Maison Henri de Villamont are headquartered in an impressive, rather individual looking building just outside the centre of Savigny-lès-Beaune.
The potential numbers of bottles associated with this producer can numb the mind: Their (Swiss) parent company, who are ‘big’ in supplying European supermarkets, have a hand in about 400 million bottles of wine per year(!) With extensive buying contracts, and being one of the original suppliers of Aldi, de Villamont themselves accounted for something like 25 million bottles in 2004, but around that time, with the backing of their Swiss management, de Villamont chose to concentrate on their domaine vines (10 hectares) plus a more focused range of merchanted Burgundy wines.
A little history…
The domaine’s buildings were built between 1880 and 1888 for the producer Léonce Bocquet (1839-1913). Bocquet was one of the most important producers of his generation, and it is he we have to thank for the many tens of thousands of photos that have been taken outside the Clos de Vougeot over the last 100 years.
Bocquet became owner of not just the Château du Clos de Vougeot but was also one of the six négociants that eventually bought-up all the parcels of Clos de Vougeot sold-off by the estate of Jules Ouvrard after 1861 – Ouvrard held the monopoly of Clos de Vougeot. Three hundred ouvrées of vines in the Clos (nearly 13 hectares) plus the press-house came with the Château – though Bocquet still chose to send the produce of the Clos to Savigny to be vinified – we might imagine that this was not particularly fast by horse and cart(s)!
The Château du Clos de Vougeot was bought by Bocquet in 1889 – and it was a wreck – no-doubt the main reason Bocquet chose to ship his grapes to Savigny. Bocquet, aided by the architect Vionnois, subsequently sunk much of his fortune into the task of repairing and rennovating the Château; his widow and children eventually sold it on to Etienne Camuzet in 1920. The Bocquet vines in the Clos de Vougeot were also sold, most of which are now farmed by the domaines Méo-Camuzet, JJ Confuron, Eugenie (Engel), Hudelot-Noëllat and Dr Georges Mugneret.
“There is a dusty irony in the inscription on a little gravestone that stands among the rustling vines — Ci-git – Léonce Bocquet – 1839-1913 – Il restaura le chateau – Du Clos de Vougeot – Priez pour lui — He needs our prayers; for a fine old interior was gilded and gimcracked and furbished into a sorry absurdity.”
Off the deep end; Christopher Morley, 1928
Bocquet’s winery, manor house and gardens in Savigny were also sold by the Bocquet family; it’s not known who the purchaser was, but the seller in 1964 was the Martenot family who had been using this as a base for their cheese business. In the 1960s, today’s Savigny Le village was merely a park-like garden for the manor house – complete with fountain – and the Clos des Guettes was planted to aligoté and fruit trees.
This ‘base’ in Savigny was bought by the Swiss group Schenk Holdings in 1964. It was Schenk who came up with the name ‘Henri de Villamont’ – apparently from a crusading knight who had retired to Savigny. The Côte de Nuits vineyards today exploited by de Villamont had also been owned by Schenk since 1964, having purchased the estate of the Veuve Modot. Pinot noir was planted in (the former garden) Savigny Le Villages and Clos des Guettes between 1965 and 1967. Here, finally, was a real Savigny-lès-Beaune domaine.
In 1969, Schenk added the famous Dr.Arthur Barolet cellar to their purchases. The majority of this 300,000 bottle cache was soon sold through auction, though a few bottles going as far back as 1911 remain in the wine library of Henri de Villamont. The ‘brand’ of Dr.Arthur Barolet is still extant, being used by the Schenk group for sales in Switzerland and Japan.
As a footnote, it seems that today ‘Léonce Bocquet’ is now a brand of Crémant at Patriarche – poor Léonce…
Henri de Villamont – today…
I don’t know if it was or maybe still is a record, but after eight years of construction, the cellars in Savigny-lès-Beaune could hold 4,000 barrels of wine – they are an impressive place to visit – though perhaps fewer barrels could fit today, as they like very much the results of their trials with 300l barrels!
