Discovery Tasting: Bouchard Père & Fils

Founded in 1731, Bouchard Père & Fils is one of the oldest names in Burgundy – and the region’s biggest owner of Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. The Sommelier Collective was delighted to host a tasting of some of their best domaine (own-vineyard) wines, with Cellar Master Frédéric Weber giving us a tour through top sites in the Cotes de Beaune – and lots of great information about Burgundy too!

We only have Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,’ said Frédéric, ‘so all the differences come from the terroir.’ But terroir, he points out, is not just about the region’s famous soils – or even geography; it’s the accumulation of experience.

‘Soil is important,’ he says, ‘so is altitude, exposure, the microclimates.

‘But the most important is the generations of humans who have cultivated the soil and transmitted their passion and knowledge to the next generation, improving the quality generation after generation.’

For Bouchard Père & Fils, part of that ‘improving the quality generation after generation’ ethos is seen in their commitment to organic viticulture. Currently 70 of their 130 hectares are converted to organic practices, and they plan to have them all certified by 2024. 

The Reds 

Clos de la Mousse 2015, Beaune 1er Cru, Monopole

£41 ex VAT, JE Fells

The Bouchard family bought their first vines in this tiny appellation in 1826, and over the next 46 years, purchased all the remaining plots to become sole owners of the appellation – making this wine a ‘monopole’. 

With quite clay-heavy soils, it’s a vineyard that doesn’t suffer from drought, and, as a result, does better than others in warmer, drier years such as 2015.

Fred called this a ‘magical’ vintage, with everything ripening beautifully and excellent vine health – but following hail damage the previous year, it was a small vintage. As a result, with low yields, the wine is naturally quite concentrated. 

‘Personally I love this vintage,’ said Fred. ‘The tannins are very round and the terroir expression is fantastic. ‘It’s a classical Beaune, with strawberry confiture flavours, and on the palate it’s round and delicate.’

Fred used round 20% whole cluster, something which, he says, brings floral notes such as ‘roses and peonies’ to the wine.

Volnay Les Caillerets ‘Ancienne Cuvée Carnot’ 2015, Premier Cru

£45 ex VAT, JE Fells

This is the first vineyard that the family bought back in 1775, so it’s a very important vineyard for Bouchard. The name comes from an old French word meaning that the soil is rich in limestone. After 50-70cm of soil, the wine is into a calcareous bedrock.

Limestone, he says, brings ‘delicacy’ to Pinot Noir. ‘We have an expression in Burgundy that ‘if you haven’t had a Caillerets, you don’t know what is a Volnay’,’ he says. ‘It’s one of the best places of the appellation.’

With a sunny, eastern exposure this is one of the first vineyards to be picked.

‘I love energy in the wine,’ said Fred. ‘I don’t want it to be flabby. It’s very bright. I love the complexity of Les Caillerets.’ 

Some tasters, sadly, found their sample slightly oxidised. But for others (including this journalist) this was the star wine of the tasting.

Beaune-Greves, Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus 2016, 1er cru

£55 ex VAT, JE Fells

From the middle of the slope, in the best part of Beaune Greves, this is reckoned to be ‘the filet mignon of the Greves appellation’. The name comes from the 17th century, when Louis XIII and his wife were struggling to conceive. But a nun in Beaune predicted that the couple would have a baby, and a few months later Louis XIV was born. A wooden statue of a suitably cherubic baby adorns the vineyard, which the family bought in 1791. 

Spring frost saw some growers lose 60% of their crop in 2016, making for a very concentrated vintage, with plenty of fruit but also acidity.

‘It was challenging in the vineyard, but a surprise during vinification,’ said Fred, who described it as ‘very classical – beautiful structure and fruit – the purity of each terroir is huge. 2015 was a very sunny year, so all the wines are very ripe, but 2016 is more precise.’

The Enfant Jesus wines, he says, are marked out by their enormous ageing potential and flavours of forest floor, licorice and, particularly, mint which carries on all the way through the ageing. 2009, 2010 and 2015 he says are all showing really well. 

Le Corton 2016, Grand Cru

£81 ex VAT, JE Fells

Our first Grand Cru of the tasting, this wine comes from the top of the hill of Corton, 300m above sea level, with an eastern exposure. Cooler and fresher, thanks to its being in the northerly wind, this is a wine that matures two weeks later than Baby Jesus and Les Caillerets, and is usually the last to be harvested. 

