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Profile: Maison Jean-Claude Boisset (Nuits)

Boisset – La Famile des Grands Vins & Spiritueux

jcbWith an annual turnover in excess of €200 million, and fingers in many piles, the Boisset company is about as big as you will find in Burgundy, though actually it’s not just Burgundy; other regions of France and even the US come onto the balance sheet.

The business that is today headquartered in the former convent of the Ursuline order in Nuits St.Georges was started by Jean-Claude Boisset in the early 1960′s. From a business idea to becoming the biggest buyer of grapes in whole of Burgundy took only thirty years; along the way, Boisset became the last resting place of many, many old burgundy names – not just the names of-course, but also a few libraries of old wines.

>So, while many old names were going to the wall, how did a newcomer manage to make such impact? Dynamism helps; rather than concentrating on making the best Gevrey or Meursault, Jean-Claude was always looking for new ways to do things, generally positioning his products for mass audiences. Clearly the organisation never had a reputation for producing wines of the highest quality, but their key skill – and major success factor – was the production of vast quantities of palatable wine with varietal character, many millions of litres sold per year stand as testament to this.

Although Jean-Claude remains on the board of the company, today it is his son and daughter who hold the reigns – Jean-Charles and Nathalie. In terms of PR and marketing communications, the company is very slick indeed – better than any of their peers, and certainly better than many multi-national corporations. They do rather have the common corporate problem though – fantastic looking brochures, beautifully photographed and with perfect prose – but often with little real content!

So what are we to make of the ‘corporation’ today, is it possible to separate the bulk approach from quality wine? – certainly it is – it was started by the foundation of Domaine de la Vougeraie in 1999. No expense was spared and the quality was undeniable – the aspirational pricing was also self evident, but here was a real commitment to quality. Then came Domaine Launay in Pommard, purchased by Boisset in 2001 then transformed to biodynamic farming, reduced yields and also overseen by Pascal Marchand – highly rated by Allen Meadows in 2002 and 2003. It came as a surprise then when this ‘project’ was shelved – reportedly due to poor profits – the surprise was doubled when Pascal and Boisset parted company in recent months. Herein was a conundrum for the ‘newly’ quality conscious Boisset, one side of this ‘dispute’ pointed only to cost cutting – the management, however, were silent.

It does seem that the parting of Marchand from Boisset had many more facets than simple cost-cutting, but Domaine Launay do seem to have been sacrificed to profit. So what are the quality aspirations of J-C Boisset? Today they have what they call “Domaines Artisans et Terroirs” a collection of four ‘domaines’ where quality should be the watch-word – Jean-Claude Boisset, Vougeraie, Jaffelin, and Ropiteau – this is where we should look for the direction of today’s Jean-Claude Boisset.

The ‘houses’ below represent 15-20% of Boisset’s total production from the Côte d’Or. From a quality perspective the wines range from exceptional to almost good – no bad trips here – quality can certainly be found within the ‘Burgundy Corporation’, let’s just see how this develops…

maison jean-claude boisset

It’s interesting that one of the most innovative approaches comes from the name that everyone will associate with the über-négociant – perhaps that is indeed the intention. The young Grégory Patriat (ex Leroy) was hired in 2002 to run the show, and essentially given a free hand.

Grégory has full control in the vineyards, the grapes only coming from growers where they have long-term contracts and organic cultivation. Very low yields, indigenous yeast, no pumping, little new oak, limited production – typically 2-10 barrels – many of the 2004′s are limited to 1,000 bottles (3.5 barrels). It’s not just synthetic yeasts that Grégory avoids, also completely verboten is the use of enzymes or powdered tannin – some chaptalisation may be used, but only on order to prolong fermentations. And while we’re talking, why not break the mould some more – with his 2003′s, Grégory was the first to bottle and sell top-growth burgundy with a screw-cap.

In March I was lucky enough to taste with Grégory the wines that follow, and quite an impression they made too, no fat or oak flavours, just essence of wine. If this is what he can do with a vintage like 2004, be scared, be very scared, of what he might achieve with 2005!

