Olivier Bernstein - new star in Burgundy

“Olivier Bernstein is a new name but one that is unlikely to be overlooked for long”
Jancis Robinson

On friday I met the winemaker Olivier Bernstein in Berlin and I could taste part of his impressive 2009 collection and some older wines.
I was deeply impressed by the freshness, purity and precision in the wines. The 09s were sexy seductive and lovely to drink right now. The fruit is thankfully not clumsy or cooked&overripe with a viscous texture and a silky-elegant frame. In addition show a remarkable vivid acidity.


Olivier Bernstein

In 2002 Olivier Bernstein had founded a winery in the Roussillon called the Mas la Devèze. Bernstein attended the Lycée Viticole in Beaune and did a brief stage (internship) with the worldfamous Henri Jayer, also in 2002. In 2007, he elected to create a micro-négociant in Burgundy, his intention is to work only with premiers and grands crus where the vines are very old. He found vinyard owners with old vines in exceptional Premier- and Grand Cru terroirs, that he suggested to pay for the estimated full yield. The limited production has risen since then, from 8 000 bottles in 2007 and
12 000 bottles in 2008 to nowadays 33 000 bottles in 2009.

"«The 2009 vintage is exceptional, by which I mean not normal,» said Olivier Bernstein. «There’s a huge volume of tannins in the wines, and it’s not a typical Burgundy vintage.» Bernstein told me he began harvesting a week earlier than most of his neighbors, on September 7, and finished on September 13. «We wanted to preserve acidity,» he said. He also vinified with about 50% whole clusters. «The stems were ripe, and we wanted to compensate for the lower acidity and give more structure to the wines. Ultimately, the ‘09s will age on the quantity and quality of their tannins.»

Olivier Bernstein told me that “the big trick in 2009 was to figure out to keep the freshness because it was easy to lose it, either by harvesting too late or pushing the fruit too much during the vinification. I also think that it was very important to have long malos so that the wines would be protected by all of the car- bon dioxide. I picked relatively early, which is to say between the 7th and 12th of September and brought in extremely clean fruit that ranged in potential alcohols between 13 and 13.6%. As such, I chaptalized nothing.Yields were also quite good at around 35 hl/ha, which is high for me but low in the context of the vintage.The phenolic maturity of the fruit was also excellent and I elected to use an average of 50% whole clusters during the vinification.The extraction came quickly and easily and I did very little punching down or pumping over during the 18 day cuvaison.The malos did not finish until July and I have chosen not to rack them as I don’t want to lose any of the gas that is protecting them because if I do, I’ll have to replace it with SO2. Overall, I think that this is an exciting vintage that should appeal to everyone.” Bernstein had told me last year that he had reduced the proportion of new wood somewhat in 2008 and he did so again in 2009. From 100% in 2007 to 80% in 2008 to 70% in 2009."

(Info regarding the vintage 2009 by Allen Meadows&Stephen Tanzer )

2009 Gevrey-Chambertin Villages „by“
The ‚simple‘ Gevrey-Chambertin is showing an intense spicy fruit and equipped with supple and round tannins. Offers great drinking pleasure with a certain kind of elegance. Impressive balanced and a fine start in the portfolio. 11 000 bottles/55€

2007 Chambolle-Musigy 1er Cru „Les Lavrottes“
Quite firm and with rigor. Smoky, greasy and with a dense fruit. A bit too much oak. Needs a lot of air. First vintage!

2009 Chambolle-Musigy 1er Cru „Les Lavrottes“
Much more sublime than the 07 with a dense, juicy fruit and a good minerality. It lacks a bit of length&complexity. 2 700 bottles/ 108€

2009 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru „Les Champeaux“
WOW…let the party begin. Bewitching fruit and wonderfully polished. Silky texture with freshness and vivid acidity. 108€

2008 Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru
Breathtaking perfume. Simply magic!
On the palate very stubborn and abrasive. A wine with edges and in a certain way intellectual. Meaty fruit with firm structure and very difficult to taste at this stage. 199€

2009 Chambertin Clos-de-Bèze Grand Cru
This Chambertin reminds me on the fact that we start our wine life with Bordeaux and at the end we drink Burgundy.
A monument! Not so powerful like the Mazis, but much more sublime or feminine. Extrem pure fruit with bombastic minerality. Never-ending length and ultra elegant. Pure Noblesse! 1200 bottles/315 €

Martin Zwick

I like these wines. They are much like those of Mounir Saouma from Lucien Lemoine. Very silky. Good old vines kind of flavor intensity. They are however quite “modern” in their elevage. I don’t have 09’s but I have 07/08’s.

