Our first appointment was with Nicolas Potel at 5.00 p.m. on the Tuesday evening and so, casting aside any considerations of personal wellbeing, alarms were set for 3.30 a.m., tea was guzzled, breakfast taken and by 4.45 we were on the road. Arriving in France at 10.15 French time we did battle with the frost, fog, rain and sleet that greeted us before laying waste to the quite sublime cold gammon sandwiches that I had slaved over the previous evening as the miles (kilometres) ticked down.Pulling into our hotel at 4.10 we met up with my old friend, the enigmatic James Handford MW before heading off down the road and, on the dot of 5.00, we strolled into Nicolas' office on the route de Dijon in central Beaune.
He was late.
Which, in the event was not a major problem as his colleague, the wild and wonderfully engaging Syvain Debord gave us a whistle-stop tour of the winery before we set about the samples that had been prepared for us.
If there is one element of the 2013 vintage on which everyone is agreed it is that it was perilously small, particularly in the Cote de Beaune. Mother Nature, having had so much fun in 2012 letting rip with the hail machine whenever she felt a bit bored, chose to repeat the exercise in 2013 (and also in 2014) on almost the same areas of vineyard. Growers who awoke with a spring in their step on the morning of the 23rd July went to bed distraught after a 20 minute hailstorm ripped through their vines and wrote off much of the vintage. Fortunately for us, the 70% loss that they have suffered has not been reflected in prices and quality overall is impressive.
Nicolas' business is, essentially, split into 2 parts, the Maison Roche de Bellene wines are produced by Nicolas and Sylvain from grapes that are bought in from growers they have worked with over a number of years whilst the Domaine de Bellene wines come from their own vineyards. These latter wines are slightly more expensive but nonetheless epitomise what Nicolas is striving to achieve. We shall be showing wines from both the negociant and the Domaine sides of the business at our tasting on February 18th so I shall leave you to judge for yourselves their relative merits. Suffice to say that I felt that many of the wines were punching above their weight and I was particularly impressed by some of the "minor" appellations.