At the core of the white-wine-centric Côte de Beaune are Meursault & Puligny-Montrachet. Sadly for Chassagne-Montrachet and St.Aubin, and despite the quality of their wines – the former’s grand crus included – those two villages are often relegated to the afterthoughts of consumers. Meursault was, for generations, the most sought-after name for white burgundy but since the 1990s its crown has gradually been passed to Puligny-Montrachet.
The reason behind this change is that the market has moved towards the extra freshness – often called tension – that the wines of Puligny generally show whereas a Meursault was long known for its richness of flavour. Today, with less new wood and earlier harvesting a Meursault often looks more like the Pulignys of 10-20 years ago as the Meurisaultians look to recapture their place in the market.
So the core of white wine in the Côte de Beaune is currently Puligny-Montrachet, though it’s something of a village of contradictions. It has the look and feel of a well-to-do suburb of Paris; well-maintained, commodious houses with manicured hedges, but:
The view from 20 years ago:
The contradiction was that something was missing: When I first began my regular visits to Puligny there were no people on the streets, and hence, no surprise, no shops!
Actually, a small wine shop had recently opened in the centre, but it wouldn’t keep the residents fed. You met fellow ‘tourists’ but residents were harder to find, partly because many houses were empty, bought up, door-by-door by the Puligny growers, as insurance for hard times and/or accommodation for the pickers that they need for 2 weeks of the year. I’ve heard Puligny described simply as ‘concrete, lawns and vines’. The one corner of social activity in the village appeared the be the Hotel Montrachet, it hardly seems egalitarian but to this day it remains my favourite spot for a coffee between appointments!
The view from today (the start of 2021):
A second hotel has brought additional energy to Puligny – it’s the hotel and also the restaurant of Olivier Leflaive. There’s another restaurant too – L’Estaminet des Meix which does a roaring trade with vineyard-workers and vine-owners alike. Add to that a bakery and things are looking up for the inhabitants of Puligny-Montrachet – at least from the perspective of calories! I’ve also never seen so many houses that are either being renovated or that are for sale – Puligny has changed a lot in 20 years!
A little history…
Puliagnicus indicates a house built on or by water. In today’s Puligny-Montrachet, we have both! The water table is quite high, so if you want a pond, just dig a hole. Also for many years, there was a large cattle-pond at the centre of the village, fed by the stream that still runs out from the vineyards. The cattle-pond gives an indication that the local, rural, economy was not always completely dependant on the grape – in fact, it was only in more recent times that meadows and pasture in what is now classed as either regional or village appellations were planted.
In 1094 the church in Puligny was given to the Abbey of Cluny by its then lord, however for generations to come, the real, local economic engine would soon to be the Cistercian Abbey of Maizières to be founded in 1102. In the early 1200s Maizières was already ‘running’ Puligny, and in 1252 received its first donation of vines in ‘Montrachaz’ – more were to follow. No-one can say what colour of grapes were harvested, but it seems the area already had some renown.
In 1448 Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy gave most of Puligny to a Beaune lawyer named Jean Perron – it was his family that owned the land until the late 1500s. Two other families had control until 1685 when the area came to be owned by Rigoley family. The Rigoleys were dispossessed at the revolution.
For generations, Mont Rachet was exactly that, a stony hill, dotted with vineyards – there was no distinction between Chevalier and Pucelles for instance – it was all Mont Rachet though let’s not forget, much less was planted in those days – probably just those places that were known to produce something ‘special.’ What borders were drawn-up, were as much as anything based on the existing ownership of the plots of land – though it is not to be denied that we very often see corresponding changes in aspect or geology too.
Perhaps the most important date in Puligny’s history is 1879 – this was the year that Puligny became Puligny-Montrachet (Chassagne also at the same time) and, less happily, this was the year that phylloxera was first identified in their vineyards – many families were ruined as the rural economy was already heading full-speed towards the modern monoculture…
The vines of Puligny…
When discussing the relative merits of the Burgundy vineyards, Puligny-Montrachet is to white wine what Vosne-Romanée is to red. It has a palpable character that eloquently speaks of its origins – it has no need to shout.
Excepting the hill of Corton (which has more than 3x the hectares dedicated to grand cru white that Puligny can muster), almost all of the great chardonnay grand crus of the Côte de Beaune are found within the boundaries of Puligny – or since 1879 we should say Puligny-Montrachet. For me this is the epicentre of great chardonnay; other communes have individual wines that come close – Meursault Perrières or Chassagne-Montrachet En Remilly for instance – but for my taste a well-made villages Puligny can be on another level to similar wines from other communes.
Many people have tried to define what a glass of Puligny-Montrachet is or should be – and it’s a very hard thing to do. There is an often-used adjective – nervosity – I can just about picture that, a better description for me is ‘edginess’. There is certainly a characteristic nose and flavourful finish, but the key to Puligny could be this edginess: Many wines have concentration, acidity, length and interest, but a good Puligny successfully melds these aspects whilst at the same time retaining a really high level of interest; it is somehow this tightrope of presentation and the resulting ‘tension’ that holds your nose to the glass – edginess – or if you prefer, nervosity.