Very pricey in Quebec, Canada.

Beze 09 at CA$465 per.

very pricey in california too

I and a few friends tasted through 4 of his '07s over lunch in mid-July 2009 - all the bottles sent to one of us by the producer for consideration in view of possible representation in the Philippines (link to that lunch is here). That friend eventually did not import Bernstein’s wines because he said that, at their price, they’d be too difficult to sell in the Philippines.



YES, not cheap. I have added the prices for Berlin.

I tasted with Olivier’s main cellar hand (along with NY Met hall of famer Rusty Staub) in their facility in Gevrey in December of last year. The wines were stunning to say the least, both powerful and fresh. They are definitely more modern in style, but do not at all betray their signature of terroir. Qualitatively, the wines are above reproach. Stylistically and price wise, they might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I was thrilled with the wines, and am bringing in a parcel of the 09s to arrive in January. I’m curious to see how the wines have arrived in bottle; it is always educational to have tasted in cask and then get to see what several months additional elevage allows. I have a feeling that he will continue to hone his craft, and that we will continue to see stunning work emerging from this tiny micro-negoce.
Has anyone out there had an occasion to try some of the 2010s?? I’m curious to start to gather impressions…

Just looking at the one picture of him, he looks like someone who would be fun to hang with.

Quoting from a post on the Burgundy Report forum:

“Will Cashman said:
I can’t fathom how a new producer with no history can charge prices like these. They sound like good wines, from your notes, but at about twice the price of Armand Rousseau etc… I don’t see the point in buying them.”

"I agree. Funny thing was that Olivier was explaining everyone, that his wines are really well-priced - compared to Lafite :wink:(But, even if this sounds funny, he was absolutely serious about it) "-Joachim

Well, the pricing does strike me as a more than a little over the top for someone so new on the scene with no significant track record. Lafite has been around for a while, you know, even though I would be the last to defend THEIR ridiculous pricing, or that of much of Bordeaux (glad I have no interest in Bordeaux!). Now I suppose if a $500 bottle was about the same to me as a $50 bottle in terms of my overall finances, and value played no role, it sounds like I would investigate this producer a bit further. I admit I have gotten willingly sucked into spending a fair amount for certain bottles from certain producers whom I have followed for years and whose wines have escalated so dramatically over the years (Rousseau Chambertin, Mugnier Musigny, Dujac grand crus)(in many cases probably due more to gouging by the middlemen than at the domaine itself), but even there at some point I just had to call enough as being finally enough. The expectations I place upon a $500 bottle that I sit on for 15+ years are so high that they will probably only be met or exceeded if enough time and the onset of mild dementia keeps me from remembering how expensive they were to buy in the first place. When I read the above comment on Bernstein and saw the pricing, it galled me. But then I am not a buyer of DRC and (no longer) of Leroy, and at least they are not relative newcomers.

Those prices are [shock.gif] .

Re paying a lot of money for wine: on my visits a few weeks ago to J-F Mugnier and Ponsot, both Fred Mugnier and Laurent Ponsot (without any prompting from me) said they’re just interested in drinking good wine and there’s plenty available at good/great prices. Mugnier cited a Muscadet and Ponsot a Chasselas from the Jura (I assume a VDP; I did not recognize the producer).

Indeed, Mugnier told a recent client who complained about the recent price increases for Mugnier’s wines that the client was just too lazy to search out other wines as good at lesser prices. And rightly so: if Mugnier and Ponsot release their wines at “reasonable” prices, others will just flip them for an easy profit, but it is Mugnier and Ponsot (and so many others) who have done the work in the vineyards and taken the risks inherent in each vintage.

So no need to feel any regret about leaving M. Bernstein to those willing to pay his prices.

I remember getting an email on the 08’s from Woodland Hills Wine and thinking “Who the hell is this and why is he charging so freaking much?”

