Acclaimed Burgundy authority Anthony Hanson MW salutes the domaines behind the transformation of the region, and explains how the current crop have rekindled his love for the most hedonistic of wines

I fell in love with Burgundy 40 years ago. I went to live there, and

then started trading and writing

about its wines. Back then, red

Burgundies in particular used to be

fiercely criticised, but they have improved

immensely, especially since the mid-

1980s. Some problems persist, and the

region remains complicated to buy from,

but today we can confidently say that

Burgundy is in a Golden Age.

One reason behind this is that many

famous Burgundian négociants have

extended their vineyard holdings, and

expanded their grape-buying and

winemaking (as chronicled in Stephen

Brook’s article, following this one). I will

concentrate instead on the progress made

by the region’s domaines – some longestablished,

some new, some enlarged.

Whatever their provenance, most are

vastly improved – and it’s all down to a

generation who were in short trousers

when I first set foot in this hallowed land.

Rapid growth

Burgundy’s winemaking history goes

back to at least 312AD, but we are more

concerned with the recent past. In the

years after WWII, there was growing

demand for fine wines in export markets.

This encouraged Burgundians to spread

fertilisers, particularly nitrogen and

potassium-based, to increase production.

Horses were replaced by tractors, making

the work less onerous and more efficient.

Alas yields rose (partly due to the

chemical additives, and partly to the

planting of productive vinestocks) and

there was little understanding of the

effect fertilising would have on soils, or

the character of the wines produced.

Benefiting from famous place names, for

a time in the 1950s and 60s the wines opened up new markets. But the reds

were often pale in colour and weak on

fruit intensity. Pinot Noir rarely produces

deeply coloured wines. But the reputation

of the region had been made through

their succulent fruitiness and structure,

with balancing, gentle tannins and acidity,

allowing wines to improve with ageing.

Potassium fertilisers had damaging

effects on soil balance. So did herbicides

and pesticides), which reduced the

microbial life in the soils. The natural

acidities of the wines dropped away,

diminishing their staying power. It soon

became clear that you could only make

wines that reflect the character of the

village, or vineyard, from which they

come (i.e. terroir), by strictly controlling

yields. Large harvests gave diluted fruit

concentrations and neutral wines that

were susceptible to grey rot.

In 1963, 1965 and 1968, bad weather

made it almost impossible to make good

red Burgundy. 1974 was challenging. In

1977, some wines from two famous Côte

de Nuits domaines contracted tourne –

spoilage caused by bacteria, which destroys

tartaric acid and raises volatile acidity.

One domaine (Armand Rousseau) to its

great credit took the wines back; the

other refused to discuss the matter.

In the 1950 and ’60s, winemakers in

Burgundy spent more time in laboratories

than vineyards, doing analyses, and

recommending cures and treatments for

wines which were falling sick. An

alternative, preventative approach was

pioneered by, among others, Henri

Meurgey, who founded Bourgogne-

Services-Vins in 1972. From 1956 to

1974, he was broker for Alexis Lichine

(who owned vineyards in Corton and

Nuits-St-Georges) and was one of the

few to deal directly with export markets.

He knew what overseas clients wanted.

Winemakers became more involved in

winemaking, rather then curing. The

individualist spirit of your average

Burgundian winemaker means he would

rather undertake his own experiments –

albeit making a few mistakes – than

follow a media-loved celebrity expert.

In the 1970s and 80s a new generation

was taking over at famous, family estates:

winery children who had learned

viticulture at Beaune Lycée and qualified

as winemakers picked up the baton

and set out on the long journey towards

progress. Dominique Lafon, Patrick

Bize, Jean-Marc Roulot, Frédéric Lafarge,

Christophe Roumier and Jean-Marie

Raveneau are just some pioneers still at

the helms of their domaines. This is the

generation that invested in cooling

equipment, from the mid-1980s, to

ensure that fermentation temperatures

did not swing out of control. They

also started making their wines in the

vineyard, by sensitive grape cultivation,

so they could have a hands-off

approach in the winery. Some

domaines were influenced by Guy Accad,

a consultant winemaker and soil analyst

who used pre-fermentation cold soaking

to aid extraction of colour and aromatics.

His influence was not entirely beneficial, d e c a n t e r .com | 3 3

burgundy: domaines

photographs: jon wyand(2); cephas

but he was a catalyst of change,

helping growers analyse soils and

modernise equipment.

Clonal research was bearing fruit,

allowing vineyard replanting with healthy

Pinot Noir vines (though some of them

were rather too productive). Just north of

Dijon, Claude and Lydia Bourguignon

established a soil research laboratory. They

could demonstrate that your soil was full of

mites, grubs and tiny worms – or as dead as

the sands of the Sahara. Microbial life in

soils is necessary to enable plants to absorb

elements they need, like iron or boron.

Under the Bourguignon microscope, a

speck of soil untreated by chemicals was

revealed as teeming with life.

Soon, more than 100 domaines had

grouped together (in the Groupement

d’Etudes et de Suivi des Terroirs) to study

their soils, share experiences and pool

resources – making compost, for instance,

in sufficient quantities so that soil structures

could be repaired, where necessary. A

reasoned approach to vineyard treatment

replaced the previous spray-on-a-regularbasis

habit. And more estates embraced

organic, then biodynamic methods.

