December 13th, 2018/ BY Konrad Ejbich

Real Burgundy is a small detour from the Grand Crus

After a 15-year hiatus, I’ve come back to the centre of France, to Burgundy, to witness some of the considerable changes that have come to pass on the region’s Golden Slopes, the famous Côte-d’Or.

My usual modus operandi is to make a beeline for the great houses and vineyards — Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Bonnes-Mares, Clos de Tart, Musigny de Vogüé, and so on. This time, however, my plan was to avoid the Grand Crus completely and unearth the real “bargaindies” of Burgundy.

Some say the biggest challenge to hit the Côte-d’Or is climate change, but I believe it has actually had a positive influence. In my opinion, the most dramatic and menacing challenge has been soaring prices.

What were once affordable wines for serious aficionados are now the preserve of the one percent. There was a time when the Grand Crus — Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, Corton, Musigny, Romanée-Saint-Vivant — could be purchased for $30 to $50. That’s not to say I could afford to drink them often back then, but once in a while …

Today, Montrachet sells for $900 to $1,000 a bottle and Corton-Charlemagne averages $300. If you’re lucky, you might find Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet or Meursault for less than $100.

And it’s the same with reds. Chambertin can fetch $500 per bottle, Romanée even more. Clos Vougeot at $250 seems like a great buy.

Who can afford to drink these wines? Sadly, not me, not any more, not even once in a while. And I’m not alone.

“We don’t drink the Grand Crus,” says Jean-François Curie, CEO of Boisset Vins, the region’s largest producer. “We sell them.” He adds that most wine producers can’t afford to drink these famous and expensive wines. They usually drink village wines, except on rare occasions, when they’ll treat themselves to a Premier Cru.

Whereas pricing has been a huge downer for serious Burgundy hounds, global warming may soon be seen as a cause for joy. Twenty years of warmer growing seasons have proven to be a boon for the region’s lesser-known wine villages.

These oft-snubbed appellations — Auxey-Duresses, Fixin, Givry, Mercurey, Montagny, Rully, Santenay, Saint-Véran and so many others — have been sitting in the shadows of The Great Ones. Situated higher up the hillsides or set back a few valleys from the famous Côte-d’Or, these village wines were once relegated to local sales or by-the-glass drinking in the casual bistros of Dijon and Paris.

But that was then.

Burgundy Domaine Jessiaume winemakers
Domaine Jessiaume Megan McClune and winemaker William Waterkeyn


These days, growers all over Burgundy are harvesting their grapes three to four weeks earlier than at the start of this century. Vineyards in these “minor” appellations ripen like nobody’s business, yielding greater wines with fuller fruit, more power, more richness and improved longevity.

The little guys are now well positioned to take their place on the main stage alongside The Great Ones. It’s consumers who need to catch up.

One only need visit a handful of the hundreds of tiny domaines scattered throughout the Côte-d’Or to get a clearer sense of the changes taking place. And, upon doing so, one soon will discover that these un-renowned wines are exceptionally good, presenting terrific value for serious Burgundy aficionados.

Furthermore, winemaking technology has advanced considerably. A new generation of winemakers is emerging from universities, and some have an ecological interest in natural, organic or biodynamic winemaking. These are ingredients for renewal and change.

It’s a pretty 30-minute drive south from the historic old town of Beaune to Domaine Claude Nouveau, atop a south-facing hill at Marcheseuil. For six generations, the Nouveau family has nurtured 14 hectares of vines in the villages of Maranges and Santenay and the surrounding hills of the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.

Proprietor Stéphane Ponsard took over running the estate from his father-in-law in 2010. He tells me that since he joined the family, the seasons have warmed consistently, yielding riper grapes with thicker skins. He says he’s now making richer wines with better balance and a longer maturity curve.

Ponsard tells me his wines can mature for many years and proves it by opening a dusty bottle of Maranges 1re Cru La Fussière 2003. The 15-year-old Pinot displays tremendous power, depth and aromatic complexity, drinking way above its station. A bright ruby centre in my glass tells me it’s still fresh with life.

“It’s developing, but it’s not there yet,” Ponsard says approvingly. “A few years more to go.”

