Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mark Haisma’s Gevrey and other burgundies

It’s not every day you have a Gevrey Chambertin producer sitting round your kitchen table showing you his wines but I can honestly recommend it. Far more fun than sitting with a line up of 20 supermarket samples.

You’ve spotted, of course that Haisma is not a French name although turns out his mother was French and his father an Australian who ‘pioneered the use of biodynamics in Australia’ (I find out from his website). We didn’t manage to get round to how he ended up working for Dr Bailey Carrodus at Yarra Yering but for the past 3 years he’s been making wine in Burgundy and has lived there since 2009

The fact that he is unapologetic about using sulphur may disqualify him in the view of some from inclusion in this blog but as I say at the top of the page it’s about the whole package and his attitude to winemaking is both thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Not having his own vineyards yet he buys grapes from growers including Pierre Naigeon which is where he makes his wine. He admits it can be a frustrating process. “They never agree anything until the last minute. With the Clos de Bèze we were told we could have it the night before they picked.”

He aspires to growing grapes organically but ‘at the moment it’s about finding someone with really good fruit. If the vineyard’s like a billiard table without a blade of grass I think I’ve been around long enough to know it’s pretty suspect.”

A monoculture gone beserk
“There are a lot of problems in Burgundy at the moment. There’s a lot of dead soils out there. It’s a severe case of monoculture gone beserk. There’s a lot of homogeneous stuff coming out. Chemical companies keep coming through and telling winemakers you need that and that. The soil is treated with contempt - a base to plant vines in. If you find any kind of live organism there you’re lucky.” He pauses. “Sorry that was a bit of a rant. Pierre is fortunately very progressive, he uses a lot of compost.”

He tries to keep his winemaking simple. “I’m a very boring winemaker. Once the wine goes to vat I want to walk away from it and leave it. I don’t use artificial yeasts. I will chill the fruit if it’s coming in warm because I want a slow ferment. It does its own thing - I don’t plunge or pump over then the wine goes into barrel for a year - 3-4 year old ones for the Bourgogne, 1-2 for the Gevrey and Bonnes Mares and new for the Clos de Bèze. It comes out very clean so I don’t need to filter but if I saw a problem I’d consider it. I’d also fine if I found the tannins excessive but I don’t.”

But he does use sulphur. “It’s an important part of winemaking. I use it in the fermenter but not till the malo’s over and at the end of the winter then nothing until bottling. Sure. I’m interested in making wine without sulphur but I’m not quite ready for that yet.

He showed me five wines starting with his 2007 and 2008 Bourgognes (£13-14). The ‘07 was still quite tight, the ‘08 brighter, juicier and more expressive but both were pure and well balanced - lovely wines to drink with food. “I guess I was trying to make a bit of a statement with my first wine. It took a long time to open up. I want wines to be forward drinking when they're young but capable of going the distance. There’s a lot of dull wine at the Bourgogne level. If I’m trying a new producer I go straight for his Bourgogne.”

Gevrey-Chambertin 2008 (£27-30)
A classic Gevrey with lovely pure fruit and silky tannins but the same freshness and vitality you find in his less expensive wines. “You don’t need your better wines to be heavier and denser, you need them to be more elegant.”

Morey St Denis Premier Cru La Riotte 2008 (£44)
“I love Morey it’s really misunderstood. There’s a Gevrey side and a Chambolle side and then a fine strip which encompasses the village in the middle and this is where this wine comes from.” This was my favourite of the wines. It had a pronounced minerality but opened up on the mid-palate in the most sensuous way. “Why does ’08 need to be thought of as an austere meagre year?” asked Haisma rhetorically

Saint Joseph 2008 Vincent Paris 12.5% £16
A wine that Haisma is supplying to the restaurants he deals with. A real curiosity. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a more peppery syrah - not only white pepper but green and szechuan pepper with even some capsicum character. “Also very mineral. It comes from vines that are not swamped with grass. It’s a wine that’s alive and vibrant, one that grabs you in the face.”

I didn’t get to try his 2009s but there’s certainly enough evidence on the basis of this tasting that Haisma is a man to watch. His wines are already in a number of top restaurants including The Ledbury, the Glasshouse and the Harwood Arms and stocked by distributors including Caviste, Philglas & Swiggot, the Huntsworth Wine Company, The Sampler, Vinoteca and WoodWinters.

You can also buy from him direct though he was a bit vague about delivery arrangements and what that would cost. The answer is obviously to get in touch with him direct. The minimum order for the burgundies is 6 bottles and an unsplit case of 12 for the Rhones (there's also a Cornas from Vincent Paris).

Having tasted the wines which were far more Burgundian than Australian I wondered if people came to his wines with the wrong kind of expectations. He paused for a minute. “I don’t think anyone who knows I worked for Bailey would think that. He taught me that If you recognise the beauty of the world around you in art, architecture and so on you have a chance to make something beautiful in a bottle of wine not something dense, inky, fat and alcoholic which defeats the purpose of wine.” And on that robust note he left to catch his train.


  1. Catching up after a medium-long absence, Fiona.

    It sounds like this good-looking gentleman has understood Burgundy very quickly: “monoculture gone beserk”, I can only approve. We had a tasting of over 25 samples of Clos Vougeot with the editing board of In Vino Veritas (Brussels) some years ago: the worst sampling we’d ever seen, in earnest. And look at the price!
    Unlike Leonard Cohen’s lady friend, who had to make an exception, you yourself seem to “prefer handsome men”. This allowed you to sign a very refreshing article ... without partiality, hum,hum. Funny to feel the Australian approach perspire in all of Mark’s remarks: it would be very unusual for a Burgundian wine-maker (I’m not talking négoce, here) to just walk around in a search for grapes to acquire overnight!
    Pinot noir seems the obvious varietal to want to vinify without sulphur (purity of its fruit): keep us informed when this happens there, because Botrytis has always been a problem in rainy Côte d’Or.

  2. It's the personality, not the looks, Luc although I'm not pretending he isn't a fine looking bloke ;-)