The Négociants – Part II

Update 24.8.2009(4.7.2003)billn

In part one, we looked at some of the reasons why your bottle of Clos de Vougeot can be so variable, not just because there are 80+ proprietors, but also the numerous and sometimes tortuous routes the wine has taken to get into the bottle. We also looked at the historical reasons for the growth of the négociant and looked at three good examples of négociants established for 100-plus years, all of whom producing a large range of high quality wines – each with their own style.

The négociant is, if you like, a way to bypass part of the minefield associated with buying wine from this region; for if they are well established and have a name for good quality bottles, you should be able to assume that almost as much attention has been lavished on their Marsannay as their Grands Echézeaux.

Now that’s all well and good if they have a range of 50+ cuvées – but what if your négociant has only seven or eight cuvées and only a few years track record? In this case, you can only judge them as you would any other producer i.e. by going and tasting the wines – or, second best, at least finding someone who has. The aim of this article was to search out such a group of ‘new’ négociants, to that end we will look in a little more detail at three newer Maisons de Négoce; Joseph de Bucy, Alex Gambal and Nicolas Potel, all formed between 1996 and 1997 and all of whom make good wines that speak of their origins.

But first, how easy is it to set up as a négociant? Ignoring the legal niceties it’s possible for anyone to do it. You just need the raw materials in the form of grapes, grape-must or even the finished wine, plus then the ability to bottle (mobile bottling units can come round and do it for you). Sourcing the goods can be a challenge; I’ve seen in print a number of times what I took to be an ‘implied criticism’ of Dominique Laurent whereby somebody suggested ‘it is always easy to get a barrel of something interesting if you’re prepared to pay over the odds’. This is actually easier said than done; white wine or grapes can be relatively easily sourced, though – like anything – the best costs more. Red wine and grapes are tougher as there is more competition – partly due to the lower allowed yields for red grapes and partly because more chardonnay than pinot noir is planted. Given the current ‘troubled’ world economy, there are now some opportunities for those willing to take a risk: It is rumored that some growers are having problems getting paid or in some cases the orders are cancelled completely – so perhaps there are some new opportunities for deals!

So given the relative ease with which you can become a négociant; this is really the heart of the minefield, this is where many people think business first and sometimes not even wine second! It is very often the bottle from the négociant who you never heard of that will be dull, dreary or even simply bad wine (this is where you need people like Meadows, Coates, Tanzer etc. to do the hard work for you) – when it turns out well, you should note the name and investigate further. Not everyone with talent can inherit a fortune and buy a vineyard – or indeed inherit a vineyard itself. So if you have wine in your blood, starting as a négociant is usually your only option.

Here are three people from very different backgrounds that did exactly that. All starting their business in 1996/1997 and all seem a good bet for a wine with style and typicité :

  • Joseph de Bucy
    Established 1996. Great value generics and a good range of Meursaults with typicité
  • Alex Gambal
    Established 1997. Well priced, pure and stylish expressions of the vineyard sites.
  • Nicolas Potel
    Established 1997. Seems to be a shooting star. These can be benchmark wines, where purity of expression is the hallmark. Wines that should be in everyone’s cellars.

Click on the name to get specific information and tasting notes. But remember if you try a bottle and you have a nice surprise – it’s your duty to investigate further!

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

There is one response to “The Négociants – Part II”

  1. Jonathan Wilhelm22nd February 2010 at 8:49 pmPermalinkReply


    I am interested in Negociants. I am ding research into becoming a Negociant and would like any more information you have on the subject.

    Mainly if there is an association or group of brokers I can get tasting from and start blending some wine.

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