2011 Domaine de Robert Fleurie Cuvee Tradition
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Patrick Brunet Gambling on "Champagne"

Forty-three years ago, Robert Brunet came home for dinner at 6pm. It wouldn't take long for his wife to see that Brunet was out of sorts. Robert had been farming just 8 acres of vines in Morgon for years, just as his father had. He eked out a subsistence living, selling his tiny production to locals who stopped by to fill up three gallon jugs right from the cement tank. It was just enough to put farm chicken, mashed potatoes and his wife's garden vegetables on the table.

Brunet had been raised humbly and like most of his neighbors, should have been perfectly content to work eleven hour days, six days per week, for forty years. Sunday, he'd take off. After church, he'd head over to the cafe in Fleurie to down a couple glasses of rouge with his copains, if only to tune into the local gossip. But that night when Robert sat down, he knew things had to change. He saw the simple fare on the table, the circles under his wife's eyes and the still-faint ray of hope on his 8-year-old son's face. Robert Brunet was about to roll the dice.

The gamble Brunet took would give birth to one of the greatest crus of the region, a magnificently juicy, darkly concentrated Fleurie that, in excellent vintages, gathers weight and intensity after decades in bottle. The two finest wines ever to come off this exquisite property were harvested almost forty years apart to the day -- the first by Robert Brunet in 1971, the second by his son, Patrick, in September 2011.

In the winter of 1970, Robert heard through the grapevine that a five hectare parcel set dead-center in the most precious appellation of Beaujolais was up for sale. Brunet and his friends knew all about the plot. The soils were a fine mix of light clay and rugged granite. Morgon's famed Cote de Py was close by, a lustrous green indentation on a manicured vineyard quilt. Brunet knew he didn't have two francs to rub together. But he knew a banker who did.

Last November, seated with Patrick Brunet in the Fleurie cellar, Patrick told us that the argument between his father and mother had been heated that night. His mother was scared, worried that the purchase would send the family to the poorhouse. His father was also worried, but mostly about erasing the ray of hope in his son's eyes.

The following day, Robert Brunet went to the bank. The papers had already been drawn. He borrowed the money he'd need to purchase the vineyard that the locals aptly named "Champagne." Brunet was jubilant, at least until June 1971 when Nature would teach the young viticulteur a lesson he'd never forget.

At 2pm on what had been a sunny summer day, Robert Brunet was pruning "Champagne." When he heard the thunder, he looked up. The clouds rolling in from the east were black and ominous. Brunet moved to the shed for cover and watched. First there was drizzle, then teeming rain. Then the sky opened up, with hail the size of golf balls pouring down. Brunet didn't even have to walk the vines to survey the damage. In just forty-five minutes, he'd lost 40% of his first crop.

As it turned out, Nature's vicious crop thinning of 1971 accounted for what most believe to be the greatest, most concentrated vintage of the 20th century. In the cellar last November, Patrick Brunet somberly recounted the tragic story of "Champagne." It began with his father's gamble, followed by the hail storm of June 1971 that would all but send the family to the poorhouse. But, his father persevered, working far more hours than he'd worked before buying the parcel. Patrick joined his father in the vines in 1979. In 1981, Robert Brunet became ill. He passed away just a few months later.

On the tasting table were fifteen bottles. The last wine we tasted would be his father's phenomenal 1971 -- still dark, rich and delicate, silken in texture, a bottle that still turns heads on the squares of Beaune and Gevrey Chambertin. The first was Patrick's 2011, from an extravagantly concentrated, superbly structured vintage that many are now comparing to the hail-ravaged 1971. The two bottles, one made by the father, the other by his son, were cut of common cloth.

Deepest ruby in color with explosive aromas of black cherry, raspberry, sweet herbs, still beautifully restrained like all of Brunet's top vintages off of "Champagne." Rich and terrifically juicy on the attack, wonderfully vinous -- far more Pinot Noir-like in most respects than Beaujolais -- with fine layers of mineral concentration. Fleshy, weighty and dense, the finish remains lively and vibrant, speaking eloquently to the age worthy elegance of one of the great vineyards of the Beaujolais.

Tasting Notes

2011 Domaine de Robert Fleurie Cuvee Tradition
"Deep ruby red. Explosive aromas of black cherry and raspberry, still elegantly restrained, tinged with sweet herbs and underbrush. Rich and fleshy on the attack with fine mineral layers of crushed red fruits and violets, marvelously dense and fleshy. Firm and high-toned on the finish with excellent vibrancy. A phenomenal effort from Brunet. Drink now for its primary fruit Hedonism or lay down for up to 30 years."
-- WineAccess Travel Log

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