TEN GENERATIONS, NOW FARMING ORGANIC: The history of the estate began in Bulligny in 1640 and, four centuries and ten generations later, the current owners (the siblings Alexandre and Stéphane Vosgien) remain committed to the obscure slopes of Le Toulois. If you ask a wine professional where Lorraine is located, a lot of people would have a hard time trying to put an answer together.
Alexandre and Stéphane Vosgien aren’t just the descendents. They have been renewing the vineyards, updating the facility and rethinking the business itself. After taking over an estate already well developed by their parents, Claude and Renée, they breathed new life into the cultivation of the vine as soon as they arrived. From a classical sustainable agriculture, they have naturally evolved towards official organic farming.
Organic farming, more than a marketing choice was obvious and self-imposed. This began with the cessation of systematic weeding in the mid-1980s, the decrease in treatment doses in the early 2000s and this continued naturally to organic. Here, no chemical fertilizers, no weed killers, no synthetic products, just work and observation.
Located south of the first slopes of the Côtes de Toul, at the crossroads of the Moselle valley and the Côtes de Meuse, Domaine Claude Vosgien extends its vineyards to the villages of Bulligny and Blénod les Toul, cultivating the traditional local varieties such as Auxerrois, Pinot Noir and Gamay. Nowadays 10 hectares of vines and 6 hectares of mirabellier orchards flourish on clayey-limestone hills, facing south and south-east. Mirabellier is a fruit tree and the name of the fruit itself is Mirabelle which is part of the plum family. It’s a yellow, red-flecked fruit which has become a symbol of Lorraine which reaches alone 80% of the world production.
First things first: although the quiche is now a classic dish of the French cuisine, it actually originated in Germany in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule, which the French later renamed Lorraine. The word ‘quiche‘ comes from the German ‘kuchen’, meaning cake. Once again the German influence in this region has been huge.
This region, located slightly west of Alsace, is centered on the cities of Metz and Nancy, lying in the north-eastern part of France, and is a part of the Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine administrative region.
Starting from 1871 with the end of the Franco-Prussian war, Lorraine became a part of the German Empire until 1918, with the local vineyards exploited for the developing of the Sekt industry (sparkling wines). The vineyards of Lorraine were pretty much destroyed by the French German constant political unrest, as this area has been the main front line in World War One.
Soon after the 2nd World War and prior to the enforcement of wine appellation laws in France, the vast majority of grapes for the Champagne wine production came from here.
What has happened more recently? Not much … Lorraine wines underwent a long time of oblivion with French population more keen to save some bucks by buying the cheaper wines coming from the South. Industrialization played its role as well and many families left the rural side of Toul attracted by the chance to find a job in bigger cities. Nobody really cared much about this wine district which has been completely overshadowed by the more appealing neighbor, Alsace.
Lorraine’s wine district includes three appellations: Cotes de Toul AOC (established in 1998), Moselle AOC (established in 2010) and Côtes de Meuse.
Domain Vosgien is located in the Côtes de Toul appellation which consists of only 100 hectares planted along 8 villages located from North to South, within a strip of land 20 kms long and sitting at 280 meters above the sea level as the highest point in the valley. The bucolic atmosphere is worth a trip for sure.
Overlooking the Moselle river and facing East and South, the Côtes de Toul vineyards are protected from the prevailing Western winds. The soils are composed of oxfordian clays mixed with ancient alluvial plus significant quantities of limestone and chalk elements. These soils retain enough water to keep the vine hydrated, although high permeability of the soils and the natural slope of the vineyards ensure that excess water drains easily away, limiting vigor and increasing the concentration of sugars and acids in the grapes.
The twentyish Toul winegrowers produce white, red and grey wines (the local name for rose wines), including the famous Gris de Toul rosé with its’ crystal-clear colour and nice matching with the local recipes (quiche lorraine, potée lorraine, tourte lorraine, pâté lorrain).
Overall nearly 700,000 bottles of AOC Côtes de Toul are produced each year. .Auxerrois (11% of the total hectares planted) is the main white variety allowed by local regulations, while the two reds are Gamay (63%) and Pinot Noir (23%). Other minor grapes planted are the Aubin Blanc and the Pinot Meunier.
