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Domaine Fernand & Laurent Pillot

The origins of the Pillot family in Chassagne can be traced back to the eighteenth century, when they seem to have been coopers more than vignerons. In the nineteenth century they abandoned barrel-making in favour of enlarging the property in Chassagne. Fernand and Laurent, who is the fourth generation, added to it again in 1992, and then in 2001 Laurent's wife Marie-Anne inherited half of her family's property, the Pommard domaine of Pothier-Rieusset, and Laurent and his father bought the other half. The domaine now stands at 14.5 hectares of vines across almost the whole length of the Côte de Beaune from Santenay to Beaune.

The Domaine is worked according to organic principles and are ploughed – no chemical weedkillers are used. They have also been members of the Dephy-ECO-phyto group, which works to reduce the number of treatments using copper sulphate, since 2012.

Laurent has always managed to pack in a lot alongside his running of the vineyard. He has a sophisticated microlight which he flies to all corners of France, he keeps and hunts hawks, and conducts the Chassagne brass band as well as dabbling in Mayoral duties - on top of being a father of three, Anaïs, Adrien and Eugène. They are all mad about the alps and disappear up the mountains at regular intervals.

Laurent's eldest son Adrien has been travelling the world making wine all over the place for the last few years having completed his training in Beaune. Bringing back lessons learnt in Australia, South Africa and California (and from a stint at Lea & Sandeman) - he now helps Laurent with all aspects of the wine-making and viticulture at the domaine. The wines have long been L&S favourites in both red and white - they represent excellent value, and they age very well too, despite being attractive young. The whites are precise and pure, and not lacking for body and generosity, while the reds are velvety and juicy, beautifully balanced even if drunk young on their expressive Pinot fruit. The domaine was rightfully heralded in Decanter Magazine as 'an address that deserves to be better-known'. Great value and real pleasure across their range.

Domaine-Fernand-Laurent-Pillot

Domaine Nicolas Rossignol

With good-sized harvests from 2017 and 2018, it's good to see Nico's cellar full, but the the 2019 vintage is rather smaller. Still, for now it's all smiles. Now in its third year, he could not be happier with his new winery. A fantastic bespoke build, admittedly in a ZI (Zone industrielle) on the outskirts of Beaune, which he recognises is not ideal for the folklore aspect, but it is a perfect tool for the job, and does have a good view of all 'his' bits of the Côte - from the roof.

In 2018 the range was notable for very dark fruit expressions - and although there is no escaping the richness of the vintage and the astonishing concentration that come with it, the different vineyards each show the style variations one expects to see - whether elegant or structured. There are some really terrific wines here, and we have selected the best.

Domaine Comte Armand

A domaine totalling nine hectares, of which the most important part is a magnificent five hectare monopole of the Pommard Premier Cru Clos des Epeneaux, which was put together by Nicolas Marey in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (along with the DRC Romanée Saint Vivant 'Marey-Monge'). These vineyards were all sold, except for the Clos (now been enclosed by a wall), which came to Jean-François Armand as a dowry when he married Nicolas' daughter in 1826. The Volnay vineyards were added in 1994, followed by parcels in Auxey Duresses.

The current Comte Armand is a lawyer living in Paris, but very supportive of the régisseurs who have looked after this domaine for the thirty years or so that L&S have been buying here. The 1980 vintage, made by one of the many Rossignols of Volnay who was in charge at the time, was for us a great introduction to the possibilities of the great Clos des Epeneaux vineyard. Then came the era of Pascal Marchand, a young Quebecois who came to do a harvest with Domaine Bruno Clair and just never left. He began a period of radical restructuring and the introduction of organic and then biodynamic farming, while making very dark, dense and long-lived wines. Benjamin Leroux, hugely respected amongst growers who approach things from an organic or biodynamic point of view, then took over, and refined this approach and changed the way the parcels of vines are divided up for harvesting, paying less attention to just the age of the vines, and more to the underlying soil types. Claude Bourguignon was employed to provide a full geological survey of the Clos as the basis for this. Under Benjamin the wines of the Clos gained in finesse and precision, while still having the depth and richness expected of a great Pommard.

