Daddy’s day out in the Belgian wineries

Over the years my passion for wine has grown tremendously. The person who has had a great part in this is my dad. For many years (when he still had his own restaurant) we used to have our yearly trip to Vinitaly (Verona) or trips to Italy to visit wineries. Now that he has retired it is me taking him to visit wineries 🙂

Back in the day he used to take me to wineries in Italy, today I try to show him the rest of the world 🙂 🙂 but why should we always travel far when we have very top level wineries only a short drive away??? I invited my dad to visit some Belgian wine producers in ‘Haspengouw’. Haspengouw or Hesbaye as it seems to be called in English is mostly known in Belgium for its fruit yards. Especially during blooming season (spring  time) it is a very nice region to visit… beautiful flowers as far as the eyes can see. Only for people (like myself) with hay fever a double dose of allergy medicine is required 🙂 🙂

It must be said that last few years the amount of professional wineries in Belgium has grown, especially in the Southern and Eastern part of Belgium (with a few exceptions in other parts of Belgium).  The Belgian wine production mainly focusses on white wine and bubbles, although there are also a few (not a lot) wineries that produce some very nice reds (one of my favorites is Chateau Bon Baron). The success of this growth we thank first of all to the high quality products most of the wineries make, but next to that the Belgian Wines bar in Antwerp played its part too The Belgian Wines bar is a wine bar were only wines produced in Belgium are served and can be bought.  Resulting in Belgian wines finding their way into more people’s homes and on wine lists in many restaurant AND we being more proud of local products!!

A winery that raised the ‘high quality’ bar very high for the others is Clos d’Opleeuw. Clos d’Opleeuw aka the life work of Peter Colemont is the only Belgian wine included in the Sotheby’s lists, being reviewed in the NY times and a Jancis Robinson favorite… So in other words a winery that I had to show my dad. (I already visited it once in 2013) Knowing the winery has only 1ha of land, around 2000 vines and a yearly production of 35Hl,  it is like a shimmer in comparison with wineries where they produces thousands of bottles… but the quality of the end product is just like at the big boys. During blind tastings Peter’s Chardonnay is often taken for top Burgundy wine.

On its 1ha piece  of land Clos d’Opleeuw only produces 2 types of wine, a Chardonnay (98% of their production) and a very small production of Pinot Noire.

The vineyard, as the name says, lays within walls (clos) creating a microclimate and a perfect climate to grow the grapes (or fruit in general) in the cold Belgian weather. When Peter Colemont purchased the piece of land back in the ‘90s it was far from the beautiful vineyard it is today, a wilderness with a few cherry trees in it.  In a few words Peter had to start from scratch and build up everything by himself. Something he still does today as he does all the work in and around the vineyard himself.  When you taste his younger Chardonnay’s you’ll clearly notice notes of oak. Yet there is more than enough freshness and fruitiness. In addition, we taste aromas of butter, vanilla, toast and a variation of white and yellow fruit. The concentration, fullness with a beautiful aftertaste… a joy as big as hearing Peter talking with so much passion about this wines!   If you ever have the chance to try one of his wines please do so, you won’t regret it!!

After a wonderful lunch at my favorite Limburg wine restaurant Mondevino  we set sail to the producer of the drink I started my lunch with…

Domain Cuvelier is specialized in sparkling wines.   The difference  between this winery and the previous is that owner Yves Cuvelier comes from a long line of fruit growers and his (together with his brother Patrick who I was told boss on the land and Yves in the Cellar) main job is still fruit grower. The wine making is a hobby that got out of hand 🙂 🙂 . For making the wine the brothers work together with Guy Geunis (who has been in the business for 25 years and is a role model for Yves) and Rik Schuers from the close by vineyard Optimbulles that I visited a couple of years ago. Just to be clear, both wineries have their own way of working, the only thing they share are the material, infrastructure and knowledge .

It was in the year 2000  Domain Cuvelier planted its first vines of  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Later Pinot Meunier and Grüner Veltliner followed. It surprised me that they planted Grüner Veltliner as I read somewhere that in Germany they don’t use this grape a lot because it’s too wet for the grape kind and Belgium (and especially where the vineyard is located) is not that far from Germany… but then again you read many things 😉

The majority of the harvest is destined for their CuBiz, a traditional brut that consists of the classic trilogy (70% chardonnay, 20% pinot noir and 10% pinot meunier). It was only in 2015 that they started experimenting more with the Grüner Veltliner  that let to their BizTro (mono cepage and first Grüner Veltliner in Belgium). The top of the bill is their BizJoe, a method traditional extra brut, blanc de noirs! You could also tell that Yves was very proud of his BizJoe 🙂 not he is not proud of the Cubiz, but the extra sparkle when talking about BizJoe gave it away.