Nearby, in the tiny village of Auxey-Duresses, just 15 minutes away by car, I am warmly greeted by Estelle Prunier, the “fille” at Domaine Michel Prunier et Fille. Following an informative walk through the compact winery and meandering cellars, I meet Michel Prunier. He is in his element, chatting up customers in the subterranean tasting room and retail shop.

With tiny parcels in nearby Meursault, Pommard and Volnay, the domaine has built up a steady market of visiting wine lovers from Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Italy. Today, a visitor from Denmark asks about the recent vintage as Michel pours samples and complains about the summer heat.

“We came to buy Meursault,” the Danish customer tells me, “but after tasting the Auxey, we got more of that instead.”

Prunier’s Auxey-Duresses Vieilles Vignes Blanc 2015 could almost sub for a fat, mineral-laden Meursault, while the winery’s single-vineyard reds typically display the power of Pommard with the softness of Volnay.

Drive north from Beaune and you pass all the famous vineyards until you get to Fixin, a village half the size of Bloomfield, ON, or one-third of Naramata, BC.

In one of the northernmost villages of the Côte-d’Or — it’s next door to Gevrey-Chambertin — I found a young graduate winemaker, Amélie Berthaut, the seventh generation to take the helm at Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet. At one time, the wines were sold off in bulk. But Berthaut’s grandfather started bottling the wines, which tended to be tannic, tough and on the rustic side. His granddaughter now makes clean, fruit-driven wines that proudly show the strong and earthy characteristics of the terroir. The wines can seem tough at first, but there’s plenty of fruit to balance the stony, gamey, tannic nature of the appellation. Village wines can age six to nine years, Premier Crus can go for more than 15.

Over hill and dale, I go again to the southernmost village in the Côte-d’Or, Santenay, where American expat Megan McClune is the new general manager at Domaine Jessiaume.

The 150-year-old estate was in tremendous disrepair when Scottish multi-millionaire Sir David Murray saw an opportunity and snapped it up in 2006. After some early missteps, the winery turned to McClune and a new winemaking team. In the past couple of years, the improvements have been dramatic and the wines show it.

Just down the road and over another hill, Françoise Feuillat-Juillot has single-handedly run the Domaine Feuillat-Juillot in Montagny, while managing a growing family since her husband died in 2004.

Since completing degrees in international trade and oenology, daughter Camille has started to take part in the production, administration and marketing of the wines.

The little guys are ready to take their place on the main stage. Consumers need to catch up.

Together, the women produce eight village and Premier Cru bottlings of Chardonnay from 14 hectares of limestone, clay and marl terroirs. The domaine’s tank-fermented wines are easily confused with those of neighbouring Chassagne and Puligny Montrachet, while a barrel-fermented, barrel-aged Premier Cru “Les Coères” 2016 reminds me of Meursault. Okay, it’s not Meursault, but it’s half the price.

The winery’s newest innovation is an egg-shaped terracotta amphora. Camille tells me it brings more softness to the wine and enhances the fruit. It may take a few years before this wine crosses the pond to Canada.

The next morning, I drive south into the sultry Côte Chalonnaise to meet with Laurent Juillot, a fourth-generation vigneron and heir to the family-owned Domaine Michel Juillot, which has 30 hectares of vineyards in Mercurey.

Since taking the reins of the estate, Juillot has renewed the vines, updated the vineyard and winery equipment, modernized the old labels and set a course for slow, steady growth and transition to the next generation.

His wines reflect these improvements, as well as the warmer climate. They are earthy, with dark fruit, lush texture and strong, but not tough, tannins. Juillot treats me to a 25-year-old village wine that sings with ripe, gamey cherry-plum flavours that tickle my fancy. There’s zero toughness here, just full fruit and a developing, complex, luscious aftertaste. I’m imagining a tough Pommard or a soft Nuits-Saint-Georges.

Further south, in the village of Poncey, Nicolas Ragot, vigneron and proprietor of Domaine Ragot, has developed a reputation as the Givry specialist. He produces three Chardonnays and four Pinot Noirs. Village-level wines hail from valley vineyards, while his Premier Crus are all situated higher up the hillsides with a southern or eastern exposure.



