Domaine Elise Villiers Bourgogne Le Clos 2015
The appellation rules permit yields up to 60 hectoliters per hectare; Elise prunes for 45 hl/he, and she raises this long, elegant Pinot entirely in older demi-muids.
Elise Villiers was born and raised in Precy Le Moult, a village in the commune of Vezelay, which in turn is located in Burgundy’s Yonne Department and lies due south of the town of Chablis. Didier Picq told me about her some years ago. Her tiny winery-see first photo below-is now on the premises where she was born. Historically, the Yonne had a flourishing viticulture all the way up until the latter half of the 19th century. Then the railroad to the Midi opened the Paris market to cheap southern wine, followed by the appearance of powdery mildew from America, followed by phylloxera. The three together dealt a near-death blow to the vinous fortunes of the Yonne. It only began to bounce back in the late 1960s, led by the appellation of Chablis. As a young girl, Elise was introduced to wine by an uncle, who was a wine merchant and who would come to holiday dinners bearing bottles of prestigious appellations. When her own children began to come of age, she started to seriously consider a career of a vigneronne. In 1989, an elderly couple among the pioneers in the rejuvenation of Vezelay’s viticulture put their parcels up for sale. Elise offered to purchase the vines on the condition that the couple guide her for the first few years, something that they were delighted to do. Those parcels are on the eastern flank of the Vezelay hillside, which is depicted on Elise’s label, and are located on the right hand side of that swath of vineyards. Subsequently, at age 30 she attended the viticultural school in Beaune (where Jean-Pierre Charlot of Domaine Voillot taught), and then went on to get a degree in enology from the Institute of Vine and Wine in Dijon. Today her domain consists of four hectares (10 acres) of vines-three in Chardonnay and one in Pinot Noir-on either side of the Cure River Valley (Vezelay’s eastern flank makes up one side of this little valley). She hires a man to do the tractor work of spraying, plowing the soil, and hedging the vines. With the help of a young woman, Elise does the pruning and training, and alone makes the wine and oversees its elevage, and of course manages the sales. She’s a minimalist in the cellar, stopping even chaptalization years ago. In the vines she is currently farming a part of them organically, and her aim is to farm them all that way once she is confident that this is viable in her wet region. Signaling its growing recognition, the appellation name will change with vintage 2017 to simply Vezelay.
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