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03.08.2011

The Young Turks of Burgundy: Allen Meadows with Domaine Marc Roy and Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley

wopn_logo.jpgAs I mentioned in a previous post, last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the World of Pinot Noir conference in Shell Beach, California. In addition to the grand tasting of many different wines on the cliffs above the seaside, there were some focused tastings where moderators and panelists worked through some wines in great detail.

I attended one entitled The Young Turks of Burgundy, led by Alan Meadows, the wine critic behind Burghound.Com, a newsletter that in the past decade, has become the de-facto critical authority on much of Burgundy, and especially the most famous part known as the Cote d'Or.

Alan was joined by two young winemakers, each of whom had in the last 10 years, taken over their family domaines. The first was the very funny Alexandrine Roy, of Domaine Marc Roy, and the other was Thomas Bouley of Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley.

As usual, I've tried my best to provide a transcript, but it is imperfect and not verbatim. I've placed tasting notes for the wines in the session following the remarks by each of the vignerons.

Enjoy.

ALLEN MEADOWS: Welcome. I know many of you have been here before, hopefully this will meet your expectations. A couple of other introductions, the first time in many years, my mother in law has come from Switzerland, and for the first time, I went to Australia and then to France and flew in yesterday, and my son was kind enough to fetch me, and so I'm glad that for the first time he's able to attend this session.

I'd like to thank my panelists, Alexandrine Roy, of domaine Marc Roy, and her mother who is part of the audience today, and Thomas Bouley, of Jean Marc Bouley.

Give them a brief round of applause for having come the 6000 miles that separate them from California and for having brought their wonderful wines.

I will today give you an introduction to the three communes we will discuss this morning, talk about the 2008 and 2007 vintages, and then I'm going to ask Alexandrine to lead off, followed by Thomas. To make sure that both domaines have a chance to tell their story and can present their wines, unless you honestly don't understand something, please hold your questions until the end. We'll leave plenty of time for Q&A.

But, let me break that rule right away, and ask, are there any questions? [laughter]

The commune of Gevrey is the second largest in Burgundy, and the largest in Cote d'Or. There is always an Alice in Wonderland quality to Burgundy that makes such pronouncements hard to make -- there are plenty of things that aren't as they seem and in some cases things are not as they should be. Gevrey is split across two pieces of land. Gevrey proper with 430 hectares, and then another piece called Brochon that is sandwiched between Fixin and Gevrey. Brochon weighs in at 100 hectares, so you'd think that people would have had heard of it. Half of that commune, or approximately 52 hectares split across 11 climates have the right to call themselves Gevrey. The other 49 hectares can only call themselves Cote de Nuits Villages.

Gevrey is organized into 8, no wait, 9, no wait 7 parts. This is the Alice In Wonderland effect. It depends. This happens all over Burgundy. Chambertin can call itself Clos de Beze, but the reverse isn't true, and so on. It makes no sense. But that's Burgundy.

There are (most generally) 26 Premier Crus in Gevrey, taking up about 86 hectares. The village level vineyards are divided into 66 climates. Alexandrine will walk through her holdings and in particular the Clos Prieur.

For those of you who have not visited Burgundy, and have only looked at maps, they are quite deceptive. The topography is not what it seems. You look at a map and think that everything from south of Dijon to the end of the Cote d'or to the south looks flat like one unbroken slope. That is not the case. Burgundy is a series of hillsides that run from almost due North to full West. If you go to the famous hill of Corton, you can have some vineyards that face from Northeast to due on West. The reasons these variations exist are because of a geographic element that the Burgundians refer to as combes. These are relatively recent geological phenomena, say 20,000 years old, formed by glacial activity. In glaciation, the weight of ice flows down where it can find a space to do so, so these cones of soil are formed when this happens, creating little notches which are essentially vales. Cool air sits on the Haute Cote, and descends through the low points in these combes. There are two combes in Gevrey, one in the north and one in the south. You might say that it might not be that dramatic, these two little combes, but then look at the example of the vineyard known as Les Combottes, which sits at the mouth of one of these combes. it is completely surrounded, North, South, and West by Grand Crus, but itself it is only a Premier Cru. You might say well, why not? Because it never gets quite as ripe. You never see the depth, complexity, and length from its fruit, as you do from the vineyards that lack the direct cooling influence of the combe.