Many of the wineries I visited have already appeared in SAQ stores, as the Quebec market seems to have a great affinity for Burgundy wines. Most producers sell into some but not all provinces, so watch for them over the next year.

I’d love to see Vignerons des Terres Secrètes get wider distribution throughout the country as I was genuinely taken aback by the range, quality and reasonable prices offered by this private co-op located in Saint-Véran. Managing director Xavier Migeot treated me to a one-hour tasting of 23 wines while telling me stories of the region’s history and its people. Every one of the wines I tasted was a superb example of its appellation. What a portfolio!

Dozens of people wandered in and out of the shop while we tasted in the back room. Morgeot explained how he attracts the best growers of the region and pays incentives for higher-quality grapes. The results showed. It made me rethink the whole idea of co-op wines. Instead of being a catch-all, low-end producer appealing to a certain market that buys only on price, Vignerons des Terres Secrètes has taken the high road, attractive to the knowledgeable wine aficionado.

It was worth the detour.




Château de La Greffière Mâcon La Roche Vineuse Vieilles Vignes 2016 ($23)

Fresh, with clean fruit and nut aromas and flavours. Tight, with excellent concentration underpinned by a subtle layer of oak. Age-worthy for 5 to 7 years.

Domaine Feuillat-Juillot Montagny 1er Cru L’Originel 2017 ($35)

Camille Feuillat is happy with the result of this trial fermentation in a new terracotta amphora. Clean, lean and pure-tasting with lots of personality. Smooth, plump mid-palate and a tight, full-fruit aftertaste. Lush texture and satiny finish.

Château de Fuissé Pouilly-Fuissé Tête de Cru 2016 ($42)

An assemblage of the best barrel from each of the winery’s vineyards within the appellation. White flowers, citrus, apples and pineapple notes. Mineral-laden dry finish. A classic. I also tasted a 2001, which was loaded with nutty complexity and fresh minerality.

Maison Jaffelin Rully 2016 ($45)

Borders the 1er Cru Les Pucelles vineyard. White flowers and tropical fruit. Fullish, plump texture lifted by bright acidity. Slightly nutty, with a long, dry, mineral finish. Strikes my palate as a Meursault lick-alike.

Bouchard Père & Fils Saint-Aubin 1er Cru 2016 ($50)

Subtle, honeyed fruit aromas. Fresh, mouth-watering citrus notes. Medium-bodied and vinous, with a clean, lingering finish.

Vignerons des Terres Secrètes Saint-Véran 2016 ($21)

State-of-the-art co-op. Superb freshness and balance. Tremendous value.


Domaine Michel Prunier et Fille Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru Clos du Val 2015 ($60)

Strong and solid red-fruit aromas. Powerful and weighty with round and silky tannins plus a harmonious finish. Very classy.

Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet Fixin Les Crais 2016 ($39)

The winery’s flagship cuvée. Implicitly sweet with great acidity and bold tannins. Big gamey notes with dark fruit and a supple, round palate.

Domaine Ragot Givry 1er Cru La Grande Berge 2016 ($42)

Powerful, rich, spicy and very fine. It has deep, dark flavours, silky tannins, a mineral undertone and sublime finesse.

Domaine Claude Nouveau Maranges 1er Cru La Fussière 2016 ($30)

Vigneron Stéphane Ponsard harvested these grapes on August 26. The heavier clays of the area give tremendous depth and complexity to the wine, along with a plumper mid-palate. With its dark fruit aromas, liquorice, spice notes, concentration and solid tannins, it struck me as similar in weight and style to Gevrey-Chambertin.

Domaine Michel Juillot Mercurey 2016 ($39)

Big fruit nose of cherries and strawberries with hints of earth and smoked meat. Round, supple palate, bright acidity and a solid tannic finish.

Domaine Jessiaume Santenay 1er Cru Les Gravières 2016 ($59)

Solid and silky with dark berry notes. Wild, earthy and slightly rustic, this lovely red wine has a charm that recalls Chambolle-Musigny.



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