Making the transition

Today, further generational change has

been taking place at several famous

Burgundy domaines. Following the loss

of his father Jacques (who had made 52

vintages), Guillaume d’Angerville returned

to run Domaine Marquis d’Angerville

in Volnay in 2003. His first career had

been in banking, so he had the funds to

put himself through wine school. He is

now making wines of profound beauty,

which surely anchor the domaine among

the greatest on the Côte de Beaune.

At Armand Rousseau over in

Gevrey-Chambertin, Eric Rousseau now

has the firmest of hands on the tiller, though

his father, the great Charles, still comes to

the domaine each day, despite being close

to two decades past retirement age.

Another estate where transition seems

to be happening smoothly is in Meursault,

where Anne Morey works alongside her

father Pierre, who recently retired from

his role as manager at Domaine Leflaive.

Domaine Pierre Morey is one entity, a

parallel one being Maison Morey-Blanc,

the associated négociant-licensed company

Pierre set up to buy grapes and juice.

In Bouzeron, at the Aubert & Pamela

de Villaine estate, Pierre de Benoist,

Aubert’s nephew, has been assuming

responsibility since 2001. In Chablis, the

highly qualified Fabien Moreau spars

amicably with his father Christian over

who should take credit for the successes,

or responsibility for any shortcomings, of

each Domaine Christian Moreau wine.

It’s not just the improvements at the

established names that excite me, however.

Various new categories of domaine have

emerged over the past 20 years, several

now of some renown. Some estates have

created a winemaking, négociant-licensed

subsidiary; others have linked with a

vineyard-buying investor; others have

simply fine-tuned, and added to their

vineyard holdings.

Above the Côte de Nuits, David

Duband’s father created an estate in

Chevannes in the early 1960s. He

initially delivered all his grapes to the

co-operative. His son joined him in 1991,

aged 19, and expanded the domaine

bottling, from vineyards mainly in

Nuits, Vosne, Echézeaux and on the

Hautes Côtes de Nuits. Then, in 2006, a

Paris-based investor purchased the

Truchot-Martin estate in Gevrey, and

asked Duband to look after it.

This brought him old-vines Charmes-

Chambertin and Clos de la Roche,

as well as vineyards in Gevrey, Morey

and Chambolle, including several

premiers crus. The estate has been organic

since 2006, and a deep, large, new

cellar with vat house was built in 2007.

Don’t expect deep colours here, but

ripely perfumed wines with silky textures

and charming, soft tannins.

At Domaine Hubert Lamy in St-

Aubin, the new generation is represented

by Olivier Lamy. He is a brilliant

winemaker of both reds and whites,

whose first vintage was 1996. His

grandfather Jean had been one of St-

Aubin’s original domaine bottlers – an

activity then developed by his father

Hubert. Today, the lesser-value vineyards

– Aligoté, Côte de Beaune-Villages,

Maranges, for example – have been

sold, and finely situated premiers crus in

‘In spite of premature oxidation, Burgundy has

never produced so much fine and great wine’

Opposite: the cultivation of Pinot

Noir, seen here at Domaine Hubert

Lamy, has improved massively in

Burgundy over the last 30 years.

Above: Guillaume d’Angerville is among

a generation of winemakers to have

taken the region to a new level, as

has Christophe Roumier (left) St-Aubin or Chassagne purchased instead.

The St-Aubin reds are bracingly fruity,

reflecting the cold air masses which flood

through this cleft in the hillsides.

On the expansion trail

In Meursault, Domaine Vincent

Bouzereau has expanded thanks to its

négociant licence. On his retirement,

Pierre Bouzereau split the family

vineyards between his sons Vincent and

Jean-Marie. They work closely, sharing

equipment. Back in the 1980s, Pierre

had been one of the first growers to

challenge, successfully, the négociants’

unofficial monopoly of buying at the

Hospices de Beaune auction. A desire to

do the same prompted Vincent to form

his négociant business Jéhan-Emonin in

1990. Three-quarters of his turnover

comes from wines from his own domaine,

which he is dynamic in upgrading –

replanting red Corton in the little-known

Fiètre Grand Cru with Chardonnay, for

instance, to give him Corton blanc. He

left the land fallow for three years – so this

is no headlong rush for growth, or volume.

The reds and whites show harmony, lively

fruit intensity and fine length.

Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey has two

brothers and a sister who still work with

their father at the excellent Domaine

Marc Colin, in St-Aubin. He also

worked there between 1995 and 2005,

then decided to go his own way. From

2001 he set up a négociant business to

buy wines, and then grapes, ‘to make

wines at least equal to those of a very

good domaine’. He wanted the freedom

to take certain risks – no lees-rousing,

but tending his whites for a longer time

in barrel, and bottling without filtration.

Having recovered the vineyards due to

him from the family property, and bought

others, he now has 6ha in production,

many of the whites being fermented in

350-litre barrels. Almost all of his

production is white, and he aims for

wines which are pure, fine and will last.

Burgundy has never produced so

much fine and great wine, both red and

white, as it does today. Revitalised

négociants and domaines, encouraged by

new generations of wine drinkers who

have discovered the deliciousness of red

Burgundy at its best, now regularly

provide dependable, exciting wines. The

weather is warmer, bringing better

ripeness, and people know better how to

protect their vineyards from most

dangers. For a generation, since 1988,

there has not been a written-off vintage.

That represents two golden decades.

Written by Anthony Hanson MW