Winemaker Talk: Pascal Marchand

The winemaker behind Domaine de la Vougeraie's success talks about his eponymous négociant label, being an outsider in Burgundy and how the region has evolved over the past 20 years
Mar 6, 2009

Pascal Marchand, 46, a native of Montreal, arrived in Burgundy in 1983 to work the harvest. He took a one-year course in viticulture and enology in Beaune in 1984, while working at Domaine Bruno Clair. He became the winemaker at the relatively unknown Domaine des Comte Armand in 1985, where he improved quality and garnered an international reputation for the estate's flagship Pommard Clos des Epeneaux.

In 1999, Marchand joined the Boisset Group, where he was responsible for the newly created Domaine de la Vougeraie through the 2005 vintage. Vougeraie's 91 acres of vineyards were converted first to organic, then to biodynamic cultivation. Over the years, Marchand has worked as a consultant in Australia, Argentina, Canada, Greece and the United States. In Chile, he oversees the winemaking team for VC Family Estates, producer of the Veranda, Augustinos, Porta and Gracia brands. He also consults with Joseph Phelps Winery on its Freestone project, a Sonoma Coast property specializing in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He is currently the winemaker for Domaine Jean Féry in Burgundy and his négociant line of red and white Burgundies under the Pascal Marchand label debuts with the 2006 vintage.

Wine Spectator: Was it difficult working in Burgundy as an outsider?
Pascal Marchand: It was difficult to leave my home and to adapt to a new place, even though I was a traveler. That said, the Burgundians really welcomed me. A lot of people opened their doors and helped me. If I was coming from Bordeaux, for example, it might have been different. But a lot of people were interested in me and helped me at a very early stage.

WS: As a young winemaker, who were your mentors?
PM: The first harvest in Burgundy, I worked with François Germain. For me, I learned a lot about passion—he was very passionate about his work. The second vintage I worked with Bruno Clair and his assistant, André Geoffroy. Those guys showed me so much, especially in the difficult 1984 vintage. Then I went to school. Coming out of school, my big shock was to meet Henri Jayer and Michel Lafarge. First of all, I was really struck with how much these guys were willing to transmit their knowledge. Henri Jayer really led the path in taking risks in order to be a great winemaker. Michel Lafarge showed me how to interpret a vintage, how you adapt your winemaking in each vintage.

But also at that time, 1985 to 1986, I was part of a group of people all taking responsibility of domaines from their fathers: Dominique Lafon, Christophe Roumier, Patrice Rion, Etienne Grivot, Emmanuel Giboulot and Etienne de Montille. We all learned together by traveling and tasting at each other's cellars. It was a great experience and part of a big transition in Burgundy at that time. It was part of a big revolution in Burgundy. It's still going on, but looking back it was really an important transformation.

WS: What are the major changes with making wine in Burgundy today compared with when you first arrived in the mid-1980s?
PM: A lot of winemakers had never traveled. It was much more of a closed world. I became part of a generation that was more conscious of the impact of their wines. So many things have changed. First of all, there was a big move toward more natural vine growing, even the push to organic and biodynamic. Instead of relying on technology, we worked the soils to nourish the plant and to give the plant a better sense of its origin, the imprint of terroir. Also, the equipment in the winery has evolved. The technology of sorting tables, the improved destemmers, the pumps, which are more gentle now, the use of gravity. So I think with all that we are able to handle vintages where the raw material is not as good. We can eliminate the bad material and understand the maturity in the vineyards better. We really became better by the use of technology but also by feeling things more, being more in contact with nature by observing it.

WS: What are your favorite appellations to make wine from?
PM: I started in Pommard. I still love Pommard, but it's one of the most difficult and austere appellations. I would really like to go back to Pommard. I want to make some Pommard again. Right now what really attracts me is Gevrey-Chambertin. There is an incredible range of appellations there that I find really exciting.

For seven years I was responsible and made the wines from a fantastic plot in Musigny and I'm not sure if I will ever find grapes like that from Musigny again.

I'm happy with the wines I make from Bio Bio in Chile, because I feel like a pioneer there and that is another feeling compared to Burgundy which has hundreds of years of tradition.

WS: You work with Pinot Noir around the world. Do you use the same approach as you do in Burgundy?
PM: Yes. The approach we have in Burgundy is the best way to reveal the expression of the different terroirs, and therefore in each one of these areas you make wines that express their origins.

WS: If you had the opportunity to start a domaine anywhere in the world, where would you go?
PM: My frank answer would be Russian River in Sonoma County. The quality of life is great there. I have traveled a lot of places and if I had to leave Burgundy, that's where I would like to go.

WS: What are your favorite food pairings with red and white Burgundy?
PM: I like a lot of things. Like Meursault with sole or sander [pike perch], but with a beurre blanc, which is very classic. Or a very good grilled côte de boeuf with a great Pommard. Unbeatable. These are the types of things I can make myself at home. But I am interested, whenever I meet a great chef, to find the right combination of food and wine. It's a wide-open window—everything is possible. I love Asian food. Even sushi can be fantastic with Pinot Noir because you have umami. You have to be open to these food experiences with wine, like a great Clos Blanc de Vougeot with Cîteaux cheese.

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