Giving Up On Burgundy

“I’ve given up on buying Burgundy.”

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This was the title of an email sent from my friend Rick. A few weeks week prior to the email, Rick and I had enjoyed an evening of Domaine Remi Jobard wines. My meetings with Rick are always an educational experience. He’s lived in Europe, cooks as well as any Cordon Bleu graduate, holds a very discriminating palate and doesn’t enjoy wasting money on bad wine. He is what I would call, my ideal audience. My goal is simple: great wines at great prices. Unfortunately, I’m not always successful.

Rick’s email made me think about an Introduction to Burgundy class I teach. One of my goals for the students is what I call “Burgundy Buyer Confidence.” And it was behind this premise that I started a rash of educational emails with Rick, one of which I would like to share here. Hopefully it will provide assistance for those looking to learn more about the region of Burgundy.

“Dear Rick,

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

Glad to hear you enjoyed the Domaine Remi Jobard wines the other night. I understand your frustration with Burgundian wines and hope this email will help with your future purchases.

There is, and will continue to be, a lack of quality Burgundy wines at decent prices. As you know from visiting the region, Burgundy is a very small area. The grapes there are grown in very small amounts, what they call “low yields,” and are usually hand-picked. In addition, when the wines are produced they only make a few barrels, resulting in a mere three to four hundred cases for the whole world. Even with bad producers the price is normally high and the availability limited. However, here are a few inside tips I find useful.

Burgundy is a region of individuals--individual growers, individual merchants, and individual importers—the last being the most important to Americans. Since we’re talking about individuals, I’ll mention one of my favorite French importers, Peter Weygandt. Peter imports small production wines of impeccable quality. His prices range depending on the wine but are always value-oriented. He’s also the source of the Remi Jobard wines.

Since you’re already familiar with the quality and price of the Jobard wines—let’s use him as our example. Even though the region is comprised of individuals, it’s all about family. Such is the case of Remi Jobard. His father Charles Jobard and his uncle Francois Jobard both have own domains. In typical Burgundy fashion, Remi Jobard began working with his father and now works the same vineyards but bottles the wine with his name. It is truly a family affair. (His mother does the bottling.)

Location is importance in France, but never guarantees quality. Only the combination of location, producer and importer can guarantee quality. The grapes from all three Jobard wines are sourced from the Cote de Beaune, specifically near the village of Mersault. By simply reading the label I know the domain is in the village of Mersault. This goes back to the issue of heritage. Land is not only expensive in Burgundy, it is almost impossible to purchase. I suspect Remi Jobard makes wines only from his own vineyards.

The first wine we tasted that night, a 2004 Bourgogne Blanc ($25), is made of declassified old-vine chardonnay. If a producer like Remi Jobard has grapes left over from a specific vineyard, the grapes need to be declassified for use in another bottling. In this case, the grapes can only be used in the most basic of Burgundy wine, an Appellation Bourgogne Contrôlée, or a Bourgogne as it is commonly known. This is the law and it’s a benefit to the consumer. The price of the bottle is significantly less than a village, premier or grand cru wine.

The second wine of the night, a 2004 Bourgogne Rouge ($30), is another example of this process. The grapes are declassified Pinot Noir from a neighboring village, probably Monthelie or Volnay. Remi Jobard has vineyards in these towns and each year he makes a wine from both villages. In a good vintage, there are grapes left over and since they can’t be blended into a cuvee from Volnay or Monthelie, they have to be blended into a Bourgogne Rouge.

The last wine of the evening was a 2001 Mersault 1er Cru "Les Genevrieres.” ($50) Each chardonnay grape in this wine is sourced from the village of Mersault. More specifically, Les Genevrieres is the name of the actual vineyard where the grapes are grown. There are only 562 1er Cru vineyards in Burgundy—red and white combined—and they contribute about 11 percent of the complete production.

All of the Remi Jobard wines are limited in availability. Both his Cru wines and Bourgogne wines sell out quickly. However, there are hundreds of Bourgogne wines imported into the United States. As you become familiar with French importers, you’ll discover a variety of Bourgogne wines in their portfolio. I hope this helps the next time you’re at the wine shop.

Warm Wine Regards,
Michael”