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Edouard Delaunay – The most ‘atypical’ of the great Burgundy merchant houses

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The story of Edouard Delaunay is deeply rooted in the traditions of the Côte d’Or. The house was founded in the late 19th Century and prospered throughout the vicissitudes of two World Wars and the Great Depression. It was the brainchild of its eponymous founder, who arrived from the Loire Valley’s port of Nantes, burning with ambition to make his mark in the prestigious precincts of Burgundy. Edouard set about his expansion by purchasing the business of his father’s Burgundy supplier and founded his operation in Nuits-Saints- Georges before moving to Dijon, the one- time capital of the Dukes of Burgundy.

Multi-generational journey

From these solid foundations, Delaunay was able to transmit the business to his two sons, Jean and Marcel. These two entrepreneurs travelled the world at the height of the Jazz Age, voyaging to North and South America and French colonies in Africa and the Far East – wherever gourmets enjoyed quality French wines. They succeeded in placing their wines both throughout the world and their native France, from the Orient Express to the Elysée Palace, by way of top restaurants, and on the lists of the leading merchants of the day.

During these heady years, the house of Edouard Delaunay distributed some of the most prestigious Burgundies, from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti to La Romanée. The family also participated in the foundation of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin and the popularisation of the charity auction held annually by the Hospices de Beaune. The Delaunay tradition continued after the Second World War, as Jean’s sons Bernard and Jean-Marie continued to travel and market their wines with brio. By the 1990s, however, the Delaunay heirs encountered difficulty charting the direction of the house due to family illness, and in 1993 the house and its vineyards were sold to a leading Burgundy négociant.

Historical rebirth

The sale, however, did not mark the end of the Delaunay’s winemaking destiny and dreams. Laurent Delaunay, fifth generation scion of the family, studied grape-growing and winemaking in Burgundy and business in Paris. After a global series of apprenticeships, he returned briefly to the family firm before its sale, and stayed on for several years after the transition. Eventually, however, he left Burgundy with his winemaker wife Catherine to forge a new trail in the Languedoc. Having started as ‘flying winemakers’, in due course they acquired several vineyards and built a state-of-the- art winery. Within a few years, they created the brand Les Jamelles, which is among the most popular varietal wines from the South of France.

In 2003, Laurent acquired Domaines & Vins de Propriété, a merchant firm specialising in the distribution of the wines of prestigious growers from throughout Burgundy and the rest of France, representing more than 150 independent producers. This distribution work provided him with the network of contacts to realise his ultimate dream of re-launching Maison Edouard Delaunay. In 2017 he was able to re-purchase the brand, the family name, and the historic buildings and cellars of the Château de Charmont in the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. With the unexpected help of local growers and his partners from Domaines & Vins de Propriété, he rebuilt the business. ‘I was deeply touched by the goodwill of other growers in the region,’ Laurent notes. ‘Edouard Delaunay was well-known and respected in its hey-day, and they were so happy to see the energy and passion we were putting in to revive the house, that they offered us some very beautiful cuvées.’

Delaunay described what it meant, on a personal level, to re-purchase the house: ‘We were over the moon the first few weeks after buying back the estate. For me and my family too it was something absolutely wonderful and frankly unhoped-for. I believe in providence and for me it was a sign because it is something that never happens in Burgundy. There is a real concern and willingness to keep Burgundian land, culture and other heritage within Burgundian families. But it definitely is utopian. A family that has sold its estate and buys it back twenty-five years later is something that never happens.’

Talent and success

Among the first steps that Laurent took after the re-birth of Maison Edouard Delaunay was to build a creative team around him. This included the appointment of the talented, young winemaker, Christophe Briotet, with more than fifteen years’ experience making wine in Burgundy and around the world. With a new team in place under his leadership, Laurent used his winemaking experience, wealth of oenological knowledge and fine attention to detail to guide Edouard Delaunay to great success and wide recognition in record time. In the first vintage alone, Edouard Delaunay garnered 39 medals across a range of international competitions, including a Gold medal (95 points) for his Nuits-St-Georges premier cru Les Perrières at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

Delaunay has managed his success with discretion, saying he does not subscribe to any particular method, but rather adheres to a winemaking philosophy, focused on a precise and subtle style, well-balanced and without any excess. He works in harmony with nature and adapts the vinification and ageing processes to the character of each terroir, plot, variety, and vintage. By patiently waiting for the wines to develop and reveal all of the grapes’ incredible potential, Delaunay ultimately takes it to the highest level, reflecting the best of each particular terroir and vintage.