There are 80cm of red clay, rich in iron which, Fred says, ‘brings a lot of power to the wine. It’s a true Corton.’ But still there is that bedrock of limestone, which is significant. 

‘It’s difficult for the vines to grow here,’ says Fred, ‘the yield is naturally low. A lot of people say that Corton is a powerful wine that needs long ageing, but not in this part. You have a higher proportion of limestone here and the wine is more delicate.’

Our tasters enjoyed this wine, and Fred’s suggestion that it could work with Japanese fish brought a slew of Asian food-inspired suggestions, from Peking duck and smoked yakitori eel to tuna tataki.

The Whites

Beaune du Chateau Blanc 2017, 1er cru

Moving (as is the way in Burgundy) onto the whites after the reds saw us start with this multi-vineyard blend of premier cru vineyards. 

Described by Frederic as a vintage with lots of sun but not too much heat, 2017 had hearteningly normal yields, and ‘good expression and concentration’. The whites, he said had the [fruit] maturity of the 2015, but with a little more acidity – like 2014. 

First made in 1907, the Beaune du Chateau is put together from five different premier crus, vinified separately and then blended so it tends to have good consistency and reliability and less vintage variation. 

£21 ex VAT, JE Fells

‘The style of Beaune is between Meursault and Puligny,’ said Frederic. ‘You have white flowers on the nose – acacia, hawthorn – then on the finish there’s more acidity and a citrus and roses note, like in Puligny. Beaune is always more generous.’

All the wine sees oak, but just 12% of it is new.

Meursault Les Genevrieres 2016, 1er cru.

This Meursault comes from two very different plots. One (with brown soil) gives flavours of white flowers, almonds and honey, described by Frederic as ‘a true Genevrieres.’ The second (higher) plot has more limestone in the soil, and there is more acidity and citrus zest as a result. 

‘When I blend them together it’s not a classical Genevrieres,’ says Frederic. ‘It’s more delicate, with a citrus note’. The rich, toasty notes, he said, come from the terroir, not from the oak. ‘It’s a characteristic of Les Genevrieres to have grilled almond flavours,’ he said.

Harry Cooper found ‘creamy, nutty, peaches’ while for Marisol Suarez it was all about ‘stone fruits’.

In Burgundy, Frederic said that these wines are opened as an aperitif, then left on the table for consumption with cheese, at a slightly warmer temperature. ‘With Brillat Savarin it’s really beautiful,’ he said. 

£52 ex VAT, JE Fells

Our tasters saw uses for it with fish in creamy sauce, while Vitaly from Zuma said it would work with blackened cod.

Corton-Charlemagne 2016, Grand Cru

The first of two Grand Cru whites to finish, this comes from a 4ha plot just above the red wine vineyards. Yet the soils for the two wines are totally different: red clay rich in iron for the red wines, yellow marl with limestone bedrock for the Chardonnay. 

‘It’s a very powerful wine with a lot of salinity and minerality,’ said Frederic – something our tasters certainly agreed with.

Fred suggested cellaring this for at least five or six years. ‘Corton is like Montrachet or Clos Vougeot,’ he said. ‘It needs time to give a perfect expression.’ As if to prove this, Fred’s favourite vintage is the 1955!

‘Whenever I make a wine, I want to do what my predecessors did and make a wine with a long future,’ he said.

£112 ex VAT, JE Fells

Certainly, if you like minerality this is a wine for you. There were lots of approving comments from the tasters about the wine’s salinity.

Chevalier-Montrachet 2015, Grand Cru

From a warm vintage with ‘perfect conditions’ and northerly winds providing freshness, Fred described this as an ‘easy to understand vintage and pleasurable.’

Though, interestingly, he also said that ‘with all grand cru wines you’ll see the terroir is more important than the vintage.’ 

With 2.5 hectares, Bouchard are the biggest land owners in Chevalier-Montrachet but for Frederic the most important factor is that they own vines on ‘all four terraces’. 

The lowest, flattest terrace gives big, generous wines with some Riesling-like notes; the second terrace in the middle of the slope is more limestone rich (’it’s my favourite place – a true Chevalier with more delicacy – like the zest when you peel a tangerine’), while the third and fourth terraces are higher with poorer soils and more ‘focus, minerality, acidity on the finish and some saltiness’. 

£207 ex VAT, JE Fells

The wines are vinified separately then blended together after barrel ageing. Fred’s tips for his favourite Chevalier-Montrachet vintages of the last ten years are 2012 and 2016.

Questions from the Sommelier Collective Members

What is the difference between Chevalier-Montrachet and Le Montrachet?