There are also combes in Pommard and Volnay. Volnay and Pommard have been famous for centuries.

Before 1935 there was a rating system for wines that was based on a principle called equivalency. You have to remember that for a long time Burgundy was ruled by negociants. Some were landowners, some were not. The Napoleonic code in the 1800s changed the system of inheritance. Under Napoleon's code, any estate had to provide equal apportioning of the assets of the family to all the children. That rapidly caused within three generations, a situation where large landowners no longer existed. Things became smaller and smaller and smaller. Burgundy, or rather, the Cote d' Or, is exactly 1/3 the size of Napa valley. If it is not 1/3 as large, and the vineyards are much smaller still, and understand that what people have are a few grapes to sell, you begin to understand that as opposed to Bordeaux, where families had dynasties, with huge intact estates, Burgundy is a small mosaic of parcellated, divided vineyards. In this situation, you needed someone to step in to help people consolidate their product and get it to market. There was a commercial role to be played and the negociants brought the commercial side to bear, while growers grew the grapes, and then assembled wines in commercial quantities, and that's how it operated until roughly 1973.

We think of Burgundy as an ancient region, and it is. We know from an archeological dig that came in conjunction with clearing land for houses, near the train station in Gevrey, that viticultural traces map down to the centimeter in terms of measurement like those of ancient Rome. There's no way to know if this is the oldest viticultural site, but this site shows that viticulture dates back to at least 100 AD, and there's reason to believe that it's older still. There's a lot of perspective.

The vineyards of Volnay are very small. 140 hectares with 36 Premier Crus. And to get us back to Alice in Wonderland, the largest Premier Cru in Volnay is actually in Meursault (Le Santenots). When all these parcels were small, and the negociants were buying up all the grapes, the demand was so large that they had to make generalizations about fruit, where we get this notion of equivalency. Let's be clear, the negociants were about making money. Not about the finest wine to be made. The negociants said, well a Premier Cru in Volnay is good, and I'll buy Premier Cru elsewhere and blend it together, and since they're both Premier Cru, who cares? What do consumers know anyway? It's all the same.

One of the reasons that Morey St. Denis is less well known, is that for many decades almost everything in Morey was sold as Gevrey.

What happened was, is that beginning after Phylloxera, which reduced the amount of wine even further, the small grower's situation became untenable. And it wasn't that tenable to begin with. The negociants had clients that wanted wines. And Burgundy didn't have much. So they went to Algeria. To Spain. They made wine from dried raisins, they did all sorts of things that would make you cringe. The south of France planted faster after Phylloxera, and so lots of wine was brought in to where the stubborn Burgundians still resisted replanting on American rootstock. The grapes were shipped to Beaune, magically transformed to Burgundy, and no one was the wiser.

This was a problem however. Pinot Noir is less productive than other varieties to begin with. And here we had smaller growers not being able to make a living. Around 1900 this provoked riots. They couldn't' make a living and had two options cheating or starving. This couldn't persist. For the next 20 years a battle existed for the soul of Burgundy -- would it be a small region making wines from a little place you could identify, and with quality that could come from a specific site, and more importantly a unique expression of that site? Or would it be a lot of mediocre Pinot Noir? And the Negociants said equivalency was fine, making money is better, and that's good for everyone.

There was spirited opposition, and the growers revolted. It's unfair and it's wrong, they said. It's not what 1900 years of Burgundy is about. Ultimately in response to the protests, there was legislation passed to make the right of appellation, with violations and adulteration punishable by jail and fines. It's not an accident that some people still talk about cutting, as there are some that still do it, but that gives you a sense of why Burgundy is the way it is, how the AOC system came to be in Burgundy (France's first), and how if it had not happened, I am certain Burgundy would be a second rate wine region today.