Both Pascal and Benjamin were keen to expand beyond the confines of the Clos, and the Domaine also has vines in Volnay, and, a particular enthusiasm of both Pascal and Benjamin, in Auxey Duresses, where they are convinced of the great potential of some of this village's undervalued and neglected terroirs. Paul Zinetti, who had worked with Ben for four years, took over in 2014.

The vineyard is cultivated organically (ECOCERT certified) and biodynamically. The grapes are entirely de-stemmed, but left intact, for a five to eight-day cold maceration before the fermentation, which lasts five to ten days, and then the wine remains in the fermenters for between three and fifteen days, depending on the vintage. In most years, the total time with skin contact will be around four weeks, which is longer than most. The wines will then be aged in barrel for between eighteen and twenty-four months, with new wood limited to 30% for the wine from the old vines of the Clos, down to none at all for the village wines.

Paul has nailed his colours to the mast by saying he wants to make a less tannic wine in the Clos, and one which is more about aromatic length. In this he is continuing the route that Ben was following, but perhaps taking it even further.

All the wines here are a triumph in 2018, with a transparent elegance allied to the ripe density of the vintage.

Domaine de Courcel

One of the great domaines of Pommard, with a 400 year history in the same family. The domaine produces a small amount of Bourgogne Chardonnay, a completely over-performing Bourgogne Rouge, a village Pommard (Vaumuriens, 1.44 ha), but the biggest part of the domaine consists of four great Premier Cru expressions of the terroir of Pommard, Fremiers (0.79 ha), Croix Noires (0.58 ha), Grand Clos des Epenots (4.89 ha) and Rugiens (1.07 ha). These represent a very different style to the Clos des Épeneaux of Comte Armand, for example. Yves Confuron, the régisseur, describes the difference between the two top wines by saying that the Grand Clos is 'terreux' while the Rugiens is 'aérien'.

The aim is to limit yields to around 25hl/ha, to attain optimum ripeness. The vines are ploughed, and pruned carefully to suit each one, then de-budded in spring and green-harvested in August to keep the fruit load balanced. Following Yves' usual practice the harvest is late and the vatting is long - usually around a month, with a cold maceration leading into a cool fermentation, and a long post-fermentation soak under the protection of the carbon dioxide given off by the fermentation. The wines are developed in barrel over 21 to 23 months, with a third of the barrels being replaced each year. After racking they are bottled without fining or filtration.

The domaine produces wines with astonishing depth and density that still retain the freshness, just like Yves' own wines at Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot. They are classic vins de garde and patience is advised - and will be amply rewarded.

In 2018, like in Vosne, he picked the grapes at full phenolic ripeness and the wines are, as he decribes them, plus Rhodaniens que Bourguignons (comparing them to wines from the Northern Rhône). Yves says that it is hard to know what the 1947s were like at the time, as no one can remember, but that he'd wager that they were like this. He compared the 2018s to the last very hot vintage, 2003; the difference, he says, is that in 2003 the lack of water caused both blocage de maturité, when the vines shut down for lack of water, and also the grapes shrivelled as they dried in the unrelenting sun. 2018, he says, is different - there was in most places enough water stored in the ground, and the ripeness is more developed - and so are the wines, which for him are very complete and so well-balanced that they will age for decades.

