We were lucky enough to meet a lot of talented, interesting and enthusiastic winemakers during my stay. Here are my impressions of the ones that stood out particularly for me.
Alain Coche – Coche-Bizouard
Alain Coche embodies this idea of the Burgundian grower being right at the very heart of his winery, rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in. He is also such a character that despite my feeble French and his complete lack of English, I couldn't help but like him.
Alain Coche - as fun and vibrant as his colourful barrels
Alain Coche is the man behind Coche-Bizouard in Meursault in the heart of the Côte de Beaune. Toby had warned me beforehand that we mustn't tell him the truth about what time our following appointment was, because he will take it upon himself to make us late for it.
We tasted in the barrel room, as that is where the 2015 wines still remained. The multi-coloured barrel rings were a clue to Alain's vibrant personality! Coche-Bizouard are known for harvesting their grapes a little later than most, resulting in rich and ageworthy wines, often best approachable after 5 to 10 years.
As we stood, tasting from barrel, it was accidentally let slip at what time our next meeting was and where. Alain immediately took it upon himself to insist that we taste some back vintages from bottle, as he had put aside a selection especially.
Keen to see how the wines were evolving yet fully aware that this would set us back somewhat, we agreed. Alain asked us to wait while he went to get the wines. A few minutes later, he returned with one bottle. We tasted this, made our notes and discussed the wine with him before he, again, asked us to wait. A few minutes later he returned, again with just one bottle. We repeated this process a few times before Toby asked 'Why don't you get a six-bottle carrier so you don't have to keep going back and forth!?' to which Alain's only reply was a cheeky grin.
The rainbow barrels of Coche-Bizouard
Toby tasting from barrel at Coche-Bizouard
When we did finally manage to leave Alain Coche, we didn't have far to go before arriving at the winery of Jean-Philippe Fichet. Jean-Philippe is a man who runs marathons for fun and I think it's fair to say is an obsessive perfectionist, in the best possible way of course.
Jean-Philippe's winery was spotless and with everything in perfect order. What makes Jean-Philippe tick is precision and it shows in his wines. While many wine producers are trying to do their best to limit yields as they want to boost the ripeness of their wines, Jean-Philippe is of a different frame of mind altogether. He believes that when growing chardonnay in parts of Burgundy, it is better to go for bigger yields. A warmer climate is, he believes, causing many wines to become over-ripe.
If you produce higher yields it is harder for the grapes to ripen, meaning that they maintain their freshness. The wines were beautifully fresh too, with beaming precision. It was thanks to Jean-Philippe's careful attention that he was able to avoid the vintage's problems with frost better than most, by attending to each and every one of his vines individually. These were beautifully elegant and focused wines.
Evidence of the perfectionist approach to Jean-Philippe Fichet's wine making
Louis Boillot & Ghislaine Barthod
Our last visit of my part of the trip was a two bird, one stone scenario. We were seeing husband and wife Louis Boillot and Ghislaine Barthod, who each make wine under their own names. We pulled into the driveway of their impressive home which overlooks the premier cru vineyard Les Feusselottes in Chambolle-Musigny and were immediately greeted by the huge smile of Ghislaine.
Ghislaine wasn't only a warm and lovely character but her wines were some of the best of the trip for me. It is important that not only should a producer have a noticeable style, but the wines within their portfolio should also taste of the place where the fruit grows.
Ghislaine strives to make fine wines, first and foremost and she succeeds. Her wines had a certain class about them which was detectable even when so young. Each one was so perfectly chiseled. Importantly though, the different vineyards spoke out as they should; her Les Cras was fine, precise and austere in its youth, which Toby explained is typical of the vineyard and gives the wines great longevity. Likewise, her Aux Beaux Bruns was rich and succulent, with a softness on the nose and some flesh on the palate. Both wines so different yet still so clearly hers.
Sadly, the Louis Boillot wines are made in tiny quantities; too small for us to realistically offer en primeur to members.
Tasting from barrel with the charming Ghislaine Barthod
Looking for the style of the vineyard
While it is hard to assess the quality of such young wines, at this stage it is about knowing what you should be looking for from each vineyard. Certain characteristics are there from birth. Wines from a vineyard known for its freshness should be fine and fresh from the day they are born, likewise, wines from a warm, clay site should perhaps be fuller and fatter.
Tasting these wines in Burgundy was a challenge for me. It's one thing to be able to judge whether the wine is in balance and whether it is austere or full or linear; simple or complex, but the crucial information in Burgundy is knowing whether that wine from that vineyard is supposed to taste like that. Knowledge which takes years to acquire.
Coming away from the trip, I felt that in order to be a good Burgundy buyer, a nigh-on encyclopedic knowledge of the vineyards – the aspects, soils, exposure, drainage etc, is essential in order to simply have enough context from which to properly judge the quality of the wines.
From the moment that Toby collected me from the train station in Dijon and talked me through each vineyard that we drove past in such great detail, I was able to see what it takes in order to be able to buy good Burgundy: a mixture of art and intellect.
Where to go next?
> Return to trip overview
> Burgundy Initiation