Most people believe that Burgundy's magic is the terroir. But perhaps its greatest asset is creating something authentic, celebrating something that can't be found elsewhere. Pinot Noir isn't the message, it's the messenger. Which is why I encourage everyone to valorize their specific terrors. I believe the future of New World Pinot Noir is Burgundy's history. What happens with their efforts historically to evangelize individual and unique characteristics. If what you can sell is easily duplicated by your neighbor, then all you can compete on is price, as the Australians have found, that is a race to the bottom.

No one can duplicate Clos Prieur. What you have to do as a consequence, is differentiate quality within that place. Then you give the consumer the reason to buy your product at a premium price.

One last comment about Pommard. For a long long time, Pommard was more famous than Volnay, though not today. Though it might be pointed out, village Pommard sells for more than village Volnay. In the Cote de Beaune, if Volnay has a great vintage, the Cote de Beaune is said to have had a great one. In the Cote de Nuits the star power is distributed.

Gevrey, even though it is a large commune with lots of different terrors and growers, is naturally sauvage -- the word we use to describe an animal characteristic, driven from a certain soil characteristic. There is a pungency to good Gevrey that you find nowhere else. You can talk about lots of little things in Gevrey as it is quite large.

Volnay, below the road can be rustic - not all silk and lace, but the best examples of Volnay are achingly beautiful wines. There is a lot of limestone in Gevrey, and even more in Volnay. You get these wines that are less soil driven and more mineral driven.

Pommard is between the two. These are the most robust wines of the Cote de Beaune. Sometimes they can be overtly rustic, depending on where they're grown. The terroirs in Pommard are very diverse and Pommards next to Volnay can be more elegant.

Now I'd like the two winemakers her to tell their stories and talk about their wines.

ALEXANDRINE ROY: Can everyone listen to me? I'm not very comfortable with this [microphone]. Thanks for being here to day. I have to confess, I'm quite intimidated. I was not expecting so many Burgundy lovers. I am trying to present briefly my estate and my wines.

Marc Roy is my father, but I am 4th generation of my family. My great grandfather started the domain, and it is very small. Today we have about 10 acres, which isn't a lot, but we can manage everything in the family. I am the only child, and so there was no choice for me to but to work in the vineyards [laughs]. At first my dad was disappointed, expecting a boy. Traditionally in Burgundy it is the men that do the work in the vineyards.

I started working in the vineyards in 2003, and most of my time I work in the vineyards to produce the best quality. I also make the wins since 2003. Lastly I work a little bit on sales. My mother is more involved in the office, and finance. All the stuff I don't like. I work mostly on the productive side. I don't just make the wine, I work growing the fruit, and that is why I know my wines so well.

The Vielles Vignes is a selection of our oldest vineyards, about 70 years old. Some of the vines are older. I can show you some photos later if you want. They look like bonsai. They are low vines, planted by about 5000 plants per acre. That's a lot of work. I have to take care of 40,000 plants. I know these plants, I will say, by heart. I go all year long, row by row. My purpose is to have the healthiest vineyards possible. Mostly I work in the vineyard, and then the winemaking is easygoing, When you have top quality fruit, there is nothing to rectify.

The Vielles Vignes usually is a more delicate in style. This is charming or pretty wine. I don't over extract, maybe because I am a woman. I like silky tannins, delicate wines.

Clos Prieur is located below Mazes-Chambertin. We have a village level Clos Prieur, which is right next to Premier Cru, but that doesn't matter to me. When you have a village level climat it can produce at the same level as the Premier Cru if you work it well. You have terroir of course, but you also have the hands of the vigneron. There is no vineyards and then winery, it's all the same philosophy. The Clos Prieur is a worthy place, it's very different from the Vielles Vignes. Try them side by side, they're really different.