235 hectares of vines lie within the borders of Puligny-Montrachet; 21.3 hectares of grand crus, a whisker over 100 hectares of premier cru and finally 114 hectares of villages level wine – a mere 3.5 hectares of which are red – these reds can also take the label of Côte de Beaune Villages. As the various appellations of the Côte d’Or run – Puligny is rather compact.
As you will note from the picture above, the ‘AOC Villages’ Puligny vineyards are essentially flat as they radiate westwards from the centre of the village. This flatness contributes to a relatively high water table in the village causing a few problems with regard to construction – it’s almost impossible to avoid flooding if you dig deep for a cellar – so cellars outside the village or at ground-level with air-con are usually the order of the day, however, there is an oft-repeated ‘inexactitude’ that ‘there are no cellars in Puligny‘. There are not many, but the Vieux Château in the centre of the village certainly has them – this is the place I ended up when looking for Etienne de Montille’s charge – I wonder when it was that one house became the Château de Puligny-Montrachet, and the original title-holder became the Vieux Château de Puligny-Montrachet…
As you move over the road of the Route des Grand Crus – the flat vineyards start their shallow ascent in the direction of the Mont Rachet (more of a hill than a ‘Mont’, the St.Aubin vineyards behind going up very much higher), it is here that you find the start of the 1er crus, and at the southern extreme of Puligny the grand crus.
The Grand Crus
The grand crus straddle the border with neighbouring Chassagne-Montrachet There is only one of these vineyards – Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet – found fully within Chassagne.
|The Grand Crus||Hectares in|
When they hit the high notes, these are undeniably great wines – you can be astounded – I was, and I remember each of those bottles very well. Predominantly I drink red wine in the winter – perhaps 75%, though the reverse ratio often applies in summer – yet I actually feel privileged to have drunk two Montrachets from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti where I have personally pulled the corks, wines that perfectly dovetail with Danguy & Aubertin’s 1892 book ‘The Great Wines of Burgundy’ describing Montrachet in general: “This admirable white wine is the first rank of white Burgundy, as Château Yquem is to the top rank of white Bordeaux. Let us not be indecisive between the two, except to enthusiastically say that these two are the first rank white wines of the world”. Personal taste is involved here, but I would not put Yquem on the same level as a great Montrachet, and there are, of course, some domaines in Alsace, Champagne, the Mosel and Vouvray that might be aggrieved to be overlooked, but that is not a discussion for today…
Historically (at least in the 1750s) there was but one Grand cru – though that term was not used – and that was Mont Rachet. For producers who had been happy to label their bottles as ‘Montrachet’ wherever the vines were actually located, the concept and implementation of an AOC system was to be fought at all costs, hence, it took years (lobbying had already started by the turn of the 20th century) before today’s boundaries were finally drawn in 1935. Only the part previously referred to as Grand Montrachet – or Montrachet Aîne – plus a small extra piece from Chassagne that was judged of equal quality received the title ‘Montrachet’.
Montrachet is an 8 hectare, shallow sloped gold-mine lying between 250 and 270 metres of altitude. Provided that there are some grapes to harvest, it is almost impossible not to make money: ~€500 (2020) seems to be the starting point for a bottle, though the price can be many multiples of that on release. Below it on the slope, and over the road is Bâtard-Montrachet, and above it on the slope is Chevalier-Montrachet. Unlike those two, Montrachet is equally split between Chassagne and Puligny. Montrachet is mainly surrounded by walls and the occasional grandiose gateway proclaiming the entrance to ‘Grand Montrachet’ or the like. There are more owners in the Chassagne half than the Puligny half – perhaps a dozen – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti being the most high-profile, and Thenard being the largest with almost 2 hectares. Only 4 owners have vines on the Puligny side, the Marquis de Laguiche being the largest. Because the Chassagne side is oriented more to the south, reaches lower down the hill and appears to have richer soil, there’s a good chance that the two parts will make very different wines – I’m not sure to whom I should propose this important tasting and research! In the far south – in Chassagne – and sitting 3-4 metres higher than the vineyard of Chassagne 1er Blanchots du Dessous (just over the vineyard road and the last wall of Montrachet) are the vines of Comte Lafon, planted in a north-south orientation.
At the very opposite end of Montrachet, and the largest owners in Puligny, are the vines of the family Laguiche with 2.06 hectares – though one small parcel is currently waiting to be replanted. The family of Laguiche once owned 4 hectares here – before the revolution – but some of the family lost their heads. It was in 1947 when Maurice Drouhin was in the company of Philibert Laguiche, that Philibert suggested to Maurice that the family would be happy for the Drouhins to take care of the vines and make the wine – the same for Laguiche family vines in Chassagne. Though we have become accustomed to the team of Drouhin making the wine, Cyril Ponnelle of Drouhin likes to point out that “It’s the team of Laguiche who work the vines – tâcherons – but there is no questioning the quality of the work that they do here. Georges Laguiche is always here for the harvest – they take great pride in these vines – our harvest here usually consists of three passes through the vines, done over 5-6 days.” Unlike Drouhin’s policy of biodynamics in their own vines, the Laguiche team choose to work lutte raisonée, though they also have HVE accreditation.
