To make it to our private cave tour and wine tasting at Ropiteau Freres in Meursault by 10:30am, we had to start biking from Beaune at 9:30am. The ride through Pommard and Volnay was worth the effort, because you see so much more of the villages on bike versus zipping down the N74 in a car.
After parking our bikes inside the Ropiteau Freres courtyard, we were greeted by Felix, the lanky hipster assistant winemaker and manager of the tasting room.
Touring the cave of Ropiteau Freres
Felix, in skinny jeans and a red flannel shirt first took us down a staircase intended for Oompa Loompas, because we both hit our heads on the way down into the Ropiteau caves.
A series of interconnected vaulted tunnels built over time, the Ropiteau Freres caves run beneath the entire property above and in this case, even some the neighbor’s estate.
The oldest Ropiteau Freres wine cave in the bunch was built by the same monks who built the caves beneath the hospices de Beaune in the 15th century, making it one of the oldest caveaus in the region. The walls are covered in black and gray silt, and moist living cultures collected over centuries without abatement, giving the cellar a musty smell and cool humidity that envelopes visitors upon entry.
We spent about 20 minutes walking around the different caves with Felix. We learned that Ropiteau is primarily a chardonnay house that owns a lot of grapes in and around the Meursault village, but also sources grapes from throughout Burgundy.
The narrow and steep stairwells caused both Jonathan and I to wonder who was responsible for actually bringing the barrels up and down the stairs. Felix showed us the holes in the cave ceilings where they feed tubes from the winery above when they’re ready to get the juice in the barrels, and gravity does the rest. This is pretty common for all the old wine houses that still use subterranean caves.
In this newer storage room (these barrels were empty) you can see the hose on the right. This is fed into a hole in the floor and comes out in the caveau where they fill the barrels to age the wine.
Barrel tasting at Ropiteau Freres
When we were done downstairs, Felix introduced us to winemaker Nicolas Burnez, who was in the process of filtering some of the 2015 vintage. He uses a natural gray clay for this, and adds some to the top of the steel tanks which helps collect some of the sediment as it makes its way to the bottom.
With Nicolas we tried wine directly from the tank spigots and got to see the difference in opacity between the wines that had been filtered vs the ones that still needed to go through the process.
The filtering process was interesting. They use a machine in the center of the tank room and fill it with a very fine clay dust. The wine is pumped from one tank to the filter with the clay where it runs through a series of plates containing the clay so the impurities can be removed, before it’s pumped to any empty tank for storage. The whole process is sort of a game of musical chairs with the wine being moved here and there with only a chalkboard hanging on the front of the tank to distinguish what wine is where.
They continue with this process of moving the wine from one tank to another, losing a little wine at the bottom of a tank each time, until the wine is clear and filtered to the winemakers liking.
After each wine pour we tasted the wine, and followed Nicolas’ lead by spitting it on the ground and aiming in the general direction for the drain—if I’m being honest I only spit out a few. Anything we didn’t drink or spit out got tossed into a metal barrel to get filtered later or potentially used for some village blend.
He let us climb up the ladder and look down at what’s left in the tank after it’s been emptied. Here’s what the clay looks like that’s settled.
Nicolas talked about how some wines weren’t round enough, while others needed more acidity. Some chardonnays were a deep yellow hue while others almost looked like water. It was all part of the process, tasting and waiting, and tasting, and waiting, until the wine was just as he wanted.
Ropiteau Freres tasting room
It was a particularly busy time at the winery with all the rains causing havoc in the vineyards. The staff was scrambling to spray the vines to prevent odium (a powdery mildew) from developing on the young grape bunches. Nicolas had to get back to works so he passed us back to Felix in the tasting room.
There we tried a variety of Ropiteau Freres whites, which were delicious. Once again, we had the chance to learn more about the different appellations (terroirs) and vintages by tasting the wines side by side.
We bought some wine to ship home via Cote d’Or Imports [shipping wine home from Burgundy is easy] and then we had to hit the road if we were going to make it to our afternoon appointment in Premeaux-Prissey by 2:30pm.
Lunch in Meursault
Before leaving Meursault, ride your bikes down Rue du 11 Novembre a few blocks from Ropiteau Freres and stay to the right until you run into a giant fountain. This is the main square. The chateau with turrets and colored ceramic roof tiles is the city hall. Across from the city hall is the catholic church Eglise Saint Nicolas.
This picturesque spot is the perfect rest stop. Grab a quick bite to eat from one of the cute cafes or the patissier (bakery) next to the office of tourism. There’s also a market in the plaza if you want to buy some cheese, meat, and fruit or stock up on water, etc.
Sit by the fountain and enjoy the pretty seen as you refuel for the next leg of your biking adventure. Because the next stint is a long one.