I had this mail exchange yesterday – I thought it might be good to include it here:
In the Côte d’Or, is it true that the most famous wines are known only by their vineyard names (for example, Richebourg)?
Thanks for any help/information you can offer.
All the best,
Exactly right – but there’s a twist, or two!
With a few rare exceptions called Monopoles – which have only a single owner – the most important vineyards, which are called Grand Crus, will have several, sometimes dozens of owners, each with xyz % of the vineyard – sometimes it’s just a couple of rows of vines..
Taking your example of Richebourg;
1. there may be 10 or 11 owners of vines in that vineyard and each one will make wine and put it in a bottle with their own label – so 10 or 11 slightly different Richebourgs each year.
2. some of those owners might also sell grapes or barrels of wine to merchants (the technical name for these buyers is a négociant – or simply a trader) who will (naturally) have their own labels – so maybe we now have a total of (possibly) 20+ slightly different bottles/wines called Richebourg – each year!
An extreme example of this is the Grand Cru called Clos de Vougeot, a 50 hectare vineyard enclosed by walls (a Clos) – 80+ owners who each make wine and/or sell grapes – potentially there are at least 150 different bottlings of Clos de Vougeot every year. Here is the first lesson in Burgundy – usually the name of the producer on the label is as important as the name of the vineyard – both to look for and to avoid – some people are only looking to make money, not a quality wine, others might simply be not very good at making wine!
The interesting thing about vineyard names is that the shorter the name, usually the bigger your credit card bill;
eg. Chambolle-Musigny is a very nice ‘village appellation’ ie the (almost all red) grapes must come from areas designated for their quality close to the village of Chambolle-Musigny. There is a higher quality of wine, called Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru, this is made from even better vineyards in the area of Chambolle-Musigny and each individual vineyard has it’s own name which may or may-not be on the label eg Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cu Les Amoureuses – a lovely name and a lovely wine – of course more than one producer makes it though 😉
Now it’s time to learn that Chambolle-Musigny – the village name – is all about marketing, back in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s (no time to check exactly right now) the village was simply called Chambolle. It added the name of the most important local vineyard (Musigny) to increase its sense of self importance and add a little gloss to those village and 1er Cru wines. There are examples of this happening throughout the Côte d’Or; Gevrey-CHAMBERTIN, Vosne-ROMANÉE, Aloxe-CORTON, Puligny-MONTRACHET etc., etc. So Chambertin, Romanée, Corton and Montrachet are/were examples of these ‘most important’ Grand Cru vineyards – oh, and did I mention expensive? 😉
Hope that’s enough and sorry if I waffled!
Wow. Thanks for the explanation…. So, in a nutshell, you’d want to know who was producing that Richebourg before you put your money down. Is that right?
Diploma achieved with distinction!
The producer is often more important than the vintage – certainly with the Clos de Vougeot example – but most of the owners in Richebourg are worthy producers, though so they should be for $250-1,000 per bottle!