02 November 2015

n.d.p. in beaujolais: pierre cotton, odenas

I can think of few better indicators of the stratospheric potential of cru Beaujolais terroir than the nascent career of young Odenas winemaker Pierre Cotton. He returned from his studies to the famile estate, Domaine Sanvers et Cotton, in 2012, and commercialised his first wine under his own name in 2014: an unsulfured unfiltered Côte de Brouilly he dubbed "100% Cotton."

I first tasted it over lunch at Le Relais des Caveaux in Villié-Morgon just before harvest began. I could only shake my head in wonder. The wine is a screaming success, an instant benchmark for the appellation - impeccably balanced, but retaining a certain voluptuousness, with a mineral foundation and iris notes amid its finely-etched dark-cherry fruit. How on earth ?

I met Cotton for the first time a few days later, when he passed by the Métras cuvage around apéro hour. His bearishness and gnarly white and blue motorcycle belie his soft-spoken, modest demeanor - the sort of quite-tall fellow whose height one tends to underestimate. He gives little outward indication of being one of the region's most promising young natural vignerons.

The rather clumsily-named Domaine Sanvers et Cotton is a conjunction of his mother's maiden name and his father's. Pierre is the fifth generation to make wine on the premises, which are situated on the south-facing slope of the Côte de Brouilly, in the unofficial climat of L'Héronde, just south of Saint-Lager. Both Cotton's parents derived from winemaking families; his father Guy Cotton's family was based in Saint-Lager.

Pierre Cotton's career is quite unique in that he studied not in Mâcon, Bel Air, or Beaune, like most of contemporaries. He instead studied in the Loire, near Rablay-sur-Layon, doing internships with the organic Domaine de la Bergerie, and with natural Anjou winemaker Jérome Lambert. "I was telling myself it’s stupid to stay here where I know the wines," he says. "But when you go to another region," he qualifies, "You can’t necessarily apply here what you’ve learned."

It's no coincidence that Cotton is eager to make a white wine. He intends to take on a parcel of Chardonnay on limestone in Charentay for 2016. For 2015 he expanded his range with 2ha of (red) Beaujolais-Villages vines in the same area, from which he plans to make a light, quaffable Vin de France.

Among the most striking aspects of the Sanvers / Cotton cellar is its size. It was initially a shared cellar facility for several families working in mettayage (giving a proportion of their finished wine to the vineyard owners as rent). In his parents' lifetime there were three other winemakers using the cellar, who eventually left, with the Cotton's recovering the entire premises.

So where many local winemakers struggle to make the most of tight facilities, the Cottons have serious room to expand. But 2015's relatively low yields - 30HL/ha on average - mean that not all the foudres were filled this year.

The domaine's vineyards extend around the cellar, with parcels on high south-facing slopes just below those of their renowned neighbor Château Thivin. The family intends to move towards organic certification, as little by little over the years they uproot the steeper, older, less-orderly vines that have proved unplowable. Pierre tells me his father has always used very little chemical treatments in the vines, but that since 2011, even before Pierre returned to the domaine, the wines have been treated with no more than copper and sulfur.

Somewhat more surprisingly, even Cotton père's wines see almost no sulfur addition during vinification. None whatsoever was added in 2012 or 2013, and in general only 1g or 1.5g are added at bottling. The Sanvers et Cotton wines are, however, filtered. The domaine's basic Brouilly, from sandier pierre bleue soils, still showed appreciably lively acidity and violet aromas. But beside the unfiltered "100% Cotton," they can't help but taste a little strict and restrained.

Vinification is otherwise quite similar - indigenous yeasts, carbonic maceration in cement, before elevage in foudre or barrel according to the cuvée. The 2014 "100% Cotton" saw 18 days' maceration at cool temperatures, before elevage in a mix of barrel and foudre for about 8 months. Total production was about 17HL, though there will be slightly more for 2015 (not including the new, as yet untitled Beaujolais-Villages cuvée).

One still senses the link in the terroir between Pierre's Côte de Brouilly and those of his parents' - a bright acid and a vertical mineral structure. Pierre attributes it to what's locally called la corne verte, a flinty rock found where the pierre bleue of the Côte de Brouilly meets the surrounding granite.

With Pierre Cotton set to take on an increasing role in the vinification and commercialisation of the Sanvers et Cotton wines, I expect very terrific things in subsequent vintages. "We’re going to try and change a bit," he affirms. "I find that in filtration we lose many things. " Guy Cotton, for his part, seems justifiably delighted to have his son working alongside him.

Cotton hails from the same generation as fellow cru Beaujolais débutants Jules Métras, Yann Bertrand, and Kéké Descombes. Lest this give the impression of an outright sunny renaissance among the youth of Beaujolais, it's worth mentioning that these winemakers remain the courageous hold-outs in a region still suffering from youth drain.

"There is a whole generation of winemakers who are 50-60 years old," he observes. "When they retire, I don’t know who will be there to take over the vines after them."

Yet as the wines of Cotton and his generation increasingly demonstrate, there are serious incentives for people to stick around.

Domaine Sanvers et Cotton
Côte de Brouilly
69460 ODENAS

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