Vin gris is a variant of rosé wine made from red grapes, in particular Gamay and Pinot Noir. Translated literally has really no appeal. When the grapes are brought to the winery and crushed, the juice is run off and removed from contact with the skin, leaving the colour and flavor compounds from the skin behind. The juice is then typically fermented in stainless steel tanks before being bottled shortly after, without any aging in oak barrels.
In other words Vin gris is simply a term for a very light (we’re talking pale pink) rosé wine made from red grapes. The difference between the vin gris method and the traditional rosé method? There’s almost zero maceration time whatsoever.
There is no strict protocol about the skin contact time allowed, but at least Lorraine has been granted of the following guide lines: referring for the main grapes Pinot Noir (10% minimum) and Gamay (85% maximum) are allowed in the blending. The minor grapes allowed are Pinot Meunier, Auxerrois and Aubin Blanc (max. 5%). Overall these minor grapes can’t exceed the 15% of the total vineyard planting.
Producing a small volume of Vin gris (or rosé) can also be used as a technique to improve Pinot noir. Removing some clear juice increases the concentration of colors and flavour compounds from the skins in the remaining juice intended for making red wine; the resulting rosé is known as a saignee (bled).
The Vin Gris expression has been absorbed by some American cult growers, including Bonny Doon and his Vin Gris de Cigare (most likely the most creative estate-to-watch for the sustainable practices, the quality of the wine and the successful branding). Other estates that have adopted this French expression are Birichino, Calera, Robert Sinskey, Ojai Vineyards, etc.
Alexandre and Stéphane farm organically and never had any form of regret, even in the weirdest vintages when yields went for sure down but at least the remaining grapes were healthier than the usual. No chemical fertilizers, herbicides or synthetic products and overall forget about conventional agriculture.Hand harvest is another key asset here helping to select only the best fully ripen grapes.
According to sevenfifty.com there are only two producers present in New York state from the Cotes de Toul appellation and Steep Hill proudly imports the Vosgien bros, confirming one more time the company’s attitude to work with underdog wine districts and b-side varieties (did you know that 3 years ago, when we started importing from Europe, we decided to bet on the rare Roter Veltliner from Austria?).
In the cellar the practices are managed according to the vintages’ characteristics, anyhow avoiding the use of unnecessary additives and impactful operations. The wines are clarified just with bentonite (by the way allowed by biodynamic protocols) avoiding egg whites or casein deriving from milk (all fining agents animal based). The use of added sulfites is pretty moderate, and combined with the natural sulfites occurring with the fermentation never exceeds 80mg/lt max. This result is anyhow well below what is allowed according to the EU organic certification. Furthermore the two brothers elaborate limited quantities of 3 experimental wines with no added sulfites (only 1.000 bottles per each wine). Overall the estate produces round 60.000 bottles per year.
The Domaine produces a good bunch of wines and Steep Hill had decided to import the Auxerrois, the Vin Gris and the Pinot Noir (all the wines imported are part of the Tradition range).
Auxerrois Tradition 2018: The hand-harvested grapes are carried to the cellar in plastic bins of 18 kgs. Double-sorted, partially destemmed and softly pressed. The must spontaneously ferments (indigenous yeast only) without any contact with the skins. The wine ages in enameled stainless steel vats for roughly 5 months and then is bottled. Not clarified with animal based elements (like egg whites). No sterile filtration. Light yellow with some greenish hues. Elegant aromas of white flowers and golden apple. The palate offers vibrant citrus flavored drinkability, persistency, and good freshness.
Vin Gris Tradition 2019: 85% Gamay, 10% Pinot Noir, 5% Auxerrois. The hand-harvested grapes are carried to the cellar in plastic bins of modest capacity (18 kg). Double-sorted, destemmed and softly pressed. The must spontaneously ferments (indigenous yeast only) without any contact with the skins. The wine ages in enameled stainless steel vats for roughly 5 months and then is bottled. Super pale salmon color. Elegant aromas of red fruit and raspberries followed by an intense mineral note.
Pinot Noir Tradition 2019: The hand-harvested grapes are carried to the cellar in plastic bins of modest capacity (18 kg). Double-sorted, whole cluster bunch and softly pressed. The must spontaneously ferments (indigenous yeast only) with the skins for 10 days with manual punch downs (pigeage) and frequent pump-overs. The wine ages in stainless steel vats for roughly 6 months and then is bottled. Not clarified with animal based elements (like egg whites). No sterile filtration
In a nutshell