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Burgundy’s Young Guns

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Apr 23, 2009 12:24pm ET

I started in the wine business in late 1990, selling Burgundy at retail. At that time, the release of the 1988 vintage, the new kids on the block from Burgundy included Dominique Lafon, Christophe Roumier, Etienne Grivot, Jean-Nicolas Méo, Patrick Bize and Pascal Marchand. Influenced by growers like Henri Jayer and Michel Lafarge, this young group questioned the farming techniques and cellar practices of the previous generation, raising the bar for quality authenticity in the region.

Most of these growers now have 20 vintages under their belts. Fortunately for Burgundy, a younger generation has continued pursuit of quality in the vineyards and cellars, making it one of the most exciting regions in the wine world today. Winemakers like Cyril Audoin, David Croix, Benjamin Leroux, Fabien Moreau, Arnaud Mortet, Sylvain Pataille, Nicolas Rossignol, Jeremy Seysses and Antoine Vincent are establishing themselves as the future of the region.

I had the opportunity to sit down with three of the younger generation in Burgundy recently: The Bret brothers, Jean-Philippe and Jean-Guillaume, of Domaine La Soufrandière and the négociant operation Bret Brothers in the Mâconnais; Kellen Lignier, proprietor of Lucie & Auguste Lignier in Morey-St.-Denis; and Virgile Lignier of Domaine Lignier-Michelot, also located in Morey-St.-Denis.

The Bret Brothers (Jean-Philippe is 35, Jean-Guillaume 33) began making wine at La Soufrandière, the domaine founded in 1947 by their grandfather, in 2000. The 11-acre estate has been farmed organically since the brothers took over and was converted to biodynamic agriculture, earning certification for the 2006 vintage.

In 2001, they sought parcels of grapes to harvest with their own team, supplementing La Soufrandière with a boutique négociant business under the Bret Brothers label. Their goal is to express the various terroirs of the Mâconnais by makings wines from vines that are a minimum of 40 years old.

The brothers are also members of Artisans Vignerons de Bourgogne du Sud, an association of 17 growers whose philosophy of terroir focuses on work in the vineyards in an organic way.

The Bret Brothers Mâcon-Villages Terroirs de Mâconnais 2007 delivered fresh apple and peach fruit on a round profile. When you get to the individual vineyards, there’s more terroir. The St.-Véran La Côte-Rôtie 2007, from a south-facing parcel of eroded limestone at the foot of the Vergisson rock, was broad and creamy, while the Pouilly-Fuissé En Carementrant 2007, from 300 feet higher on the slope, was leaner, with more citrus and mineral notes.

From La Soufrandière, the Pouilly-Vinzelles Les Longeays 2007 displayed a firm structure and mineral elements that resonated on the long finish. The Pouilly-Vinzelles Les Quarts, from 40- to 80-year-old vines exhibited riper flavors of peach and quince, along with citrus on a powerful frame.

Kellen Lignier, 36, an American woman living in Burgundy, was married to Romain Lignier. Romain took over the reins of the family estate Domaine Hubert Lignier in 1991. Kellen began learning about the vineyards and winemaking working alongside her husband. After his untimely death in 2004, Kellen decided to continue running the estate.

To improve her knowledge and experience of managing the domaine, Kellen took an 8-month crash course in the techniques and laws of grapegrowing in France at Centre de Formation Professionnelle et de Promotion Agricole in Beaune. She supplemented that with parttime jobs at Domaine Anne Gros and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

She currently farms about 21 acres in Morey-St.-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin. The cultivation of the vines is moving toward organic and biodynamic; no insecticides have been used since 2005 and no herbicides since 2006.

Lignier is experimenting with some whole clusters in the fermentation, about 10 percent to 15 percent, particularly for the smaller vineyard parcels that yield less volume.

We tasted two of her 2006s. The Morey-St.-Denis Clos Les Sionnières showed focused black currant and blackberry fruit in an elegant expression. The Clos de la Roche was rich and full of dark berry flavors, firm and stylish, but tight on the finish.

From Lignier’s 2005s tasted last year, I was very impressed with the Morey-St.-Denis Cuvée Romain Lignier (93 points), from old-vine fruit in Les Faconnières and Les Chenevery premiers crus vineyards.

Virgile Lignier, 38, is the third generation to run his family’s estate, Domaine Lignier-Michelot. He worked with his father from 1988 until 1998, during which time they began bottling about 50 percent of the harvest. Virgile took over in ’98 and since 2002 all of the production is bottled at the Domaine.

Over the past 10 years, he has changed the style bit by bit, what he calls a three-part evolution. In the vineyards, he now plows and green harvests. He is not organic, but works organically as much as possible, spraying for botrytis and oïdium as necessary.

The grapes are harvested in small bins before going through two sorting tables at the winery. The second table is to sort the millérand clusters, which Lignier keeps whole for fermentation. Since 2006 vintage, he has vinified with a combination of whole bunches and destemmed grapes.

After a 3-5 day cold maceration and a light pumping over to cover the mass with juice, he prefers to punch down at the beginning to extract flavors and tannins. As the fermentation progresses, Lignier might continue punching down or pump over, monitored by tasting the wine and according to each terroir.

The third phase of the changes are in the élevage, or raising of the wines. Lignier used to use a selection of coopers for barrels, but now has decided on François Frères exclusively. Since the 2004 vintage, he no longer filters. “I stopped because I felt I lost something,” he explained.

When he filtered, there was one racking. Now, there are two, one before the harvest and one at the assemblage before bottling. Instead of pumping, the wines are moved more gently by “pushing” with nitrous oxide.

The 2006s from Lignier-Michelot, tasted blind in Wine Spectator’s New York office, showed lush, juicy textures and fresh, dark berry flavors. The Clos de la Roche (93 points) revealed black cherry, blackberry and chocolate, but also mineral flavors on a ripe, rich frame. The Morey-St.-Denis En la Rue de Vergy (91) was still firm and tight, with black cherry and black currant flavors and a spicy aftertaste. And don’t overlook the Bourgogne for $25. It offered exotic bilberry, black currant and spice notes buoyed by a bright structure.

The 2007s, tasted with Lignier, were pure, elegant wines and very expressive. The Bourgogne, with its pure cherry, balance and harmony is a fine introduction to the domaine. The Chambolle-Musigny Vieilles Vignes, from three different parcels, was elegant, showing floral and berry notes, while the Morey-St.-Denis Vieilles Vignes displayed juicy cherry and black currant flavors on a rounder frame. The Morey-St.-Denis Les Faconnières was meaty and dense, featuring black fruit and mineral flavors allied to a firm structure.

All three of these producers are excellent sources of red and white Burgundies.

Bret Brothers
Website: www.bretbrothers.com/en

Lucie & Auguste Lignier
Website: www.la-lignier.com

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