Burgundy Steps into the Future
Meet the generation of vignerons who are transforming Burgundy.
Photos by Jon Wyand
More than in any other wine region, talk in Burgundy revolves around terroir, what winemakers refer to as the region’s climats, or vineyard parcels. When speaking with young winemakers, especially those with small domaines, you hear the passion behind their words.
Because these winemakers work the vines themselves, they know each fold in the hillside, each small change in the dirt that brings a different character to the wine. Many practice organic or biodynamic viticulture, further strengthening their bonds with the earth.
Although they obsess over their vines, these winemakers are more open than their parents’ generation. While the older folks tended to keep their methods and wines to themselves, their children meet routinely to taste one another’s wines. They travel the world, showing off their wares. Some even make wines outside of Burgundy.
These seven vignerons epitomize that youthful outlook. They focus on their vineyards, which—they all agree—determine the quality of their wines. They’re driven by passion and a desire to learn. And they’re continually seeking to improve their viticulture and winemaking.
The results are wines that have fruit, balance, and a perfumed stylishness that represents Burgundy at its finest. Most importantly, the wines give pleasure.
“I make wines that please me, that I want to drink,” says Alexandrine Roy of Domaine Marc Roy.
If these qualities were lost for a time in the search for wood and power, they are being rediscovered by a new generation.
Domaine Marc Roy, Gevrey-Chambertin
“I don’t make wines, I work on growing fruit,” says this dynamo of a winemaker, who quickly glides into the cellar just under her grandmother’s house. “That’s why I know my vines so well.”
Alexandrine’s articulate English comes from working at Phelps Creek Winery in Oregon. Each year, she makes a wine for them, different from the other wines produced by that Pinot Noir specialist. Her approach in Oregon sums up Burgundy.
“My wine is classic in style with acidity—not overripe—delicate and balanced,” she says. “It’s all about the palate.”
She shocked the resident team at Phelps Creek by picking a week earlier than they did, destemming and using natural yeasts.
“Americans like control,” she says. “I leave it up to nature.”
In all her wines, there’s an ineffable purity, the distillation of Pinot Noir fruit.
The domaine only owns village vineyards in Gevrey-Chambertin, 10 acres in total. Determined to create a wine that could have come from a grand cru, she has developed the domaine’s Cuvée Alexandrine.
Made from small berries with a high proportion of skin to juice, it displays extra concentration and weight.
Like many of her contemporaries, Alexandrine is forever discussing her creations with other winemakers.
“We say, ‘Your wine is so good, what did you do?’ ” she says. “It’s a great exchange. Our parents never did that.”
Marsannay: Les Champs Perdrix
Gevrey-Chambertin: Vieilles Vignes, Justice, Clos Prieur, Cuvée Alexandrine
Importer: Michael Skurnik
Domaine des Croix, Beaune
I first met David when I visited him at Camille Giroud, the Beaune-based négociant whose shareholders include Ann Colgin, of Colgin Cellars in Napa Valley. He’s still the manager at Camille Giroud, while Domaine des Croix is what he calls his weekend job.
Some weekend, some job.
He now owns 16 acres of vines in the Côte de Beaune. David bought most of them in 2004, but he’s bought and sold parcels since then, giving him 19 parcels, producing 10 different wines from the 2011 vintage.
He lives over the shop in Beaune, with the cellar beneath his house and small office, his life and his work in perfect balance. Pinot Noir shares a similar equilibrium.
“Pinot Noir is a balancing act,” he says. “I want to preserve this special balance. Today, my generation is looking for fruit, not extract.”
Even during the cool 2011 harvest, he picked early in order to keep the balance.
“I decided not to worry if the alcohols were a bit low,” he says.
His wines epitomize today’s Burgundy. They’re light in color, very aromatic and fruity at first taste, only slowly revealing their firm tannins.
The initial impression is delicious. But this deliciousness is deceptive, for the wines’ aging potential is likely to be considerable.
