© Alexandria Rae Cubbage, 15 November, 2018
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On Tuesday, 23 October, we joined special guest from Burgundy, Blair Pethel, the proprietor and winemaker behind Domaine Dublère, to co-host with us an in-depth discussion and tasting of his wines thoughtfully paired with the cuisine of Chef Chris Ma and his team at Fish School.
Blair began the evening by way of background about himself and his philosophy on winemaking. He was a political journalist for twenty-five years and in 1999 decided to take a sabbatical and learn winemaking. Blair apprenticed with several winemakers in Burgundy including Patrice Rion and Jean-Marc Pillot and attended oenology and viticulture studies at Beaune’s Lycée Viticole. The love of wine, Blair explained, comes from his love of food. He didn’t grow up in a wine drinking household, but he did grow up in a home where good food was made and appreciated. He makes his wine always with food in mind. Thus, for the whites, he wants them to have natural acidity and linearity. Then, with the reds, he wants delicacy, nothing big and powerful. In 2003, Blair moved his family to Burgundy, and in 2004 he started making his own wine.
Back in early July, Francois, Linden, Mike, Anthony Hanson MW and I visited Blair at his domaine. It’s located on Chemin des Planchots in Savigny Les Beaune right beside the vineyards where he makes his Savigny-les-Beaune ‘Les Planchots du Nord’. The winery is a converted tractor shed, and a quite tanned Blair greeted us in shorts and a T-shirt, explaining he had just been out on his tractor that morning. From the moment you arrive and meet Blair you can feel his dedication to his craft; he doesn’t just own a winery, he’s involved and passionate about every aspect of the business from working in the vineyards early every morning on his ultra-light weight tractor to working in the winery and thinking about ways to prevent pre-oxidation prone in white Burgundy. He presses his Chardonnay grapes very hard, minimizes the introduction of oxygen during the fermentation process and uses the natural preservative qualities in the lees (using more lees than most), to help protect his wines against premature oxidation.
For the wines, 1/3rd of the fruit comes from vines he owns, 1/3rd comes from vines he leases and 1/3rd is purchased fruit. Blair believes great wine is made in the vineyard, so he is out in his vines every day and even hands on in the vineyards he doesn’t own or lease. He farms the vineyards with respect and care for the environment at the forefront of his practices, so no chemical fertilizers, weed killers, insecticides or anti-botrytis treatments are used. All the Domaine Dublère wines are farmed and vinified exactly the same, as Blair wants the expression of the terroir to show through in the wine. He dedicates a lot of time to sorting as he believes healthy grapes are key. Blair does punch downs twice a day by foot and little pumping over. The grapes are 100% de-stemmed. Since 2013, he doesn’t use any new oak barrels for ageing his wines. He uses at least 1 year old barrels. All the wines are aged between 18 to 20 months. Blair uses natural yeast and a low sulphur regimen.
At the dinner in October, the first pair of wines were two 2016 whites from Chassagne-Montrachet: 1er Cru ‘Cuvée de la Gelée Noire’ and 1er Cru ‘Les Chaumées’. Blair described the 2016 vintage as very challenging as he lost a lot of grapes due to frost. Specifically, he didn’t have enough grapes in two of his premier cru Chassagne-Montrachet vineyards to make wine, ‘Les Chenevottes’ and ‘Les Vergers’, so he blended the two and created a special cuvée called ‘Cuvée de la Gelée Noire’ referring to the frost. He hopes he never has to make this cuvée again. While I feel for Blair and the other vignerons who lost so many of their grapes in 2016, the wine they produced is some of my favourite wine since 2010.