France - Bourgogne - Beaune
Lots of people, it seems, have vinous epiphanies. They drink a special bottle of wine, and suddenly they are converted. Wine is no longer just an alcoholic drink for them; it is something more fundamental. For some, it becomes their life.
Andrew Nielsen , originally from Australia, was working in advertising. Working around the world, he’d spent time in Singapore and Hong Kong for exemple, but it was while he was based in Los Angeles that he had his wine epiphany, in 2006, with a bottle of Dujac Clos de la Roche (he can’t remember which vintage, although he says he still has the bottle at home).
Wine became his passion, and he did vintage that year with Californian Pinot specialist Kosta Browne. Following this, Nielsen worked harvests with Felton Road in New Zealand’s Central Otago region, and then Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley of Australia. Connecting with James Halliday at Coldstream Hills proved fortuitous, because Halliday was buddies with Patrick Bize at Simon Bize in Savigny les Beaune, and this is how Nielsen found himself working in Burgundy.
Simon Bize has 22 hectares in Savigny, which by Burgundian standards is a big domaine. And when Andrew was working there, an idea popped into his head. ‘I saw all this amazing fruit come across the table, and thought why don’t we make 10 different Savignys?’ he recalls. But for a domaine like Simone Bize, the economics don’t work. So Nielsen had the idea of becoming a micronegociant telling the story of Savigny by identifying special parcels and bottling them separately. ‘I’m looking to make wines from terroirs that people overlook and working with growers who are prepared to take things further and do things a bit differently,’ he explains. ‘What if we don’t cut all the weeds back all the time? What if we do the first hedging a bit later?’ His approach is to try to apply a bit of modern knowledge, in partnership with the growers. ‘Because I am small we can go out and do things differently.’
Le Grappin is based in Beaune, and the wines are made in Fanny Sabre’s old winery opposite the mayor’s office. In 2013 Nielsen made 18 barrels of Le Grappin; in 2014 there are 26 barrels. In addition to the Le Grappin wines he makes less expensive vins de soif under the Du Grappin label. These are sold in kegs, refillable bottles and also 1.5 litre bags (he dubs them ‘bagnums’), and the wines are sourced from Beaujolais and Macon. Nielsen is passionate about the wastage in wine packaging and for this reason, he doesn’t use capsules on his Le Grappin wines. The Du Grappin project allows him to experiment a bit with his winemaking, and it also allows him to keep Le Grappin small and focused.
As a negociant, his biggest cost input is buying the grapes. In Burgundy, prices are getting a bit crazy: his fruit cost has doubled over the last three years. As a result, he’s had to put prices up.
The packaging of the Le Grappin wines is striking. The labels are designed by Brooklyn-based artist Louise Despont who uses drafting tools such as compasses to create intricate (and beautiful) designs on old ledger paper. With the wine name on a necktag in a lovely font, and lacking capsules, these are beautiful bottles.
The results are wines with vivacity and personality; a joy to drink.