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A Potel Story in Burgundy

First of all, my parents came in 1964, and they bought a part of the Duveault Blochet vineyard, 12 Hectares in Côtes de Beaune. Volnay, Pommard and Santenay. Then they bought the house in Volnay, with great cellars and winery.

My father was a perfectionist, and he was a modern winemaker for that time. He vinified is 1964 in Santenay, and bring the casks in Volnay. At that time he was using 100% new barrels, and all cluster during vinification. The wines stay 18 months in barrels, and bottling without filtration. But two racking during the élevage.

Then 1965 came, first vintage in Volnay! A very bad year, a lot of botrytis, difficult at that time. So he was the first to do the ‘triage’. He bring the equivalent of 65000 bottles and at the end he bottled only 18000 bottles. The rest was the triage! Everybody in the village where thinking he was creasy! What about now?

Then he vinified the great 1966, the bad 1968, the great 1969,1970,1971… All those years where aging in 100% new barrels. He change in 1978, and he decide to drop the amount of new casks to 35%. He was smilling when the fashion of new casks came in the 80’.

In 1973, he was trying the ‘Saignée’, with all the problem of bad vintage, his focus was to find a way to win concentration. Again, he was one of the first to do the saignées, and in the 80’ he was one of the first to used the concentration machine made by Durafroid. The idea was to take out some of the water from the juice. Because the saignée was not a good system, the first juice is the best! We try the machine few years, and then we stop, it was not great for the terroir definition.

He work a lot finding new ideas, acidification, sugar, thermo tanks, roter tanks… He was always trying new techniques.

Vineyard management was the same focus. He try and make some machine for the soil, for the pruning, a lot of work with the clonale selection…

A great Estate, and a great team him and my mother, they did a lot of innovation.

Also they have been very successful on marketing. Since the start, they have been selling the wines cellar door, with a newsletter every year. 50% of the wines was sold directly from the Estate to consumers.

Then they organize a great world reputation, and the wines was going in 30 country.

I start working in 1987, at Domaine Matrot. After a difficult time at school, my father ask me to work with Thierry, and that experience was great. I loved wine from that point, I was nearly 18, and I ask to stop school one year to work.

So I went in Australia, and I worked for Keith Mugford, who was just starting his new life as the new owner of Moss Wood in Margaret River. Great time, and great people.

From that point I worked for a lot of people around the world of wine. In Burgundy for Laurent Juillot, and for Christophe Roumier.

In Australia for Moss Wood again, for Leeuwin Estate, Wirra Wirra, and then for the great John and Marly Middleton at Mount Mary. In California for Tom Delhinger.

Great experience for a young boy, and great moment for life. I learn a lot about vineyard management, the experience of new terroir, the difficulty fining new style, the date of picking, the clone selection, the climate, the crop..

In the winery, it was very good to learn about all the techniques, specially coming from a part of the world where we don’t used all those product. So I work with yeast, DAP, bacteries, enzymes and all sort of oenologie materials.

I think it was very important for me to learn about all that, and to find my own way after all. It’s always important to go very far, to learn, to get confidence on what we doing.

So the new world was great, and my little experience help me now. I still have a good contact with Keith, and I send him people for harvest, and he send me people too.

At Domaine Juillot it was a great experience, because Laurent was in charge of the vinification for the first time in 1988, and we have a lot of work to do. Great vintage, one of the best in my life, but very difficult because our approach was too easy. It’s a vintage where the best wines came from all custer, and because the molecules of tannins where so big it was difficult to extract. So long fermentation and long time in cask. Too many wines are dry now! If you try Clos Tavannes from my father, all cluster it’s a great wine.

At Domaine Matrot, I learn to be strong in what you doing, no fashion. And so much with Pierre Matrot, for the vineyard management, super guy.

At Domaine Roumier, I was lucky to work with Jean Mary, Christophe father. Again one of the best winemaker in Burgundy, so elegant. With Christophe I learn how to be super precise, like my father.

But from all of them, I learn the most important, is to put the best attention about details, small details!

I came back at Domaine de la Pousse D’Or, in 1992, and I worked there until my father death in 1997. But I help from 1989 for the vineyard management, and I bring the Estate to lutte raisonnée.