Aloxe-Corton: Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru
Aloxe-Corton: Les Boutières, Corton La Vigne au Saint Grand Cru, Corton Les Grèves Grand Cru
Beaune: villages, Cent Vignes Premier Cru, Les Grèves Premier Cru, Les Pertuisots Premier Cru, Bressandes Premier Cru
Importer: Le Serbet Becky Wasserman Selection, multiple importers
Domaine François Bertheau, Chambolle-Musigny
François claims to not have changed much since he took over the domaine from his father in 2004. But although he is a man of few words, little by little you realize how much the Bertheau wines have improved—and changed.
“I am looking for fruit, not much wood,” says François, a man of few words. “The wines of Chambolle are all about violets and red fruits.”
Like many vignerons with relatively small holdings, he can almost name each one of his vines. When we meet in the cellar, he had just been hoeing between them by hand.
“When it’s warm, it’s a pleasure,” he says.
And those vines are in places with names that make any Burgundy fan go weak at the knees.
Apart from some village Chambolle-Musigny, all of his vines are either in Premier Cru Chambolle—Les Amoureuses and Les Charmes—or in the Bonnes Mares Grand Cru. That’s 15 acres of gold.
His wines bring out the essence of Pinot, always the true character of Chambolle. Things are kept simple in the cellar, relying on the quality of the fruit each year. With modest extraction and little new wood, the wines are fruity in their youth, but they age gracefully.
Chambolle-Musigny: villages, Premier Cru, Les Charmes Premier Cru, Les Amoureuses Premier Cru, Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru
Importer: Fruit of the Vines
Domaine Jean-Philippe Fichet, Meursault
Most Burgundians like to have tastings in their cellars. Not Jean-Philippe. He prefers his kitchen. It’s neutral, he says—no odors—and you can sit down.
At 51, Jean-Philippe is the oldest of this group of Burgundy growers, but he shares many of the same attitudes and beliefs of his younger colleagues. It comes back to the vineyards.
“You should do nothing in the cellar,” he says, as we taste his range of meticulously made Meursaults. “It’s those little details in the vineyards that make the wine.”
He hasn’t used chemicals for 17 years, he says, and the harvesting is done by hand. With 20 acres in Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Auxey-Duresses and Monthelie, he has dozens of small parcels.
“The reason my parents made wines that were fat, full of malolactic fermentation flavors, was because they picked the high-yield grapes underripe,” says Jean-Philippe. “They had to mask the acidity. Now, with controlled yields and careful pruning, I can produce wines that are as fruity and fresh as possible. I love fresh white wines.”
What gives his wines their character is their steely backbone and mineral structure. Jean-Philippe may talk only of fruit, but he produces wines that make the essential Burgundian connection between the land and the glass.
Bourgogne Blanc, Vieilles Vignes
Meursault: village, Les Chevalières, Le Meix sous le Château, Le Tesson, Les Gruyaches
Puligny-Montrachet: Les Referts Premier Cru
Monthelie Premier Cru
Importer: The Rare Wine Co.
Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair, Vosne-Romanée
I’m standing in the spring sunshine in front of the early 19th-century Château de Vosne-Romanée, looking at a massive crane.
“What’s this for?”I ask. “Another cellar?”
“No,” says Louis-Michel with a sheepish look on his face. “It’s for a swimming pool.”
The pleasure factor is important to him, even if it involves hard work. He wants his wines to give pleasure, not toughness.
“In the 2000s, so many Burgundies were heavy, tannic, hard,” he says. “When I took over the domaine in 2000, my dad said, ‘Make wine you enjoy.’ And that’s what I’m doing.”
His father also told him that if he wanted to work the family land, he had to study as an agricultural engineer. So he did, gradually taking back family vineyards that had been leased out for decades.
Since 2008, all 21 acres of vines in his 12 appellations have been farmed biodynamically.
“I tasted the wines from the biodynamic vineyards of my friends, and they were so good,” he says. “And I was concerned with the soil. I wanted to move away from the industrial agriculture of the previous generations.”
The results are increasingly impressive. There’s increasing definition—the famed Burgundian terroir coming through—from the firm tannins of Nuits-St.-Georges to the depth and structure of Vosne-Romanée—but always pleasurable.
“If you can only drink a glass, then I’ve failed,” says Louis-Michel. “I want you to be able to finish the bottle.”