In the middle of Montrachet but the most southerly vines of Puligny (in Montrachet) is the 0.9-hectare holding of Bouchard Père et Fils. Frederic Weber is proud to say that there have been only 4 owners of these vines in 800 years. Their neighbours to the south are Domaine de la Romanée-Conti whose vines are in Chassagne-Montrachet – the vines have less slope here on the Chassagne side, so were more significantly affected by the frost in 2016. The vines of Bouchard go higher up the hill, becoming Chevalier-Montrachet 2/3rds of the way up the slope – there is no indication for the difference in the vines, the border corresponding to a fault which is only visible on the Chassagne side where the mother rock erupts from the ground – see the rocky end of the vines of DRC in the image above. All of these Bouchard vines below their first terrace of Chevalier-Montrachet were classified as Montrachet before the AOC.
Chevalier-Montrachet covers 7.3 hectares, sloping more steeply than Montrachet, lying between 265 and 290 metres. Higher up on the slope than Montrachet, the soil is poorer and thinner – you soon reach the underlying rock – erosion can be a big problem at the top of this relatively steep vineyard.
Chevalier has had a few extensions since the AOC was first defined: one hectare of Le Caillerets owned by Jadot and Latour was ‘upgraded’ to Chevalier-Montrachet in 1939 – later named Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles (see below) – and just over half a hectare of Chartron’s ‘Demoisselles’ was also given the same treatment in 1974 – 19 years after Chartron requested it! There are at least 14 owners of this grand cru. For many years the reference standard for this vineyard was the wine from Domaine Leflaive, who’s 2 hectares seem to provide good availability assuming you could afford it – but there was a lull in quality from about 2006 until 2016 – they are now back on form. Bouchard P&F actually own even more with 2.5 hectares and differentiate their harvest into two bottlings, the ‘regular’ Chevalier-Montrachet, and their Chevalier-Montrachet La Cabotte.
Bouchard kindly shared their in-house map of their holdings in Chevalier (coloured in yellow – above) and here you can see that Chevalier, occupying the slope above Montrachet, sits in four main tiers or terraces as you head upslope. Their Chevalier-Montrachet La Cabotte, counter-intuitively, comes not from the vines around their stone cabotte (house in the vines) but rather are the continuation of their rows of vines in Montrachet – for all the world you might consider them Montrachet from their placement, but except in much richer vintages, I usually still prefer their Montrachet to their ‘Cabotte.’
Frederic Weber explains about their Chevalier-Montrachet(s): “The house/cabotte is the first terrace of our Chevalier-Montrachet, planted north-south, there’s 1 ha here. It’s relatively flat with quite an early maturity, often before Montrachet below, often with a hint of riesling/petrol in the aromas too. Our next tier of vines are also planted north-south – we have 2.5 hectares in total – and here is still classed as part of our first ‘terrace,’ there’s a little slope but it’s still modest. Our second terrace comes after a wide vineyard road, east-west planted with more slope. Storms that come from the direction of St.Aubin mean that east-west orientation potentially reduces losses to hail – at least with plantings of differing directions there’s some insurance! The soil is similar in colour but the ground is clearly stonier – we’ve 0.75 hectares here; it’s usually the most aromatically interesting component of our blend with old rose and mandarin-fruit – less round, more chiselled. 1960-1980 are the vine-plantings here – we don’t like our vines too old so one plot of 0.3 hectares is already prepared for replanting (summer 2020).
“Before the top tier we see a real change in the soil; lighter, more marne, seemingly sandy – 0.45 hectares on a meagre soil in three blocks of vines. The wine from here is more direct and the maturity can come very quickly here. In hot vintages, it’s this higher tier that’s ready first, though generally, it’s a little later, but only 1-2 days. The 4th terrace is supported by a wall of mother rock at the base, here the vines are planted south-north again, though we’ve only 0.13 hectares – behind is the garrigue! To the south now you have a great view of Chassagne (see image above). The aromatic profile is more closed here, but the dimension of flavour in the mouth is chiselled and saline – its the spine of our wine in the mouth. Here is the first of our terraces that has a modest extra orientation to the south – all the rest is plain east. The soil up here is only about 40cm deep and no longer with the red-brown colour of the lower slopes – next to here isn’t planted, it’s arid here!”
At the northern end of Chevalier-Montrachet, just before the Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles, comes the Clos des Chevaliers of the family Chartron which sits directly up-slope from the Montrachet vines of the family Laguiche. “Yes the ground is quite tough to work here,” says Jean-Michel Chartron. “Once every ten years we have to carry the soil back up the hillside – but thats the advantage of having the wall at the bottom – we don’t lose too much. The Clos covers 0.6 ha with almost a 4th wall today – formed by the high-trained vines of d’Auvenay. The next vines, south, belong to Philippe Colin but they are not in the clos. Of the domaine’s three clos, maturity depends on the year, the Chevalier here can suffer more from blockage when it’s a low rain vintage, but there’s still less than 3-4 days of difference. The first two rows near the northern wall always flower first and are riper first – there’s some reflection of the afternoon sun showing itself. The eldest vines in here are from 1947 but there are also lots of replacements too. The old vines are part of my library selection for massale cuttings. The ground here has lots of small stones with 20-30cm of soil at the bottom – less above.”