Le Montrachet is more at the bottom of the slope, more clay and white marl, whereas Chevalier is marl and then limestone. Le Montrachet whites are more closed at first. They  become more powerful than Chevalier whites, but need to age a long time before you can appreciate them. Chevalier is more open and delicate with citrus zest and white flowers – it’s easier to get pleasure from a young version.

How are you being affected by global warming?

I’ve got the dates of all harvests since 1731. In the 18th and 19th century they sometimes harvested at the end of September, but more commonly in October. Today we harvest at the beginning of September or, more and more, at the end of August. So we are one month earlier. 

We are also seeing more difficult weather events like frost and hail. In 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016 we lost the equivalent of two years’ worth of crop.

Fog and snow might be common in Burgundy…
But the region is seeing more extreme weather events too

Is the region over its premox problems?

In the past a lot of producers were touched by that, but we’ve worked a lot against this phenomenon. We’ve changed things in the vineyard, but also in vinification. In the past I think we wanted to protect the must too much, but it’s important to prepare the wine for the future. 

A small oxidation is normal and necessary at the beginning [of the winemaking process]. After that we do a long élevage, with a lot of lees, because lees protects the wine. Since 2005 we’ve had no problem with premox.

Lees work helps with premox

Should you decant Burgundy?

Young Burgundy can be decanted one hour before serving. Though after ten years I prefer to avoid doing it because you miss some of the complexity of the aromas.

Are all your vineyards old vines?

It’s important that we have some young vines for the colour, and some older vines 70-80 years old for the character, density and purity of the terroir. But it’s important in each plot to maintain both. We replant about two hectares a year. It’s an important investment for the future.

From the Clos de la Mousse (bought in 1872) to the stunning
Chateau de Beaune there is a lot of old history at Bouchard

How is 2020 looking?

It was a very warm vintage. For the first time in the history of Bouchard we started harvest on the 18th of August. We were worried about the temperatures and the drought, but in spite of that the whites are very classic. It reminds me of 2008 or 2014, with beautiful freshness and good expression.

Which wines are you most proud of?

I love Les Caillerets and Baby Jesus for the red wines; for the whites I’m a big fan of Chevalier Montrachet.

Watch the video

Discovery Tasting: Bouchard

29 March, 2021 @ 4:00 pm 5:00 pm BST

Founded in 1731 in Beaune by Michel Bouchard, Bouchard Père & Fils is one of the oldest wine estates in Burgundy, perpetuating tradition for nearly three centuries and nine generations.

Bouchard Père et Fils is one of Burgundy’s best known producers and major landowners on the Côte d’Or. Join winemaker Fédéric Weber and export director Europe Cyrille Harmel on a journey through the historic vineyards of one of the world’s most prestigious winegrowing regions.

From Beaune to Volnay, Le Corton to Chavalier Montrachet you will have the chance to taste wines dating back to 2014 from the best crus and monopoles from these famous slopes

This tasting will offer members an insight into Bouchard’s unique Burgundy heritage, tasting some of the domain’s most emblematic wines, including the famous Beaune Grèves Vignes de l’Enfant Jésus, Volnay “Les Caillerets” and Corton-Charlemagne; names which resonate with history. The tasting will also allow an opportunity to taste the Meursault Genevrières, offering a glimpse into Bouchard’s vineyard holdings where they are the largest owners of vineyards in Meursault and will culminate with the exceptional Chevalier-Montrachet 2015, of which Bouchard owns 31% of the appellation.

Discovery Tasting: A Journey Through Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils

Wines to be tasted:

  1. Beaune Clos de la Mousse Premier Cru Monopole 2015
  2. Beaune-Grèves Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus Premier Cru Domaine 2014
  3. Volnay Les Caillerets “Ancienne Cuvée Carnot” Premier Cru Domaine 2015
  4. Le Corton Grand Cru Domaine 2016
  5. Beaune du Château Blanc Premier Cru Domaine 2017
  6. Meursault Genevrières Premier Cru Domaine 2016
  7. Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru Domaine 2016
  8. Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru Domaine 2015

Hosted by

  • Frédéric Weber – Winemaker at Bouchard Père & Fils
  • Cyrille Harmel – Export Director Europe at Maisons & Domaines Henriot
  • Chris Losh – Co-founder of The Sommelier Collective

RSVP Discovery Tasting: Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils

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Understanding clones part I: Burgundy versus Germany

This is the first of a series of articles in which I will be looking into the advantages of using different clones of one grape variety to produce complex and diverse wines. I’m going to start with Pinot Noir, which I’m sure you know has a reputation for being one of the hardest to grow.

