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.
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
photographs: jon wyand(2); cephas
but he was a catalyst of change,
helping growers analyse soils and
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
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