Clos De Tart
There are only six grand cru monopolies in Burgundy. Four in Vosne: La Romanée, La Romanée-Conti, La Grande Rue and La Tâche; and two in Morey-Saint-Denis: Clos de Tart and the adjoining Clos des Lambrays. Clos de Tart, directly above the village, and comprising 7ha 53a 28ca, has belonged since 1932 to the Mommessin family, only the third proprietor of this vineyard since the middle ages. It is largely such continuity, plus the inevitable bits of luck along the way, which has prevented the morcellation that is so widespread elsewhere. But today the danger is past. Like a first growth Bordeaux château, it would be inconceivable that the Clos de Tart could be split up in the future. The six Côte D'Or monopolies, I feel, are secure.
The history of the Clos de Tart begins with a religious order, founded in 1125, for ladies who wished to live under conditions of piety and chastity similar to the Cistercians. They were called Bernadines. The mother house, Notre Dame de Tart, was established in a village of the same name which lies in the plain between Dijon and Saint-Jean de Losne. As with their masculine counterpart at Cîteaux, the order soon found itself endowed with vineyards: in Dijon, Bouze, Beaune, Pommard and Meursault. And it was in 1141 that the Hospitaliers de Brochon sold an already established wine estate in Morey - the deeds refer to buildings and a pressoir as well as to vines, known then as La Forge - to the young abbaye of Notre Dame de Tart.
Over the next couple of centuries the holdings in Morey were increased and consolidated by means of acquisitions and exchanges. At one time there were vineyards in Vosne, but these biens were ceded to enlarge the domaine in Morey. It was probably not until the 15th century, so the archives suggest, that Tart became a Clos. The brick wall, partly rebuilt and extended in 1939 to include some land which had always been considered part of the climat, is still in place today.
At first this was a working order. The young nuns were allowed, indeed encouraged, to take part in the harvest, and to perform vineyard duties such as pruning and leaf-trimming which their sisters in the world outside the order have always undertaken. But, as elsewhere, disciplines eventually relaxed. The Notre Dame de Tart would never be a rich order. For some reason - were the prayers of women considered less effective than those of men? - the Bernadines did not attract the same legacies as did the monastic orders. Yet by the end of the 16th century there are reports of the ladies taking a full part in local society, entertaining the nobility, wearing silk, lace and jewels and porting elaborate hair pieces: all this a long way from the ordinances of St. Bernard! Then came a papal decree that female religious orders should seek safety within the walls of the larger towns. The nuns displaced to Dijon and the abbey at Morey was abandoned.
Early in 1791, alongside the sale of Romanée-Saint-Vivant (which fetched 583 livres the ouvrée - an ouvrée being roughly one 24th of a hectare) and Chambertin (777 livres) the domaine of Clos de Tart was sold for 415 livres the ouvrée. At the time there were 6.17ha of vines.
By what one assumes was a mutual agreement between the local bourgeoisie interested in acquiring good vineyards, there was no competition at the auction. The entirety of the Clos de Tart passed to Nicolas-Joseph Marey (1760-1818), a wealthy local wine-merchant who had just also bought the whole of Romanée-Saint-Vivant. Perhaps this explains the relatively low prices. Both Romanée-Saint-Vivant and Clos de Tart came fully equipped with press-house, cellar and all the other dependencies of a self-sufficient winery. Chambertin did not.
Opinions In The Nineteenth Century
Dr Morelot, in 1831, wrote as follows: "Clos de Tart combines the merits of being both abundant and delicious, closely resembling Chambertin." Together with Clos de la Roche, this was Morey's best wine. Clos Saint-Denis, in his view, was less fine, and he doesn't mention Clos des Lambrays, much divided at the time.
Dr Lavalle, successor as general Burgundian pundit to Dr Morelot, is yet more positive. He cites (1851) one Tête de Cuvée in the commune: Clos de Tart, measuring 6.88ha and belonging to M. Ferdinand Marey (1802-1869), mayor of Chambolle, chief councillor of Gevrey, and son of Nicolas-Joseph.
