Ever since childhood, Nicolas wanted to continue the family business, and so grew up to be the 5th generation to carry on the work. After completing his enological and viticultural studies at the Lycée Viticole de Beaune from 1989 to 1994, he interned with Domaine Joseph Voillot in Burgundy, then migrated further south into the Rhône Valley for a stint at Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Eventually he found himself back home working in the family estate, Rossignol Jeanniard, but took even more time abroad to better understand different methods of vinification. After some time at Domaine Boschendal in South Africa and Chateau La Cardonne in Bordeaux, he finally went home again and dug in by launching his own domaine, starting with three hectares of vines. In 2005, he combined his label with his family’s and now everything is bottled as Domaine Nicolas Rossignol. Today there is just short of twenty hectares of vines grown, vinified and bottled at his domaine.
The philosophy in the vineyards is inspired by organic methods, which Nico does without pursuit of certification. He’s also interested in the benefits of some biodynamic practices and incorporates them where they seem practical. There are no pesticides or herbicides in his vineyards, only sulfur and copper, both used by all producers in Europe as treatments against powdery mildew and downey mildew whether or not they have ecological certifications such as organic or biodynamic.
Nicolas approaches his wines to evoke the greatest characteristics of each, to create a range that’s complementary to his vineyards’ material. His thoughtfulness and agility in the cellar eschews programmatic winemaking and opens the door for a more in-depth exploration of the best approaches to each terroir. Of course, if he made them all the same, it may be easier for us to understand each terroir, but nothing would make him happier than someone exclaiming that each of his wines tastes singular and different, from each parcel, and from vintage to vintage. Like the man himself, his wines can initially seem larger than life, but when you take time to get to know both, they are as refined as they are intense.
During a day of walking in his vineyards in Volnay, he explained, “You cannot treat grapes even from the same small vineyard area—one section with thinner skins and the one next to it with thicker skins—the same. Which extraction are you going to make for them? They have to be managed differently, some with more or less stem inclusion and some with shorter or longer macerations. It’s not a recipe. Each year I have to change one thing or another because I don’t have the same grapes. I know where I want to go and I have many roads to take to get to where I want to be.”
Nico is in pursuit of the details of each of his parcels and the sub-parcels within. He wants to master his terroirs and works with varying degrees of stem inclusion, from nothing on very stony soils (as he does with his Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets) and as much as 50% stems on more clay-rich soils, as he does with his Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Angles—which he describes as a big slab of clay. The aging vessel (whether it be newer or more neutral wood) and time is based on the year and the potential of the wines. Malolactic fermentations take place naturally and the wines are neither fined nor filtered. His typical sulfite protocol is to add a little bit at fermentation and nothing again until bottling, and they range between 20-45ppm total SO2—a modest amount, nearing the level deemed acceptable by the natural wine purists to fit it into the category of a natural wine (whatever that really means…).
All of his wines are aged in French oak barrels and the amounts vary from vintage to vintage; for example, in 2016 there was no new oak on any wine and in 2015 they ranged up to 50% in some wines because of the strength of the vintage. But generally, his wines in their youth may exhibit and express some oak notes, but are always finely integrated and matched well with each vineyard’s composition. His wines are not shy and I believe that with his new cellar completed in time for the 2016 vintage, Nico’s wines will continue to advance in their quality and precision. He is an exciting grower to watch within the Côte d’Or, and with his enviable stable of top-notch vineyards, he should be on the radar of any serious Burgundy drinker.
Lay of the Land
Most wine Francophiles are familiar with Burgundy. It’s divided into a few major areas, starting with Chablis in the north, the Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and then Beaujolais to the south, just above France’s second largest city, Lyon. Pretty much all the grapes between Chablis and the Mâconnais, principally Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are grown on Jurassic limestone bedrock. The soils of Beaujolais’ red grape, Gamay, are largely granite and metamporphic bedrock from the ancient rock formations in France’s Massif Central.
Nicolas Rossignol’s vineyards are all located in the Côte d’Or’s southern sub-zone, the Côte de Beaune—a region nearly equally divided between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The vast majority are situated in Volnay and Pommard, with an extraordinary collection of premier cru vineyards, like Volnay Caillerets, Roncerets, Chevret, Santenot and Taillepieds, and in Pommard the great premier cru, Les Epenots, and truly excellent small-parcel premier crus from the south end of the appellation—including Chanlins (one of my favorites in his range), Jarolières and Les Chapponières. He also maintains numerous vineyards in Beaune, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses, Aloxe-Corton and a collection of nice Bourgogne plots.
As I’ve mentioned in other profiles from producers within the Côte d’Or, there’s so much written about it that it seems redundant to have yet another lengthy explanation of the big picture, and futile to get caught up in all the minutia for every given wine. It’s the regions that are not often written about where I’ll try to highlight details that are difficult to find on the Internet or in books.
If you’re looking for more information on Burgundy, I suggest exploring the many thorough accounts by authors like Jasper Morris, Remington Norman and Clive Coates. Plus, there’s an immense amount of coverage from critics who uproot tons of new and interesting details with each new publication. Some notables are Burghound, A View from the Cellar and Vinous. Also, one shouldn’t miss out on Becky Wasserman’s website www.beckywasserman.com for a lot of great content and the website www.bourgogne-wines.com where a good collection of videos and free downloadable vineyard maps are available, along with general overview content for each area.
Each of Rossignol’s product pages on our website will soon and will contain details of each of terroir (or climat, if you prefer) and how they are crafted in the cellar. You may also find information there not included in the aforementioned Burgundy bibles, as well as a few recordings on some of the products, so you can plug in and geek out if you don’t have time or energy to read the text.
Nicolas Rossignol - 2016 Volnay, 1er Cru Santenots
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