My caviste friend J had prepped me for my first jaunt through Burgundy by explaining that while the vignerons we know in the Loire and the Jura might be charming hosts, their counterparts in Burgundy typically react to new buyers by performing a sort of social tornado drill, covering the head with both arms and hiding under a desk away from windows until danger has passed. With the awareness that it's nothing personal, just a function of overwhelming demand, one just grins through it and learns not to expect too much from first-time visits.
What we certainly didn't expect from our first visit to Domaine Alain Burguet in Gevrey-Chambertin was to encounter two extremely genial, curious, dynamic young winemakers - Burguet's sons, Eric and Jean-Luc - whose Odd Couple-esque dialogues during the tasting were nearly as enjoyable as the wines themselves.
Not a sip passed our lips without amusingly competitive commentary passing between the two brothers, who would continually correct each other on infinitesimally minor points of difference in their recollections of how certain wines were produced. 'We harvested at 110 days,' says one. '108,' interjects the other. 'Sometimes 108, but that time closer to 110,' the first continues without a pause. (This is a week to ten days later than most Burgundian winemakers, a fact to which many attribute the overall expressive lushness of the Burguet oeuvre.)
The brothers, who have for many years performed cellar duties and vineyard management alongside their father, took official responsibility for the estate just this year, and their enthusiasm for the newly-expanded role is perceptible. Jean-Luc has spent time working at wineries in California, notably for Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, and both brothers evince an inquisitive streak and openness to outside input that is uncommon anywhere in the Old World, and downright rare in Burgundy.
This was the first time I'd ever found myself discussing possible cuvée names for a young(ish) vine Gevrey-Chambertin. As I recall Eric favored "Fusion," while Jean-Luc preferred "Symphonie," and the brothers were polling folks they met to decide the matter. (I see now that the somewhat predictable "Symphonie" has won out over the Asian restaurant-esque "Fusion" - for 2010, at least.)
The Burguets, in addition to producing wine from the approx 3.5 they own, also rent vineyards, bringing their total surface under production to just under 8ha. Additionally, they do some micro-negociant work, purchasing grapes and, in the case of small experimental cuvées of Meusault and Pouilly-Fuissé, juice from other growers and vignerons.
All vineyard work is practicing organic, Alain Burguet having never believed in use of chemicals or pesticides, even before it became the prevailing opinion among quality producers. By now the estate uses only a small amount of anti-mildew in the vineyard, and Eric and Jean-Luc have begun experimenting with biodynamic methods to replace this. All fermentation occurs using natural yeasts, without temperature control.
We tasted broadly from barrel the 2010 range, which included a briary Bougogne Rouge, the aforementioned, appropriately harmonious Gevrey "Symphonie," the deeper, sanguinous Gevrey "Mes Favorites," along with two Gevrey crus, "Les Champeaux" and "Clos Beze," and newly introduced Vosne-Romanée 1er cru "Rouge de Dessus." These were uniformly impressive wines, poised and soulful, expressive even when, as in some cases, still in mid-malolactic.
But the real standouts of the tasting were two unchaptalised 2007 Gevreys: a since-retired cuvée called "Place des Lois," and that year's "Mes Favorites." The latter smelled like steak saignante, tannic and resolute.
The "Place des Lois," meanwhile, was magnificently supple, verging on a term I usually self-consciously try to avoid*: sexy. It was like drinking a stranger in a dark cherry dress, with a dreamlike, stop-time persistence reminiscent of those pop songs that remain catchy even with a beat that never exceeds that of a pulse at rest:
From what I understand the "Place des Lois" cuvée lasted only from 2006-2008 , and was a blend of two lieu-dits on opposite sides of the appellation, Reniard and Les Billards. I've since tasted the 2008, a year in which they were obliged to both chaptalise and filter, and the magic apparently did not repeat - although the wine, a bit mute and spindly, might yet come into focus in the coming years.
This is the bit where it would be very neat to write "As will the new direction at this estate!" But I think the real challenge for Eric and Jean-Luc, in taking control of such an acclaimed estate, will be to innovate as little as possible, or as imperceptibly as possible, even as they cultivate new commercial markets and experiment with more sustainable and / or biodynamic production methods.
This brings to mind a terrific Lydia Davis story, "The Race of The Patient Motorcyclists," which describes a race in which the winner is the motorcyclist who finishes last, the one who succeeds in resisting the impulse to use the technology at hand to zoom off into the sunset at blinding speed.
Judging by the wines J and I tasted from barrel that day, the Burguet brothers are off to a fine start.
Domaine Alain Burguet
18 rue de l’Eglise
Tel: 03 80 34 36 35
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Le Bar à Vins, Gevrey-Chambertin
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur, Vosne-Romanée
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Domaine Denis Bachelet, Gevrey-Chambertin
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Bar du Square, Beaune
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Ma Cuisine, Beaune
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Domaine Bertrand Machard de Gramont, Curtil-Vergy
A more punctual account of same visit to same domaine by my friend J @ SpringWines
A 2007 visit to the Burguet cellars @ WineTerroirs
A brief profile of Domaine Alain Burguet by Becky Wasserman @ LeSerbet