Semur-en-Auxois at the river Armancon

Semur-en-Auxois at the river Armanconshutterstock

As the price of land in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or rules out any expansion, Raymond Blake reflects on a quintet of wine-makers who are looking further afield.

Prices for mere scraps of vineyard in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or are now so high that only super wealthy investors can contemplate a purchase. Established vignerons may well wish to expand but, without a deep-pocketed backer, they have no hope of doing so. The solution is to expand at arm’s length as it were, seeking out suitable vineyard land in other regions that don’t have the extraordinary allure of the Côte d’Or, nor its current uber-fashionable status. Some have gone far afield, such as Drouhin in Oregon, a long-haul flight and many time zones away, while a greater number have stayed closer to home, preferring a few hours in a car to many on a plane. Here’s a quintet who have all ‘gone south’ from their home base in the Côte d’Or to try their hand at winemaking in very different settings.  

Jean-Marc Boillot – Pommard & Pic Saint-Loup

There is only a select group of Burgundian winemakers who display equal facility for making red and white wines and Jean-Marc Boillot is one of them, crafting delicious wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at his home base in Pommard. It is a skill that has served him well in the Languedoc where he has been making wine since 1999. The most distinctive of the wines he makes there is the Les Roques Vermentino, a grape more normally associated with Italy but well established in the Languedoc. A creamy texture and a mild herbaceous note mean it is not a wine for all palates. A safer bet for broader appeal is the sibling Les Roques, Syrah-Carignan, which sees eight months’ barrel ageing (15 per cent new) to yield a structured, rich-textured wine.

Thibault Liger-Belair – Nuits-Saint-Georges & Beaujolais

Thibault Liger-Belair is a bluff and burly winemaker who brings extraordinary attention to detail to every aspect of his winemaking, turning out burgundies of great intensity and depth. He applies the same rigour to his Moulin-à-Vent wines, lavishing the same care on them as he does with his Côte d’Or premiers crus. It is not an exaggeration to say that the results are spectacular – wines with a depth and richness seldom associated with Beaujolais. Les Vignes Centenaires is made from vines that are well over 100 years old and is only bottled in magnums. About three barrels are produced each vintage from the 0.6-hectare vineyard. The fruit is rich and dense, yet there is no sense of excess weight thanks to the gorgeous purity and mineral bite.

Frédéric & Chantal Lafarge – Volnay & Beaujolais

Frédéric Lafarge is the son of legendary winemaker Michel Lafarge and has largely taken over day-to-day management at the family domaine in Volnay. His is an enviable position yet one senses when talking to him that, together with his wife Chantal, he was keen to establish a domaine that was entirely their creation. Hence Domaine Lafarge Vial (her maiden name) in Beaujolais, where they bought their first vineyards in 2014. They now own four hectares that they are converting to biodynamic viticulture. Vinification is in open-top vats and follows Burgundian principles rather than the carbonic maceration more usually associated with Beaujolais, and Lafarge can hardly contain his excitement as he talks about his “new children”. They are well-mannered offspring thanks to pure, juicy fruit flavours.

Anne Gros & Jean-Paul Tollot – Vosne-Romanée, Chorey-lès-Beaune & Minervois

Those fortunate enough to have sampled Anne Gros’ Richebourg can attest to her magical ability as a winemaker. And few domaines can match Tollot-Beaut for consistent quality at fair prices. This partnership operates completely separately in Burgundy but they have been making wine together in the Languedoc for about a decade now. A brand new winery was built to process the hand harvested Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault grapes, a quartet that, when allied to the super hot Languedoc summers, can produce whopping, palate-pounding wines. Not here, where dexterous hands craft wines of power and structure, yes, but with a redeeming cut of fresh acidity to leaven the more robust flavours. The results are balanced and generous, wines of character that really need to be drunk with food to show at their best.

Sylvain Morey – Chassagne-Montrachet & Lubéron

The Morey family of Chassagne-Montrachet might be better described as a clan; such is their ubiquity in that village. Almost all of Sylvain’s close relatives are involved in wine production there, yet his story is unlike the other four in this selection, for he established himself as a winemaker in 2002, not in Chassagne, but at Bastide du Claux, where he now farms a scattered 15 hectares of vineyard. In total he makes seven wines there, including ‘Malacare’, a vigorously flavoured, old vine Syrah-Grenache-Carignan blend that demands to be splashed into a decanter before drinking. Then enjoy the interplay between ripe fruit and a sterner backbone that keeps the palate fresh and clean all the way to the finish. To complicate things he is now also back making wine in Chassagne, from four hectares of family vineyards spread across 10 appellations.