I’ve been reading a bit about different burgundy negociant producers and had some random questions I figured someone here can answer
When I read about many burgundy negociants (Lucien le Moine is one example) they say they purchase their wine already made and then they take over the elevage. If this is the case, then who is actually making the wine? And is there really that much winemaking skill (as opposed to marketing skill) the negociant needs to make a great wine?
It seems like anyone could buy some expensive barrels and pour already made wine into them, but most of the quality of the end product would already have been determined through the farming and winemaking.
It seems like many of these negociants are selling very high end expensive wine, as opposed to an American style negociant mode like Cameron Hughes who is taking extra juice and labeling it at a big discount. So what are you really paying for in the burgundy negociant model?
Most burgundy negotiants like jadot, Bouchard, faiveley, drouhin, etc buy the grapes and make wine, although at this point they have their own estate vineyards as well. I believe le moine had except sources for grapes and makes the wine from grape to wine, not just elevage.
Maybe Lucien Le Moine does, but I don’t think Drouhin, Faiveley, Bouchard, Jadot etc. buy wines from others and just slap on their nameplate. They make wines from a mix of purchased grapes and vineyard plots they own themselves. At least that is my understanding.
Also, with respect to Lucien Le Moine he has a very distinctive style so I don’t think that gets achieved just by buying wines where others have made all the winemaking decisions…either he makes important choices in elevage or has say into how the wines are made.
Sometimes the negotiants blend wine within the same appellation. So lower level wines such as a Bourgogne or village wine, or even a premier cru, may not all be from a single source.
In the Rhone, for instance, I believe that Guigal’s Cotes du Rhones are made by multiple producers to Guigal’s specs and then blended.
While the quality may be limited by the wine they buy, what ends up in the bottle is very much a product of the elevage. There are lots of ways to influence the style of the wine after fermentation. There are many types of oak, for instance, different seasoning (aging) of the staves, different toasts and choices about what proportion of new barrels to use, how long to leave it in barrel, and how often to rack and whether and how to filter.
There is a lot of variation, just as in the rest of the wine world.
There are small producers who control every step from farming to bottling. Most of the small craft Burgundy producers discussed on this board fall into this category. But some augment their owned vineyards with purchase of grapes from others. And of course there are some like Le Moine who own no vineyards. I think most negociants buy grapes and handle the rest of the steps themselves, but I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions (pre-elevage wine buyers, finished wine buyers).
The large producers are pretty much the same - lots of wine from owned vineyards as well as wine from non-owned vineyards.
There seems to be general thinking that owned vineyards (Domain Wine) wine is better than non-owned (often labeled as ‘Maison’). E.g. Dujac or Drouhin. But I’m not really sure this is true as vineyard practices have improved based on knowledge - as well as increased budget to spend on the work.
I used to poo poo them, but not much different than Myriad or anyone else that doesn’t make estate wine. Personally, I like to give my money to smaller producers, but I’ve had some great Faiveley and have bought too much Charles Noellat, as affordable aged Burg is hard to find.
This is not the case! All these houses buy finished wine and bottle it. While the négoce have tended to pivot towards domaine activity plus the vinification of purchased grapes, the historic core of this business was purchasing wine, and that is very much alive to this day. Nor, I should add, is there anything nefarious about this!
Certainly nothing nefarious. If a negociant with a very wide range of labels/vineyards is buying some finished wine, it would explain the diversity of styles one finds among a single (large) producer’s wines. William - among that list above, plus Bichot - who do you think are most consistent in terms of style, across estate and negociant bottlings? And any particular negociant bottlings that really stand out?
I guess I would say that farming, winemaking, and élevage + bottling are not an either-or proposition. I’m sometimes asked which is most important and it strikes me as a poorly framed question, because they’re all crucial. A fermentation gone wrong can turn the best grapes from the best farming into a soupy, volatile mess. A barrel that doesn’t match the wine can ruin the results of a virtuosic vinifcation. And I frequently taste wines that were better in barrel than bottle, even if bottling lines today are frequently much improved compared with what was often the case thirty years ago. What we are really talking about is a chain of steps, all of which must be mastered to produce great wine. And so, I wouldn’t downplay the importance of élevage and bottling by any means.
Yes indeed. I would say they all make efforts to be as consistent as possible, e.g. delivering barrels to their suppliers so that the wines are matured in their house cooperage from the beginning. Some will also complement a base of domaine produced wine, or a base of wine from purchased grapes, with purchased wine in a final blend. However, there are always going to be ups and downs and since so many producers domaine-bottle today, it’s obviously less of a buyers market that it would have been fifty years ago (hence the move towards ever more vineyard acquisition). As for cuvées of purchased wine that stand out as normally very good I’d single out the Clos Saint-Denis from Drouhin (from Jouan, which I think is well known) and the Les Saint-Georges from Jadot off the top of my head.
I’m sure the winemakers here can do a better job than I on this. But my understanding is that vinification is a series of steps, each with a very wide range of choices. The choices are not the same for every vineyard/vintage/budget/etc.
For example: How long are the grapes held in their crush vats? What size, material, and shape are those vats? How are the grapes crushed? How long do the liquid and the must stay together? At what temperature? Are the skins/stems stirred into the liquid? Is the cap of physical stuff that forms from the skins/stems pushed down into the liquid? Or is the liquid pumped over the cap? How often? When the free run is drained from the vat, what do you do with the remaining stems/skins? Press it for more liquid? What kind of press do you use? How much of that do you combine with the free run? When? For fermentation: do you use natural yeast? Or do you add yeast? When, at what temperature, and for how long. Etc., etc.
There are MANY a more such decision points in vinification, not to mention similar choices in the field, and in elevage. This is wine making. A million little choices that add up to plonk or the liquid whispers of the gods.
As usual Marcus is being far too modest. Vinification is not just about lack of errors, it’s also the set conscious choices that create a winemaker’s style. A very good winemaker achieves his goals through his choices.
Coincidentally on the subject of negociant wine makers: Oregon has lots of great wine made from non-owned vineyards. Many of this board’s/my favorites (like Marcus, Kelley Fox, Walter Scott) don’t own any vineyards (and please correct me if I am wrong). Instead they partner with great owners/farmers to get the grapes they want to make their wine. If the Oregon wine makers can figure out how to do this, I bet the Burgundians can.
It is not like most top negociants buy unfinished wines from random producers. As I have understood it, the best negociants (Leroy, Faiveley, Jadot, Drouhin, Bouchard, etc.) have always had contacts with really good growers and not just with anyone. Someone gave an example of Drouhin getting Clos St. Denis from Jouan and if I remember correctly Jacky Truchot sold one barrel of GC Combottes to Laurent every year. A lot of these arrangements go on for many, many years and historically have provided cash flow to smaller growers who historically could not afford to wait to get cash on their entire crop a couple of years after the harvest.
There is indeed a lot of fruit sold in Burgundy. But, some growers prefer to vinify their own grapes and then sell the finished wine. It is a matter of pride for them, and if the négoce ask to buy the grapes instead, the response will be “take it or leave it”, because there will always be another buyer.
I have on three occasions directly compared the Drouhin bottling with the Jouan and found them as chalk and cheese, seemingly a totally different expression in every possible way. Which just goes to show something or other.