Warning – Opinion!

The changing ownership landscape of the Côte d’Or

By billn on June 29, 2021 #the market#warning - opinion!

The waxing and waning of vineyard ownership – or rather the relative size of ownership – has always been the subject of external forces; times of higher demand, times of lower demand, times of disease or simply times of consistently poor weather. Burgundy has never been a stranger to those things…

Outwardly, and from this perspective, things seem little different today to what has happened in previous generations but dig deeper and I’d say that the current situation is different.

My current musings on this were partly prompted by the recently announced sale of the Christian Confuron estate to the Evenstad family of Domaine Serene, to add to their ownership of Domaine de la Crée in Santenay. Actually, I’d been aware of both the sale and the (undisclosed but ballpark) price of €40 million – for under 7 hectares but with grand and 1er cru appellations – for a few weeks after visiting a domaine that had bought grapes from this Confuron estate but was seemingly going to lose their grape contract this year due to the sale – but, hopefully, they will manage to come to some short-term accommodation on that front.

On the positive side for this Confuron acquisition, we have a business that is focused on wine – whether that wine comes from Oregon or Burgundy – we can all appreciate the synergy and, of course, there are domaines in Burgundy that have estates in Oregon too – so all is fair! On the negative side – and negative purely from my gut feeling – is the ever-growing concentration of vineyard land in the hands of a) buyers from outside of Burgundy and b) groups and individuals who are not primarily in the wine business. Some buyers still count wine as an important part of a portfolio of assets whilst others buy due to their ‘interest’ in wine but the essential issue today is the significant geographic change of ownership of the vineyards of Burgundy. Outside of the pre-revolutionary times of the French monarchy/aristocracy and ownership by the church – Burgundian vineyards have never seen such dwindling local ownership.

New ownership still has an important French dimension and at the most exclusive end of the vineyard scale, many hectares are being rolled into the portfolios of some of France’s richest individuals. And do continue to watch this space, a certain domaine in an important Côte de Nuits village has tongues wagging of an imminent €800 million transaction – you heard it here first 😉

Less transparent still, are the organisations that are buying up estates and parcels here and there and paying off the incumbent producers. These organisations have no winemaking so ‘donate’ the vines to important domaines in both the red and white villages of the Côte d’Or, guaranteeing themselves or their ‘club members’ the majority or all of that production – it’s hard to imagine many illustrious names being used as ‘toll manufacturing’ facilities but this is the effective result and you need not feel sorry for the domaines – they are being well recompensed, though don’t expect them to show you the wines when you visit.

Whilst I have uncomfortable feelings about the loss of local ownership of Burgundian vineyards, the inward investment that this has generated and the relative clarity of ownership that we see, clearly has many benefits. The reduction of local ownership of the vines is something that I instinctively feel to be a sub-optimal direction for the region but I feel significantly less positive about the lack of clarity surrounding the growth of the 1er and grand cru ownership and then toll-manufacturing approach – and just occasionally I feel the need to beat out a few words on my keyboard about it!

[Edit:] Posted today (30-June):

independence – not!

By billn on December 27, 2020 #warning - opinion!

Here am I, one day from quarantine freedom, though with one-less mother-in-law due to covid.
(Disclaimer: not the only mother-in-law I’ve had!)

Rather than writing about winemakers and their wines this morning, I’m looking at obviously shoddy ‘journalism.‘ I’m not even taking exception at what has been written – only that the author is in no position to write it for an audience who are presumably (well what do you think?) assuming this to be an independent piece of work – as opposed to shilling for wineries whose wines they sell. This sort of thing makes it rather shit for those of us who try to be independent, and even (god forbid) actually buy – with our own money – from wineries whose wines we like and recommend to others!

Not my typical Sunday, but don’t worry there will be some wines on these pages too 🙂

world heritage, with no world?

By billn on December 02, 2020 #warning - opinion!