Chevalier-Montrachet ‘Les Demoiselles‘. At the northern corner of Montrachet where there is the entrance portal of the Marquis de Laguiche is a wide footpath/vineyard road that takes you upslope, past the Clos des Chevaliers and onward through the scrubland, eventually to the vines of St.Aubin. Before the scrubland above, this footpath separates the Clos des Chevaliers Montrachet from a large rectangular plot of vines called Demoiselles – the upper part classed as grand cru and the lower part is Puligny 1er Les Demoiselles, despite actually being in Caillerets. Then comes a wooded section – en friche – with a small footpath before the vines restart as (ez) Folatières.
From the photo taken in July 2020 above, the first part of this grand cru section of less Demoiselles is waiting to be replanted by owner Louis Latour, the bottom of their grand cru slope marked by an apple tree. This 1-hectare rectangle of vines, acquired in 1913, is shared by Louis Jadot and Louis Latour – apparently nice and neat for Burgundy – but looks can be deceiving! Firstly, for many years Jadot and Latour had different rows that were completely mixed, so eventually, they reshared though it’s still a mix of blocks, rather than (for instance) a southern and a northern half. There’s what I assumed to be an urban myth that when Latour and Jadot bought Demoiselles, they drew lots to see who would get which parts but Christophe Deola of Latour confirms that this was exactly the case. Today Latour have the plot nearest Montrachet (drawn by lot and to be re-planted in 2021) and the plot furthest away, with Jadot taking the middle section. If you look at the maps of Les Demoiselles you may also note that, rather than a rectangle of vines, there are two plots with a gap in-between. This gap is no-longer visible – on the ground – as this part has been replanted but these few rows of vines – the meat in the sandwich of Les Demoiselles, is classed as Vin de France – it’s not even a Bourgogne!
The replanting – by both Latour and Jadot – was done in the last 10 years. There was once a large murger here (a pile of vineyard stones) which was cleared in 2013. After removing the stones, there was clearly very little soil underneath and the limestone base was hard and practically impenetrable. The teams decided to break up the limestone base to aid replanting. This sliver of (today) vines has no AOC – it lost its appellation in the 1970s as it wasn’t planted. You can see from the images that the ground is much stonier than the neighbouring rows due to the lack of earth below the murger, though Cristophe Deola of Louis Latour tells that whilst there’s not much of it, it’s a well-draining soil, and what there is has a good amount of organic material. Of-course, soil-depth excepted, the Vin de France section has exactly the same terroir as the rest of grand cru Demoiselles – though this area, confirmed by both Barnier and Deola, is cooler than the Chevalier-Montrachet of similar altitude that sits in the first tier above Montrachet, or Montrachet below, and the soil is less rich too. The production of the Vin de France is tiny and it’s not a commercial wine for either producer; for example, Jadot had 1 barrel in 2015 but none in 2016 due to the frost of that year.
I look forward to one day tasting these Vins de France and, of course, the producers are anticipating that these 20 rows (or-so) of vines will be re-introduced to the AOC without too much delay – though I wouldn’t hold out much hope for anything ‘higher’ than ‘Bourgogne’ level for quite a few years – that’s the politics of Puligny and the INAO talking, not the terroir…
Returning, if only for a moment, to Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles, proper – in the 2018 vintage I found the Demoiselles of both Jadot and Latour to be ‘more successful’ than all of the Montrachet’s I tried that year – and that was 10 of them!
Bâtard-Montrachet is by-far the largest of these grand crus, covering 12 hectares, until the AOC it was more than twice the size, as Criots & Bienvenues were included, though also were today’s villages-level Blanchots Dessous and Enségnières plus Vide-Bourse which is a premier cru. There are many, many owners and most of them have only small plots, hence, this is a popular bottling with the négoce. Domaine Leflaive has the largest area, covering ~2 hectares, a little behind them is the Chassagne domaine of Ramonet – these are often regarded, together with Domaine Sauzet’s bottling, as the pre-eminent wines – but offering three very different styles. Lying below Montrachet, and basically on the flat land, Bâtard enjoys a richer, deeper and more clay-based soil – because of this the wine is often fatter and less fine than the wines from the vines above. Previously I would look out for this wine is slightly less ripe years – at least if you prefer the shape of Maria Callas to Monserrat Caballé but the market trend – even if the hot and dry weather is not helping – is more towards ‘tension‘ today rather than outright concentration.
On the Chassagne side, the vines run directly from the road that separates Bâtard from Montrachet – it’s practically the same at the extreme northern end in Puligny – but in the middle it’s different: Where there are the vines of Leflaive and Pierre Morey (Clos Poirier) there’s a significant drop of over 2 metres from the road – but thereafter the vines are essentially planted on the flat of the land – almost all the way to Puligny – see the image above.
The Clos Poirier is named after the family that still own the vines, not just here but vines in Pucelles too. The work here is shared by Domaine Pierre Morey and Louis Latour – Christophe Deola of Latour explains a little about the soil here: “The depth of soil waxes and wanes as the placques of rock below vary. We have a little less than 3% organic material – it’s not a lot but we’d dream of that in Beaujolais! There’s about 10% active limestone in this plot and we’re starting to plant on the 333 root-stock here as it’s more drought resistant. The north-south planting maximises the amount we can plant in this parcel – they all young vines now. We think from the wine that the soil should be rich, there is a little extra clay and this helps hold onto the water better, there’s certainly more iron in this darker soil. There are small rocks, but they are deeper in the soil and it’s supple soil. Maybe the combination of all these rather than the altitude enables faster maturity.”
Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet covers 3.7 hectares, only Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet (which I will leave for a profile of Chassagne) is smaller. It’s located in the bottom corner of Bâtard – as far as possible away from Montrachet, touching on the 1er crus of Pucelles and the villages plot of Les Enséignères. Like Bâtard, the soil is deep and, given its position, the drainage is also less good. The wines are typically less fine than Bâtard – Leflaive is again the largest owner, and if I compare their two wines; the power is often similar, as is the acidity, the real differentiation is the purity and precision of the fruit, both on the nose and in the mouth.
Jacques Carillon explains his vines in Bienevenues: “The soil here isn’t that different to that in Pucelles – we are in the line of the 1ers here. Our vines were planted about 1968-1970 by my father and grandfather. There’s plenty of clay here but with more of a redder colour versus our Perrières, I never checked the depth myself but I can see in the wine some extra minerality despite the extra clay thats also here – lots of small stones too. If you chat with the Ramonets – who have the last rows of Bienvenues and the neighbouring first row of Bâtard – they say that although you don’t see any difference in the vineyard, the wine is quite different with extra richness in the Bâtard.”
The top of Jacques’ rows have a wide gap before the vines of Bâtard start – about 3 metres – but just to the side of his are the vines of Leflaive – a small dog-leg of 4 or 5 vines – who knows why(?) Here the gap (above right) between Bâtard and Bienvenues is simply the lack of a trellising wire between adjoining vines – so about 1m…
The Premier Crus
The reporting, or classification of the premier crus seems incredibly flexible; in the table below I list 14 main premiers in Puligny. I say main, because you could actually find 24 different premier cru names on the bottles, but ten of these could be considered as named ‘climats’ within the other 1ers.
The premiers have only one thing in common – they all lie to the north of the grand crus. Looking more closely at a few, starting north from Montrachet:
Les Demoiselles is the first 1er cru above the road that heads north in the direction of Blagny and Meursault, and is the continuation of Montrachet itself. It is a small parcel of vines that, as noted, is bordered by Montrachet to the south. Above it (to the west) lies the grand cru of Demoiselles, or rather, as the continuation of Chevalier-Montrachet, it is more properly described as Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles – the ‘other’ Demoiselles – so you can see why there may be some confusion. Below are the vines of 1er Cru Pucelles and continuing the line from Montrachet, through Demoiselles, it is bordered to the north by Les Caillerets. Officially, Les Demoiselles is a sub-climat of Caillerets so may also be labelled as Les Caillerets.
There are few owners here, mainly the wine is sold by various parts of the Colin / Colin-Deleger family, Au Pied de Mont Chauve (the Picard family) and Domaine Guy Amiot. The first and closest to Montrachet are the vines of Bruno Colin who had his wall refurbished in 2018 and replanted his vines in 2019. Next are the vines of the Picard family, acquired from Bernard Colin in 2005, just a small cuvée of 350 litres in 2018 from 9 rows of 50-year-old vines, but another 14 rows were planted in 2020. Antoine Lepetit de la Bigne (right) explains* “We produce plenty of Chassagne, but here is a wine that’s very complete and you know directly, even blind, that you’ve left Chassagne when you taste this wine. It’s exuberant, molten, and also it’s bigger-shouldered than Pucelles. There are plenty of small stones in the soil here, similar to Bâtard but the mother rock is a little different.”
*Click the image of Antoine (standing in 1er cru Demoiselles) to get a better view of, top left, Chevalier-Montrachet (actually Chartron’s Clos de Chevalier) and, top right, Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles grand cru – starting with an unplanted parcel chez Louis Latour.
Les Caillerets continues the line from Montrachet through Demoiselles, with almost the same exposition and slope. As previously noted, the 0.6 hectares of Les Demoiselles is actually a ‘sub-climat‘ of Les Caillerets. One should expect Caillerets, like Demoiselles, to be the finest of the premier crus. Its name does, however, give clue to a slight change at ground level vs Montrachet – the soil has become quite stony in some places – a mix of smaller and larger stones – not just the small ones seen in other vineyards. The soil here goes about half a metre deep and there’s plenty of clay higher in the Clos du Cailleret too. Behind the Clos are old storm-drains which were used to collect not just rainwater but also the soils that were being washed down the hillsides but these are only relics of the past after a large amount of drainage-work and was done in the 1970s.
For 100 years the principal owner here was the Chartron family – their name remains on a portal at the northern end of the vineyard – for the Clos du Cailleret. The Chartrons are still the largest owners here with 1 hectare – though they once had 3! Vines were sold to pay the taxes of succession, chunks were sold to the Clos des Lambrays – just over the large wall at the northern end of the Clos du Cailleret in what Jean-Michel Chartron describes as the ‘Clos Albert’ – Lambrays still label their wine Clos du Cailleret, though – and Pousse d’Or who bought a 0.71-hectare share of Chartron’s Clos in 2004, the southern part of the Clos but with only 2 walls – top and bottom – they don’t label this wine as Clos. The wine of Domaine de Montille is a very good reference too, in the domaine since 1993 and covering 0.85 hectares, these are the most southerly vines of Caillerets ie those closest Montrachet – but after Les Demoiselles.
