August Dirt: A Study of Melon de Bourgogne
This month’s Club Dirt finds us getting familiar with the Melon de Bourgogne grape variety. Melon de Bourgogne (known simply as Melon in the United States) is the white grape synonymous with the Muscadet appellation in the western Loire Valley, though it’s origins are (as the name suggests) in Burgundy. We are going to try a Melon from each of these places and see how they stack up. We will see the life of this grape variety, starting in its cradle in Burgundy, moving to its most recognized home in the Loire, and finally we’ll watch it travel to the US and show its stuff in the cool-climate Central Coast of California.
Melon de Bourgogne was introduced to the Loire Valley in 1709 after a vicious winter killed many of the region’s vines. This was around the same time it was expelled from its home in Burgundy. What the Dukes of Burgundy regarded as an over productive variety of little viticultural interest, growers in the Loire saw as the cold-resistant answer to their troubles, indeed the grape thrives in cold conditions.
Cadette Soeur ‘Melon’ Vin de France 2015
Domaine de la Cadette is located in Vézelay in Burgundy. Vézelay is a geographic appendage of Chablis, however the soils are not exactly the same. The climate here is cooler, too. Instead of the Kimmerdigian soils, there is mostly clay and limestone. In this cooler climate, their vines enjoy great sun exposure, lending a balance between generous fruit and deep mineral structure.
The nose is characteristically stony with notes of citrus zest and wet river stones. In the mouth it’s clean but with some fleshy notes of stone fruit pit, lime, and rocks. The acidity it soft and the alcohol low, just 11%, making this a very approachable version of Melon that would do wonderfully with a spicy green salad with ripe pear and salty goat cheese. See the recipe below.
Bregeon Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2015
Michel Brégeon is part renegade, part crusader. Over the years, he has become an ardent defender of the Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine terroir. Michel farms seven hectares of vineyards in clay, silica, and gabbro soils. Gabbro is old, blue-green, volcanic rock, rarely found in vineyard land. Formed by magma eruptions under the ocean floor, it is said to impart intense complexity to Michel’s wines. His corner of the Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine, Gorges, is particularly known for this rock, and all of Michel’s vines are planted in it. I met Michel in January and he was pleased to announce to us that 2015 was an excellent vintage for him. As I tasted his wine, I couldn’t help but agree.
This is textbook Melon from the mineral rich soils of the Loire. On the nose, notes of pear skin, fennel and saline. More weight on the palate than the other two wines this month, this Melon has flavors of preserved lemon and crushed oyster shell. It’s the highest in alcohol at 12% which is by no means a high alcohol wine. It remains crisp and bright and the perfect classic accompaniment with raw oysters. See the recipe below for a frozen oyster garnish.
Lieu Dit Melon 2015
Lieu Dit is a partnership of long time friends Eric Railsback and Justin Willett. Eric is a friend to Dedalus as well and comes to visit often. After the two shared countless bottles of wine together and took several trips to France, Railsback and Willett decided to found Lieu Dit in 2011 and focus it solely in the varieties indigenous to the Loire Valley, now grown in Santa Barbara County. The varied micro-climates and marine based soils of Santa Barbara County are ideally suited to this set of grapes.
This wine smells of the sea – seaweed, flint, and seafoam. It’s zippy and fresh with a salty flavor that reminds one of breathing in fresh ocean air. At just 11.8% alcohol this Melon is crisp and refreshing and would pair beautifully with shellfish. Try the recipe below.