each parcel vinified and matured separately. Then, I tasted each block of Bonneau du Martray as separate white wines; now I get to see how the elements have come together to make the final, complete expression of the vintage.
There is nothing quite like seeing how all the pieces come together. These unique elements begin to define themselves in the vineyard and become more evident as the grapes turn to wine. The soils are different from the bottom all the way to the top of the Hill; one can see the red soil gradually lighten to comprise stony, white, clay with limestone as you hike to the top of the vineyard. This soil affects how vines absorb nutrients and water, and the altitude affects ripening too. Though there is a singular philosophy to farming at Bonneau du Martray – one that listens to the land – every element of viticulture is tailored to specific blocks of vines. As a result, when these parcels become wine, Emmanuel has in the winery something akin to an artist’s palette of colors. The wine that you taste when you open this bottle is his finished painting.
As Emmanuel gently pours me a taste of the 2017 Corton-Charlemagne, my mind recalls all the separate elements that must come together to create this wine. I remember walking in the vineyard, bending down to touch and smell the soil of each parcel, each different from the other. I remember how chalky, broad, and rich the wine produced from the parcel Lilas tasted in contrast to the steely, taut, linear style of the parcel Cerisier at the top when I sampled from the barrels with Emmanuel last year.
Now, I am rewarded with a beautiful, complete glass of Corton-Charlemagne. It brims with energy, allure, and the potential to age. At first sip, the 2017 could be nothing else; it is a classic expression of Bonneau du Martray. Focused, pure, and so intent to bring pleasure, the 2017 vintage excites me so much that I refuse to surrender the rest of the glass I was given, retreat to the terrace with glass in hand, and I begin to write…this.
May you find as much pleasure in these wines as I do every time I taste them, especially the 2017 vintage, now and beyond.
Mary Margaret McCamic, Master of Wine
It is a cold, rainy, March Saturday in the tiny village of Pernand-Vergelesses. The cellar is quiet as I walk among the barrels with Emmanuel, Bonneau du Martray’s winemaker. I am here to taste the 2017 vintage with him, parcel by parcel. We start with ‘Lilas,’ a portion of Corton-Charlemagne at the bottom of the Hill of Corton, known for its floral, rich, and broad texture.
As I taste, my mind wanders back to the day prior, when I walked through the vines with Fabien, Bonneau du Martray’s vineyard manager. We took advantage of the few hours of sunshine, and together descended from the top of the Hill of Corton down through Bonneau du Martray’s parcels. Fabien has been tending these vines for fifteen years, and we discussed the nuances of two plots adjacent to each other that ripen fruit differently because of slight soil differences and water access. Each parcel contributes a unique quality to the final blend. This is part of what makes Bonneau du Martray’s Corton-Charlemagne so special; it is distinguished even on a hill covered entirely with vines that can call themselves Grand Cru.
Emmanuel does not let my thoughts wander for long. He needs my mind and palate focused for our next task: tasting from the library to see how previous vintages have evolved. It is a pleasurable and fascinating endeavor, as bottles from the same vintage often present differently, even though they are the same blend and vintage.
We begin with the 1991 vintage. Emmanuel has pulled several bottles of the 1991 from the cellar so that we can compare and contrast. Our first bottle is slightly taut with distinct saline characteristics, while the second bottle shows more crème brulée and hazelnut, with a slightly broader mouthfeel. Both show a beautiful, mature expression of Corton-Charlemagne, yet these subtle variations are what make wine so captivating. These individual bottles are still alive, each expressing the same year and place with a slightly different interpretation. Emmanuel’s favorite is the first bottle, mine the second. After comparing it to other vintages in the 1990s, we decide that the 1991 vintage is in its prime, and that it is the best library selection to release to a few fortunate collectors.
Our tasting concludes with another glimpse at the 2016 vintage. On the mid-palate it feels like silk, but that sensation is quickly met with intense, refreshing acidity. The flavors are distinct – lemon curd, white floral notes, fresh stone fruits. It is absolutely beautiful.
After we have finished tasting, I decide to return to the vines one last time. I walk up the steep slope, then down again, stopping to gently touch the vines and pick up bits of soil. The air is fresh, the vineyard is healthy and peaceful. Turning back to look up the Hill, the dramatic slope makes it seem as if the vines lead up into the clouds. While I love my home in Napa, there is no place on earth like the Hill of Corton. When you drink your next bottle of Bonneau du Martray, I hope that you can close your eyes and picture it.
Whatever vintage of Bonneau du Martray you drink next, enjoy.
Mary Margaret McCamic, Master of Wine
Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to visit Burgundy, each trip spending time at Bonneau du Martray in the tiny village of Pernand-Vergelesses. If you’ve never been, close your eyes and imagine the feeling of crisp morning air as you walk down cobblestone streets out to vineyards to catch a view of the sun casting beautiful orange and pink light into the sky behind the Hill of Corton. When I am here, I walk the vineyards with Fabien, the vineyard manager, and taste from barrels with Emmanuel, the winemaker. I always leave exhilarated, with a better understanding of what distinguishes Bonneau du Martray’s Corton-Charlemagne from any other expression of the esteemed Grand Cru appellation.
Corton-Charlemagne is defined by light, and Bonneau du Martray’s westward facing vines soak up the sun’s rays unlike any other place in Burgundy. Fabien, who spends his days among the vines, speaks about the sun poetically, calling it “primordial” and a “beautiful source of light, energy, and heat.” In 2015, the sun was of particular importance because of its abundance, shaping the growing season in a way that led to full, rich, and beautifully textured wines.
Yet not all of the parcels at Bonneau du Martray are alike, and even in years with plenty of sunshine, each segment of the vineyard evolves differently. Other estates are bound by one single expression of the Hill of Corton, but Bonneau du Martray’s vineyards extend from the top of the Hill all the way to the bottom of the Grand Cru appellation. Every bottle of Bonneau du Martray captures the nuances of Corton-Charlemagne in its entirety. The parcels at the top produce grapes with focused acidity; the middle parcels offer more finesse and structure; the bottom parcels yield the richest, most voluptuous grapes.
I hope that you find this bottle as captivating as I do now, as I enjoy it in the sleepy village of Pernand, watching the sun set on the vines atop the majestic Hill of Corton.
Until the next vintage and another letter from Burgundy – farewell and enjoy.
Mary Margaret McCamic, Master of Wine