April frosts bring May floods?
Weather at harvest used to be dicey with rains. But now severe and unusual weather events are buffeting the Burgundy region throughout the growing season with shocking and disheartening regularity. Devastating hail storms pounded vintages 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Last month, there was some bitterly cold weather overnight on April 27, which led to frost damage. By the BIVB’s estimates, 46% of vineyards in the region were badly damaged. Jasper Morris, the Burgundy Director at London’s Berry Bros & Rudd, wrote about the frost damage on his blog:
The Beaune vineyard I partly own, Les Pertuisots, seems to have lost everything, as do neighbouring plots, while a few yards down the road the Clos des Mouches was much less affected, according to the Drouhins. There is no rhyme nor reason, and even vineyards which have not been affected in living memory, such as Le Montrachet, have been badly damaged this time round.
Bill Nanson writes this week on his blog:
Honestly the vines are ‘all over the place’ you can really see the lack of consistency when you walk in the vineyards; there are big sprouts of growth here-and-there, surrounded by a much smaller average growth of leaves. The first, larger shoots, are those who survived the frost, the latter is the new growth (recovery) from the previously dormant buds. I’ve never seen such higgledy-piggledy growth in the vines.
And then there is flooding and hail this week in Chablis, as seen in the photo above with more on Bill’s blog.
What does all this mean for the region? Well, a final judgement of the Burgundy 2016 vintage will be best rendered when tasting the wine in the glass–quality has been snatched from the jaws of defeat in several recent, difficult vintages. But it certainly looks as if yields will be down with the resulting wine volumes, which, of course, means…higher prices for consumers and possibly declining revenues for producers.
Some producers have recognized this double whammy and made long-term plans to diversify, buying properties in lower cost areas such as the Jura or some cru Beajolais.
Burgundy…a wine that can bring so much pleasure yet also so much pain–on consumers’ wallets and producers’ balance sheets.
UNESCO added wine regions to their list of World Heritage sites at Saturday’s meeting in Bonn. The 1,247 “climats” of Burgundy as well as the Champagne hillsides received official recognition as cultural sites.
Campaigns in each French region supported the bids as well as the French government since UN member states are limited in nominating sites in their own boundaries. Burgundy’s campaign video appears below (in English) with more details on their site. Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti led the campaign for Burgundy’s inclusion; above he is congratulated after the vote in favor.
The vineyards in the regions now receive an extra level of protection from future development and they qualify for additional financial aid for preservation and may get a fillip from additional tourism. A new Cité des Vins is slated to open next year in Beaune with the aim of welcoming 90,000 tourists. What do you think: will this make you want to visit more? I was pretty much sold at the word Burgundy…
I met up with Jean-Marc Roulot recently. Not only does he make the excellent wines at Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault but he has pursued a parallel acting career, with 52 credits to his name including Haute Cuisine (fire it up on Netflix during this blizzard).
In case you missed it, you can check out the Q&A I did with him over on wine-searcher.com.
Guillaume d’Angerville has made sophisticated and elegant wines at his family domaine in Volnay since he took over in 2003. But recently, the story goes, his curiosity was piqued in the wines of the Jura: a Parisian sommelier poured him a chardonnay from the region blind and d’Angerville took it to be a white Burgundy. And we all know that happens with a successful and ambitious vintner who has his curiosity piqued: before long, d’Angerville had purchased two estates in the Jura.
He placed them under the name Domaine du Pélican complete with a pelican on the label. You might think that because the Jura is the ultimate wine for hipsters that, in deference to Portlandia, he had to “put a bird on it.” But apparently it is a reference to the coat of arms of Arbois, where the wines are made. Burgundy…Jura…is this a match made in sommelier heaven or what?
D’Angerville settled on the two properties after an extensive search. Even though Arbois is only an hour from Volnay, it gets twice the rainfall. Also, some of the plots can be quite windy, given the rolling countryside. Throw in his high standard for excellence and it’s no surprise that it took d’Angerville a few years to find the right spots. Wink Lorch has a detailed backgrounder (pdf) about the new domaine and writes that they are looking for yet another vineyard parcel in the area. They are also experimenting with the local “sous-voile” style of winemaking, wherein white wines mature under a natural yeast blanket giving them an oxidative quality.
