Volnay is about wines of beautiful perfume, but this relatively small appellation is also about people – Rossignols, Bouleys, Mures and Boillots – plus their various hybrids:
“All the Rossignols are cousins, even Rossignol-Trapet in Gevrey is a nephew, and the grandfather of Henri Boillot was the brother of my mother.”
Volnay is special too; when it comes to Saint Vincent celebrations, they use their own saint, Saint Cyr (right) – Quriaqos – a martyr age 3. Yet for all Volnay’s individualism, many of the locals think of their home as being relatively unknown:
“Volnay is really not that well-known in France – it is for enthusiasts of-course, but I think it’s better known by people outside of France. There is really only a dozen or-so producers that show their wines from Volnay – it’s a relatively small group, and often the vignerons here are better known than the appellation.”
“I was really surprised when I arrived in Volnay – it seems known to the real fans, but outside that group there seemed much more renown for neighbours such as Meursault and Pommard.”
Volnay’s place on the hill
The village of Volnay nestles high on the hillside; this hill rises steeply above the village, but that adds a measure of protection from storms that come from the west. The middle of the hill protects the village, with combes on both sides of the houses.
“Volnay is an early ripening and sunny area – those two combes have very little effect on the vines – lower down on the hill and there are massive Volnays…”
Really the best place to view the village and its unfolding vineyards is right from the bottom of the appellation, close to the route nationale. Save for the small cleft where the village sits, it’s a single hill from, on your left, Monthelie, to Pommard, on your right, as you head north, slowly changing is exposure. The road that comes into Volnay’s Rue de Pitures from the vines of Pommard is not just the modern cycle route, it’s also the Via Compostella, the pilgrimage route south to Spain after (probably) your overnight stay in Beaune.
“Volnay comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, depending on the wine-making decisions of the producer”, says Jasper Morris – I would add, ‘also significantly depending on the placement of the producer’s vines.’ Looking up, you can easily see the much whiter, sandier soil at the top of the hill – it’s up to a week later ripening here and delivers fresher wines – the soil slowly darkening and becoming richer in red-iron clay as you descend the hill, helping to build Thomas Bouley’s more massive Volnays.
I think that the average quality of Volnay’s wine could be among the highest in the Côte d’Or. There are only 213 hectares of vines and almost 115 of those are classed as premier cru. Add together the hectares of 1er Cru owned by d’Angerville, Bouchard Père, the Hospices de Beaune and Pousse d’Or, and that might already account for a third of the 1er cru land. My gut feeling is also that the proportion of Volnay vines in bio/biodynamic care is higher than that of any other appellation(?)
“I had the chance to work with appellations in the Côte de Nuits, but Volnay has a geology and micro-climate that makes wines possible that approach those of the Côte de Nuits. There are many similarities, aromatically and structurally between Volnay and the area between Vosne and Chambolle.
There are already great texts done by Jasper Morris in his book Inside Burgundy, which I propose should be your primary work reference as I don’t plan to paraphrase all of Jasper’s hard-won content. Rather I will just give you a feeling for some of the parts of Volnay where I felt to have learned something.
I’ll start with the villages wines:
It’s really easy to approach these from the perspective of ‘above the village’ and ‘below.’
There’s an obvious issue here though, because the majority of villages wines that you see will be a blend of various parcels – some all from low-lying vines, some only from higher – in the main they are a mix of both. Conceptually the higher-lying vineyards have more freshness and energy, the lower-lying vineyards more power and weight – and it is possible to find examples with a vineyard name, and they are becoming more common – if still quite rare. Some interesting ones border and share their name with 1er crus, such as Robardelles, Lurets, Carelles and Gigotte – here the vineyards are split into 1er and villages sections.
I have to say that when I toured the domaines last month, overwhelmingly the villages wines share the fine, floral-infused Volnay-ness. They are generally of very high quality and are worth your time.
Now the 1ers, starting from the south of the appellation, Volnay Santenots:
The lieu-dits of Plures, Santenots-Blanc, Santenots du Milieu and Santenots Dessous are classified as Meursault if white is planted, and Volnay if red is planted. Really when you stand here, you have the feeling that you are close to the centre of Meursault and that Volnay is very far-off – Volnay is actually out of sight around the turning hill. Psychologically, these are wines of Volnay, but practically they are anything but.
