We disembarked in the warm, golden, glowing light of a July afternoon. No one around. The tiny village sat motionless, in less than a whisper. Béru. Knock on the door. Athénaïs de Béru welcomes us in. At no other entry point into a domaine in Chablis did it feel like this, like crawling through a portal, back in time, crossing a threshold into a different, magical world.
Béru. Small village southeast of Chablis, to the west of Viviers, tucked into an amphitheatre nook below the Z-curve of the Route d’Auxerre and three valleys, Vau du Puits, Vallée de la Fontaine and Vallée de Foulignot. Béru. Mother in custody of Luke Skywalker. Béru. One of 16 South Pacific islands in the Southern Gilberts, according to legend created by Nareau the Wise and migrating, tree-dwelling Samoan spirits carrying branches from Te Kaintikuaba. Béru. The Left Bank domaine farmed by Athénaïs de Béru, organically, biodynamically and spiritually. Chablis from the tree of life.
The family history of the five hectare Château De Béru is one recorded back 400 years, a quintessential 300m high Chablis plot on Kimmeridgien, calcareous-clay soils inlaid with fossilized shells dating back 150 million years. Written history tells of the vineyard first tended by first century Romans, ninth century Pontigny Abbey monks and the historical walls of the Clos Béru as having been erected in the 11th or 12th century. All to celebrate and demarcate the quality of the Béru terroir.
Then, in 1887 the phylloxera crisis ended nearly three hundred years of vinous prosperity. Late in the 20th century Count Eric de Béru replanted the vineyards and with loyal concentration on his family’s famous Clos Béru. He passed away suddenly when Athénaïs de Béru was just a child. Years later she returned from Paris to resurrect the vineyard work and produced her first vintage in 2005. A taste of 2015 ten years on marks a new era for Château De Béru. A walk through the underbelly of the winery confirms the direction and the enlightened future, through barrel trials, vin nature experimentation and concrete egg fermentation.
The rows outside the 11th-12th century monk’s wall demarcate Le Clos de Béru Vineyard. All of Athénaïs de Béru’s wines are single-vineyard Chablis save for the Terroir de Beru, a wine that gathers all the vineyards to express the all-encompassing Béru terroir. Organic was completed in 2006, biodynamic in 2009. Everything was lost in 2016 to the frost of late April. Béru hardest hit in Chablis. Athénaïs sprayed Chamomile tea on her vines, with love, repeatedly and with utter confidence. They survived. The future remains bright.
We tasted four Chablis with Athénaïs that day, along with an Aligoté and an Irancy. Here are the notes.
A mere 400 years of family history lays astern of Béru Chablis and what white light now shines is due to the innate and spontaneous hands of Athénaïs de Béru. In the pantheon of the Chablis range from Terroirs through Montserre and to Clos Béru Monopole, this is the conversant spokesperson for the house. Terroirs the child is wild, natural, intrepid and convinced, from a ferment that sees only stainless and bottled as early as December. Trusting and self-sufficient from kimmeridgian limestone, only it as Chablis whiffs such a mix of iodine and smoke and bears witness to its small, windy and concentrated vineyard. A place that bestows low pH meets high acidity. Though warm and gracious 2015 is the catalyst, this is at first lean, then struck from rock and finally the weight of that rock impresses into the wine. Getting white flowers is real and works to foil the recurrence of smoky beats and bites upon the palate. This is new, something akin to imagining the acidity offspring of grüner and assyrtiko but with weight and a metallic minerality. A Béru salinity. An iodine laced salt. Wow. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted July 2016 #chateaudebéru @ @ @ @ @
Montserre is a child of special Chablis geology up on the flat of Béru, primarily limestone with sharp, jagged fragments of rock. Athénaïs de Béru points to the benign nature of this plateau’s climat but the glint in her eye predicts with wine wicca’s wisdom that in 2015 this Chablis will simply be unreal, comme d’habitude. But it’s more than that, the “greenhouse mountain,” smoky single-vineyard Chablis, of white flint hyperbole and dense limestone smoulder. It is striking, intense, trenchant and lingers with arboretum puissance. Gourmand chardonnay, salivating, a success from 100 per cent malolactic conditioning and despite the intensity, blessed of impeccable balance. The bon ton Béru Chablis history now in the oenological hands of Athénaïs de Béru marches to an organic and biodynamic drum. But again, it’s more than that. In the sanctuary of Chablis, Montserre is a connection forged between woman and terroir. It makes perfect sense. Drink 2018-2027. Tasted July 2016
The organic and biodynamic vineyard sits like an earthwork garnison outside the walls of the Béru castle, south facing and slightly southwest at the bottom of the hill. Few are as capable to define the wine monopole as lieu-dit, exclusive, specific and genetic to the 400 year family roots of Athénaïs de Béru. It is in here that the atomic, atmospheric elevation works like an elevator, carrying oozes of liquid limestone up to the surface, passed through the vines into fruit and eventuating in bottle. So very natural and intense, the barrel here is fully felt, in fact still (after three years) dominating the stainless steel. The stones at the surface pulse and quiver from intermingling with marine fossils and sea shells in direct contact with the upper roots. There is a mandarin zest and reduced juice in this, mixed with the saline, Béru-specific note of iodine. The best is yet to come for the Clos Béru Monopole, partly because two improved vintages are up next but also because Athénaïs will have furthered her connection with the exclusive Béru terroir. Drink 2017-2025. Tasted July 2016
In 2012, less density and iodine matchstick is on display in performance for the historic, south facing vineyard beyond the Château’s walls. From this her eighth vintage in the resurrection of the family’s estate wines, Athénaïs de Béru has assembled fruit from Kimmeridgian limestone in rapport with a vintage of portent and intent towards elegance. The acidity is much more linear (than 2013) and the limestone sensations less metallic. Here the feeling is more of a liquid chalk and the balance is much improved. Also less evolved, bright and a much more amenable of a bitter pith, more citrus (lemon and lime) and not as earthy. Longer finish too. What 2013 lacks this ’12 gains and vice versa. The comparative literature and parenthetical study is duly noted as apples to oranges so the wines are exempt of one another. Neither answer all the questions asked and both express their terroir from their time spent on it. This ’12 story will become clearer in another year or two. Drink 2017-2023. Tasted July 2016
Château De Béru Aligoté 2015
One month skin contact, pressed and then set in (200L) amphora for approximately eight months. Transferred to tank for settling before bottling. Gives away apple and pear with exotic spice and the most minor bitter pith. Shares the aligoté acidity with impunity which turns on the varietal light of choice. Tannin and white flowers. Meant for sipping while cooking and into the first part of the meal. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted July 2016
Château De Béru Irancy 2015
Irancy is a partnership with friends who work organically, from their high-end cooperative, highly thoughtful picking and operation. Aged in tonnerre, obviously Burgundian (with 15 per cent pinot gris co-planted with the pinot noir). Traditional and typical but simply, unequivocally Béru. A wine loyal to the old co-plantation tradition in a world of Irancy where only pinot noir is re-planted. A balance between pretty red flowers and spicy, near bitter pithy white fruit. Whole bunch (100 per cent) fermentation but no pressing whatsoever. A slight passage under foot but the gentlest approach, suppressing tannin but looking for structure. This is so very crushable and what would likely translate to $75 CAN is something to think about.
Good to go!