The current wines are made in a Burgundian style, which is to say that the white barrels are topped up and not oxidative. The 2012 Chardonnay has a vibrancy and elegance with layers–strata?–of minerals and a lingering finish. The 2012 Savagnin Ouillé is richer, with a faint nutty character, and big dose of minerals (can’t vouch for vitamins). The red 2012 Trois Cépages is a blend of Pinot Noir, Trousseau, and Poulsard (60-35-5) that has the terrific acidity you would expect as well as lively, prickly tannins that give it good structure.
These exciting wines are hard to find but worth seeking out. (Find these wines at retail)
LVMH, the luxury goods company whose portfolio ranges from Louis Vuitton handbags to Dom Pérignon champagne, has made their first acquisition in Burgundy. The group has purchased Domaine des Lambrays just outside of Morey-Saint-Denis with its 21.9 acres of vineyards, including the Clos des Lambrays grand cru as well as several premier cru sites. Although the Clos des Lambrays has produced wine since the 14th century, the sellers were the Freund family who have owned it since 1996. The price was not disclosed. Production is about 35,000 bottles with an average retail price of $165 according to LVMH. Thierry Brouin, the estate’s chief winemaker who has overseen the last 35 vintages, will stay with LVMH.
Even though the holding is relatively small for the publicly-traded LVMH–a bauble for owner Bernard Arnault–it does signal a possible shift to corporate ownership. Part of Burgundy’s appeal to wine enthusiasts is that, in contrast to an area of corporate ownership such as the Médoc, the owners actually live on the ground and make the wines. Whether this is the thin edge of the wedge of corporate ownership remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: LVMH is not a discounter, so don’t expect any price declines.
How much does that vineyard cost? In the video of the day, Alex Gambal, American in Burgundy, discusses vineyard prices in Burgundy and why he and his investors paid $10 million/acre for a sliver of land in Batard-Montrachet.
“It’s a way to preserve capital…You’re buying Treasury bonds today at 2%. What would you rather buy, US treasury bonds or a piece of grand cru in Burgundy where you’re getting 1%–and the dividend is bottles of wine! So it’s not a bad deal!”
I get the scarcity argument but there certainly are carrying costs associated with this type of investment. And weather may wreak havoc with a vintage as parts of the Cote de Beaune saw so dramatically this year so it’s not without risks. What do you think: is he oversimplifying things? Does it make you cry a little bit on the inside to see Burgundy land discussed as a functional equivalent of Treasury bonds?
The folks at Kermit Lynch wine merchants started a minor twit-flagration the other day by tweeting this provocative quote from the esteemed importer himself: “To me Chardonnay means white Burgundy, and the rest are, for better or worse, pretenders to the throne.”
The descent immediately ignited, lead by P. Cap, the fastest saberer in the East. “DISAGREE!” he tweeted, adding “Agrapart, Bouchard, Larmandier, Salon… Dude this conversation is POINTLESS!!!”
Covering the other still wine versions of Chardonnay, he added, “Ganevat, Overnoy, Mt Eden! Anybody else gonna join this conversation???” Others did, suggesting Miani, Borgo del Tiglio, Clos du Mesnil, Leclapart, and Sandhi. Certainly the list could go on.
What do you think? The statement is certainly provocative and largely correct: From Chablis to Chassange, the whites of Burgundy amply demonstrate the heights of the grape, showing why it is one of the top in the world. But the quote is also unnecessarily antagonistic: The stylistic pendulum has swung toward white Burgundy among Chardonnay producers (and consumers) around the world. Rather than dismiss producers outside of Burgundy who make chardonnay as mere “pretenders to the throne,” why not be more encouraging, nodding and noting the stylistic shift while singling out some leaders? Or is it damning with faint praise to call them Burgundian? Well, it least it is praise, which tends to go down easier on social media.
Caroline Parent Gros, who makes wine in the region, tweeted “So far, what we see in the vineyards of Pommard, Beaune & Savigny is, at least, 75% loss. # Burgundy #Storm”
Nicolas Rossignol, a vigneron in Volnay, has been posting some heart-wrenching photos to his Facebook page, including the one above.