PARIS (Reuters) - The name is Mikulski, François Mikulski.
One of the rising stars of the otherwise closely knit community of Burgundy winemakers, François has turned a handicap into an advantage.
No complex, ancient or elaborate names on an intricate ancient label on the bottles, just a seemingly handwritten name, his name, on a simple single color background pasted on a bottle of, well, rather pleasant wine.
Based in Meursault, Mikulski makes first growth wines as well as a more general Bourgogne Aligoté white wine that surprises because of its pure mineral taste with a hint of the buttery flavor that characterizes Meursault or Chablis.
That is no accident. Mikulski uses Aligoté vines that were planted in 1929 and 1948, well before he was born. They have a relative low yield in grapes that he lets mature well and then keeps in big cool vats for freshness.
His father emigrated in 1939 from Poland to England. Later, via Luxembourg, he settled in Dijon where François was born in 1963.
There were vintners in his mother's family. François worked with his uncle from 1984 to 1991 and when this uncle's own sons sought a different future, François and his wife Marie Pierre Mikulski-Germain started to rent the maternal family vines as well as an adjacent plot and created Domaine François Mikulski in 1992.
The first eight years were very difficult. They needed a bank loan to start and when they had hoped to sell their first wines in 1992 to the wholesale buyers, the prices were so low during a crisis that they decided to bottle the wines themselves, which required even more money.
François studied wine-making and after his military service he went to California in 1983 to work in the vines there and understand the differences between modern wine-making techniques used in the United States and the traditional ways of Burgundy.
He started out with 4.5 hectares and works on nine currently. The vines are in the village of Meursault and the surrounding communes.
One quarter of the production is red. The white production is focused on Meursault, a small but noble Burgundy wine appreciated by connoisseurs.
François tries to underline the mineral element in the wines, a freshness that goes well with seafood. Wines that are pure, with some acidity. He uses a low percentage of new oak in his barrels and for Meursault, the wines need to be kept for five years in a bottle.
Mikulski wines are no supermarket wines but not unattainable Burgundies either.
"We are mainly aiming for the international market and try to cater for as many markets as possible, with one representative in each country or state and modest volumes for each market," he told Reuters.
In Paris, for instance, there are just three shops that stock Mikulski; the well-known Lavina, Augé cellars and Les Caprices de l'Instant, while a dozen restaurants including starred-chef Pierre Gagnaire and Hotel Bristol have his wine on their list.
"The prices are, in my opinion, relative to the value of pleasure that each appellation gives," he said.
With a production in first growth (Premier Cru) of 15,000 bottles, he can send meaningful quantities to the main markets.
"Aligoté is relatively cheap, but the trick is to use old vines and keep yields low for a superior wine," he said.
Meursault is made with Chardonnay grapes. Mikulski also makes a red Burgundy, Burgundy Passetoutgrains, Pommard, a Meursault 1er cru Caillerets and a Volnay 1er cru Santenots-du-milieu.
The Mikulskis strive to make top quality Burgundy wines that are authentic, elegant and pure.
Authentic, because they use home-produced composts, environmentally friendly products to address illnesses and bacteria, ploughing, and a carefully preserved biological balance of the soil.
Elegant due to healthy materials and yields of between 45hl to 50hl for the whites and around 35hl for reds. Pneumatic pressing followed by rigorous must-settling constitute the first steps in the wine-making process. Natural yeasts are sufficient for sugars to ferment for a period of three to four months in cool cellars built in solid rock. Ageing takes place in oak barrels on lees over a 12-month period.
The pureness comes from the efforts over a 30-month process. With care for the most minute detail, and the use of high-performance equipment such as a peristaltic pump, a pneumatic press, oak barrels between one and five years old, and estate bottling.
The Meursault sells for some 50 euros ($62.92) per bottle, the Aligoté for some 12 euros, the Pommard for some 40 and the Volnay as well. No record prices, but a price for a discerning consumer and with some margin for the vintner.
After the difficult years, Mikulski now has better times. But he knows that he and his wife have a privileged life.
"With the excessive prices of vineyards at the moment, it is becoming a big problem to buy, or even to maintain a family heritage, even if you were to win the lotto."
($1 = 0.7947 euros)
Editing by Paul Casciato