I like the story of Dominique Lafon’s Meursault Desirée – a white of-course – which is situated in the 1er Cru lieu-dit of Plures – a Volnay-Santenots area – but it wears no 1er Cru name on its label. Now if Dominique had chosen to call this wine Meursault-Santenots (like d’Angerville do) then it would be able to wear the Meursault 1er Cru label, but Dominique chose to keep the old name of Desirée which wasn’t included when the appellation was set – so, in reality, it’s a Meursault 1er Cru, in a Meursault 1er Cru vineyard, but one that can’t be called a Meursault 1er Cru!
There are so many great Santenots, from perhaps the optimal roundness of Santenots du Milieu to wines of more weight and impact – Prieur’s Clos des Santenots for instance – certainly the wine of Nicolas Rossignol is an important wine in 2014, despite hailing from the lower part of the vineyard. There’s a little road that separates Santenots from Robardelle – Robardelle is actually split into 1er and village parcels – the villages being the lower portion, Santenots remains 1er cru rated, right to the end of the lieu-dit – further down the hillside.
Actually there is an almost continuous line of split villages/1er Cru climats that runs right to below the centre of Volnay: Robardelles, Les Lurets, Les Aussy, next Ronceret has no villages part, then again the split vineyards of Carelles Dessous and Gigotte.
All this bottom part of the 1er Cru estate has the darker, redder soil, though with Robardelles the vineyard is closer to the rock and big rocks at that – “the size of refrigerators – you can’t just take out old vines with a tractor” jokes one producer.
Moving north from Santenots:
The sweet spot of Santenots – i.e. probably not Les Santenots Dessous – moves directly north in a band below the old Route Nationale 73, into Caillerets and En Chevret. Caillerets (right – looking towards Meursault) needs little introduction; home of the 60 ouvrées of Pousse d’Or, and a number of hectares belonging to Bouchard Père et Fils – those Bouchard Cuvée Carnot wines aging effortlessly for more than your average 3 score and 10 years! It is said (locally) that Volnay vignerons who don’t have any Caillerets, don’t know Volnay!
Chevret is much less-well known, despite its 6+ hectares of vines. Essentially, the likely reason is that there are fewer owners here – Henri Boillot, Bouchard Père and Nicolas Rossignol. And the Bouchard goes into their 1er Cru blend – so you don’t have many choices! – My 1999 Nicolas Potel Chevret remains young and tight – but seems fabulous quality – as it should be, sat between Caillerets and Santenots du Milieu, or more correctly the monopole Clos des Santenots of Jacques Prieur..
Next to the north is Champans. Champans is a large vineyard of over 11 hectares, it’s also a relatively early ripening area – particularly the far north of the vineyard where Domaine Joseph Voillot own more than 1 hectare. There are some fabulous sources of Champans, not least d’Angerville and Lafon, but my goto Champans has always been that of Jean Pierre Charlot of Joseph Voillot – it’s the combination of the man and his wine.
Next along the line is Carelle sous la Chapelle – or Carelle(s) – and it seems that almost everybody in the village has a small slice of this cru. Jean Pierre Charlot describes this as a wine of more finesse than his Champans. Like Champans there is more rock higher up the slope and a gradually increasing clay content as you head down the modest slope. Next is Ormeaux and Mitans, but you will rarely find Ormeaux on a label today, it is usually sold as Mitans. I find Mitans a relatively fine 1er Cru, certainly without the weight of a Champans, but more-so than Brouillard or any of the village crus. The last in this line, bordering Pommard’s 1er Combes Dessus is Brouillard. Brouillard is another of the Volnay 1ers that has a small section at the bottom of the cru that is classified as villages. I’ve liked the wine from de Montille and used to buy the wine from Joseph Voillot, but they no-longer have those vines.