Since 2019, Edouard Delaunay has cultivated 2.5 hectares of vineyards in Pommard, including Les Chaponnières premier cru, a beautiful vineyard planted to 80-year-old vines, located just under one of Pommard’s most highly prized plots, Les Rugiens. Today the range includes the best of the Côte d’Or, with grand crus and premier crus from various climats, with a particular emphasis on the house’s home base in Nuits-St-Georges. There is also a range of more accessible wines with regional appellations. For the future, Delaunay is working to develop his holdings in the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, where their recently-renovated facilities feature a state-of-the-art gravity flow winery and ageing cellars. Laurent believes not only in the heritage of this region, but also in its future potential, as the cooler locations in the Hautes-Côtes will become ever-more attractive to winemakers in search of elegance and balance against the backdrop of global warming.

Although Edouard Delaunay is known as the smallest of the great merchant houses in Burgundy, its future is bright. In December 2021, Delaunay was named co-president of the BIVB (Bourgogne Wine Board), and he is well on his way to re-establishing Maison Edouard Delaunay in the starry firmament of Burgundian négociants.

Edouard Delaunay – four wines to rediscover the maison:

Tasted and scored by the Decanter team. Ordered by score in descending order. 

Nuits-St-Georges Premier Cru Les St-Georges 2019

95 points
This noteworthy wine would catch anyone’s attention with its profuse aromas of ripe mulberry fruit, oak spice, earth, leather, and smoke. The texture is rich and concentrated but never heavy, boasting full body, firm tannins and abundant extract balanced by fresh acidity that leads to a long finish. The grapes were destemmed after careful sorting, and gently fermented with both punching down and pumping over before ageing 20 months in cask (25% new). This delicious wine would benefit from a few years in bottle before opening and should drink well for another 20 beyond that.
100% Pinot Noir, 14% ABV
Drink 2025-2045

Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Clos St-Jean 2019

94 points
Despite a light lemon-yellow hue, this Chassagne premier cru exhibits pronounced green apple and lemon peel fruit aromas with mineral notes and a hint of spice from the élevage. The texture is rich and fully ripe, but there is pleasant tension on the palate. The fully-mature vines grow the marly-limestone soils in the centre of the appellation. The grapes are gently pressed as whole clusters and fermented in cask (30% new), with lees stirring for the first six months. The wine aged 18 months in total and delivers enough substance to ensure a long life in the cellar.
100% Chardonnay, 13.5% ABV
Drink 2025-2035

Pommard Premier Cru Chaponnières 2019

93 points
The 2019 Pommard Chaponnières boasts a dark ruby colour, ripe plum, and black cherry fruit aromas with earth, smoke, and leather notes. The structure is firmly tannic, with fresh acidity and moderate length. The grapes come from a domaine-owned parcel of 80-year-old vines and were partially destemmed (30% whole clusters) before a gentle fermentation and ageing for 17 months in cask (30% new). This robust wine would do well with a few years to open up and should drink well after that for at least a decade.
100% Pinot Noir, 14% ABV
Drink 2025-2035

Puligny-Montrachet Le Village 2020

92 points
This village-level Puligny from a single site has lovely, ripe apple fruit aromas, a floral edge, and rich buttery notes on the palate. The texture is almost decadently rich, with full body, balanced acidity, and enough extract leading to a lingering finish. The grapes come primarily from the lieu-dit Corvée des Vignes in the north of Puligny, near Meursault Charmes. They were gently pressed as whole clusters and fermented in cask (20% new). The wine did a partial malolactic fermentation before ageing for one year in cask. This wine will drink well on release and is perfectly suited to mid-term cellaring.
100% Chardonnay, 13.5% ABV
Drink 2023-2030

Discover more about Edouard Delaunay here

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