As an anecdote, there is a small amount of pinot noir planted in the Clos by the Chartrons – and because the AOC for 1er cru red Puligny exists it wears the 1er cru label of Caillerets too – but they only have enough for about one barrel, and not every year.
Les Folatières is a very well known vineyard whose name is said to derive from Terres-Folles – or mad (crazy) earth. As much as this renown might be for its inherent quality, it is just as likely due to its size – at a whopping 17.64 hectares, it’s almost twice that of any other Puligny 1er Cru. Take a look at a map of the vineyards and it looks anything but tidy as it’s encroached from several directions by scrubland, indeed many pieces of the vineyard are relatively recent conversions of such land. Within the vineyard, there are currently four distinct sections; Ez Folatières, En-la-Richarde, Le Peux-Bois and Au Chaniot. The En-la-Richarde section also including an area classed as villages rather than 1er Cru. These additional names are not officially authorised to be added to the label, but more and more producers are starting to do it.
If that’s not enough, then there are the unofficial demarcations within the vineyard; from the bottom of the vineyard – across from Clavoillon – and planted north-south, after Au Chaniot section, this is what Domaine Pernot call their Clos de Folatières – right – and why not, with its walls on three sides it clearly qualifies as a clos. The slope for Folatières goes up quite high, the upper wall guarded by a row of trees. It’s a mix of plantation dates, from 1956, and 1973 for the part north after the gate that wears the Pernot family plaque – the vines here on their SO4 rootstocks look like small broad-trunked trees. “This holding was certainly in the family since the 1800s, maybe 200 years, says Michel Pernot. Michel’s comments are backed by those of Frederic Barnier “Next to the road we have browner soils, maybe a little deeper too. There’s plenty of clay but it’s stony too – its proper white terroir. We don’t blend our parcels as one is Heritiers, the other is Louis Jadot.
Pernot also own vines in the higher parcels, bought in 1972, behind and above the aforementioned trees and some pits to collect rainwater, bringing their holdings in Folatières to 3.2 hectares. At the domaine they name this second parcel as Grand Folatières “There are more stones on the ground here, seemingly a lighter colour to soil too, but that’s the problem, if we plough we see a nice red soil here that has good drainage, but it’s also a place where we need to transport the soil back up the hill after heavy rains – which is practically every year. Terres folles indeed!”
Domaine Pernot usually make one large blend of their holdings, though they have sometimes separated the ‘Clos’ – “Generally it’s the assembly thats the most representative, Says Michel Pernot, “Maison Drouhin (who Pernot have supplied for many years) get the same. We find it the most mineral of our wines, the perfume is different, lighter than that of its neighbour, the Clos de la Garenne.”
This steeper area sees some extra channels to aid drainage. You may find here the old stone gateway of Chartron-Dupard – these are still the vines of the Chartron family. The last part, to the north, just before the Clos de la Garenne is very stony at the bottom – more so than the rest – this is a young plantation where Jadot broke up the rock below before replanting, now with ploughing it’s bringing a lot of small rocks to the surface. This parcel starts with a flat, metal drain – optically not so elegant – “But certainly less invasive than digging a drainage channel,” says Frederic Barnier…
For the Ez Richarde section, just a short footpath away from the last vines of Chevalier-Les Demoiselles, the producers are few but far from modest; it’s domaine’s Heritiers Louis Jadot, d’Auvenay, Benoite Ente and Sauzet. There’s plenty of colour in the soil here, Frederic Barnier of Louis Jadot describes a more airy wine from this place “Due to its altitude, but it’s the soil too – the other part of Folatières is a long way from here – the deer are plentiful here too!”
Les Pucelles. It would be interesting to know how the ‘the virgins’ got their name… Lying below Les Demoiselles and Les Caillerets and contiguous with Bâtard and Bienvenues-Bâtard – so being on the flatter richer soil like the grand crus before – Pucelles is typically a bigger, plusher version of the Caillerets, also reputed to be earlier maturing. Three of its 6.76 hectares are owned by Domaine Leflaive which is a lovely wine, but a rather expensive one these days. With your back to Le Cailleret, looking down the rows of Pucelles you can see a large wall at the bottom of the vines – separating it from the flatter land of the villages-rated vines. Up close, this wall is actually quite a large murger. At the northern end of the vineyard is the Clos des Pucelles – this the Chartorn family’s third Clos in Puligny (with Clos Chevalier and Clos des Caillerets) – their ‘clos’ amounting to 1.15 hectares of Pucelles. Part of the Chartron holding at the bottom of Pucelles is described as Clos des Meix – the Chartrons are part-owners here too, but the majority is owned by Domaine Leflaive. This northern part of Pucelles has browner soil, vs the redder soil in the Clos des Caillerets above, it’s deeper too – it’s a drop of a couple of metres from southern Pucelles to the northern part and a drop of 2 metres from the road above. The vines here slowly sloping to the flat of Puligny villages – the soil-depth is about 70cm at the top of the vineyard and closer to 1m lower down.
Pucelles is the pre-eminent, most powerful or opulent, 1er cru of Puligny – at least of those made widely / or in any volume. Chez Domaine Leflaive, for instance, it is invariably the last 1er tasted before you move to the grand crus.