Climats Association - UNESCO

I note, today, a press release from the association of climats – the body that was responsible for the work achieving UNESCO World Heritage Site status for much of the Côte d’Or. I understand their perspective but it still saddens me:

*The Association des Climats du Vignoble de Bourgogne has alerted the State ‘services’ to the damage caused by the plans to install 18 wind turbines, 180 meters high, on and around the site listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and of its landscape preservation zone called the buffer zone. These projects threaten the authenticity of the landscapes of the World Heritage site, by making these wind turbines visible from the registered site. Certain villages of the Côte d’Or and emblematic panoramas such as the hill of Corton, the hill of the 3 crosses in Santenay or the cirque du bout du monde de Saint-Romain would be threatened. An impact that the World Heritage Committee could also take a dim view of…

*My translation…

It seems to me that this is blinkered in response and lacking nuance – or perhaps also understanding. Would they prefer that countries concentrate on fossil fuels in preference to renewables? Or is this simply ‘there are better places for this‘ ie not in my backyard? If the former, in the future we may no-longer have world heritage sites…

Of course, that’s entirely my own opinion and many will disagree with me…

Value in Burgundy?

By billn on July 09, 2020 #warning - opinion!

Nick Jackson MW made a suggestion for producers per village. I found some great suggestions but also some reliance on négoce wines and relatively high priced producers too:

There’s definitely a homogeneity of pricing in Vosne, Meursault, Puligny & Chassagne that’s hard to avoid, but by going some way off the ‘beaten track‘ of producers I came up with a counter-suggestion – but what do you think? Remember I’m trying to capture ‘value’ so great quality and a good price.

PS I tried to associate producers with the village in question but be based in the same village. I made a mistake with Fougeray de Beauclair – they are based in Marsannay, not Fixin – but I had anyway included them for their Fixin Clos Marion!

text of the day – a biodynamic critique…

By billn on June 14, 2020 #a bit of science#warning - opinion!

The problem with biodynamics: myths, quacks and pseudoscience
Linked here

A post (above) that’s worth spending a little time over.

I try to avoid discussing Steiner, the man, for exactly the reasons that this author has enunciated. I do believe that there are some aspects of (let me shorten it to) ‘BD’ that, perhaps, science has yet to catch up with, but I wholeheartedly concede that the general critique levelled by Joshua is incontrovertible.

There were great wines before biodynamics – even in the ‘chemical era’ of the 1960s-1990s – though far fewer than today. I believe that organic approaches to viticulture have improved sustainable grape production radically. How much of that is down to BD is a moot point, certainly far, far, less than the recent benevolence of the climate and wine pricing that allows producers to experiment and not always aim for the highest allowed yields.

The ‘DRC Fallacy’ is something of a given, as one should note that not all great farmers are great winemakers – and vice-versa – the great names (labels) happen to combine both aspects. Save for certain ‘hard to explain’ rituals (including burials!) BD is essentially very close to organic farming. For that reason alone, I’m quite happy that more and more people are taking note. That’s possibly my philosophical side speaking but from the perspective of intellectual rigour…

restaurants & the elephant in the room…

By billn on May 13, 2020 #the market#warning - opinion!

It’s true of course – how could it be any different? Without restaurants – either ordering or potentially closing for good – the wine-producers of all regions have currently lost a significant part of their client-base. At this point, only Burgundy seems to be openly discussing this and that’s why they have the headline.

Major retail channels are not making up for lost sales.” Again, of course. The orders that have been placed by hotels and restaurants, less than 2 months ago, will not have been re-allocated yet, it’s too soon.

Nobody knows how the restaurant scene will look 2 years down the line, but typically it is the older, more coveted, domaines that have higher exposure to the restaurant trade. The ‘slack’ of unsold/un-ordered wine could easily be taken up by the consumer channels for these sought-after domaines – just look at how buoyant the online sales are during ‘lockdown’ – but it’s the unpaid bills from restaurants that won’t reopen, or who need to ‘re-finance’ – that’s the much bigger elephant in the room…

echézeaux – or grands-echézeaux – what are the differences?

By billn on April 30, 2020 #warning - opinion!

grands echezeaux
In another place, I gave my answer to the differences, or positioning, of these two AOPs. Here are my thoughts – but what do you think?

You can see all of these spellings on labels, the most common is that last one, so that’s what I’ll use: Échezeaux, Échézeaux, Echezeaux or Echézeaux.

