All in the name in Burgundy
Sadly there is a limited amount of Burgundy available here. So keep an eye out for the names Faiveley or Bitouzet-Prieur, which represent the two sides of the region
Vineyard in Burgundy
Bordeaux has always been seen as a region of large estates and fine châteaux, although in recent times the owner is more likely to be a luxury goods corporation than a traditional wine maker.
By contrast, Burgundy has a more rustic and artisanal image of smallholders living in modest houses in the village. Nowadays the more successful of these producers are likely to have a top- of-the-range Mercedes parked around the back of the house as their wines are in great demand. Even their name is on the bottle and they certainly produce tiny quantities of wine compared to their rivals in Bordeaux.
Thanks to French inheritance laws, these farmers will typically own tiny plots scattered all over their local village. The same surname may appear in hyphenated form on the labels of five different producers. Given that each may own a small plot in the same vineyard, it can make things complicated.
However, the name of the producer is important if you are to avoid spending large sums on disappointing wine. In Burgundy, there is little cheap wine and even the worst can be very expensive.
Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur is in many ways the classic Burgundy estate. Family-owned, this is the happy result of a marriage between Vincent Bitouzet, who owned vineyards in one village, and Anne Prieur whose family had holdings in the next.
The Bitouzets have been in Volnay since the early 19th century, the Prieurs in Meursault for a similar period. The couple’s son François joined the family business in 2005 having completed his viticultural studies in Dijon and Montpellier, and took over the estate in 2007. The red vineyards lie almost exclusively in Volnay, where they have five different premier crus. The whites, with one exception are all from neighbouring Meursault, where they have three premier crus and two single vineyard wines. The wines are classic in style, but in the very best sense. The Meursaults have a lovely combination of subtle richness and power with good natural acidity.
The Volnays have a classic pale colour, delicate nuanced fruits, with light tannins on the finish. Even the Bourgogne rouge, from a small plot lying just below the appellation, is Volnay in style if not in name. At €22, it represents very good value. If you ever need a lesson in how the subtleties of soil and climate play such an important role in Burgundy, a tasting of five Volnay premier crus, all from vineyards lying less than half a mile from each other, will certainly provide it. Sadly, demand is great and production tiny, so getting access to the wine is the most difficult part.
If Bitouzet-Prieur is one side of Burgundy, Faiveley represent another. This is also a family-owned company but one of a very different size. Built up over nearly two centuries, Faiveley is one of the largest landowners in the region as well as a significant negociant, or buyer of grapes and wine from other producers. Holdings include vineyards in no less than 28 premier and grands crus in the Côte d’Or, that narrow strip of land that includes all of the great names of Burgundy.
In addition, they have substantial holdings in Mercurey, Rully, Givry and Montagny on the Côte Chalonnaise farther south. Given their size, it is remarkable that they have managed to maintain such a high standard.
The business was founded in 1825 by Joseph Faiveley and, since 2005, it has been run by Erwan Faiveley, the seventh generation of the family.
Since his arrival, and that of chief executive Bernard Hervet, the Faiveley style has changed dramatically to a lighter less extracted and less oaky style of wine.
This caused some consternation at first, but most critics now believe the new fresher style is a very positive move. The wines have now been categorized by origin. Those produced from their own vineyards are labelled Domaine Faiveley, those from purchased grapes François Faiveley, and from 2010, those from their estates in the Chalonnais under the name Domaine de la Framboisière.
Sadly there is a limited amount of Burgundy available in this country. Many of you will be reluctant to pay what are very stiff prices. However, having visited the region three times in the past two years, I have become ever more fascinated by the intricacies of red Burgundy. I have bought more than my budget really allows, but have been rewarded with some of the most wonderful wines.