Unlike Bordeaux, where the châteaux are classified, in Burgundy, it’s the land itself that matters, regardless of the talent (or honesty) of its owner. Prices are based on a vineyard’s potential, rather than on the true quality of the wine made from its grapes. Not surprisingly, many seasoned connoisseurs will tell you that their greatest experiences and their biggest disappointments have both come from Burgundy.
Since the French Revolution, when the lands belonging to the church and the nobility were confiscated and auctioned off, large shippers called négociants have manipulated Burgundy’s wine trade. Most of the myriad small growers who owned tiny parcels have traditionally sold their wines to these companies rather than worry about conducting commerce on their own. With 325 acres (of which more than two-thirds are Premier or Grand Cru vineyards), Bouchard Père et Fils is the largest landholder and one of the largest négociants in Burgundy. But if Bouchard once produced many trea-sures, its wines of the last two decades have been uninspiring and in some cases plainly mediocre. Indeed, Bouchard—and most of Burgundy’s négociants, with the exception of Faiveley and Jadot—can claim much of the responsibility for the ambivalent reputation of this blessed region, which, sadly, collectors have nicknamed “the minefield.”
Fueling a thirst for first-rate estate-bottled Burgundy, small growers in recent years began to bottle and label their own wines; with every vintage, more growers followed. As a result, the shippers became so stigmatized that, today, some of Burgundy’s most fervent aficionados will not touch a négociants wine. In 1995, the ailing Bouchard Père et Fils was sold to Joseph Henriot, owner of Champagne Henriot, formerly chairman of LVMH and president of Veuve Clicquot. Henriot—a savvy businessman whose devotion to quality has been characterized as ruthless—managed in only a few years to reverse Bouchard’s fortunes, producing wines that have received international acclaim. While the first wines produced under his management were merely very good, the 1999 collection has no reason to envy even the best of the small growers’ efforts.
The company’s flagship wines are textbook representations of their respective vineyards—stylistically pure examples of classic Burgundy, not deftly crafted wines made to cater to an international palate. In Burgundy’s greatness—the incredible diversity of its vineyards and fragmentation of their ownership—lies its weakness. If Burgundy is to regain its preeminent international standing and change its reputation for frustrating and costly irregularity, its largest landholders and merchants must establish irreproachable and celebrated brands. The Henriot family perfectly understands the importance of their role in this mission. Suggested 1999 reds: Volnay Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot, Pommard Combes, Vosne-Romanée Aux Reignots, La Romanée. Recommended 2000 reds: Beaune-Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus. Recommended 1999 whites: Meursault-Perrières, Chevalier-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet La Cabotte, and Montrachet.
Importer: Clicquot Inc., 212.888.7575