A change is going to come

12 December, 2008

Tradition is giving way to modernity even in the fiercest of French strongholds, says Christine Boggis

Changes are afoot in Burgundy. This most traditional of France's wine-producing regions (a retailer once told me they're so into their terroir

you can taste individual local cowpats in the wine) is seeing a new generation come into its vineyards and wineries - and little by little they're making some serious differences.

This is not a revolution - more of a gradual

change as new faces

try out new ways of working. They don't want to throw out everything their parents have taught them - but they want to pick

the best of the traditional ways of working and mix them with new


learned at university and

in other parts of France, Europe and the New World.

Above all, their mission is to improve quality - whether that comes through investments in winemaking equipment or by changing the way they work.

"There is certainly an element of guys anywhere from their early

20s to


who take a much more commercial view to making and selling their wine - and

look at wine on a global scale rather than comparing it with their next-door neighbour," says Majestic buyer Chris Hardy.

"They have

a much more modern and progressive way of approaching every aspect of making wine. There has been a lot of investment


new barrels, stainless steel ­temperature-controlled tanks and modernising all winemaking.

"That has definitely had an effect on overall quality. I think the whole approach has changed, which I think has vastly improved quality and in some cases brought more realistic pricing. It is not exclusive to Burgundy, it is happening right across France," he adds.

Claude Chevalier started working with his father Georges on their 14ha estate, Domaine Chevalier in the village of Ladoix-Serrigny, in 1975 when he was 16 years old. By the time he was 21 he was getting

his own ideas about how to make better wines - but it took him until 2000, several years after his father's retirement, to start putting those ideas into practice.

"Because of working with my father, I ended up thinking like my father. Even though I had new ideas, little by little they were forgotten. I had fallen into the old philosophy: you do it because it is like that," he recalls.

When change came, it was sudden. Chevalier called in an oenologist and together "we changed everything", he says. "My philosophy changed. Someone who

heard me at the beginning of 2000 and heard me again six months later would have said, 'he is mad'."

As well as changing the way he worked in the vines - including green harvesting and cutting yields - Chevalier updated the way his wines are aged and reviewed all his blends. One of the results was a focus on the

local appellation Ladoix. In the past its wines had gone into blends, but now Chevalier has listings for Ladoix itself in Majestic, among others.

Chevalier, who is president of the Confederation of the Appellations & Winemakers of Burgundy, believes he is part of bigger trend. "A lot of winemakers are changing their philosophy. Some time ago a lot of people were a bit sleepy, thinking things are fine as they are because we have the reputation."

Keith Isaac MW, of Patriarche Wine Agencies, has also noticed changes. "There are new, younger winemakers coming through," he says. "I think they have realised

people want wines with more fruit and better balance and riper wines, and are having to work quite hard in the vineyards to produce fruit from which they can produce decent wine. There is much more focus on quality."

Movers and shakers

Jean-Marie Chaland of Domaine Sainte-Barbe is a young Mâconnais winemaker who works side-by-side with his parents on the family domain, but makes wines under a completely separate label. Jean-Marie argues with his parents Josette and Jean-Noël, who make wines under the name Domaine de Chazelles, over strategy. They say you have to adapt to what your customers want - but Jean-Marie is adamant that quality, style and your own taste must come first. "You'll be drinking it yourself," sniffs Josette. "We used to think like that when we were young, but over time you learn to adapt."

Montagny-based Stéphane Aladame is the proud owner of an egg-shaped lined concrete tank, and

dropped 300 bottles of Montagny Premier Cru into the sea last year to see how they would age. The

latter novel strategy didn't pay off: only two bottles came back to the surface unscathed after a storm broke up the case

- but they tasted delicious, according to Aladame. "The wine was more supple and rounded because of the tide movement giving it batonnage in bottle," he says. The egg-shaped tank is all about battonage as well, but less of a risky move. He says it gives his wines fruit freshness and minerality without marking them too much with wood.

Barbara Miolane works with her father Patrick making mainly Puligny-Montrachet wines. She has already done work experience in the Loire and in Long Island, New York, and is about to leave for a couple of years in Rennes, working on the business side of the wine trade. "I want to try to develop the commercial side more and develop exports more," she explains.

Romain Taupenot-Merme and his sister Virginie are the seventh generation of their family running Morey St Denis-based Domaine Taupenot-Merme. Virginie has recently become president of Femmes & Vins de Bourgogne, a group of women from some 30 estates who meet four or five times a year to exchange ideas, information and advice on everything from cooperage and corks to commercial issues. "Burgundy has a new dynamic movement," says Romain. "Femmes & Vins is an organisation that shows the dynamism of the new generation. It was a very macho world, but this shows that the young generation is moving, evolving, showing a desire to change."

Burgundy: the facts

Burgundy exported 32,669 bottles to the UK in 2007 /8, down 1.8% from the year before

Export earnings also slipped 0.3%

to E330.7 million

The UK is still Burgundy's biggest foreign market, taking 31% of its exports

Overall export volumes for 2007/8 slipped 2.3% from the year before to 104.2 million bottles, or 51% of production, but earnings grew 3.5% to nearly E700 million

Unstable weather throughout the summer made growers anxious for the 2008 vintage, but fine weather and a north wind from mid-September saved it. Yields were moderate

New campaign: Burgundy has teamed up with bodies representing port, parmesan cheese and Parma ham in a E6 million drive called Discover the Origin, to promote their regions

and heritage.

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