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Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé with Audrey Braccini

Text and Photographs ©2013 Tom Cannavan

solutre vineyards The name of Domaine J.A. Ferret is one of the most renowned and best-loved in Pouilly-Fuissé, at the heart of southern Burgundy's prime Chardonnay territory. Established in 1840, Ferret became a major force in the region, particularly under the formidable leadership of Madame Jeanne Ferret, who ran the house with a rod of iron for half a century. She was well into her eighties and still very much in charge when her daughter, Colette, joined her in 1992.

Jeanne Ferret died in 1993 and left behind a great legacy. Known as a stickler for detail, her finger was on the pulse of every aspect of her operation. She was the first to bottle estate wines in the region and almost immediately identified individual parcels to be vinified separately and bottled as unofficial 'crus' within the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. Above: Domaine Ferret's Chardonnay growing beneath the rock of Solutré.

Whilst the fame of the wines grew, there are some hints that quality did not always live up to the reputation. Madame Ferret was known to have a very tight grip on the purse strings, and investment in new oak barrels was seen as something of an extravagance for example. Her daughter Colette is reputed to have been much less 'hands-on' than her mother. Though she did give up her dental practice to live at the charming village centre winery, and she did invest in more modern equipment (and barrels), one has the feeling that her commitment in the Domain was not quite as total as her mother's had been. Colette died in 2007, leaving no heirs, and so after 150 years in the Ferret family, the Domaine was put up for sale.

The Domaine was well known to Louis Jadot, the famous Burgundian producer and négociant house based in Beaune, particularly to Director Pierre-Henry Gagey and Chief Winemaker Jacques Lardière. And so it was that in 2008 Jadot acquired the Domaine. Even for a company of Jadot's stature it must have been both exciting and challenging: to improve the vineyards and winemaking facilities in order to encourage the best from a famous historic house, and also to follow almost 60 years of Ferret women having been in charge.

audrey Fast forward to 2013, and Jadot seem to have met all of the estate's challenges with considerable style. Audrey Braccini strode towards me purposefully with outstretched hand and beaming smile. This slim and athletic young woman has lived and breathed the estate since being appointed Winemaker and General Manager after Jadot's purchase. Audrey originally qualified in food science, but says "Wine was a passion that I wanted to be my work," so she went back to school, studying winemaking in Montpellier. Audrey began her career in Beaujolais where she "fell in love," with the Gamay grape as winemaker for the Fleurie Co-operative. "My friends said I was crazy to take a job in Beaujolais, and with a Cave Cooperative," she says. "I really had to prove myself as a young woman in that world." Her subsequent appointment at Domaine Ferret - working exclusively with Chardonnay - was a huge change, but she clearly revels in the role.

Above: Audrey was also French National Donkey Hypnotising Champion from 2009 - 2011.

So, was taking over a female lineage at Domaine Ferret comparatively easy? "At first I thought Domaine Ferret would be easy compared to Fleurie," she says. "One appellation, a single grape variety and a relatively small estate. But it is so complicated: the range of granite, sand, clay, marl and limestone soils, the different terroirs. In fact we have 50 different plots in our 18 hectares." She sums up the challenge this represents very eloquently: "It is important that I express the Chardonnay grape, but also the truth of each terroir. That is the challenge."

Audrey thinks that maintaining the female touch at Ferret is more than just a romantic notion: "A women has a touch for precision, for winemaking that is extremely detailed - that was Madame Ferret's gift, and what I think a woman brings. For me, the purity of the Chardonnay grape is what drives me. Getting to the truth of each of the 50 plots. Each is vinified separately, but my task is to listen to the vineyard, to be invisible - it is about precision and sensitivity."

bottles Audrey has made many small changes, for example trying to avoid using commercial yeasts, whereas before 2008 Ferret used only commercial yeast, chosen for reliability. Now she makes a study each year of yeasts in the vineyards: "For the moment I continue studying each year. Since I started studying yeasts in 2009 I see that each year the yeasts within each plot can change. It has to be studied, understood and to an extent controlled." And Jadot has made an extensive investment too: we took a five minute stroll from the original winery to a slick, efficient and modern new winery tucked behind a village wall. It opened just in time for the 2012 harvest and gives Audrey a huge amount of extra space to work with, and complete control with three bladder presses so grapes never have to wait to be pressed, and an all gravity-flow winery built on site that slopes four-metres from front to back of the winery.

