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In The Vineyard with Julie Belland

Julie Belland at the gates of Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru Clos Pitois

Bordering Santenay in Chassagne-Montrachet, sits Clos Pitois, the 3ha monopole of Domaine Roger Belland.  Created in 1421, this climat is planted to half Pinot Noir and half Chardonnay, and was purchased by Julie Belland’s grandfather on his wedding day in the 1950’s, when he then replanted Clos Pitois for the fifth time since its original planting by the monks of Abbaye de Morgeot, the remains of which sit just down the road.

Julie, a young and vivacious vintner with a funky flair, produced her first solo vintage at her father’s Domaine in 2009, and had just showcased her wines at the Salon des Jeunes Talents at Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne.  We were so happy to have had much time at Julie’s side, as she’s such a joyful presence, and she makes incredible wines.  After meeting Julie at the Domaine, we drove to Clos Pitois, where she explained how she works the vineyards.  

Always beginning with the Chardonnay vines, because the white buds burst first, Julie was then in the process of preparing the canes, in preparation for the bud break. Once the buds appear, she prunes, to limit the white vines to ten clusters each, while the reds are limited to seven.  Using the Guyot vine training method, she keeps the Chardonnay yields from getting too small, to help maintain and balance the fruits’ acidity.

 Jenna and Julie in Clos Pitois

As of late March, the Pinot Noir vines hadn’t yet been trained.  Roger Belland, Julie’s father, was then checking daily for the presence of “bud eaters”, a worm that once decimated her grandfather’s entire harvest.

Keeping the 50-year-old vines close to the roots, to maximize the nutrition that they can pull from the stony clay-limestone soil, Julie explained that in Clos Pitois the soil changes every ten meters, because of the run-off that comes down the hill.  Here, the vines that are closer to the bottom of the hill yield fatter fruit, while the vines with greater elevation produce higher acidity because there’s less ‘food’ in the soil.  By maintaining grass growth in between the rows of vines (in lieu of tilling), Julie forces the roots to dig deep, which keeps the vines strong, enabling them to better fight against diseases in the vineyard.

Driving northeast to the other end of Chassagne-Montrachet, to its border with Puligny-Montrachet, we hit Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, a 1.75ha Grand Cru climat that is one of the smallest appellations in France.  Located south of Bâtard-Montrachet, half of this climat (0.61ha, its largest parcel) is owned by Domaine Roger Belland.

Criots-Bâtard Montrachet Grand Cru–The rows of Domaine Roger Belland pictured on the right

Here, it was interesting to view how the different vignerons work their rows within the same vineyard.  Speaking of the tilled rows besides theirs, Julie said, “As soil is tilled, it gives a lot of food to the fruit, which is why my dad and I choose not to do it.”  If it rains in the spring, the tilled soil gets muddy.  The grass that they have planted between rows protects the structure of the soil and helps prevent the the vines from getting too much from it, which would only dilute the fruit.

Meanwhile, the stones in the clay/limestone soil retain the heat in the vineyard and yield less humidity, because the soil is better drained.  Here, their 30+ year old Chardonnay vines produce the only Grand Cru white wine that is produced by Domaine Roger Belland.

As the sun was setting and the early spring evening chill settled in, we wrapped our sweaters tight and drove back to the cellar to taste through Julie’s wines.  Stay tuned…

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