Jean-Claude Rateau (Cote de Beaune)
If there’s one vigneron who truly exemplifies the direction we’d like to see Burgundy headed, it is Beaune-based Jean-Claude Rateau.
A pioneer in biodynamic farming and low-intervention vinification, Rateau consistently makes wines that are humble but hyper-focused, completely unmasked but not howlingly ‘natural’ or avant-garde. And he’s been doing it since the seventies! In fact, when Rateau started his vigneron career in 1979 with 1,5 ha. of family vineyard on the Cote de Beaune, he was the first in Burgundy to apply biodynamics to his farming. Ever since, he’s strived to maintain a natural balance through biodiversity in each vineyard in order to naturally protect his often very old vines from disease.
This aim for diversity doesn’t just translate to keeping fruit trees, bees and livestock among his vines. Rateau also has great interest in the ancient practice of cultivating Pinot Blanc and Pinot Beurrot in between his Chardonnay (and to a lesser extent Pinot Noir) vines and vinifying them together in single-vineyard field blends. In recent years this practice gets an even greater focus, as Rateau believes those other shades of Pinot help maintain acidity in a time when climate change has made over-ripeness a great concern.
Jean-Claude’s hands-off yet decisive approach in the vineyards also shows in his cellar. He relies on natural yeasts for his fermentations and uses little to no sulphur in the entire process. He vinifies and ages in oak vats that are at a minimum 4 years old, with exceedingly gentle extraction for the red wines. After fermentation the wines rest basically untouched on their lees for 11 to 20 months. Before bottling Rateau like to filter both reds and whites very lightly, so as to bring out a brilliance of colour without sacrificing textural integrity.
The resulting wines are understated, uncontrived and completely delicious. From the modest Hautes-Cotes to his beautiful Beaune 1er Cru’s, each Rateau wine shows unparalleled clarity of fruit, striking digestibility and radiant minerality. No new oak, over-extraction or fatness in sight here: these are wines of purity and precision. And affordable too, relative to their pedigree.