Sitting directly under Folatières, Clavoillon (above left, and also spelled Clavaillon) follows the line north from Bâtard, Bienvenues and then Pucelles, and is followed on the same line by the Clos des Mouchères and then Perrières. So enviably positioned, yet for me, this is a vineyard that seems better positioned than its current reputation would suggest, I have to conclude that the distribution of ‘ownership’ is probably the reason here.
It is Domaine Leflaive who own the majority and (using the spelling Clavoillon) they often make great wine too. The problem, if there is a problem, is that this wine is always shown first in their 1er cru line-up – the lowest in their hierarchy if I might use that ‘h-word.’ As majority owners – though you may find an occasional bottle wearing a Chavy label – they set the tone for our expectations. It’s entirely possible that their Clavoillon is more interesting than many wines from neighbouring vineyards – such as Folatières or even Pucelles – but we’ve come to think of this cru as the entry-wine of Puligny 1ers.
Pierre Vincent (right) of domaine Leflaive comments: “We own 4.8 of the Clavoillon’s 5.6 hectares. It was here where we made the first trials of Biodynamics. Our vines are all in a single block which we split into 4 parcels with planting-dates from 1959 to 1988. With the help of Françoise Vannier-Petit we looked at the geology of our domaine parcels, and here it is very homogenous. Given the surface that we have here you could call it our laboratory – it’s where we make some pruning differences or some harvest-timing differences to see what changes in the wines and in their evolution.
“If you want to taste ‘Leflaive,’ this is really the cuvée to taste. The maturity here is not especially different to other areas – unsurprisingly it’s quite close to Pucelles – but it’s the vintage that decides where we start picking, sometimes we start low, in 2020 we started higher-up. It’s relatively deep soil for here, but still hardly more than 1 metre. Whilst you may find an extra ‘noblesse’ in Pucelles – despite Pucelles being, geologically, much less regular and with shallower soil higher in the vines – I think of Clavoillon as a strong wine, almost masculine and generous – in that respect, it has got much in common with Bâtard.”
Perrières. A common enough name – almost every appellation has one – though it tends to mean much more in the white-wine regions. Perrières is a large 1er cru with 8.4 hectares, almost half of that is the monopole climat of Clos de la Mouchère owned by Henri Boillot – an unreservedly recommended wine – other bottles of ‘Perrières’ seem to harder to come by. The Clos de Mouchère is ‘officially’ within the 1er cru of Perrières – so I took a walk in Perrières (right) with Jacques Carillon who owns vines here with his brother, François, as he explained about this 1er cru: “Above and between Perrières and Mouchère is hidden the old quarry in the trees – the stone here is hard and was used for the houses of Puligny – not a surprise given the name of the vineyard! The limestone base here bringing the minerality in a band from Perrieres and Referts in the north to Pucelles and Clavoillon in the south.
“I’d describe Perrières, in terms of altitude, as the bottom of the three levels of the Puligny 1ers, maybe because of that with just a small extra roundness. It’s the top part of Puligny that holds the snow – above Folatières – when it’s already melted in the rest of the vines. I’ve 0.6 hectares of Perrières on a young and compact rock – there’s about 60 cm of soil here. Below is the villages parcel of Noirots which has deeper soil with small stones, but fewer than Perrières and with more clay.”
Following our line north from Perrières we have two 1ers – above is Combettes and below is Referts:
Les Combettes: As you climb the road that separates the Clos de Mouchère (below) from the Clos de Garenne (above) – heading in the direction Blagny and Meursault – you pass through a small area of woodland that hides the old quarries in the top of Les Perrières. Coming out on the other side I always have the feeling that I’m done with Puligny as view widens and Meursault beckons in the distance – but Puligny is not yet done with us! On your left are the vines of Puligny 1er Champs-Canet and on the right is a stonework entrance to vines, guarded by a walnut tree – here is Puligny-Montrachet 1er Les Combettes, the vines starting 2-3 metres lower than Champs-Canet above. These are, with 1er cru Referts below Combettes, and Les Chalumaux, above, the last large block of Puligny 1ers to the north. Combettes is separated by a narrow road from the upper section of Meursault-Charmes – I’ve never noted any similarity between the two…
The gate into Combettes at the top of the vineyard is the work of Domaine Jacques Prieur who own 1.5 hectares here – the vines of Prieur sit above the Perrières of Sauzet. I walked the Prieur vines with Nadine Gublin, who explains: “We are the largest here but there’s also Ampeau, Dujac, Jomain, Leflaive & Sauzet amongst others. It’s Bathonian, Premeaux, limestone here, clay and limestone. There’s a little more soil at the top of the vineyard versus the bottom and even less in the middle! It’s an early ripening place, often the first harvested as it’s protected from the south by the trees. Before the appellation controlée Jacques Prieur sold the wine as Meursault-Combettes! It resembles the top of Charmes and the extension of Meursault-Perrières above. It’s plain east-facing with some clay and lots of small stones. Our vines are roughly 30-years-old with the youngest vines planted in about 2001. When it rains, the soil looks a little red, but today it’s dry and looks much lighter.Champs Canet, it has a much poorer soil and grapes that mature a little later than Perrières, below.”