Nuits-St.-Georges: Clos des Grandes Vignes
Nuits-St.-Georges: Les Lavières, Les Cras Premier Cru
Vosne-Romanée: Clos du Château, Les Chaumes Premier Cru, La Colombière, Les Petits Monts Premier Cru, Aux Reignots Premier Cru, Les Brulées Premier Cru, Les Suchots Premier Cru, La Romanée Grand Cru, Echézeaux Grand Cru
Importer: Grand Cru Selection
Luc and Lise Pavelot
Domaine Pavelot, Pernand-Vergelesses
Drive up the hill in Pernand-Vergelesses, and proceed in a narrow lane to one side of the church. Across the road, there’s a hobbit door with a modest panel: Domaine Pavelot.
Enter, and you are in a world where time stopped.
It’s a small courtyard with a view to die for: a drop to the valley, with the vines of Corton-Charlemagne on one side, the premier crus of Pernand-Vergelesses on the other. In the far distance, on a clear day, are the Alps.
Brother and sister Luc and Lise Pavelot run the 23-acre domaine. While their courtyard may be ancient, they are part of the new generation. Both studied oenology in Beaune and worked outside Burgundy—Luc at Navarro Vineyards in Mendocino, Lise at Domaine Didier Dagueneau in the Loire.
When they took over from their father Régis in 1992, half of the crop was being sold to négociants. Now, it’s five percent.
The Pavelot siblings also moved toward organic viticulture. Luc, the winemaker, operates on the lunar calendar, a return to his grandfather’s traditions and a practice that’s re-emerging in Burgundy.
The wines are magnificent and very structured, with a cool character often found in Pernand-Vergelesses. All have a nervy, tight character that demands aging.
“We don’t make wines for competition,” says Luc. “We make them to be direct.”
Gesturing to the panorama, he adds, “We create a taste of this view.”
Aloxe-Corton: Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
Pernand-Vergelesses: village, Sous Frétille Premier Cru
Aloxe-Corton: village, Corton Grand Cru
Pernand-Vergelesses: village, Les Fichots Premier Cru, En Caradeux Premier Cru, Les Vergelesses Premier Cru, Ile de Vergelesses Premier Cru
Domaine Rossignol-Jeanniard, Volnay and Beaune
When I arrive at the cellar Nicolas shares in Beaune with another grower, Benjamin Leroux, he’s still on his tractor in the Côtes de Beaune. Ten minutes later, his tractor charges into the courtyard.
He’s in full vigor as he gushes about his vines—he now manages and owns 40 acres that make up the Domaine Rossignol-Jeanniard.
“I make 30 wines, including seven Volnay premier crus,” he says, pouring a sample. “And every one is different, just 10 meters away. Pinot Noir is so sensitive to the soil.”
From bright fruitiness to firm tannins, each wine expresses a different type of soil, with different proportions of clay and limestone with different exposures.
“Volnay is an appellation with optimism, with so many young people,” Nicolas says. “We taste together, just us, because we are determined to get better each year. To do that, we have to learn from our soils.
“I like wines with energy,” he says, pouring wine after wine.
Tasting with Nicolas, you observe differences that are sometimes minute, sometimes considerable. It’s a great way to comprehend the complexity and fascination of Burgundy.
Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Héritière
Pernand-Vergelesses: village, Les Fichots Premier Cru, Les Lavières Premier Cru
Savigny-lès-Beaune: village, Les Fourneaux Premier Cru
Pommard: village, Les Vignots, Petits Noizons
Volnay: village “vignes du haut”, village “vignes du bas”
Beaune: Reversées Premier Cru, Clos du Roy Premier Cru, Clos des Mouches Premier Cru
Volnay: Ronceret Premier Cru, Fremiets Premier Cru, Clos des Angles Premier Cru, Taillepieds Premier Cru, Santenots Premier Cru, Chevret Premier Cru, Cailleret Premier Cru
Pommard: Croix Noire Premier Cru, Chaponnières Premier Cru, Jarolières Premier Cru, Fremiers Premier Cru, Chanlins Premier Cru, Epenots Premier Cru, Argillières Premier Cru
Importer: Le Serbet Becky Wasserman Selection, multiple importers