I still don’t know. [snort.gif]

Funny and to a large degree true but I’m sure you would agree that there is more to wine than just absolute quality. Distinctiveness matters too and mugnier is distinctive.

I wonder what the prices are for some of these sought-after grand crus at the winery to regular customers who can obtain them. For example, 2008 Mugnier Musigny is selling for about $450 in Seattle through regular distribution channels, maybe $550-600 online, while a more sought after vintage such as 2005, if I remember correctly, was about $500-600 through regular channels here and $1000-1500 online through what I assume is grey market. Anyone know what Mugnier was selling for at the domaine to those who can buy there? (I remember my only trip to Burgundy several years ago, and seeing the cars of customers from various countries pulling up to H. Lignier and J.J. Confuron and loading their multiple cases of wines as they did each year.) If 2005 Rousseau Chambertin sold upon release through grey market for $1500, and I presume for much less through regular distribution channels IF it could be found (?$400 range), anyone know what they are seeing for the wine at the domaine?

Certainly for those of us who do not regularly buy $500+ bottles of wine (and I would assume that would be the majority), F. Mugnier’s advice to look elsewhere than at his domaine makes sense, but for those of us who love Burgundy and perhaps are more narrowly focused on it than is healthy, Muscadet and Jura are not exciting substitutes, at least to my way of thinking. Yes, I would agree that it is the winemaker that takes the financial risks from vintage to vintage, and I would rather see them make more profit than the middlemen whose gouging can drive the prices up into the $500-1500 range, but price gouging at the domaine itself still does not engender within me a warm feeling. Perhaps my quaint idea of the Burgundian farmer/winemaker making great wine and raising prices reasonably and as needed is idiotic. I suppose that most people in all walks of life are out for what they can get and what the market will bear. Bordeaux pricing is absurd, why should Burgundy pricing be any different. Why shouldn’t Mugnier be the Luis Vuitton of Burgundy and charge what he can for a luxury item that the world is willing to pay for? And if Bernstein wants to take a shortcut to build his rep and be the Prada of Burgundy, why not try to go for the luxury market as well.

I guess it only bothers me because these were wines (Mugnier, Rousseau, et al) that were at one time more affordable, even if relatively expensive, and it is hard to let them go. But this is the real world, these items are in short supply and great demand, and they are indeed luxury items where what you get, however wonderful, is probably not worth the premium unless you are one of the top 0.1% (not 1%) and price is not an issue. I will try not to be a cry-baby. I still think there are interesting issues to think about related to how many of us, myself included, do spend a significant amount of money on individual bottles (relative, of course…whether $200 or $500 or $1000), and how that affects our expectations for the experience we are hoping for years later from a product with a fair amount of unpredictability (bottle variation, dumb periods, cork issues, etc.). Are we looking for a degree of rapture that we will probably only rarely experience? Were we silly to expect so much, even if those reviews were so damn seductive?

In the meantime, anyone who wants to join me for Occupy Burgundy bring a tent and some warm clothes and meet me in Beaune. (You may need to bring a bong, as it will get boring out there this winter.)

I’ll be at Occupy Beaune on the 16th and 17th of December, if anyone wants to get together.

With respect to pricing, I don’t think many people here are offended by the pricing of Mugnier, Dujac, Ponsot etc. Maybe frustrated, disappointed and dismayed, but these producers have track records. If a new producer wants to compare wine pricing, they should look at their peers, not Lafite.

Maybe my logic is warped here, but in this case I think the pricing helps convey a fair bit about the wines to me. In particular I’ve found that newcomers (really in multiple regions this is true) that price themselves in the strata, make wines that are not the style I’m searching out. Bernstein certainly jumps out in burgundy, as does Lemoine. I think it’s easy to find similar examples in oregon and california, even Piedmont.

It’s too bad that a new producer who has control of so much fantastic vineyard locations is instantly trying to rocket to fame and fortune, but there’s still plenty of fantastic wine to buy from more humble purveyors.

Occupy Burgundy ?

No…Burgundy is not jut about a few pieces of famous land. How about Mercurey in the south and Massannay in the north flirtysmile

Jadot’s Musigny 09 is at $ 550 and his Pernand-Vergelesses Iieme cru - Croix de Pierre 09 is at $35.

[worship.gif] Nice!

I agree.