Lastly we have Cuvee Alexandrine, I created this in 2005 for the first time. I was really frustrated that I didn't have any Premier Cru, and wanted to make something more elevated in quality. So we had some vines that produce very smaller grapes [Alan Meadows: "known as shot berries"] with naturally more concentration. You can taste the difference. Cuvee Alexandrine is some sort of top cuvee. I select from six of my favorite parcels. I have a great combination of my favorite places in combination with really amazing grapes. So this is just 4 barrels production, and my "Premier Cru" style. Lets try the wine and let me know if you have questions.

I know you are very interested about winemaking. Even if it's not the most important part of our work, it is still important. I know in America you care about this process. There is nothing very sophisticated in my winemaking process. Grapes are picked by hand (of course) we don't have machines as much in Burgundy. The grapes are picked in small baskets, and then dropped in plastic cases. I ask my pickers to sort in the vineyard. Why? Some have been here for 20 years, they know the vineyard and the grapes well. My pickers know exactly what I'm looking for. They cut individual grapes off, and you can't really do that on the sorting table, even if it is moving slow. They hold the cluster up to the light and see what needs to stay or go.

Before harvest, I go personally and cut off things that don't look good enough. Just the perfect grapes are ending up at the winery. They are 100% destemmed, and that goes into a stainless steel tank, we do 4 to 6 days of cold soak, then a native yeast fermentation. I think that native yeasts can do a great job. I do pump-overs and then I punchdown by foot. Not because I'm extravagant. I try to use my instinct to work with my wines, I try to use my sensibility. I get a lot of information from the inside. Not just a view from the top. But when I feel the cold spots and warm spots, how thick the skins are, and in addition, I never crush any seeds, so I get silky tannins.

Then once the wine is dry, we remove the free run juice, press the skins very gently, and all goes into oak barrels for one year. I'm not very comfortable with longer aging, I think the wines are more vibrant for village level. Premier Cru or Grand Cru can stand more, but for village, one year is a very nice balance. I want to keep the specificity of this terroir, and don't want to rub it out with aging for a long time in oak.

After a year the wine is bottled and that's it. No fining. I don't feel that I have to do it. I usually do a racking during Spring. The only operations other than toppings, is racking.


THE WINES OF DOMAINE MARC ROY

2007 Domaine Marc Roy "Clos Prieur" Gevrey Chambertin, Cote de Nuits, Burgundy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and forest floor with just a hint of salami meatiness. In the mouth the wine offers bright flavors of sour cherry, redcurrant and raspberries, with a nice mineral undertone and floral qualities in the finish. Excellent acidity and nice balance. Score: around 9 Cost: $56

2008 Domaine Marc Roy Gevrey Chambertin "Vielles Vignes," Cote de Nuits, Burgundy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet red berries and a hint of flowers. In the mouth flavors of cherry and plum mix with darker earthy qualities that emerge with the lightly suede-like tannins that grip the tongue. Black raspberry lingers with a hint of citrus oil on the finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50

2008 Domaine Marc Roy "Clos Prieur" Gevrey Chambertin, Cote de Nuits, Burgundy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a shy nose of red fruit, wet stone, and earth that opens up with some time to a hint of savory meatiness. In the mouth bright and juicy flavors of cherry and wet earth mix with dark wet wood. Nice acidity, excellent balance, good length. Score: around 9. Cost: $56

2008 Domaine Marc Roy "Cuvee Alexandrine" Gevrey Chambertin, Cote de Nuits, Burgundy
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a shy nose of wet dirt, red fruit, and hints of orange peel. In the mouth it is silky and rich with flavors of raspberry, dried cherry, and pine duff. Very fine tannins meld with a smooth texture, and hints of citrus on the finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $75


ALLEN MEADOWS. Let's talk about the vintages. In 2007 the summer happened in the Spring. It was a very early start. People were in T-shirts in April. This just doesn't happen in Burgundy. I can tell you it was damn cold in Burgundy yesterday. People are dressed warmly in April. But not in 2007. And then the Spring time came in the Summer, with cool weather, and then again some heat. Because Spring came so early, people started harvesting in August. To understand how unusual this was, you need to understand more about Burgundy.