When you have to compare their sparkling wines I would say that Cubiz is the ‘easy to drink’ (my dad’s favorite) one and ‘BizJoe’ the more complex’ one (had my preference) and the BizTro somewhere in between 🙂   The BizJoe is very delicate with hinds of toasted bread and full flavored. The BizTro is a dry wine with a  high acidity level and a light vegetal character through the short skin contact it had. For the Cubiz it is the chardonnay that gives it elegance and finesse, a beautiful golden yellow color and rich apple flavors. The Pinot Noir provides body and structure, the Pinot Meunier adds the round and fruity touch.  All special on their own and add Yves’ drive and passion to that and you have a winner.

With this festive note we ended our day and my dad was more excited than ever (he was really impressed by the drive both winemakers had and the story they had to tell).

Mission completed I’d say!

A trip to little Burgundy

It might seem that I’m exploring a lot of the eastern part of Belgium (Limburg) lately, but they just have so many great things to explore :-). This time my trip east brought me a little town called Borgloon, which is a little town right in the heart of the Belgian Fruit region also known as “Haspengouw” (beautiful for cycling in spring). The red wires during this daytrip were top Belgian wines and 2010 best Belgian sommelier Kris Lismont.

I know Belgium is not known as a wine country, but I can say for a fact that the amount of winemakers making good and even great wine that can easily compete against the famous wine countries is getting bigger by the day! Thanks to Kris Lismont we were fortunate enough to visit a 3 of them with all the same goal putting Belgian wines on the map.

The first vineyard on our agenda is maybe to me the maker of the best Belgian white wine. I’m talking about the lifework (since 2000) of Peter Colemont aka Clos d’Opleeuw a vineyard from only 1hectare. Peter only makes Chardonnay (1 year in best quality oak barrels) wine from 5 chardonnay grape varieties. I must correct myself he also has a few Pinot Noire vines but the wine he makes from these grapes is for private use only, or at least until Peter finds the quality good enough for actually sharing it with the world (I tried it and have to say although it is still young it had a typical Pinot Noire taste to it). Back to Clos d’Opleeuw’s signature products their Chardonnay that during lots of blind tastings of well-known white wines is mistaking for a Burgundy wine… so that’s how good it is! Before I start speaking of the wine, maybe I should first tell you more about the person behind the vineyard. Peter Colemont is besides a very friendly and modest person also someone who knows what he wants and is not ashamed to say he consults well-known winemakers and wine experts to make sure he’ll make a TOP product. Peter even worked for a while in some well know vineyards in the Burgundy Wine region to fine-tune his knowledge on how to make wine. When we asked him who gave him the passion for making wine, he said without hesitation Jean Bellefroid who was a pioneer in making Belgian wine.

Peter Colmont

There are multiple reasons this wine is this wonderful 1st of all because of the lime/loam soil in combination with the fact it goes downhill is perfect for the “drainage “of the water (and in Belgium there is a lot of rain 🙂 ). Just think of vines of Chateau Petrus, this also goes downhill. BTW when you see a mistletoe tree you immediately know the soil is lime/loam as this tree only grows on this type of soil.  Secondly because of the fact it is a “Clos”, which is the French word for “closure” or “enclosed”, so basically this means it is a vineyard with walls around it used to protect the grapes from theft as well as improving the mesoclimate. The mesoclimate will be creating the perfect circumstance and environment for growing the grapes (or any other fruit you would like to grow). This is a “technique” used in lots of French regions for making wine. The last and maybe most important reason is Peter himself as he works with so much devotion, care and passion! There is a saying that says “everything you do yourself is done better” well this is Peter’s motto as he does do it all himself, he literally crawls on hands and knees between all his vines to check and take care of every branch. He could use a machine, but this would cut away too much.

Clos d'opleeuw 1

CLos d'opleeuw 2

CLos wijngaard 1 Clos wijngaard 2

Clos wijngaard 3

Clos rijpingskamer

Peter’s passion and high quality product didn’t stay unnoticed as people like Jancis Robinson tasted the wine and started spreading the word ( article) and on top of that Clos d’opleeuw’s chardonnay can also be found on the wine list of the 3 Belgian 3 Michelin star awarded restaurants and Oud Sluis! Lots of people would start flying and start to feel full of themselves, but not Peter he keeps his 2 feet on the ground :-).

Clos groep goed aan het luisteren

I did already know Clos d’Opleeuw for a few years, but it was not until 2 months ago (it might be 3 months) that I tried my first glass thanks to Tom Ieven from restaurant Ardent :-). I also wasn’t sad when I could taste it again, but this time in company of the winemaker himself, we tried the 2010 and 2011. The 2007 would be Peter’s personal favorite, at this moment that is.

Clos 2010

Anyhow, to make a long story short(er) you should definitely try a glass (or bottle) of Clos d’Opleeuw when you have the chance!!! I know it might be difficult to find it as the production is not enormous (3000bottles a year)…  and therefore very quickly sold out but you won’t regret it if you get hold of it.

Stay tuned for more about the 2 other vineyards we visited and the lunch we had with of course wine as main topic….