After 19 years in Burgundy, the iconoclastic Jean-Marie Guffens has decided to set up another shop in southern France, saying he's "disgusted" with the ways of Burgundy.
Guffens, the Belgian-born winemaker and owner of the famed Maconnais-based negociant firm Verget, has cut the company's production of white Burgundy in half, dropping from 36,000 cases in 1997 to 17,000 cases in 1998. But he's more than made up this 19,000-case drop by producing 27,000 cases of wine from southern France.
The negociant said the quality of much of Burgundy's Chardonnay crop in the difficult 1998 vintage didn't justify the high prices charged by vineyard holders. "So I am retreating from Burgundy momentarily until a certain wisdom returns," said Guffens, who added that Burgundy is pricing its wines off the charts and cutting itself off from the rest of the world.
So far, Guffens has invested about $2.5 million in the Cotes du Luberon, and his fast-growing new enterprises might give a boost to this obscure appellation in the southern Rhone.
In Burgundy, Guffens has had a profound influence through both his pathbreaking Verget, whose wines have earned numerous classic and outstanding ratings from Wine Spectator critics, and the microscopic winery he and his wife own, Domaine Guffens-Heynen, which makes sublimely sculpted Chardonnays in the Maconnais.
Like his corporate setup in Burgundy, Guffens' operations in the south consist of a domaine, Chateau des Tourettes, and a negociant, Verget du Sud.
Guffens paid a little over $1 million for the chateau and surrounding vineyards two years ago. The estate sits on 148 acres graced with wildflowers, olive groves and gnarled vines, some 50 years old -- all of it set in the heart of Provence in a national preserve. Guffens spent another $1 million improving and replanting the estate's 59 acres of vines; two-thirds are now planted to red varietals (Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) and the rest to whites (Viognier, Marsanne, Chardonnay, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc).
From 1998, its first vintage, Chateau des Tourettes will release 6,700 cases of red (under the Cotes du Luberon appellation) and white (Vin de Pays de Vaucluse) wine. The chateau is making a red "grand vin" to be released in 2000 and second-label (Petites Tourettes) red and white bottlings to be released this year. Eventually, the estate's production will increase to a maximum of 11,000 cases a year, said Guffens.
To build up Verget du Sud, Guffens has invested a little under $500,000 so far. Already, the merchant has produced 21,000 cases from the 1998 vintage and is planning to make about 42,000 cases in 1999. Guffens will vinify the whites in Verget du Sud's own cellars starting this year, while the reds will be made at local cooperatives under his supervision. The negociant wines are from the Cotes du Luberon, Cotes du Ventoux and Vins de Pays de Vaucluse appellations, although Guffens hasn't ruled out making Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cotes du Rhone.
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