Difficult time between son and father, but great time. I was in charge of the vineyard, and I said that the time was good to start the organic culture. So he agree, but he said it was my problem, and he wants great grapes with no problem. So we worked a lot, and we bring the vineyard back. Before his death, he said to my mother that the vineyard was coming back to the quality of the 60’.

Working for him was very good, and I learn so much that I was ready to start my own little house. In 1996, I said to my father that Pousse D’Or was not for me, and it will be difficult to buy all the share. I decide to start a little négoce, and to have my own company. So we start together, and we bought grapes in 1997, the idea was to sell the vineyards, and to keep the house and the stock with his share. But he died suddenly, and the associates sale there share to somebody.

So I start alone the Nicolas POTEL house. A little winery in Volnay, then I find a little winery in Nuits St Georges. With all my contact, I start very quick, and I find the best wines in Côte D’Or. All my friend, the good winemakers from here sell me wines.

I vinified 10 hectares in 1998, and I bought 200 barrels of wines. Then I find a new winery in front of my cellar, the train Station. So I have been working there since 2000 vintage.

Coming from an estate, it was very easy to find the best vineyard, and to talk with the growers. I help a lot of them to start on organic, and I always try to be fare in term of the price. It was new for Burgundy to pay the same price for grapes than wine.

I know that my time in the new world help me a lot to start my company. I have a lot of freedom at that time, no Estate, no reputation, and a lot to try.

I decide to be free from oenologic materials. So all natural, only sugar at that time, no acidification, no yeast, no enzymes… I start to do filtration with the 2000 vintage and from that I have been changing a lot of small details to get clear wines. I start with changing my box, smaller box for the grapes. Then vibrant table to take the sediment out, I change the destumer for a new one that nobody have in Burgundy and it’s called ‘égreneur’, we bring the grapes inside the tanks with small container so we get full berries for vinified.

I change my bag press for a vertical press, that was one of the great issue to get pure juice coming from pressing. Normally you have to take the free juice, and then leaving the press juice out from the cuvée. With the vertical press, the press juice are beautiful, so it’s going to the final blend just after pressing. The juice are very clear, so we don’t need enzymes! and no filtration. We change the pomps, we are using an Italian pomp called Francesca, which push the wine, again it’s helping to get clear juice. The details from the racking, with the moon, and the days of racking! I was telling you that I learned from my different boss the ‘soucis du détail’ and how to improve to get better wines.

‘A Drizzly Day in Burgudy’ by Eric Huybrechts. Used via Creative Commons licence.

In 2002, the crisis was hard, and we have difficulties to sell the 2001 vintage. So we decide with my wife to sell some share to a new partner. We find a lot of people, but we never finalise the deal.

In 2003, my wife was pregnant, and we have some difficulty during that time. My wife as to stay in bed at the hospital for 4 months. So the year was very special, and I wasn’t 100% at my work, mainly at the hospital with my wife.

We met the Cottin brothers in july 2003, and they want to be partner but not 30%, they gives us an option for 100% of the company. The price was good, and the future was clement. We make a deal in October, and we start the joint venture in January 2004.

I was doing 5,000,000€ in 2003, and I bring the company up to 9,000,000€ in 2008, we worked like creasy, and everything was going well until the crisis coming.

The Cottin decide to sell the group, and they fired Olivier Martin who was the head manager of the group in January 2009, then Thomas Leclerc who was the second of the group. In march they fired me, and they said that I was not making the wines for them, it was Fabrice Lesne my second who was vinified the wines since 2001. It’s was creasy from them to buy my company in 2004, with this vision that I wasn’t doing anything?

They are big négociant, they never liked the fact that I was vinified, and they never liked free person in a group. I was working 120% for the little company, but maybe not 150%?

I always believe to make a great brand in Burgundy, you have to vinified, and you have to get the best vineyard. So you can’t do a great cuvée of Santenots coming from 10 producers, but you can do 5 great Volnay 1er Cru from 10 different producer in small lot.

And for me the terroir is the key, to bring the brand at a high level, you should have a great line. It was good for them for a time, but then they decide to reduce the range to a very few wines. And to increase the little wines by far.

Margin is also important for the value of work, they prefer to sell with very small margin and high volume. That is not my conception, and again the brand was to new to increase the volume, and to be at a lower level.

There is some good winemaker for high volume, I am not like this, I am not coming from that training.