Domaine Huguenot

The Huguenots can trace their history in Marsannay and working in the vines back to 1789. Currently the domaine is run by Philippe. His father Jean-Louis expanded the domaine from five to twenty-two hectares (twelve in Marsannay, six in Fixin, and four in Gevrey) before handing over the reins. Philippe took the bold step of taking all twenty-two hectares into organic production (the conversion was completed in 2010), but immensely sadly he was forced to do a single non-organic treatment in 2016, because of the terrible conditions, so he was back to square one - three years to re-qualify for the organic label - but this should be in place for 2020. Philippe was initially unsure if he would try for the certification again - but for all that is not planning to change the way he works - it is, he assures us, better for him and the environment and and his workers as well as for quality, and the domaine will continue along organic lines. Philippe's father Jean-Louis died suddenly just before the 2019 harvest and Philippe was clearly still in some shock about it when we came to taste in last October. The 2018s are once again lovely wines which, while richer than some years still have have a lightness of tread and great purity and length, with more or less structure and weight depending on whether they are from clay or more rock-dominated soils. Philippe called it a 'very rich vintage', and said the wines were a little 'on their reserve' in the autumn. 'They need the patination of élevage', he finished.
Domaine-Huguenot

Domaine Thierry Mortet

The domaine dates back to 1992, when Domaine Charles Mortet was split between Thierry and his brother Denis, and Thierry set up on his own with just 4 hectares of vines. Today he has 7.3 ha, of which 6 are red and 1.3 white. Only 4.36 hectares are Gevrey or Chambolle, the rest being a small parcel of Marsannay Blanc and regionals - Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc, Aligoté and Passetoutgrain.

Thierry continues to be praised in the French press without ever quite seeming to crack the influential American journalists. It may be simply because he is a bit short of fancy appellations - one little cuvée of Grand Cru would no doubt do his reputation a lot of good - but might also put his prices up, and these remain very modest.

In the vineyard, Thierry has been certified organic since 2007, but really this was just an official stamp on what had been the practices of the domaine since the beginning, and he is working towards biodynamic certification. In the cellar, the grapes are entirely de-stemmed, and given four or five days of cold maceration are followed by the fermentation, with just a touch of cooling to keep the temperature around 31-33C (below 35, at least), and two pigeages a day. The total time in vat can be as little as 17 days. The wines then go into barrel, all second use or older for the Bourgogne, with 30% new wood on the Gevrey, and 50% on the Clos Prieur, for a period of around sixteen months.

Thierry's wines are fine and precise, tangy and long, never massive, but not insubstantial all the same. In 2018 he started to pick on the 31st August.

Domaine Lignier-Michelot

A domaine of 11 hectares, 25% regionals, 50% Villages, 20% Premiers crus and 5% Grands Crus. Virgile Lignier worked at the domaine with his father Maurice from 1988, beginning to bottle some of the wine from 1992 (it had previously been sold to the négoce), taking over in 2000, which was the vintage when he first bottled all the domaine's production.

In the vineyard Virgile made significant changes, stopping the use of herbicides, and beginning to plough instead. Green harvesting to limits yields followed, along with greater attention to grape selection. The domaine works organically except in extremis.

The wines have a lovely combination of enough body and richness, combined with a lively clarity of expression. The old vines village cuvées are seriously good, and great value too. Going up the scale each site seems to speak very clearly of its source and there is a brightness and energy along with full, seamless fruit.

In 2018 Virgile picked from the 5th to the 14th September (for the reds). The potential alcohols went up 1.5% in the week, he reported, mostly by concentration from the berries drying up rather than extra ripening. Fermentations were long and slow, with very little pigeage. The wines are then aged for 13 months in barrel, with about 30% new wood. It was a generous harvest - he made 48hl.ha on the Morey Vieilles Vignes even after doing a vendange verte. 'For me the key to the vintage was whole bunches and very light extraction' We repeat what we said last year: this domaine is in our view one to follow very closely as the prices have not yet caught up with the growing quality.

Domaine-Lignier-Michelot

Domaine J. Confuron Cotetidot

Vignerons since the seventeenth century, the Confuron family has always selected and propagated vines to ensure that their plant material produces the highest quality, and they even have a clone of Pinot named after them - 'Pinot Confuron'.