Ferdinand bequeathed the Clos de Tart, very suitably, to his daughter Louise, otherwise Mother Saint-Louis, canoness of Saint Augustin; and she in her turn sold the Clos in 1919 to her sister Edith and brother-in-law Hervé de Blic. By this time the Marey wine business was moribund, for from the turn of the century onwards exclusivity for the production and sale of Clos de Tart had been entrusted to, firstly, Maison Champy, of Beaune, and subsequently Maison F. Chauvenet of Nuits-Saint-Georges.
The origins of the Mommessin négociant business date back to 1865 when Jean-Marie Mommessin, originally of Oyé in the Charollais, set up a business specialising in marc and other alcohols in the Mâconnais. Turning to wine in the 1920s, his son Joanny set about acquiring vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé and in the Beaujolais. In 1932, in the middle of an economic crisis which had affected the wine trade as much as everything else, his attention was drawn by a broker he often used to use, a M. Cyrot, to the forthcoming sale of the de Blic wine domaine. This consisted of the Château de Pommard, vines in Pommard, Rugiens, Clos-Saint-Denis, Chambertin and Clos de Tart. On Tuesday 25 October he found himself at the town-hall in Morey. No one else was interested in the Clos de Tart (the Clos Saint-Denis and Chambertin vines were acquired by the Groffier family and the Château de Pommard by that of Laplanche) and so Mommessin was able to buy the Clos de Tart without having to undergo a Dutch auction. The price was 400,000 Francs, equivalent to roughly one million Francs today.
The vineyard, neglected by Chauvenet, was in disarray. "I remember we only made 11 barrels in 1933," said the 99 year old Henri Mommessin, son of Joanny, when I last made a comprehensive tasting of the wines in1997. Mommessin engaged Cyrot, already régisseur here and at the Château de Pommard at the time of the Blics, as his local manager, and two of the seven or so hectares were replanted in 1935. Cyrot was succeeded by his deputy Alfred Seguin in 1965, Seguin by Henri Perraut on his retirement four years later, and Perraut by Sylvain Pitiot in 1996.
The Mommessin family divided their vineyard and merchant business activities in the 1990s. Though they sold the latter to Boisset the Clos de Tart remains firmly their own, divided between the successors of the three children of Joanny Mommessin. For a decade or so Clos de Tart was sold through Boisset, but since 2007 it has been sold independently, with some 20 percent going direct to French private customers.
Roughly square, the vineyard of Clos de Tart runs up the slope behind the Tart dependencies and the house of Robert Groffier next door, but only some two thirds of the way up the slope. Immediately to the north Clos des Lambrays climbs higher. Above Clos de Tart at the same level as the top of Lambrays is the Morey-Saint-Denis village A.C. of En La Rue de Vergy, several proprietors of which are lobbying to have elevated to premier cru, a promotion which seems logical to me.
Curiously, but repeated next door to the north, the climat is planted north to south, to avoid erosion, rather than the normal east-west, up-and-down-slope. There is a gain in sunlight too, Sylvain Pitiot believes. The soil is the usual Bathonian limestone of the northern Côte D'Or, with very little surface debris, and large amounts of broken up rock mixed with clay. There have been four different analyses of the terrain in recent years, the last by the great Claude Bourguignon himslf. These have established that there are essentially three types of soil, lying roughly on top of one another. At the top is grey marl; in the middle, occupying the greater part of the climat, is calcaire de Premeaux, containing the same fossilized oysters (ostra acuminata) one finds in Romanée-Conti; while below is calcaire entroques, containing fossilized worms.
From this Pitiot produces an initially large number of cuvées. In 2008 not only where there six cuvées from the three diffrent soils, and two each of young vines and vin de presse, but he also divided the terroir cuvées into those from de-stemmed and whole cluster fruit..
The average age of the Clos de Tart vines is old. The soil is poor. The result? A usual harvest of 30 hl/ha. In 2005 Pitiot registered a second wine: La Forge du Tart.
