My recent trip to Burgundy was an exploration of the Burgundy of tradition and heritage, as well as the Burgundy of a new generation. While I thrilled to visit sixth generation vignerons working in their family cellars as many generations had before, under the same name, and with the same parcels of grapes, I was also interested in the (somewhat less common) new ventures. Such new ventures are rare, simply because vineyard plots are so difficult to get ahold of, thanks in part to the strict laws of inheritance and the relative scarcity of the vineyards to begin with.
While a few tons of grapes from a nice vineyard are readily available to buy for some ambitious young winemaker in California, few such opportunities exist. Instead, if you are determined to start a winery, as young Thibaut Marion was in 2004, you have to buy one outright, buildings, cellars, vineyards and all. And that’s only if you can find one for sale, and beat out the fifty or so other bidders that are guaranteed to show up in this region where every square meter of grapes is in high demand.
If you had asked Marion even ten years earlier whether he would be in the family business, he would have answered emphatically, “no.” He was happily married, living in Paris, working in advertising, and living an urban lifestyle, albeit one that brought with it the frenetic pace of the city, and the stress and pressure of a high-stakes job.
With time, and with kids, however, this lifestyle began to lose its appeal for Marion, and he began to appreciate the benefits of the life his family had led since 1750. After much discussion and not a small bit of lobbying, he convinced his wife to move to the little town of Beaune in 1997, and he began to apprentice at the family’s domaine, Chanson Pere et Fils.
The adjustment to small town living wasn’t easy for Marion or his wife, nor, at first, was working in the cellar after starting a life in the business world. But Marion quickly settled into the rhythm of the work, filling his evenings with enology classes via correspondence.
After seven years at Chanson and a few years of waiting for the right property to come onto the market Marion successfully purchased the name, the vineyards, and the business of Domaine Seguin-Manuel. Coincidentally, that same year a number of very old bottles from the domaine were sold by Christie’s and were apparently tasted by some wine critics and received rave reviews, giving Marion’s recent purchase a certain degree of early attention.
Established in 1824, Domaine Seguin-Manuel was a well-known, family-run winery and negociant in Savigny, operating since early in the 20th Century out of a beautiful 14th century cellar established by the Cistercian monks of Citaux. The family wanted to sell the winery, but they didn’t want to sell their home, so Marion got the name and the 8 acres of vineyards, but needed to find somewhere else to make the wine.
He eventually settled on a rather nondescript set of buildings in a residential neighborhood not far from the center of Beaune, that happened to have (as many such properties do) a beautiful and ancient barrel-vaulted stone cellar. Keeping only some old wooden vats (and the historical labels, redrawn), Marion immediately set about overhauling everything else about the domaine, from vineyard work to the winemaking equipment.
Marion immediately stopped using all herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, and the following year, all commercial fertilizers. “I threw something away every year,” he explains, “until I was left with just copper and sulfur.” By this past harvest in 2010 the vineyards were fully organic, though they have yet to be certified.
A self-proclaimed skeptic, Marion has decided to experiment with biodynamic preparations not on his small amount of vines but, “on my little garden in my backyard. I am not a believer in astrology. I will use some preparations and follow the rules, and if I think it’s working there, I might try it in my vineyard.” Despite this skepticism, he does prefer to rack and bottle in line with lunar cycles.
Marion’s winemaking regime is, as he puts it, “very, very basic.” The only piece of modern technology he can’t live without is strict temperature control for his fermentations. Other than that, the wines are hand harvested, meticulously sorted, fermented with ambient yeasts in the original old oak vats (for reds) or in barrels (for whites), and are are almost always bottled without fining or filtration, though Marion says he’s not against either practice if the wines need it. In the 2009 vintage all but one or two of his wines will be unfiltered.
Seguin-Manuel makes a total of about 5000 cases of wine each year, with about 1800 of those cases coming from its estate vineyards in Savigny. Marion is only on his sixth vintage since taking over the property, but it’s quite clear that he knows what he’s doing, and that the wines both excellent and improving. He has recently acquired another 9 acres of vines. This is a domaine to watch carefully.
Note that with the exception of the two Bourgogne wines below all wines were barrel samples. They will be bottled in a few more months. As such, they are sadly not yet available for purchase, but I encourage you to buy the reasonably priced earlier vintages (especially the 2008s) which you can find online.
2009 Seguin-Manuel Bourgogne Chardonnay
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of cold cream and lemon. In the mouth soft apple and pastry cream flavors are followed by a bright lemon, creamy finish. Simple and pleasant. Tasted out of barrel. Score: around 8.5.
2009 Seguin-Manuel Vire-Classe, Maconnais
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of bright green apple and stony minerality. In the mouth it is bright and fresh with apple and lemon juice flavors. Excellent acidity. Completely unoaked. Tasted out of barrel. Score: around 8.5.
