The Gors-Opleeuw, Belgium
It was my friend Laurence Feraud, from Domaine Pegau, a reference in the wine business, who advised me to make a detour through this small vineyard during a trip to Belgium. One grey and rainy autumn morning, I headed for Gors-Opleeuw, a small village located between Liege and Namur.
This estate is among the elite of Belgian wines. It takes its name from the surrounding walls dating from +/- 1840. The microclimate in which the vineyard lives enables it to produce high quality Chardonnay. It is well hidden in the village; there is no identification to find it, except a civic number. Behind the stone walls is a magnificent house with a large garden overlooking the green valleys where a horse awaits its daily apple. Peter Colemont does everything himself, and with 1,50 to care for, ha he does it very well. His work is done with love and passion. His passion for wine, which he got from his father, whom he lost at the age of 12, is growing stronger and stronger with time. Like many teenagers around the age of 16-17, his desire to explore alcohol developed, but his mother, not wanting him to jump in with just any bottle, offered him to choose a bottle from the family cellar. Of course, the cellar only had good wines, many of them from Burgundy. It didn’t take much more than that for this budding passion to grow in him. He started buying books, reading about wine and traveling through the photos.
After studying economics, chemistry, biology and geography, he found himself teaching in a college for a few years in a small town not far away. He passed by the same road every day, and on this road was a winemaker who fascinated him. Whenever he had the opportunity, he would stop and chat with him. He was a fantastic man, cultured, intellectual and philosophical, a great man according to Peter. Their discussions always ended up in the basement.
And then one day, he put it into Peter’s head that he too could plant a few vines. He started with 30, then 60, then 200 in his garden at home. A few years later, he saw the abandoned village fence, in which there were only nettles. So he thought he could do the work in the vineyards for a few days and do less and less teaching. His interest in teaching got lost and he found himself less and less happy. So he bought the vineyard in 2002 and planted 1 ha of vines. Everybody started to discourage him and told him that he was crazy to want to produce Chardonnay in Belgium. And then, as a connoisseur of Burgundy wines, he made friends with several winemakers from the great domains, who became a great source of knowledge and experience for him. These have been of great help to him. He even did an internship at the Domaine de L’Arlot and at the Domaine Jean-Marc Roulot, a star of Burgundy.
They never saw him as a threat, a Belgian in a small region where wine doesn’t work, who tries to make chardonnay with only one hectare? In fact, they were very generous with him. The recipe from there wouldn’t work in Belgium, so you had to know the system, adapt it and be very persevering. He made his first half-barrel in 2004, 114 litres for this first time. In the following years, he produced more and more. Today, he produces between 4000 and 5000 bottles per year from all plots of land. One fine day a sommelier from a three star Michelin restaurant called him to tell him that he had a bottle and that he had done a blind tasting with Jancis Robinson, wine critic for the Financial Times. Robinson was convinced he was drinking a Puligny-Montrachet, “If Jancis thinks so, it’s true! ” adds Peter. She was very interested and published articles in her newspaper. After that, the story was a success and people naturally became more and more interested in his wine.
In Belgium and all over the world, people like to say that it is the Belgian who makes the best wines in the country. In spite of this madness and this craze for his products, he remains the small winegrower with his 1.5 ha, the two feet firmly on the ground to do things first of all by love and passion. He loves his land and working outside. He produces small quantities yes, but he prefers it like that. He doesn’t want to expand his business; he is happy with his small farm. He doesn’t want to become a businessman, he wants to remain a man of the land. He doesn’t want to lose sight of why he started more than 17 years ago. His wine is sold in advance. He does a little exporting out of pride and honor. He exports to Singapore, Japan, Chicago, Germany and France, but in small quantities. Because wine is also about meeting interesting people, it is very important for him and it is through sales to individuals with specific interests and not to large stores where relationships are more impersonal.
He has a privileged relationship with each of his buyers. It would be simpler and more profitable to sell to three to four distributors, but that’s not what interests him. He believes in the relationships he has with his customers. He wants to be enriched by his encounters more than he wants to make money. He doesn’t sell anything in Canada. No one has ever approached him. It was one of the most beautiful and rewarding of his encounters. A great man, this Mr. Colemont, a wise man who does not make a lot of noise, with real values and an unusual business sense who chooses who he receives and to whom he sells. Naturally, this makes me feel even more privileged.