On one side of the courtyard, opposite the entrance to an impressive two level cellar, built in 1860, is the old press house. Here is a huge wooden medieval presse à perroquet (parrot press), built in situ, and in continuous use between 1570 and 1924. There are apparently parrot presses and squirrel (ecureuil) ones. It all depends on where the poeple stand to pull the ropes which turn the wheels The elevation and descent of this press is controlled by a large - 2m in diameter - vertical wheel at the side.
Opposite, replacing the old cuverie which contained six 60hl concrete vats is a battery of stainless steel tanks. There is the usual thermo-regulation, fouloir-érafloir and table de tri. The press is now pneumatique. Behind this is the first year cellar, where the wine will rest until the malo-lactic is finished. Downstairs is the splendid vaulted second year cellar.
How has the Clos de Tart wine-making changed in recent years?
Until the end of the 1970s, the wine was produced by the chapeau immergé technique. A grill some two thirds of the way up the vat prevented the skins etc. from rising to the top. There could be remontage (pumping over) but no pigeage (treading down). This resulted in very aromatic wine but was less effective in extracting colour and tannin, yet it suited the Mommessin style which was always for wine which was more elegant than muscular.
Mommessin reverted to traditional methods at the end of the 1970s, gradually introducing more sophisticated methods of temperature control and movement of the wine, maceration at a maximum of 32°C rather than 35° from around 1990 onwards, and the table de tri since the 1996 vintage. At the same time as the temperatures of maceration have been reduced, the time on the skins etc has been increased, and always, except in weak vintages, has there been 100 percent new oak for the grand vin. Similarly, Sylvain Pitiot prefers natural yeasts. "I am very much against artificial yeasts," he told me on my last visit. "They banalize the wine;"
While in the past the fruit tended to be largely de-stemmed, save for about ten percent added as much for physical purposes - to aerate the vat - as anything else, Pitiot has recently begun to vinify as much as 50 percent, as in 2009, using whole clusters. "It all depends on the vintage."
In the vineyard the work is as biodynamic as possible, but Pitiot wants to retain the freedom to use some of the biodynamicaaly banned treatments if he is forced to, as was essential in 2008. "I call it culture integré, one up from the lutte raisonné." We used to pick later in the old days, he adds. This gave us firmer tannins - sometimes a bit solid. Now we have more control over the yield, the wines are concentrated but purer and more supple. He adds that he likes long, drawn-out malos. One obtains a more subtle wine.
Pitiot, a lean man with a somewhat cadaverous face, was born in 1950, and is not a native Burgundian. He was originally a map-maker, having stumbled across the old Larmat maps at an early stage. It is he who is responsible for today's splendid maps of the Côte d'Or. He subsequently decided to become a wine-maker and worked for a long time with Calvet and the Domaine Jacques Prieur, which was where he met his wife. He was second in command at the Hospices de Beaune when he was recruited for the Clos de Tart position.
Clos de Tart has for long been one of the best of the grands crus, and made particularly excellent wines in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Subsequently it lost a little, though not a lot, of its sparkle. Sylvain Pitiot's arrival brought a much-needed breath of fresh air to the domaine. The new winery, which came into use with the 1999 vintage, plus other refinements, underlined a further sophistication in the wine-making process. Today Clos de Tart has few peers, even among the great wines of Vosne and Gevrey.
What is the essential character of Clos de Tart? Didier Mommessin, in reply to this question in 1997, stressed its finesse, its elegance. Sylvain Pithiot points out the very sunny exposition of the vineyard. As a result the average natural degree during the last decade has been about 14°. " It's signature? Closer to elegance than power. But more on the side of Bonnes Mares than Clos de la Roche. In the time of my predecessors the wine lost some of its punch: it was too delicate. Now we have reduced the harvest we have regained some of this intensity." I would add that Clos de Tart has a typically Morey character, bigger than Musigny and Les Amoureuses, not as full-structured as Chambertin. Alongside its neighbours the wine has the backbone of Bonnes-Mares and the lushness of Clos de la Roche, but not the soft centre of Clos des Lambrays and Clos Saint-Denis. There is plenty of wine here, and it keeps well. This is a first class estate producing one of the very best of Burgundy's Grand Cru wines.