The ban de vendage was set up in ducal times to prevent people from harvesting early to guarantee quality. It is now different and can be modified, but until recently, this ban de vendage existed since 1292. It was abolished after the crazy 2007 vintage. What is fascinating is how infrequently grapes were harvested in August. Just to give you an idea how rare this is, the prior time this happened was in 1893. But with the incredible heatwave of 2003 this has now happened twice in four years. This is probably not just chance. This is concerning the Burgundians. For the past 50 years, all the work done in clonal research for Burgundy has been about accelerating ripening. All that research and the clonal selections that were used to replant all these Burgundy with, well they may wonder if that was the best decision.

2008 was the exact opposite of 2007. In fact it was very cool throughout the whole year. People were concerned whether they were going to have anything at all to harvest. On the first of September you had 8-9% potential alcohol levels in the grapes. And then on the 12th of September there was a massive rain storm. One grower told me that night he went to what was supposed to be a great party, and that there were 12 vignerons there, and it wasn't any fun. People thought they were completely hosed, and nothing would get ripe.

Here in California we have the benefit of waiting, but with Burgundy, the days start to become shorter, and you can wait until December and you're never going to get ripe grapes.

But there is a phenomenon called by many different names, that is basically an autumn wind that blows very hard. This wind tends to accelerate the ripening process. It dries up rot, evaporates the moisture both outside and inside the grapes. Even though grape skins are largely impermeable, they're not completely impermeable, they lose water and that concentrates sugar. On the 13th of September, people woke up, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and a 30mph wind blew for 2 weeks, and grapes concentrated by 20% in some places, and those who had low yields, achieved levels of phenolic ripeness.

Trying to explain phenolic ripeness. Phenolic ripeness means: you buy two plums. You take them home, they both look the same, they look great. You eat one the first day. It is perfect. Juicy, fresh, bright, sweet, fantastic. The next day you eat the other one, and it is bitter, not as sweet, etc. If you have ever done this, that is phenolic ripeness and the lack of phenolic ripeness.

The photosynthetic engine can only nourish so many grapes. It's a bit like having two kids versus twelve kids. Two kids can go to Stanford, but with twelve you send your kids to state school and hope for scholarships. If you had 12-15 bunches in 2008 with limited amounts of heat (not luminosity) you couldn't get phenolic ripeness. if you had 7-8 you could get phenolic ripeness.

That is why there is so much variation in 2008. There are some phenomenal wines. I believe we will eventually speak of it like the vintage of 2009. It has tighter tannins. As a consequence they are harder wines to taste in their youth. These wines will age into wonderful wines, however.

Now, onto Thomas Bouley.

THOMAS BOULEY: Thanks for coming. I want to apologize I don't speak English well, less than Alexandrine. I'm lucky because she talked about almost everything. We have the same philosophy. We have 9 hectares, only Pinot Noir, in Volnay, Pommard, and Beaune. I'm the fourth generation as well. For me the most important is the nature -- natural is well done. It is easy like that. We are very lucky with our terroir and climate, and we have to respect that. We work most naturally. We are not organic but we work that way. No herbicide, no pesticide, just a little bit of chemical for mildew. We work hard in the vineyard as well, because there are no secrets. Once the grape is growing, the best grapes is what you want. Like the cook , you need good quality ingredients. In the winemaking process we are very gentle. We use sometimes the stems, it can bring some freshness and length. We use punchdown mainly, depending on the different terroir. Clos de Chenes is big with lots of tannins, and if you use too many punchdowns, the wine will be too big and too strong and rustic, unbalanced.

We have Pommard Les Fremiers. It is just below Rugiens, but really different. Very feminine. Smooth, sweet, fine tannins. We have good plants. In 2007 and 2008 for this we used usually 30% whole cluster.

Clos de Cave is village wine from the hillside. Usually village level is from the flat plains. The slope is very Volnay style. Very fine, some people say light, but for me it's really Volnay and Pinot Noir style. Very fine but very good length.

