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Frenchman brings new life to historic Abbey winery in Burgundy

Assouline Publishing - An image titled 'A winemaking monk tastes wine from a wooden bowl.(Illumination from La Livre de sante du corps by Aldobrandino du Sienne. ca. 1481)
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Assouline Publishing</em></div>An image titled 'A winemaking monk tastes wine from a wooden bowl.(Illumination from La Livre de sante du corps by Aldobrandino du Sienne. ca. 1481)
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Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

As a business professional for over 30 years, Frenchman Philippe Pascal lived a go-go, international life promoting Champagnes, Cognac and luxury watches for LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

Through it all, Pascal and his wife, Catherine, who hails from the Burgundy winemaking center of Beaune, dreamed of a more-serene existence on a winemaking estate.

In 2004, they took the plunge and bought Cellier aux Moines in the southern Burgundy village of Givry.

“We fell in love with a place with beautiful cellars and vineyards almost in ruin.” Pascal says. “But it was a wonderful location overlooking the village of Givry, and we had a vision of what it could become with care, attention and intense investment.”

The Pascals vaguely understood the domaine's long history associated with winegrowing monks — the name Cellier aux Moines means “Cellar of the Monks.” As restoration of the vineyards, ancient cellars and old stone buildings progressed, the mystery and curiosity deepened. Gradually, the idea emerged to investigate and then write “Nine Centuries in the Heart of Burgundy: The Cellier aux Moines and its Vineyards” (Assouline Publishing, $75).

“We decided to dig into history so we and the next generations could understand and appreciate the domaine's significance,” says Pascal, who collaborated with Burgundy historian Gilles Platret.

Closely studying historical records, they traced the domaine's foundations to 1113 and two critical moments:

First, Cistercian monks from the famous Abbey at Citeaux in northern Burgundy accepted a donation of vineyards that eventually would become the Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot.

The monks methodically applied the Benediction admonition of daily prayer and hard work to reshape the donated vineyard into a special place. Thanks to lay brothers and local laborers actually performing the work, Vougeot quickly developed a reputation for good wine.

At the same time in 1113, pilgrim monks from Citeaux moved to southern Burgundy to found the Abbey of La Fert é-sur-Grosne, not far from Givry.

Thank to the generosity of the Duke of Burgundy, around 1130, the La Fert é monks received a prime vineyard located in Givry. As chronicled in “Nine Centuries in the Heart of Burgundy,” the industrious monks emulated Clos de Vougeot and again earned a reputation for outstanding wines that grew steadily.

“The monks did not invent wine,” Pascal says. “But they developed a vision of the bes t terroirs — the combination of soils, geology and exposition — and the potential to make great wines.”

According to Pascal, the monks initiated the “clos” concept by using stonewalls to enclose and designate the vineyards with the best winemaking potential. The core of the monks' vineyards at Givry became just such an enclosure named “Clos du Cellier aux Moines.”

The monks subsequently added and lost many other vineyards. Yet, remarkably, over the next 900 years, the core “Clos du Cellier aux Moines” vineyards remained essentially intact and providing grapes for winemaking in adjacent, relatively modest stone cellars. As noted in the book, work continued despite wars, plagues and religious strife. Even after the French Revolution in 1789, when the state appropriated monastic vineyards, a private family stepped in and persevered, despite wars, devastating vine diseases and economic dislocation.

Eventually, grapes from Clos du Cellier aux Moines went to a négociant, who made wine offsite. But after restoring the domaine's winemaking capacity and reacquiring the rights to use the Clos' harvest, the Pascals again enabled wine to flow from the monks' ancient cellars.

The gorgeous photography in “Nine Centuries in the Heart of Burgundy” captures the pinot noir vineyards' dramatic, precise beauty along with what Monsieur Pascal calls the “modesty, simplicity and efficiency” of the old stone buildings themselves. The domaine's changing seasons come alive and movingly evoke timeless lessons of reflection and work.

Many retailers along the East Coast sell Domaine du Cellier aux Moines' wines, but the PLCB has yet to offer the bottles. So, enjoy the following from a solid producer with nearby vineyards:

The 2009 Michel Sarrazin, Givry, Champs Lalot “Vieilles Vignes,” France (Luxury 29794; $27.99) comes from clay and limestone vineyards perfect for maturing pinot noir. Spicy cherry and earthly aromas open to ripe black-cherry and smoky, meaty notes. Bright, fresh acidity and silky tannins balance the lingering finish. Recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.

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