I presented a range of wines of the Clos de Tart, the samples having come directly from the domaine, to the members of the Metropolitan Club, Washington, DC, in April 2010. Subsequently I went up to Morey to interview Sylvain Pithiot and he was kind enough to open up some further bottles.2008
Good colour. Lovely ripe nose. Very good succulent fruit. Medium-full body. Very good tannins. Excellent grip. Very Classy fruit. Rich follow-through. Intense and pure. Vigorous. lovely. From 2018.2007
Medium colour. Soft, ripe, gentle nose. On the palate good backbone, more than the nose would suggest. Medium to medium-full body. Good grip. Still some unresolved tannin. Ripe and intense for a 2007, and classy too. An excellent result. From 2014.2006
Good colour. Good substance. Ripe, sophisticated tannins and plenty of fruit on the nose. Lots of style and flair. Quite full body. No shortage of tannins on the palate. These need to soften up. Good grip. nice ripe finish. A little bit more to it than the 2008 but not as elegant. From 2017.2005
Good, rich, immature colour. Splendid concentration and depth on the nose. Real drive and dimension. Great class. Full body. Very good tannins. Very fine grip. Rich, vigorous, profound, and very lovely at the end. Quite brilliant. From 2018.2004
Medium colour. Still youthful. A little dry tannin on the nose, but fresh and succulent enough underneath. Medium body. Just lacking a little richness and dimension but now softening. Not great by any means but a pleasant bottle with at least some style. Drink from 2012.2003
Very full colour indeed. Still youthful looking. Ample, rich, slighly chocolaty, but not too baked or pruney on the nose. On the palate surprisingly fresh and sophisticated. This is due to good supporting acidity. Energetic and positive. A great success. Now-2016.2002
Medium-full colour. Still youthful. A little adolescent on the nose. Doesn't sing. Better as it developed in the glass. Medium-full body. Good tannins and concentration. Beginning to soften up now. Lovely, balanced intense fruit. Great class and harmony. Eclipsed by the 2005 but still very lovely. 2012-2030.2001
Medium to medium-full colour. Just about mature. Very lovely gentle, fragrant nose with a touch of oak. Fresh and lovely. Medium to medium-full body. Ripe, soft and round yet with good grip and intensity and no lack of vigour. Really seductive. Very fine indeed for the vintage. Now-2018.2000
Very good colour for the vintage. No sigh of maturity. Round, supple, ripe and charming on the nose. More seductive than the 2004. Medium body. Ample, easy to enjoy. Very good fruit. Soft but long and positive. Good depth. Fine for the vintage. Now-2018.1999
Fullish, youthful colour. The nose was still a little closed at first. Just about mature on the palate. Medium-full body. Concentrated, abundant fruit. Fat, rich, quite meaty. Lots of energy. Still needs two years to reach its apogee. It will then be excellent. 2012-2030.1996
Medium-full colour. Now some sign of maturity. Ripe, fresh nose. No undue acidity. Lots of finesse. Full, rich and ample. Fat and seductive. Very, very lovely for what is now often a disappointing vintage. Now-2020 plus.1995
Full colour, just about mature. Full, firm, tannic and solid on the nose. Quite a big wine. Slightly uncompromising but not too dry. Very rich underneath. Very good grip. Lots of depth and dimension, even class. Needs food. Fine plus. Still needs three years. From 2013.1993
Full, mature colour. Lovely fruit. Just a touch of hard tannins on the nose at first. Fullish, rich, aromatic and splendidly balanced and understated. Complex and very classy. Better on the palate than on the nose. Lovely finish. Less aggressively tannic on the palate than the 1995. Very fine.1990
Full, mature colour. Very lovely, fully mature, spicy/aromatic nose with a touch of residual dry tannin. Complex and perfumed on the palate. Harmonious, especially on the finish. Fresh, balanced and multi-dimensional. Lovely. But the wines today are even better. Now-2020.1988
Medium to medium-full colour. Fully mature. A very lovely example. No leanness. Lots of vigour. Still very youthful. Medium-full body. Very well-balanced. Warm, generous and long on the palate. Very lovely. No hurry to drink. Now-2020.