In 2005, one of my grower ask me if I want to take back is vineyard ‘En Fermage’, for 25 years, with an option to buy the vineyard at the end. I ask the Cottin, who said they don’t want vineyard. I rent the vineyard, and I start my little Estate with one worker. I have all ready 1.2 ha from my mother, and I always sell my grapes to my company since 1998. So the deal was easy, I make organic grapes, and I sell those to NP. In 2006 I took more vineyard, and when I did the invoice, the Cottin decide that the grapes were too expensive.

So I fight during one year about that with them, and I bring my avocat to fight them. After few month they agreed all, the time was going well, we did a great year. But I said that I will never sell grapes anymore, I start Domaine Potel, and we agreed to sell the wines under my label ‘POTEL’ and the Domaine as to give a commission for using the name. When they fired me, they used this pretext, that I was doing my own. But it was clear from our fight, that I will never be without anything, I have all ready a story with Pousse D’Or, and I know how hard it is to start again!

Then they fired Claire Forestier, saying that they don’t like small company! They fired Xavier Meney, my sell rep, because they didn’t liked him.

So now, I am not at in Nuits St Georges anymore. We change the name from Domaine POTEL to Domaine De Bellene. This is the old name of Beaune, coming from the god BELLENOS. I don’t want to fight with the old block, and I want freedom.

We have now 24 hectares, with very old vineyard, and a lot of Massale Selection. So we have Santenay Blanc Les Charmes Dessus young vines, St Romain Blanc from 5 differents vineyard old vines massale selection, Volnay from 20 years vineyard, a great cuvée of Bourgogne coming from my father vineyard planted in 1928 and some from comblanchien 50 years old. Then we have 6 Beaune 1° Cru, specially the BEAUNE 1° Cru Grèves 104 years old. We are starting a great massale selection from that vineyard, and I hired a girl to do a great analysis of the Terroir during one year at the faculté de Dijon. We have a old selection of Savigny les Beaune Village white and red. Two 1° cru from savigny. Then we have a great selection of old vines from côtes de Nuits Villages red and whites. In 2009, new line from Côtes de Nuits, 3 hectares of old Vines Nuits St georges, Vosne Romanée closed to Echezeaux, one vineyard of Vosne Romanée 1° Cru Suchots and then one vineyard of Nuits St Georges 1° Cru Chaignots. 80% is coming from Massale Selection.

I am still looking for great vineyard, a lot of people want to work with us. We are very proud to work on organic, and the vineyard are very healthy. So the owner of the vineyard talk to their friend and push them to talk with me. So we still have a great potential in the future. It’s more easy to control the vineyard, and it’s my life too. So now I am talking for some Grands Crus, with two growers, and I hope we can do something together.

I have always try to be organic, it’s my goal from Pousse D’Or, I believe that you are more in contact with the plant. You can’t do mistakes, and the worker prefer it now. It’s more work, and you can’t be completely organic because the tractors, but I am using only sulpher and copper! 15 times this year, so we are using only 6 KG / ha. In conventionnel, they are using 1.5 KG per spray! Now a lot of my customer like the idea, and the people ask for those wines. The quality increase in the last years, that’s the answer.

So I believe that if I am in organic, I have to do all. So the building is rebuild with the Canadien architecture concept of HQI High Quality Environmental. It’s hard, you have to used only clean product, and if you can closed to you. So I by my wood from Burgundy only, the painting is organic, the isolation is coming from hash, special friendly light, solar pad, rain water, and I will get next year a heating machine working with wood who will come from our pruning! So I will heat all my building with my vineyard. We want to be free CO2, and low energy. Recycle bottles, recycle paper for the labels, organic glue, wax again capsules and the box have no colour only carton. As you see, we try to be friendly from the vineyard to the winery.

Vinification as simple as possible, with the same care of Nuits St Georges, no oenological products, no acidification and no sugar. Natural.

Then in wood for 14 month, with about 20% new only for the cru, and a lot of big barrels 600 liters for the whites. To keep them longer. Few month in tanks, and bottling by gravity without filtration.

I still control the old wines selection, and we have a lot of new wines coming. I always loved the old wines, and it’s a pleasure to sell them. I am still partner with Stéphane AVIRON, and the little house is going well. We want to build a new winery next year.

Roche de Bellene, is the new name of my négoce. I just make a deal with two great house in Burgundy, to used their facilities for vinified some wines. I am coming back tomorrow for that!

Best regards,
Nicolas POTEL

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