Next, the 1ers south of the village but above the RN73 (D973):
We start with the biggest, often the most powerful, often the most opulent of Volnay’s 1er – the Clos des Chênes. You won’t find many oaks today, but you will find the largest 1er cru of Volnay (at over 15 hectares), and whilst these vines are quite high on the hill, and bordering Monthelie to the south, this is a sun-trap of a vineyard – ripeness is not usually questioned here. It is often a richly flamboyant wine, but a wine that I believe to be clearly of Volnay, with fine floral aspects to its ripely-fruited delivery with present but never aggressive tannin. It’s rarely the ‘finest’ wine of Volnay, but it is one of the most delicious! For the patient, the wine of Lafarge is a must, but there are really very many great ‘Chênes.’
Next on the hillside after the Clos des Chênes is Taillepieds – a vineyard that many people suggest to be the best of Volnay. Its extra freshness versus Clos de Chênes derives from the curve of the hillside here – Taillepieds is less overtly south-facing. Taillepieds is split into two by a vineyard road (see right, viewed from the top of the vineyard) though nobody really expresses a preference for one part over the other to me.
Is Taillepieds the best vineyard of Volnay? I personally don’t see it as ‘better’ than a fine Caillerets Dessous (the top part of Caillerets), a great Santenots or a Clos des Ducs – but I’m always open to more research, with glass in hand…
The great casino…
The 1er Cru vineyards that surround the village deserve something of a special mention – Burgundy wine in the raw – many, many, tiny walled vineyards – this is Volnay and Burgundy at its monopolistic best – or at its most complicated, depending on how you choose view it!
Officially many of the parcels are actually described as ‘Le Village’ though are better known (despite the ubiquity of ‘Ducs’) as the Clos de la Cave des Ducs, Clos des Ducs, Clos du Château des Ducs, but there are many others too; Verseuil, Bousse d’Or, Clos de Chapelle, Clos de la Rougeotte, Clos d’Audignac and Clos de la Barre. If I missed any, such as Lassolle, you can put that down to fatigue. Actually at least one does retain the name Volnay 1er Cru Le Village – it sits above Jadot’s Clos de la Barre and across the road from the Bousse d’Or – but it is owned by the Hospices de Beaune, so in this case you won’t get to taste the produce of this single parcel.
All these small parcels seem recognisably Volnay, though given that most are monopoly productions, it is very often easier to see the differences in vinification – or perhaps that’s just the hens… (Lafarge’s Clos du Château des Ducs)
The 1er Crus north of the village, towards Pommard
Here, below the Clos des Ducs, Pitures and Chanlin but above Fremiets (pictured, right), is the route of, mainly cyclists and vignerons, but it is also the pilgrim route to Santiago de la Compostella.
The Clos des Ducs, whilst a seemingly simple, walled monopole of the Marquis d’Angerville is far that; it is a steep and complex vineyard, essentially the garden of the house of the d’Angervilles and bisected by gardens and even a swimming pool, yet, it is the one vineyard of Volnay where I am often tempted to think ‘grand cru,’ such is the gap between it and it’s also exceptionally good stable-mates when you taste chez d’Angerville.
The next two vines direction north are Pitures and Chanlin, and I think both suffer a little in renown, but only because we seem to lack headline domaines exploiting them – they are powerful wines and with some structure but retain that fine floral Volnay impression in the glass. Below them is the rather confusing double monopoly of Clos de la Rougeots, but note the subtle difference, one is Simply Clos de la Rougeotte Monopole (François Buffet) the other is Fremiets Clos de la Rougeotte Monopole! (Bouchard Père et Fils)! At the junction of the village and Fremiets is a large house that was the original cuvée of Bouchard Père et Fils, dating from the 1700s. The Bouchards were unsurprisingly strong in Volnay at this time. Today a Bouchard family member still lives there, and is also in the wine trade, but sells Port!
Finally below Fremiets is Les Angles / Clos des Angles / Points des Angles. Maybe the name is because this is a triangular vineyard(?) But really, contrary to what you might expect given its position at the bottom of the hill, adjoining Pommard, I find this a relatively lighter Volnay, fully-perfumed, but really more elegant than most. I consider it pretty, as opposed to profound. d’Angerville is a big producer now, but he is not alone making fine bottles here – look out for Nicolas Rossignol too.