Clos de Chenes is Volnay but it is the most tannic. It is the most tannic one from Volnay. We have 45-55 year-old vines. The wine is always a very good concentration, equally and very good length.

Fermentation is usually about 3 weeks, I like this because I like to leave the fermentation to be very gently, and you have for me a good quality of tannin after 2 weeks. We use 20-30% new oak depending on the appellation. We have some small plots that are only 3 barrels, and the percentage of new oak is about 1/3.

For maturing, I like long maturation, two winters. Our cellars are cold [Alan Meadows: "I can personally vouch for that"] about 10 degrees. I like that because like for the fermentation, that's slow. For me everything slow is more complex. So we don't use any fining, no filtration, because we are maturing for a long time, the wines are clean and settle down very well. We don't need to use fining or filtration.

THE WINES OF DOMAINE JEAN-MARC BOULEY

2007 Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley "Les Fremiers" Pommard, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet oak, raspberries, and pine duff. In the mouth, the wine offers flavors of sweet oak, cherry, raspberries, and silky. Vanilla, long finish. For whatever reason, the oak is too dominant. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50

2008 Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley "Les Fremiers" Pommard, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet dirt and pine duff with the barest hint of fruit in the background. In the mouth, taut flavors of raspberry and sour cherry mixed with a deep stony minerality and earthiness. Long finish, with faint tannins. Good acidity, hints of crab apple on the finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50

2008 Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley "Clos de la Cave" Volnay, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a wonderfully sweet nose of raspberry and floral scents. In the mouth, silky, bright flavors of raspberry and hints of blueberry are juicy and bouncy with bright acidity, floral qualities soar over a baseline of minerality and linger in a long finish. Somewhat aggressive, powdery tannins linger in the finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50

2008 Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley "Clos de Chenes" Volnay, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of bright and cool raspberry and cherry fruit with hints of wet stone. In the mouth leathery tannins surround flavors of raspberry and cherry and violets that are welded to a stark stony minerality embedded itself in a dark earthiness. Resonant and deep, with a very long finish that has a blue fruit and floral quality. Score: around 9. Cost: $55


* * *

At this point the audience asked some questions.


QUESTION: Did either of you do a stage outside your family domain, or did you learn everything from your family? Do you have any other consultants other than your parents?

ALEXANDRINE ROY: I've been very lucky. My father is very instinctive. He never went to school for winemaking. In the meantime, he got the instinct to do the right thing at the right time. But, he is unable to explain to me, why he is doing it. [laughter]. But the good thing, observing him working, and having been to school, I can observe, and know what I learned, and I can get a relationship between his experience and my education and that's the best way to learn.

I've worked in the south of France, in Bandol, and in Limoux, but the most exciting experiences was Australia, New Zealand, and Oregon. So I've been wishing for Pinot, seeking for Pinot places, and trying to get the most experience as possible for Pinot. My dad represents third generation of experience, and I need to get so much from him and with the combination of foreign experience you get some sense of what your philosophy is, and then that plus the aim of what you want to express.

QUESTION: Does he give you advice?

ALEXANDRINE ROY: He just comes to make sure I haven't fallen down into the tank. "OK you're fine?" Of course if I ask him something, he will give experience.

THOMAS BOULEY: I worked in New Zealand, in central Otago. And in Oregon. It's more for opening the mind.. Now in Burgundy, things are more open minded. Before, no one worked together, and things were really secret. But now when you work in your vineyard you know your grapes, no one can tell you what you need to do if you do that. You can improve your different process but you choose what you want to do.

My father? No. It's just me. Because... [shakes his head] because I am passionate. I taste everywhere, every day. It's my own opinion they are my wines. It's very important for me and I am open -- I listen, but I decide what I want to do.