At a cost of almost two million Euros, the cuverie was updated in time for the 2005 harvest – rows of temperature-controlled, stainless steel fermentation tanks with automatic pigeage are arranged to service their best contracts for Maconnais and Chablis wines (usually delivered as must) plus, of-course, their 10 hectares of domaine wines – many of the tanks sized to the domaine’s individual parcels. Production today is in the range of 250-300 thousand bottles – a 100th of what they made in 2004.
Of the domaine’s 10 hectares of vines, close to 6.5 hectares are centred on Savigny-lès-Beaune; two hectares are accounted for by their Savigny Clos des Guettes, which looks down on the winery and the domaine’s ‘Manor house’. The rest include an impressive five 1er Crus from Chambolle-Musigny, and the jewel in their crown – 0.5 hectares of Grands-Echézeaux. Apart from a little chardonnay that was planted in the Savigny Clos des Guettes the domaine wines are all red. White in the form of grapes comes in from the Côte de Beaune, and even more rolls in in the form of must from Chablis and Pouilly.
The reds are triaged then move from the table directly to the destemmer. Benoit Bruot (their commercial manager) notes that their approach ‘looks to showcase the vineyards’ fruit and elegance’. Below ground, their massive cellars are compartmentalised to offer cellars for Côte de Nuits wines, Côte de Beaune wines, whites, ‘long-aging’ whites (i.e. from the villages of the Côte de Beaune).
The ‘Chief’ here is Pierre Jhéan who joined as both director and winemaker in 1999 – and he is still directing and vinifying! He joined me on a tour of HdV’s wines in Savigny on 29th November 2012.
High toned aromas plus rather chunky yellow fruit. After the nose this surprises with its quite delicious, bright, slightly sweet fruit and personality. An easy wine to drink.
High-toned aromas show more focus. More concentration but also less acidity – but I really like the extract in the finish. Good concentration and understated balance – nice wine.
The shy nose offers only a little toasted bread. In the mouth there is more width and less depth versus the Savigny. Fine freshness, plenty of mouth-watering fruit – very nice!
There is the faintly spiced gingerbread aroma of Meursault – a good start. The acidity seems more intense than the Auxey – starting a little apart from the rest of the wine but it comes together really well in the mid-palate. Strong finishing too – good wine.
A blend of Fuissé and Vergison, raised on 30% new (300l) barrels..
Quite deeply coloured. The savoury nose shows a little oak toast. In the mouth the impression is also quite savoury with good acidity. This is not my favourite style but it is quite fresh and actually more than a little interesting!
The nose offers some herbs and faint patissière. The flavours are rather mineral and wide with the acidity underpinning the flavour. Lovely bright finish. Yum!
Fine, clean red berry, perhaps a little powder too. Ripe fruit but very good balance and excellent underlying structure with slightly grainy tannin.
Powdery red fruit with some complexity. The flavours are more direct and with sharper focus – lots of intensity and a little tannic grab before slowly fading. Nice!
Darker shaded fruit, again a little powder. Dark flavours mix with good structure – lots of freshness. There’s a little dark barrel tannin in the finish. A big character here.
Lucky to have half a hectare of this.
Bright fruit and some floral elements – very pretty. The pretty fruit of the nose is matched in the flavours then there’s some minerality. then there’s fruit again. The tannin is understated yet underpinning. Very good!
Same date of harvest, same vinification but elevage of 11 months for this – was 16 months for the Fuesselottes.
The fruit is a little darker here, no flowers and a little powdery. More obvious concentration and extra tannin with a hint of astringency. More structured, but apparently this wine is like this every year.
Very pretty aromas here – there’s a basket of fruit and flowers in the glass. Plenty of fruit depth, some complexity, the tannin is relatively benign. This is well balanced and simply a lovely wine.
The first aromas hint of barrel, but a dense fruit awaits at the core. This is both mineral and forceful in the mouth. Plenty of intensity and very well packaged structure – very good!
A shy nose that very slowly releases precise red berries. Eventually this rounds in the mouth, has a hint of salt too. This has decently understated concentration – probably only a ‘middleweight’ from Grands-Echezeaux, but there is real grand cru complexity here. Understated, sometimes subtle, but excellent.
Henri de Villamont
Rue du Docteur Guyot