When I started visiting German vineyards and tasting Spätburgunder (as Pinot is called in Germany) from different regions 15 years ago, I detected noticeable differences in style and taste.

The wines were delicious, but I found myself wondering whether the wines were all from the same grape. Of course, they had to be because the label said so. But why were they all so different?

The answer started to become clear to me years later when I visited Champagne with a group of sommeliers. There we were confronted with numbers like 777, 113 & 115: different clones of Pinot Noir.

So what lies behind those numbers?  How do you decide what to plant? What are the benefits? And what are the differences?

A Wild Selection

A key term you will come across when visiting areas famous for Pinot Noir is Massal Selection. This is the process where growers use different cuttings from several vines in an existing vineyard and plant them into a new vineyard.

The new vineyard will now contain different clones, with different specifications and different needs. For a grower, this is a way of guaranteeing complexity and diversity.

But Massal selection doesn’t just give you a diverse blend flavour-wise, with more than just one characteristic, the clonal mix gives vineyards added flexibility to react to environmental challenges.

Burgundy versus Germany

This form of vineyard management has been performed in Burgundy for many decades, but in Germany this has only been the case over the last 20 years.

With climate change bringing warmer and shorter vintages, and less rain and humidity, German winemakers saw the opportunity to use French clones alongside their more resistant, higher yielding and more vigorous clones of Spätburgunder: Freiburg, Mariafeld and Geisenheim.

Joachim Heger, of Weingut Dr. Heger, a pioneer in the Kaiserstuhl Region in Baden, was fortunate to inherit a vineyard planted by his father with cuttings from the Clos Vougeot vineyard. This particular parcel was planted in 1956, as part of the larger Winklerberg vineyard, as a Massal Selection and is called “Häusleboden”  

This vineyard is in a warmer site in the Kaiserstuhl and produces intense, perfumed wines with hints of earth and spice. Yet even in his cooler sites – more north or north-west facing – Heger still prefers French clones to maintain freshness and protect the thin skins from bursting.

French Clones

French clones are thin skinned, have small berries and low yield but are high in concentration. They bunches are tight and do not allow an efficient air circulation and. As a result the bunches are every prone for fungal diseases.

Clones such as 667, 777, 113, 115, 823 and 864 are the most commonly used.

While 113 and 115 clones are very perfumed and light in colour, 667 and 777 are more intense with a darker berry aroma and darker colour. When blended they do enhance each other and make beautiful wines. The Pommard, (also known as Clone 5) is a clone designed to produce a wine on its own due to its natural concentration and texture and meaty and gamey character.

The German Option

Because Germany has a history of cooperatives there has been an emphasis on making grape growing profitable. Since high yields and large grapes were necessary German clones tend to be thick skinned with large berries.

In the past harvest would be done way into October with higher humidity. The very loose clusters allow a good air circulation during the later months of the year in order to prevent grey rot.

Resistant grapes with high sugars and lots of liquid are indeed profitable. Clones like Freiburg 52-86, Freiburg 52-84, Geisenheim and Mariafeld are very common and widely used for this purpose.

Today, those who have chosen to work with German clones to produce quality wines are in the fortunate position of having older vines that are smaller in size and naturally have more concentration and flavour. The clones are still resistant to damp and rot, and the vigour is reduced to control the sugar production and to keep the acidity.

To round up…

Cllimate change has meant that it is vital for growers to be flexible and to be able to react to different challenges throughout the year. So there is a definite advantage in being able to make use of different clones. While some Winemakers in Germany prefer to work with German clones, we do see a change in the vineyards towards the French clones.

It will, of course, be very difficult to convince the French to use German clones – or, indeed, any other clones which are not French.  But other areas around the world are experimenting with a selection to establish a pool of clones to determine those which work best for their environment.

Thanks to climate change, German winemakers are increasingly experimenting with whole bunch or whole cluster fermentation on both groups of clones; a technique which they see as vital to maintain freshness when there are higher ripeness levels.

When visiting winemakers and when trying to understand the wines, you will need to understand the grape material the winemaker uses for their wines. In my experience, asking them about which clones they are using and why is one of the most fascinating conversations you can with a viticulturist or winemaker.

Clones are a fascinating area, and there are two more grape varieties which are particularly worth writing about: Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. I will cover them again in follow-up pieces for the Sommelier Collective. So stay tuned!