Clos du Tart
visiting Burgundy, part 7

My last visit on this Burgundy trip was one that I’d particularly been looking forward to: Clos du Tart. I’d met Syvain Pitiot, who manages the domain, at a vertical tasting in London a couple of months prior to my visit. So I knew just how good the wines were. Now I wanted to see the patch of earth that produced them.

Syvain Pitiot

Clos du Tart is a monopole: a Grand Cru vineyard with a single owner. There are just five Grand Cru monopoles in Burgundy, and this is the largest (for the record, they are: La Romanée, 0.8 ha; La Grand Rue, 1.2 ha; La Romanée Conti, 1.8 ha; La Tache, 6 ha; Clos du Tart, 7.5 ha). And since the middle ages it has had just three owners, which is perhaps one reason why a sizeable patch of land like this hasn’t ended up with the sort of fragmented ownership that most of Burgundy’s other high-end vineyards enjoy.

While Clos du Vougeot was owned by monks, Clos du Tart was owned by nuns. In 1142 a group of Cistercian nuns called the Bernadines of Notre Dame de Tart purchased an established vineyard in Morey, which then became part of the Abbaye Clos du Tart. This stayed in ecclesiastical hands until the revolution. From 1789 to 1932 the Marey-Monge family were the owners, and then in the economic crisis of the 1930s the family sold at auction to the Mommesssin family. [For a fuller history, I recommend reading this piece by Clive Coates.]

The vineyard is surrounded by a wall, and when this was last rebuilt it took four years to complete. After all, it is 1.2 km long. The 7.5 hectare plot is a rectangle 300 metres wide and 250 metres high, and the exposition is homogeneous: it’s gently sloping, with vine rows planted north–south. This row orientation isn’t usual in Burgundy, but it helps prevent erosion (with the contours) and allows maximum sun exposure on both sides of the vine, which helps against erosion.

But the soil and subsoil are not homogeneous, with different types of limestone and ‘marne’, although the main theme is still the Burgundy one of clay and limestone (agrocalcaire). The vineyard is divided into six plots on this basis, each of which is harvested and vinified separately.   

Clos du Tart was underperforming when Sylvain was hired in 1996. Since then, he has turned this incredible estate around. ‘We changed a lot of things, across the vineyard, winemaking and ageing,’ he states. Before he worked at Clos du Tart, Sylvain, who is now 60, spent 12 years at the Hospice de Beaune. He’s not from a viticultural family, but instead began his career as a topographic engineer, but shifted to wine in 1976. He met his wife while he was working at Domaine Jacques Prieur (she’s from the family). Sylvain continues to work on topography and cartography, and is responsible for an amazing map of the Burgundy wine region that is now in its 6th edition.

When Syvain took over, he immediately began farming using culture raisonée, before moving things an organic direction. The vineyard has been managed organically over the last eight years by ploughing and cutting grass, with no pesticides, chemical fertilizers or herbicides. The only treatment used is sulfur and copper against oidium and mildew. ‘We are lucky because this terroir is wonderful and not fragile for diseases,’ he says.

The vines are not planted clonally, but the vineyard instead represents a massale selection, with new plants produced from cuttings taken from selected vines in the vineyard in Clos du Tart’s own nursery. ‘The Pinot Noir here is not the same as in [neighbouring] Clos de Lambrays,’ explains Sylvain.

They aim at five bunches per vine. ‘In my opinion, yield is the most important thing,’ Sylvain maintains. The size of the berries and size of the bunch matter a good deal. ‘We want only a small bunch, pineapple shaped, with small berries that give a good proportion of skin to juice. During green harvest when we have to cut some grapes we get rid of the biggest bunches. Maturity is easy to come with small grapes.’

Winemaking here takes place in a new facility built in 1999. It’s tiny. But there’s still an old press room, containing an ancient parrot press, which was built in situ and used from 1570 to 1924. Two or three people would climb on it, and it was necessary to use straw with the grapes for pressing, because there was no cage as with a basket press.

The level of destemming depends on the year, but typically there will be 20% whole bunches in the ferments. There are six larger vats – one for each of the vineyard parcels – plus two smaller ones for the younger vines. Everything is made for the grand vin, but since 2005 there has been a second wine, La Forge du Tart, and there is also some wine sold as Morey St Denis if necessary.

Fermentation temperature is controlled, with gradual increases from 12 to 33 °C. Every day it increases by 2 °C. There is one week’s cool maceration before fermentation starts, and yeast is not added. After 1 week fermentation starts, and this takes a week and is then followed by a week’s post ferment maceration. In all, the maceration is from 3 weeks to a month. ‘Long and slow,’ is Sylvain’s philosophy. An important aspect of the house style here is late malolactic fermentation. ‘Late malo is our philosophy to get the flesh,’ says Sylvain. ‘We use the lees to bring the wine fatness.’ Sulfur dioxide isn’t used to control malolactic, just temperature.

In all, there is a minimum 18 month élevage, and no filtration is used. All new oak is used each year, and they work with five different coopers. These coopers store wood specifically for Clos du Tart, who control the origin, drying and toasting. Most of the wood is Tronçais, with 36 month’s drying and medium toasting.

Around 2000 cases are produced each year, and the wine is bottled by hand in the cellar. 70% is exported, and now the Clos du Tart, while still owned by the Mommesin family, is completely separate from the Mommesin negociant business.  


Clos de Tart 2005
‘This was the easiest wine to make,’ says Sylvain Pitiot. ‘The grapes were perfect and we had nothing to do.’ Wonderfully pure, focused nose is dense, spicy and earthy with some roasted oak notes as well as pure raspberry and cherry fruit. The palate is intense with lovely pure, bright berry fruit ad amazingly complex minerally, subtly earthy structure. Great concentration and depth. Almost perfect. 97/100

Clos du Tart 2002
Pure, bright aromatic sweet cherry fruit nose is almost ethereal with focused pure, dark cherry and spice notes, as well as hints of meat. The palate is fleshy and elegant with defined sweet pure cherry and plum fruit. Smooth structure. Just beautiful. Sweet, elegant and perfectly balanced. 96/100

Clos du Tart 2001
Beautiful nose: a fusion of sweet cherry and plum fruit with spice and earth savouriness. The palate is dense and focused with earthy mineral notes under the smooth, pure berry fruit. Really long and spicy with a persistent finish. Beautifully expressive and nicely structured. 95/100

Clos du Tart 1999
Beginning to show some evolution on the nose: herbs, earthy, spices and lovely sweet cherry fruit aromatics. The palate is dense and quite rich with earthy, mineral structure. Warm, rounded and rich textured. Just beautiful and evolving in a linear fashion. 96/100

Clos du Tart 2007
This, the only wine tasted at the Domaine, was bottled two months earlier. Wonderfully dark, intense nose with sweet dark cherry and plum fruit, as well as some spice. The palate has depth but is quite open with nice intensity and lovely spicy depth. Good structure, some wood. Quite open and broad even at this early stage, with wonderful depth to it. 94/100

La Forge du Tart 2007
Beautifully perfumed nose with fragrant aromatic cherry fruit and sweet raspberry, as well as hints of spice. The palate shows lovely concentration of sweet fruit with a dense, minerally, spicy tannic core and well integrated oak. Vibrant, finishing toasty. Expressive stuff. 93/100

See a short film from the visit:

Joseph Drouhin
J-P Fichet
Pierre Morey/Morey Blanc
Louis Latour
Domaine Dujac
Sylvain Cathiard
Clos du Tart

Wines tasted 03/09 and 06/09  
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