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A man for all seasons – Burgundy, negociants, villages and vintages…

The recently completed 2015 grape harvest was another exercise in nervous tension and sleep deprivation for Pascal Marchand.  A veteran presence in Burgundy since he moved there from his native Montreal in 1983, Pascal has veered away from winemaking roles directly in the employ of famous Domaines such as Comte Armand and Domaine de la Vougeraie to embrace a more flexible yet unpredictable position as a self-reliant micro-negociant.

Typically, a negociant in France, rather than being directly involved in the ownership of vineyards, will develop a network of relationships with growers, which gives them wide access to grapes in all different parts of the region and across different levels of quality, from Bourgogne AOC all the way up to Grand Cru.  With vineyard land in Burgundy so extremely valuable and locked up in a complicated system of ownership, the negociant’s role is a crucial one in maintaining the livelihood of tiny growers who don’t have the resources themselves to make wine from their holdings.  For Pascal the ability to work with chosen growers who adhere to Biodynamic principles of cultivation aligns with his philosophies on the importance of this system for making wine of ultimate quality.

At harvest time of course the organisational skills of the negociant come into sharp focus, as grapes in many contracted vineyards across Burgundy all edge towards their optimum ripeness in a very compact window of opportunity.  The greatest wines are always made from fruit in the best possible physiological balance at harvest, so from mid-August until late September Pascal’s car becomes a mobile office as he navigates the byways of the Cote d’Or from village to village checking and sampling his precious resource.  When the time is deemed to be right, his team of pickers are deployed to work with the grower to hand-harvest the grapes and deliver them to his Cave (winery) in Nuits-St-Georges.

Early signs for the 2015 intake are promising.  Burgundy has endured some “interesting” and unusual weather events and conditions over the past few years, with the main consequence being a significant reduction in vine yields meaning a resultant decrease in wine production.  Despite some rain in early September, settled conditions in the lead up to harvest have resulted in fruit of both the quality to please winemakers and the quantity to make the small, hard-working growers smile as well. 

Some of these vineyards will provide us with future vintage wines for the Marchand & Burch French Collection, but while their journey from vine to bottle is just beginning, some examples from our current selection present a diverse and intriguing snapshot of the villages and vintages of Burgundy.

2012 Bourgogne Pinot Noir (appellation – Bourgogne AOC) – Our Bourgogne Rouge is “meat and potatoes red Burgundy so to speak – the entry level wine classification for Burgundy is Bourgogne AOC, which means the grapes can come from any vineyard which falls within the defined boundaries of the region; so these enjoyable, early drinking styles are a good barometer for the quality of a particular vintage.  Pascal sources fruit for this Bourgogne Pinot from vineyards in the Cote de Beaune village of Pommard, which is renowned for producing wines with excellent structure.  This area fell victim to some hailstorms early in the 2012 growing season which reduced the volume of the final crop, but the fruit picked as represented in this wine shows clear and concentrated pinot flavours and a lively and inviting freshness.  A lovely wine to enjoy in its youth, which hints at the enticing spectrum of aroma, flavour and structure that Burgundy can offer while remaining in itself an uncomplicated delight.

2012 Marsannay – With this wine we move up one level in the hierarchy of quality, from generic Bourgogne to the village appellation, Marsannay AOC, which means the grapes can only be sourced from a much smaller defined area around the village of Marsannay and some neighbouring hamlets.  Somewhat of an upstart, Marsannay was only granted village AOC status in 1987, a stark contrast to the more famous villages a few miles south like Gevrey-Chambertin and Morey-Saint-Denis which have been carved up into a patchwork of more or less famous vineyard plots over many hundreds of years.  However even though a less “renowned” village, it’s still Burgundy and the vignerons of Marsannay take the same pride and care in their work, and the finished wines provide great value.  This simple village wine actually has an intricate genesis with fruit sourced from multiple vineyard sites as Pascal notes:

The most northern appellation of the Cote de Nuits, this wine is a blend of three plots on the north of Marsannay (the coolest part of the appellation): Les VaudenellesLes Echezeaux (East facing, in between of the Combe Grandvau, and the Combe du Pré, well ventilated, late harvest) and Les Finottes (right underneath Echezeaux)

Les Vaudenelles: brown and calcareous soil.
Les Echezeaux: red and chalky soil with a complex clay.
Les Finottes: similar to Echezeaux but with a deeper soil.

The wine is a step up in intensity from Bourgogne Rouge, with greater depth of flavour and an undertone of earthy and mineral notes which complement the fine and lively tannins.  The use of 80% older oak barrels for its ageing makes the wine approachable now but like all good Burgundy it has the stuffing to evolve and develop further complexity.

2011 Beaune Les Tuvilains Premier Cru – To complete this initial whirlwind tour, a Pinot Noir from the historic and justly famous village of Beaune, and significantly a Premier Cru (or 1er Cru) wine which contains grapes only from a single named vineyard, Les Tuvilains.  Beaune is a major centre of activity, wine trade and tourism in Burgundy, and it lends its name to the entire Southern half of the very best terroir in the region – The Côte de Beaune, which together with its Northern neighbour the Côte de Nuits makes up the Côte d’or, the golden “coast” of Burgundy where all of the very best vineyards are located. 

Les Tuvilains was believed originally to be the site where criminals from the village were hanged in days of yore, but this somewhat inglorious past has yielded to a vineyard where fruit of great character is grown. 

This wine exhibits all the delicacy and perfume typical of Beaune reds and a complex spectrum of flavour with hints of sour cherry and some gamey notes to complement aromas of plums, coffee and rose petals.  Like many of the 2011 wines, this is now beginning to hit its straps after some time developing in bottle – the downside of this being we have only a couple of cases left of this highly enjoyable wine.