2009 Seguin-Manuel”Goudelettes” Savigny-Les-Beaune
Palest gold green in the glass, this wine has a nose of bright candied lemon peel and white flowers aromas. In the mouth it is a crystalline lemon explosion with deep wet stone minerality underneath. Long lemony minerals linger on the finish. Great acidity, wonderful balance. Tasted out of barrel. Score: between 9 and 9.5.
2009 Seguin-Manuel Meursault Vielles Vignes, Cote de Beaune
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of cold cream with hints of apples. In the mouth wonderful lemon and sappy bright flavors bounce around in this very juicy wine. It has a wonderful mineral clarity, but a shorter finish. Tasted out of barrel. Score: around 9.
2009 Seguin-Manuel “Clos Des Mouches” Blanc Beaune 1er Cru
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apples and wet stones. In the mouth the wine is juicy and apple driven, with tart green apple and lime zest flavors, finishing with pink grapefruit and wet stone mineral, but isn’t fully knit together. A hint of creaminess emerges on the finish. Tasted out of barrel. Score: between 8.5 and 9.
2009 Seguin-Manuel “Les Vergers” Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru, Cote de Beaune
Pale greenish gold in color, this wine smells of toasted, buttered bread. In the mouth the wine has a fantastic savoriness with juicy, salty lemon and buttered bread flavors underwritten by a bright minerality. Juicy as hell, perfectly balanced, with a very long finish. Quite delicious. Tasted out of barrel. Score: between 9 and 9.5.
2009 Seguin-Manuel Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, Cote de Beaune
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of bright sweet lemon blossoms. In the mouth the wine is incredibly silky, with bright, delicate floral qualities and a weightlessness that is quite profound. Faint floral, lemon cream, pastry cream, and rainwater undertones. Wonderfully balanced and poised. Tasted out of barrel. Score: between 9 and 9.5.
2009 Seguin-Manuel Bourgogne Pinot Noir
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of red apples and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, red apple skin tart raspberry, and nice glassy minerality are on offer. Faint fine grained tannins hover in the background. Tasted out of barrel. Score: around 8.5.
2009 Seguin-Manuel Hautes Cotes de Beaune Rouge
Light ruby in the glass with a hint of garnet color, this wine smells of cedar and earth, with faint raspberry aromas. In the mouth it is smooth and silky, with light raspberry fruit and hints of cedar. Delicate but somehow also lacking some stuffing. Tasted out of barrel. Score: around 8.5.
2009 Seguin-Manuel “Godeaux” Savigny-Les-Beaune, Cote de Beaune
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of rich forest floor, green herbs and bright raspberry fruit. In the mouth, bright raspberry fruit and cherry flavors mix with a hint of gamier leather flavor. Tacky tannins linger with wet wood into the finish. A tiny bit of sulfurous funk hangs in the wine, but as this is a barrel sample, I would not expect it in the final wine. Tasted out of barrel. Score: between 8.5 and 9.
2009 Seguin-Manuel “Laviers” Savigny-Les-Beaune 1er Cru, Cote de Beaune
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones and raspberries with hints of floral notes. In the mouth the wine is quite mineral and delicate with a crystalline wet stone quality and airy flavors of raspberry, redcurrant and flowers that linger with a juicy quality in the finish. Quite pretty. Tasted out of barrel. Score: around 9.
2009 Seguin-Manuel “Champimonts” Beaune 1er Cru
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of floral, raspberry, violets, and some dark earth. In the mouth the wine has a wonderful silky texture backed by suede-like tannins and wet earth flavors. Raspberry and cherry flavors complete the body with a cedar quality in the finish. Tasted out of barrel. Score: around 9.
2009 Seguin-Manuel Pommard “Vielles Vignes,” Cote de Beaune
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and black cherry with a smoky molasses note. In the mouth it has a deep resonant quality with rich, thick tannins that grip flavors of cherry, and blueberry. The tannins are quite heavy at the moment and need some time to relax. Tasted out of barrel. Score: around 9.
2009 Seguin-Manuel “Ronceret” Volnay 1er Cru, Cote de Beaune
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a stony nose of raspberry and wet dirt. In the mouth raspberry, wet stones, and wet dirt mix with grippy leather tannins that have a dusty quality. Good acidity and juicy red fruit linger with the dust in the finish. Tasted out of barrel. Score: between 8.5 and 9.
2009 Seguin-Manuel Corton Grand Cru, Cote de Beaune
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet flowers and raspberry fruit. In the mouth the tannins are incredible velvety and well integrated, making for a wonderful silky raspberry, cherry and wet earth concoction that lingers for a long time on the finish. Excellent. Tasted out of barrel. Score: between 9 and 9.5.