2004 Jean-Claude Boisset, Meursault Le Limozin
For his whites, Grégory is looking for a mineral style, and uses no battonage. 7 barrels were produced using about 20% new oak. There was a small fining, but no filtration. An open nose that is wide and interesting. Lovely wide expression of clean fruit on the palate. Interesting and long, fresh and tasty – a great start.
2004 Jean-Claude Boisset, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain
4 barrels made. The nose has limited depth, but panoramic width. A sweet and concentrated, but not fat palate. Its ultra-clean flavours really burst through on the mid-palate, but is still somewhat linear in presentation. Today it’s a very primary wine, but I expect with a very bright future.
2004 Jean-Claude Boisset, Santenay 1er Cru La Comme
From 60 year-old vines that were harvested quite late – 5th October – at 14° for a mere 20 hl/ha. The elevage was done in 1 year-old barrels, no fining or filtration before bottling. Medium-plus colour. Aromatically wide and high-toned, some slightly earthy tones against a sweet background. Super depth to the fruit once you reach the mid-palate, set against plenty of structure. No fat here, rather a well muscled boxer in stance.
2004 Jean-Claude Boisset, Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves
From 70 year-old vines that produced a mere 12hl/ha, put another way, only 3 barrels from 1 hectare! Very deep colour. The nose is perfumed, some herb notes and slowly gives up a little kir and tar. In the mouth there is volume and concentration, plenty of tannin – but velvet tannin. Again no spare padding. This is a very serious Beaune that will require lots of cellar time – fantastic quality.
2004 Jean-Claude Boisset, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Les Charmes
From 50 year-old vines, no new oak for the elevage. High tones, fruit, meat and spice. Serious concentration of creamy fruit – black-shaded – this is just exquisitely presented as it ever-widens on the mid-palate. Plenty of structure, another wine without fat or padding. Pure wine, should be very long lived – superb.
2004 Jean-Claude Boisset, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
From 50 year-old vines – only 2 barrels. Medium-plus colour. Wide and complex nose though not so deep, showing black shaded fruit and just a trace of black olive. Lots of tannin clings to the inside of your mouth, but the fruit is quite enough of a match. Quite lovely length, again a super wine, but today I just prefer the Charmes.

domaine de la vougeraie

The last few months have doubtless been somewhat stressful for la Vougeraie – the sudden departure of their ‘star wine-maker’ has left a domaine in flux – I guess it was a bit of a shock for Amandine Terrier as she had only joined to work with Pascal Marchand in September. There is some continuity though in the form of Nicolas Jacob.

Maybe it is the curse of Marchand, or perhaps the projection of that stress to the wines, but I was surprised to find that the least impressive performance from these 4 domaines, came from the wines of Vougeraie. For a vintage that is presenting itself in a similar way to 2001, and taking into account the great success for Vougeraie in 2001, then these wines presented themselves – in this context – in an average manner. Certainly some good wines, but occasionally with an unhelpful ashy character to them. The wines were tasted together with Amandine in March 2006.

2004 Domaine de la Vougeraie, Beaune Blanc
A slightly diffuse nose. Good fat on the nicely sweet palate and well balanced to the acidity. This is a very nice wine which impresses as it moves from the mid-palate into the finish.
2004 Domaine de la Vougeraie, Clos Blanc de Vougeot
The nose is a little tight – just a trace of anise. Good fat similar balancing acidity to the Beaune blanc – but finer. Concentrated but much more linear than the Beaune – presents itself very differently. Wait 2 years before thinking about drinking…
2004 Domaine de la Vougeraie, Gevrey-Chambertin Les Evocelles
From 40 year-old vines grown in very poor soil, 30% new oak used in the elevage. Medium colour. A little ash and high-tones define the nose. Some fat on the palate with tasty, creamy fruit. The finish seems more about cigarette ash. Overall a almost good impression, but I’m not keen on today’s ashy nose and finish.
2004 Domaine de la Vougeraie, Vougeot 1er Cru Les Cras
50% new oak here. Medium colour. A soft nose that’s sweet but also has an ashy perspective. In the mouth this is quite interesting; some structure – velvety tannin. This is very drinkable and enjoyable, still a little ash on the finish, but cleaner and more subtle than the Gevrey. A nice wine.
2004 Domaine de la Vougeraie, Nuits St.Georges 1er Cru Les Damodes
From vines next-door to Vosne-Romanée, again with 50% new oak. The nose shows oak, a little creamy fruit and slowly becomes wider in the glass. Plenty of tannin here that will need to soften. The fruit is nice and clean with an edge of coffee. Medium length. Will require some time in the cellar – good wine.
2004 Domaine de la Vougeraie, Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru
From 100 year-old vines raised in 70% new oak. Medium-plus colour. The nose is wide and earthy and is topped with high-toned fruit. Lots of fruity concentration and the structure is much less dominant than in the ‘Damodes’. Longer finishing creamy fruit. A very good wine.

