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In 1978 a small, 72-year-old peasant man in an old stained sweater and baggy trousers arrives at a lawyer's office in Beaune. It is in the process of purchasing around just over 0.25 ha, enough to make around four and a half barrels of Le Montrachet, the most beautiful white wine vineyards in the world. The sellers are families from Milan and Mathey-Blanchet. Apart from the occasional meal with some of his clients, Lameloise, Alan Chapel, Troisgros, Bocuse, Pierre Ramonet has never left the municipality of Chassagne-Montrachet.
There is the question of payment. "Ah yes," says Ramonet. He fished a thick wad of bills in one pocket, in another for a second, in the back of his trousers for a third, and so on. The stacks of money pile up on the DA's desk. He has never seen such an amount of money in his life. "I think you will find everything you need," says Ramonet, uncomfortable in the formal environments of the lawyer office. He leaves, anxious to return to the familiarity of his cellar and its vines. "Père" Ramonet was more than a character. He used what we now call old clichés. More or less from scratch, through hard work he built one of the most beautiful white wine domainas in Burgundy.
Pierre Ramonet died in 1994 at the age of 88. But its echo lives, in the wines, in the skilled hands of his grandsons Noël and Jean-Claude who since 1984, (under the strict orders of the Grandfather), have continued his reputation. More importantly, I'm also very individual. The original Ramonets came from Bresse on the other side of the Saône from Chalon. A branch settled in Beaune in the 19th century, where they were millers. The mill went bankrupt, and one of them, Claude, moved to Chassagne, where he became a Tacheron, a vineyard worker who is paid by the amount of land he works. Claude had three children; a daughter who married Georges Bachelet (hence the present domaine Bachelet-Ramonet) and two sons, Pierre, born in 1906 and Claude (1914). This Claude never married, and died in 1977. Pierre married Lucie Prudhon (for a time the wine was sold as Domaine Ramonet-Prudhon). They had only one son, André (1934), father of Noël and Jean-Claude. André was never in good health and was more or less an invalid for some time. He never had the responsibility of the Ramonet domaine.
Pierre Ramonet left school at the age of 8 to help his father in the vineyard. His first purchase of a vineyard was that of Chassagne-Montrachet, Les Ruchottes, at the beginning of 1930. Present at the Beaune wine fair in 1938, he found himself facing Raymond Baudoin, one of the founders of the Revue des Vins de France , and advisor to many of the nation's finest restaurants. Baudoin had evidently encountered something unpleasant at a nearby booth. "Do you have anything to get rid of bad taste?" He asked. And a few glasses of Ruchottes 1934 were given for tasting. "Excellent!" Baudoin pronunciation. "Do you have any for sale? Can I buy a couple of bottles?" Six months later he arrived in Chassagne with Frank Schoonmaker, one of the first Americans to seize the opportunity offered by the abolition of prohibition. Schoonmaker buys 200 crates of both red and white although Ramonet didn't get paid until after the war.
Baudoin assisted in getting Ramonet wine on the top restaurant lists in France and this encouraged the opening of a direct selling market. Of course, after the war, and the resolution of protectionism, Schoonmaker continues as the main export customer. Slowly but surely the Domaine Ramonet began to expand. It now owns vineyards in 7 Chassagne premier cru (Ruchottes, Morgeots, Caillerets, Clos-de-la-Boudriotte, Clos-Saint-Jean, Chaumées and Vergers) and most of these were acquired in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1955 , two adjacent plots, one in Bâtard, one in Bienvenues, were obtained by Henri Coquet. More recently the domaine has expanded in Saint-Aubin (Les Charmois) and in Puligny-Montrachet (Champ-Canet and wine village in Enseignières and Nosroyes: the best village vineyards of the appellation, says Noël Ramonet) and some plots of Boudriottes are purchased, while they lost one hectare of Morgeot to another branch of the family. The total now of plots is 17 hectares. An even more recent development, dating back to 1998, is the exchange with the Domaine Jean Chartron in Bâtard-Montrachet for Chevalier-Montrachet. The Ramonet brothers are merchants for this small plot. In theory Noël is responsible in the cellar and his brother Jean-Claude in the vineyard. But it actually appears to be a joint effort. Neither has had the technical training, and so if you ask why they do so you are unlikely to get a consistent answer. The approach is empirical and instinctive. In the vineyard the yields are kept low, the average age of the vines is kept high, without replacement after a certain time. This means that, as happened in Le Montrachet, whole plots must be uprooted. The production of the younger vineyards are vinified separately, and downgraded as in the case today with half of the Montrachet.
The red wines, Chassagne village, Clos-Saint-Jean, Clos-de-la-Boudriotte and Morgeots, are partially de-stemmed, usually 50 percent, cold soaked for a few days, vinified in concrete tanks. They macerate for 10 days, and refine 1/3 in new oak barrels for a year, then lightly filtered. "We like to let nature take its course." Unusually the Ramonets do not allow the coarse lees to stabilize before the fermentation of the white wine. "There are elements in yeasts that are good". Because? Because they fear that these coarse lees could contaminate the wine. Fermentations begin in the tank, continue in wood, overall about a third new at 20-25 ° C, and the finished wine is kept on the lees as long as possible before the first racking. A second racking takes place after a year or 15 months. White wines, like reds, are both lightly filtered.
Today the Domaine bears the name of Jean-Claude due to recent divisions of the property.