The domaine has several Grands Cru vineyards as well as two hectares of the great Vosne Romanée Premier Cru 'Les Suchots'. There are around 12 hectares in all. The vines have never seen chemical weedkillers, and are ploughed and managed organically.

The Confurons have always used whole-bunch fermentation, picking very late, which really is a necessity if the stems are to be properly ripe and not give green flavours to the wine. A bit like the Thévenets with their whites in the Maconnais, they pick so much later that they can seem to have different vintages to everyone else. Yves thinks that 2007 was their great vintage of the first decade of this millennium, and he'd probably be the only grower in the Cote de Nuits who would say that. Yves also makes the wines at Domaine de Courcel in Pommard, in the same way.

Yves, opinionated and laconical as ever, dismisses those who make pale wines by 'infusion' and says that failing to get the whole bunches properly ripe - and using all the bunch - is failing to get everything the terroir can offer. The wines he makes are dark, richly concentrated, and often hard to taste in their development, but experience shows that they age brilliantly. He is sure that, if anyone could remember, the 1947s when young would have tasted like these young 2018s. He says that the vintage was exceptionally hot, with a hot wind from the north, so very concentated berries, and the result is a Rhonish profile - which seems logical to him. Flavours of black cherry and dark chocolate coming from the sucrosity of the ripe tannins. "I say the opposite of everyone else - a wine can be rich and durable - rich and balanced." He mentions the 2003s, which were wines we discussed along similar lines at the time and which frightened some buyers. We agreed that although the acidity was on the low side, there was plenty of tannin and the wines would age on the tannin rather than the acidity - and opening 2003s now proves this point, as his are still fresh and youthful. But the 2003s were always less well-balanced than the 2018s - the drought of the year resulted in tannins that remained dry, and while they may soften more with time, some will remain. The 2018s, by contrast, have tannins ripened to perfect sweetness and the resulting liqueur-like wines are in an extraordinary balance and will age unbelievably. Like the 1947s?

Domaine-J.-Confuron-Cotetidot

Domaine Faiveley

As we tasted with winemaker Jerome Flous he was keen to point out that this is a far more serious vintage than it may first appear. Yes there was a hot summer, but that is not the only story - these wines have great intensity too and are full of promise for the medium to long-term - despite the apparent up-front richness.

2018 is his 12th vintage at the helm of Faiveley and there is a reassuring confidence about him - these certainly all look very accomplished wines in the vintage. It has not been straightforward in 2018 - tricky climatic challenges aside. A stop-start fermentation in the cellar lead to some difficult, wild elements in the young juice. The lees were potentially quite ‘dangerous’ he says. So he racked all the 1er and Grand Cru wines very early to preserve clean and fresh fruit. He intends to give all the reds two winters in the cellar as they need a long élévage to ‘finish off’. He’ll start the bottling in March 2020.

Tasting them we were struck by quite how measured and tightly-wrapped they seem for now. Smart and sophisticated on the whole with good restrained power and intensity, impressive drive for 2018.

As is so often the way here each wine really has a sense of place and knows its spot on the pecking order. There are some real delights for drinkers.

Domaine-Faiveley

Thibault Liger-Belair Successeurs

The lack of the word 'domaine' in the name signals that this is a négociant wine from Thibault Liger-Belair. Thibault buys the grapes he picks having tended the vines with his own team, so that the wines are domaine wines in all but name.
Thibault-Liger-Belair

Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair

The steady progression of this domaine has been fascinating to watch as Thibault gradually refines his approach to each parcel of vines with the help of cellar-master Eric. Viticulture is biodynamic (since 2005), yields low but not ludicrously low, everything is pragmatic, so that he should be doing just what is necessary and no more. He uses 40-50% new wood maximum, with wood chosen and aged by him, and barrels made with almost no toasting.

The wines are bright, pure, focused, aromatic and elegant without lacking anything in the way of stuffing. The range of wines produced from rented vines or from bought grapes, sold under the separate 'Thibault Liger-Belair Successeurs' label, seems to grow with each vintage and the new cellar which Thibault moved to in 2016 is already stacked in the aisles. To each parcel the team brings great experience and there is a coherence across the range, so that the whole enterprise can be regarded as one. Impressive wines again here in 2018.