Maison Ropiteau Frères

Since its founding in 1848, Ropiteau has always been in Meursault. The 24 year-old Jean Ropiteau from Monthélie was the founder, and close to 90 years later they bought the old Hospices de Meursault property that then belonged to the Hospices de Beaune – this has remained home to the business.

A true ‘maison’, sales of wine both red and white emanate from this house, here we will look at a small selection of whites. I tasted the following wines with their maker – Nicolas Burnez – a tall, and obviously passionate man who searches for lightness of touch and typicité above all. Nicolas has been with Ropiteau for about 3 years, before that he had stints in Pommard and also with Joseph Drouhin. He holds up the wines of Jean-Marc Roulot as his perfect examples of Meursault. Always working with natural yeasts, he practised a small amount of battonage (3 times) on his 2004′s, but currently plans none with his 2005′s which will come from 8 different lieu-dits.

2004 Ropiteau Frères, Meursault
20% new oak used for the elevage. The nose is wide open, fruity and a little mineral. Sweet, with nice acidity and despite a hint of something green (could be the fruit, or the fact that it is still in tank – benefit of the doubt) the finish is a good one. Overall a nice wine.
2004 Ropiteau Frères, Meursault Les Narvaux
From old vines, just one month in bottle. Less sweet nose, a little herb, wider and more mineral than the ‘straight’ Meursault. Fatter with penetrating acidity, mouthwatering length. A much more mineral wine. This is a tasty little wine.
2004 Ropiteau Frères, Meursault Les Rougeots
Neither the width nor quite the minerality of the Narvaux, but shows more intense, linear fruit on the nose. The palate shows forward but ripe acidity and flavours that last well. Concentrated and linear – no fat here – really super.
2004 Ropiteau Frères, Puligny-Montrachet Les Charmes
Traces of oak on the nose, plenty of width, high-tones and not so deep. Just a little more fat than the Rougeots. Slightly tart acidity but super length – perhaps the tart aspect is down to the recent fining(?) – the wine is still in tank – if so, this will be a lovely wine.
2004 Ropiteau Frères, Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières
A mineral but sweet nose of some depth. Rounder, less acid-forward but still quite fresh. Linear in the mid-palate with good length and complexity. This is very young and primary and requires a little time in the cellar. Not the ultimate in concentrated Perrières but still plenty of terroir – just depends on the price…

Basically re-launched for the 2004 vintage, Jaffelin are based in the magnificent 12th century ‘Caves du Chapitre’ in Beaune which were acquired by Charles and Henri Jaffelin in 1920. The Jaffelins were 17th Century spirits merchants who broadened out into the world of wine production. The ‘Caves’ have only just come into the Boisset organisation from the remnants of the Jaffelin family.

The wine-maker, Pierre Vincent works predominantly with regional wines, village and 1er cru wines – sometimes blended. Tasted with Pierre are, below, a selection of their ‘Villages de Jaffelin’ range that showcase less-illustrious appellations – though I’m not sure how that Beaune slipped in there – perhaps because they are based in Beaune!

2004 Jaffelin, Bouzeron
Aligoté, elevage done in older barrels. A wide nose with just a little pepper. Tasty with a good sweet and acid balance. Enjoyable
2004 Jaffelin, Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc
From vines close to Corton-Charlemagne, 40% new oak used for the elevage. High-toned interesting nose. Sweet and concentrated with intense acidity – eye-wateringly so – I loved it!
2004 Jaffelin, St.Aubin 1er Cru Sur Gamay
Almost a rice-pudding nose, creamy and warm, eventually with a little pineapple. Again, very good concentration. The acidity is not so forceful as the last wine, but ends very well – a good finish. Not sure about the nose, but it’s very tasty.
2004 Jaffelin, Monthélie Rouge
All the reds see 30% new oak. Medium colour. Brooding, spicy and meaty nose that edged towards black cherry. Good texture and concentration. Intense tasty fruit with a medium length finish. Almost good.
2004 Jaffelin, Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru Les Duresses
From 65 year-old vines. There’s a little chocolate and black cherry on the nose. Sweet palate has plenty of grainy tannin, but I like the fruit and it’s helped by very good acidity. Also almost good.
2004 Jaffelin, Beaune 1er Cru Les Theurons
The nose is slightly feral, wide and mineral – quite interesting. The fruit is concentrated and easily covers the ample tannins. Another nice, interesting wine.

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