    Grands? Well, one is indeed bigger than the other – but the reverse of the naming:

  • Grands-Echézeaux, 9.14 hectares, on modestly sloping limestone ground – practically flat versus Echézeaux – north of Vosne in Flagey-Echézeaux
  • Echézeaux, 36.26 hectares, on a limestone and marl terroir – multiple slopes, dips, altitudes, full-sun and part shaded – also north of Vosne in Flagey-Echézeaux

Grands-Echézeaux does usually seem to be the ‘grander’ wine when you taste after Echézeaux, but older producers suggest that the prefix ‘Grand’ is not used as a form of one-upmanship versus Echézeaux, rather that it describes the much longer rows of vines than seen in the more ‘parcellated’ Echézeaux – so they say…

Of-course the structural character of Grands-Echézeaux is very different to Echézeaux and I see this as probably due to its proximity to the Clos de Vougeot – the wall of the Clos often seeming an arbitrary separation between the two – it’s probably not unreasonable then that DRC hold that their Grands-Echézeaux is perhaps the longest-lived of all their wines. That said, their Echézeaux is not a bad keeper either – I remember Jasper Morris kindly giving me a sip of the DRC ’59 Echézeaux from a bottle that he’d enjoyed at lunch in BB&R that day with Burghound (in roughly 2008) which was robust and young – their BB&R own-bottled ’57 Bonnes-Mares was the more drinkable/open of those two that day(!)

In young Grands-Echézeaux, when not drowned out by oak (a common problem), I very often find an almond aroma that I never find in Echézeaux, and an Echézeaux is, to me, more classically ‘Vosne-like’ than Grands-Echézeaux – again, perhaps, due to Grands-Echézeaux’s proximity to the Clos. It’s easy to consider Echézeaux a second-rank grand cru in the context of Vosne-Romanée (yes, I know, it’s in Flagey…) but a single tour of a dozen or more young Echézeaux often has me in raptures – or, indeed 28 of them! Considering the size of the vineyard, Echézeaux shows much more consistency in quality (if not style) than other large grand crus such as Clos de Vougeot or Corton.

Styles can confound everything – of course! Lots of whole-clusters – or not. Tons of new oak – or not. Elegant or powerful – etcetera… I’ve tasted every year since 2000, and I do think that the DRC Echézeaux has been consistently in the top half-dozen Echézeaux every year since at least 2005 – but that simply means that I like their stylistic choices – though it can be a close-run thing with other domaines…

I’m ashamed to say that I never bought any of his Grands-Echézeaux, so can’t comment on those, but for those lucky enough to still have some, I think Nicky Potel got extra-special juice from ‘somewhere’ in 1997 – his Echézeaux is one of the wines of the vintage – and it’s now starting to blossom fabulously – it’s currently much more interesting than his 1999…


By billn on April 22, 2020 #a bit of science#warning - opinion!

This is an excellent read – thanks – a ‘hat-tip’ – to @bkpinot

I would only quibble with this:

“The only mention in English that I am aware of through the 70’s was Michael Broadbent’s mistaken use of it as a term for dirty or unpleasantly earthy wine.”

I would say not mistaken. Many old winemakers (ie older than 70) in Burgundy reference the term (terroir), in their youth, as implying rusticity — a ‘peasant’ wine, ‘unruly’ wine — ‘earthy’ indeed, more so than referencing site specifics. As much as anything, with the rise of marketing, you will find the rise of the current usage of that word. The meaning/context of words often changes over generations — just look at ‘gay…’

the hot and cold of it…

By billn on April 17, 2020 #annual laurels#warning - opinion!

A new page of data for you to pour over…

“It’s a shame that we lack data for 1945, and even more so, 1947, but what’s striking is that the majority of the hottest days on record are still from 2003 – 1947 would likely have offered competition! All of the top 10 hottest vintages are post-2000 with six of the seven hottest vintages all post-2011 – 2003 being the seventh! Even 2014, which I consider to be the last of the classic red vintages – ie not super-sweet – is the 5th hottest year in our list!”

Burgundy Report

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