Domaine-Thibault-Liger-Belair

Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg

The sisters Marie-Christine and Marie Andrée have been firmly in control of this exceptional domaine for some years now. With one a pharmacist and the other an oenologist, the domaine was always going to be in safe hands as far as the wine-making was concerned and in 2017, Lucie, Marie-Christine's daughter has joined the team officially. These are top-flight burgundies with that elusive balance of enough concentration allied with delicacy of expression and the capability of ageing well.

This year Marie-Christine spoke of 'new parameters' in Burgundy with higher fermentation temperatures up to 38C as opposed to the old maximum of 36C, which killed all the yeasts. The finished wines range from 13.6% to 14.4%. They picked from the 4th September and finished in five days. As usual everything is entirely de-stemmed.

Domaine-Georges-Mugneret-Gibourg

Domaine des Lambrays

The 'Clos' consists of 8.66 hectares of land enclosed by a wall in which there is the original milestone marking its founding in 1365, confirmed in the records of the Abbaye de Citeaux (those monks knew where to place a vineyard). The Clos owes much of its current fame to the nineteenth and twentieth century proprietors who reconstituted it after the fragmentation of ownership which followed the French revolution. Despite always having been considered a Grand Cru site, the Clos was in fact classified Premier Cru in the original 1936 appellations contrôlées. The Rodier family which owned it from the 1930s fought to regain its Grand cru status, with eventual success only in 1981, when it became the last of the thirty-three Grands Crus of Burgundy, although by then it had passed to the Saier family. Recently under the benign ownership of the Günther Freund and his family, who gave a very free hand to régisseur Thierry Brouin, who had been employed by their predecessor Rolland Pelletier de Chambure, the quality of the wines here has pushed up again. In 2014 it was bought by the LVMH group.

It has been all rather quick change here as Jacques Devauge has taken over here after a short interregnum under Boris Champy. The legacy of Thierry Brouin can still be felt, Jacques describing him as having been 'clairvoyant' in his approach to the domaine, which has set it up well to deal with challenges of warmer vintages. Jacques seems set to take this estate onward - 'every domaine has to challenge itself to do better', he says. 2018 marks the first year being fully organic - if all goes well they will be certified after three.

Domaine-des-Lambrays

Domaine Christophe Perrot-Minot

Christophe is now the fourth generation of his family producing wine on the estate after his great grandfather Amédée Merme devoted himself to the management and production of wine over 130 years ago. The estate has gone from strength to strength – always keeping the highest standards. Integrated viticulture has been practiced for many years now which has been adapted especially for the terroir. No herbicide or chemical fertilizer is used, instead, Christophe prefers to “stand back and listen to this terroir, only intervening when necessary or when the weather requires it, never systematically.” This is one of the star domaines of the whole of Burgundy.

In 2018 he picked 'not early, not late - the 5th September to the 14th was the right time for us'. He wanted to keep as much freshness as possible so painstakingly cut out all overripe bunches - and berries from bunches. There were a lot of parcels which suffered from hydric stress, so he kept the best bits and delassified the rest. About half of his Beaux Monts is in the village Vosne (so we are sorry if you don't get any this year), and the top part of Combe d'Orveau also suffered from lack of water and did not make the cut - so the village Chambolle is 40% Combe d'Orveau. He used 50% to 60% whole bunches throughout - almost no pigeage, just remontage, and only 20% new wood, or, on some of the smaller cuvées, no new wood at all (as it's not possible to put only 20% new wood in a two or three-barrel quantity). The alcohol levels are 13.2% to 13.5% across the range, but the bits he left out made ten barrels of Bourgogne rouge that is at 15.4%, so leaving that in would have raised the average.

Domaine-Christophe-Perrot-Minot