Referts. This vineyard is guarded by Combettes above, Perrières to the south and the mid-section of Meursault-Charmes to the north. I walked the vines with Benoît Riffault (right) of Domaine Sauzet who can help explain: “We’re a domaine with holdings that are more on the Meursault side, not Pucelles side! If you walk to Referts from Perrières at the bottom of the hill, you will note that in Perrières there’s some soil with fine clay and lots of stones – moving into Referts it’s a bit different from the middle and on the Meursault-Charmes side. We have 5 rows of vines that are almost in Perrières – the border with Perrières is a dogleg here. Then we have a second parcel in middle next to Bachelet-Monot, so that’s 0.70 hectares in total split 0.2 and 0.5 ha. We had very old vines with some degeneration – they made nice wine but not enough – half were replanted in the mid-section about 2018 – the other half of these old vines were kept. Here in the middle, the clay is a little redder and less stony vs the first parcel – here it’s stickier after the rain. The soil depth is about 1m or less at the bottom, the rows slowly rising to Combettes above where there’s less soil. Referts produces a wine with a certain natural density and we’ve always great acidity here, always the best of our wines every year here – the tartaric seems quite stable and it makes for a nice construction of the wine. The rows are all long, about 100m, to the vineyard road and the villages vines below. The bottom part of Referts can get some frost, the ground slowly rising and becoming stonier towards Charmes – it’s Carillon who have the last vines before Charmes and it seems a more Perrières style of soil there vs the middle that has more clay.”
Clos de la Garenne is the continuation of Folatieres, on the other side of the road that goes up the hill towards Blagny, “But the wine is much more elegant from here,” says Jadot’s Frederic Barnier, “And I’m sure it’s the vines more than the practically similar soil, that make the difference – the exposure is the same, though just to the north it’s more wooded.” The clos is a small vineyard of ~1.5 hectares lying surrounded by Champ-Canet premier cru and Les Folatières premier cru – it is quite far from its part-namesake ‘La Garenne’ the 1er cru which is high on the hillside, overlooking Puligny. Le Domaine du Duc de Magenta owns the vast majority of this vineyard – Pernot have a small piece, they sometimes sell the grapes to Drouhin, so it’s not a monopole – more recently Alvina Pernot has had these grapes most recently. It is the team of Magenta who cultivates the vines but it is Jadot who make and market their wine. The vines are generally old here – roughly 80-years-old for the oldest – some in trained in cordon.
Les Champs-Gain The second-largest premier cru. Sitting between La Garenne (higher and in Blagny) and Folatières below. The soil is redder here and more obviously sloped. it actually lies very high for such a cru ~360 metres – the Mont Rachat hill providing some protection. The name gives some clue to the vineyard – reclaimed field – and much was not reclaimed from this poor, stony soil until the 1970s. Jacques Prieur have been working a parcel of vines from here too and the name makes Nadine Gublin laugh – “Champs-Gains? – well, we haven’t gained from much soil as there’s hardly any – but we have gained a lot of stones! There’s only about 20cm of soil.”
La Garenne Sitting high on the hillside above Champs Gain and with commanding views towards Puligny is La Garenne – it has absolutely nothing to do with the Clos de la Garenne – a Garenne in literal French would be a warren – as in rabbits! Guillaume Lavollée of Génot-Boulanger accompanied me for a tour in his vines where he made a few explanations: “There are lots of rocks here and they are slightly larger at the top compared to lower on the slope. It’s an area with redder soil at the bottom and lighter soil higher up – light brown, almost blond. I find an almost austere, airy, character to the wines from here but recent warm vintages have produced some great wines. It’s hardly surprising that at this altitude we’ve more wind, so we are typically 2-3 days later ripening here than in our Folatières. It’s not just drier here – the ground retains less of the water – the vines also get to suffer from the forest animals too – we have plenty of competition for our grapes! In 12 years despite there being a decent amount of slope, we’ve not yet needed to bring the soil back up the hill.”
Take together all the potential appellations in Puligny, mix with a measured amount of domaines, season with a harder to measure addition of négociants and it would not be very surprising if you could cook-up 4-500 different labels each vintage. Like in Vosne, there will be those in Puligny who overcrop and/or pay insufficient attention to detail in the cuverie – or frankly don’t care because they can simply (and very easily) sell-on their barrels of wine – this can be called a culture productiviste. These producers can, and do, take a significant amount of shine away from the lustre we expect from a wine with the name Puligny-Montrachet.
We are fortunate then, that there are a core of producers who year-in, year-out, manage to show all the facets of the wines that we’ve come to expect, and, better still, this ‘cadre’ seems to be growing. I will develop this further over the coming issues, but generalising; the established names are very often high priced, whilst others, starting to make a name for themselves are a little lower. The ‘establishment’ offers a solid base of 10-20+ years of consistent achievement – three easy picks are Domaine Leflaive (again), Domaine Etienne Sauzet and Domaines Carillon. I would also add Henri Boillot, Jean Chartron, and most recently, Génot-Boulanger and Thomas-Collardot, who have been making some beautiful wines. Likewise, with the advent of their change to DIAM seals, I’m very confident in the wines of Louis Jadot and Bouchard Père et Fils. Don’t discount the whites of Louis Latour at the ‘top-end’ either…