ALLEN MEADOWS: There's an interesting sociological aspect buried in this. As Americans we are open, but the french for a long time were not. Driven off of what happened in World War II with collaborators, suspected collaborators, etc. One never knew the truth. In a small village there were people you could associate with and those you could not. Today there's a small institution called Lycee Viticole. If you went to school for viticulture you either went to Dijon or the Lycee in Beaune. One of the things that occurs with young women and men in these colleges... [laughter] you get liaisons and marriages that contribute to a spirit of openness, and you have people that can go from cave to cave and taste and learn from their neighbors.

When I started going to Burgundy, people would answer the question "why" with "because my grandfather did it that way" but you almost never hear that this days. Every process of the winemaking methodology has been exampled and reexamined and there is scientific basis, even if we are still doing things the same way.

QUESTION: Are either domains interested in expanding their vineyard holdings?

ALEXANDRINE: Do you have money for me? [ big laugh ] I would love to get a little bit more. But unfortunately, I don't have the money for that, but if anyone wants to join me, I can give you my phone number [laughter].

THOMAS BOULEY: The same. Of course, but it's very very expensive and difficult to get more.

ALLEN (translating for THOMAS BOULEY): Actually now it's there are a lot of transactions that are starting to occur.

ALLEN MEADOWS: But there are also structural impediments. No one thinks in terms of hectares in Burgundy. It's quite rare to have even as much as 2.5 hectares in a single parcel. There is a domaine in Vosne Romanee, that has an actual full hectare of vineyards, but it is in 10 small parcels. You have to farm these small pieces, you have to traverse someone's land, the treatments that are going on your neighbors parcel go on yours. It's very complicated.

There are 24 oeuvrees in a hectare, or roughly one tenth of an acre. These roughly sell for $60,000 each. A year ago someone bought three for $240,000. One ouvree from a responsible producer would make about a barrel, or 300 bottles of wine. The price is astronomical.

Think about some Chevalier-Montrachet. If you could find a hectare to buy, which you can't, the price would be somewhere between $30 and $50 million. Think about that. This is farmland. Very gifted farmland, but farmland nonetheless.

Wine is wine, but the basis is agriculture. The prices being demanded now, in Burgundy are crazy. It's not the domains that are buying anything, it's investors. But even that, if it were only that, you could just get an investor. In France, it's more complicated.

There is an organization called SAFER that must approve every agricultural transaction. It is possible for them to come in and say that even though you have negotiated a price, it will be different. SAFER has a non-contractual but binding right of first refusal. They say you must sell to me if I wish to buy it, if not, you can sell it. But it's not that simple where they just determine who buys it.

Everyone gets their land re-evaluated / re-appraised when parcels sell, which determines inheritance taxes. So say you have a hectare of Clos de Chenes, and you've negotiated a price of $2 million, and SAFER comes in and tells you no, the price is $1.2 million. That's that.

Lots of people have tried ways to go around SAFER. You never know when they're going to have money, and if you have a transaction that is up just at the time they're broke, your transaction goes through. Buying land in Burgundy is fraught with difficulty.


QUESTION: is there a concern about investors coming in and damaging the reputation of Burgundy?

ALLEN MEADOWS: I don't' think that's the concern. The investors know the only way they'll get their money back is to arbitrage the producer. They're buying from someone who wants out -- they're either not making money or don't have a successor -- the investors want to give the land to star power so they have a chance in hell of making their money back.

Of course the other side of SAFER, while it in total does more harm than good because they block the free flow of money into Burgundy, is that they can occasionally help. A while back 20 hectares came up for sale a few years ago, and SAFER decided to divide it into 40 parcels and offered it out to the younger generation, which helped. Though often it was the richest youngsters that got their hands on it. Still, though.

Comments (3)

03.13.11 at 11:43 AM

Very informative, thank you!

Lavrentii wrote:
03.14.11 at 6:58 PM

Fascinating discussion of Burgundy.

Alder, you continue to astound with your ability to document these discussions so well. I appreciate it. The next best thing to being there...

dapzz wrote:
03.27.11 at 2:05 AM

What a great posting. This was very educational and informative. Thanks for making it available.

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