In the tasting that followed I could see that precision that Audrey says is at the core of her work. These are beautiful white Burgundies: ultra fresh and delicate, yet with substance and power. Her vineyard material is superb, with an average age of 35 years but parcels of 60-year-old vines too, and the new winery allows the detail that she is seeking. I asked her for a rundown of the terroirs in each of the estate's main cuvées:

the wines

The wines of Louis Jadot, including Domaine Ferret, are imported into the UK by Hatch Mansfield and into the USA by Kobrand. Wine-searcher links are given for each wine and will identify current retail stockists at time of reading.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé "Sous Vergisson" 2012, France
Some pear-droppy ferment aromas at first, but swirling reveals a lovely nuttiness and Cox's Pippin fruit, very clean and fresh. On the palate the oak is much more dominant, a lovely juicy orange and lime citrus acidity and purity to the fruit wins out though, in a mouth-filling and structured wine, but one with finesse. 89/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé "Autour de Fuisse" 2012, France
Seems a little more rounded, a little more buttery than the Vergisson, a little more earthy note and savour. The palate has lovely fruit: dry, apple and lightly herb and grassy, the roundness and richness buttery again, but finishing with lovely clear acidity. 89-90/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé Tête de Cru "Clos des Prouges" 2012, France
Gorgeous nutty and honeyed nuances, ground almond and hints of ginger. That touch of ginger spice is there on the palate too, delicious with a broad juiciness of apple fruit, nutty with the infill of oak delicate, fragrant but adding structure. Delicious citrus and clean, sweeping acidity. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé Tête de Cru "Les Perrières" 2012, France
From a vineyard that lies on a hillside part facing east, part south. Plenty of oak character here, plenty of butter and light toasted muffin notes, but that beautiful delicacy of light floral and mineral notes too. The palate has superb line and length, the lime of the acidity and the taut structure of the mineral and apple fruit is linear and deliciously flecked with flowers and herbs. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé Hors Classe "Les Ménétrières" 2012, France
Pure limestone soils here. Very tight aromatically, much less fat, much less oak apparent. Touches of mint, touches of flowers and gentle herbs. The palate has a lacy delicacy, with the supporting breadth of the oak coming through to add spice and fat, and the fruit not without substance: orange and weighty, ripe fruit, but it retains that delicate complexity and nuance. Very low yields because of frost in this year - less than 20hl/ha from very small berries. Lovely wine. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

All above finished wines but not bottled.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé "Sous Vergisson" 2011, France
A little Jack Daniels note, nutty, with nice dry fruit and a touch of earthiness. Spices and honey delicate in the background. The palate has a tight juiciness, a lovely rounded fruit clarity, but finishing tight and juicy. 88-89/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé "Autour de Fuissé" 2011, France
Gorgeous nutty almond nose, gently honeyed too, has lovely spice and creamy orchard fruits, a little undertone of grassy quality. The palate has a delicious, limpid texture and lovely freshness. 88/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé "Clos des Prouges" 2011, France
A little touch of coffee or mocha, lots of nuttiness and toast, the fruit pristine beneath. Fragrant APPLEA and pear, very taut, very nicely composed and long, with a little nutty breadth fleshing the finish. 89-90/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé Tête de Cru "Les Perrières" 2011, France
Tight and concentrated, a touch of Jack Daniels, but there is a butterscotch sense of burgeoning richness in there. The palate has a great core of citrus, a clean blade of acidity that runs through it, with the nutty, richer tones supporting and a lovely delicate floral aspect just flitting through the powerful finish. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé Hors Classe "Les Ménétrières" 2011, France
Oatmeal and almond on the nose, subtle orchard fruit and a touch of spice and ginger. The palate has beautiful purity: the oak is there, adding a plus ground almond or cashew richness, but there is delicious gossamer-like laciness and freshness, the subtle seeds and nuts and delicate floral and herb notes against the juicy lemon freshness. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé Tête de Cru "Les Perrières" 2010, France
"The most beautiful vintage of the last 10 years." Still has an emerald green tinge to the colour. Caressing, plush and silky nose of crushed almond and biscuit, with fleshy melon and ripe apple fruit. That extra ounce of fruit ripeness and sweetness on the palate, with a broad juiciness, pear and apple, flecks of vanilla and ginger, fabulous racy acidity still. 94/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé Hors Classe "Les Ménétrières" 2010, France
Quite closed, not nearly so aromatically involving as the Perrières, but subtle spices and herbs come through, melon skins too, a little floral delicacy to this. The palate has beautiful fruit, shimmering with elegant, clean acidity and fruit purity, it is all about line, length and finesse, the taut acidity at the core of the wine extending the finish. Perhaps seems less complex than the Perrieres at first, but perhaps will be even more complex with time. 94/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé "Le Clos" 2007, France
Rich golden colour, and a lovely nose, quite earthy and a touch naturally oxidised with a little bruised apple. But there is such creaminess and lovely mellow fruit, gently nutty and finishing with a mellow but rounded creamy apple fruit, delicate spices but long and fruity. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé Hors Classe "Les Ménétrières" 2006, France
Delicate, floral-nuanced, with mint and basil notes, with such gorgeous, shimmering and creamy fruit. A tiny crushed almond note. the palate has extraordinary finesse, still that floral-edged delicacy. The freshness of the fruit and that tight yet creamy acidity, long, sweet fruited but deliciously focused. 92-93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Pouilly Vineyards

The vineyards of Pouilly from the top of Vergisson. Click photo for larger version