Pierre de Benoist (right) with his uncle Aubert de Villaine
For Domaine de Villaine, the 2017 vintage marks twenty years of life as a village-level Bouzeron AOC instead of a regional Bourgogne Aligoté, due, in large part, to the conviction of Pierre de Benoist and his oncle, Aubert de Villaine. As climate change sets in on Burgundy, Pierre is doing his part to ensure a bright future for his beloved Bouzeron. In addition to working organically and biodynamically, he created an Aligoté nursery to preserve the most well-adapted, genetically diverse, ancient clones. A deep and spiritual thinker, Pierre tends to evoke the celestial when describing his wines, and indeed there is something otherworldly about the vibrant and crystalline 2017 vintage.
In the 1970s, Aubert de Villaine, co-director of Domaine de la Romanée Conti, and his American wife, Pamela, settled in the village of Bouzeron. Upon planting his root in this small village, Aubert made himself a champion of the grape variety that reigns supreme in Bouzeron today—Aligoté Doré. Although the grape was overlooked until 1979 when it first earned the appellation Bourgogne Aligoté de Bouzeron, the I.N.A.O. finally upgraded the appellation to A.O.C. Bouzeron in 1997, largely due to Aubert’s advocacy over the years. Pierre de Benoist, Aubert’s nephew, currently directs the domaine, upholding the sense of tradition, excellence, and standards for which it has become so well-known.
In eastern central France, Burgundy is nestled between the wine regions of Champagne to the north, the Jura to the east, the Loire to the west, and the Rhône to the south. This is the terroir par excellence for producing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The southeast-facing hillside between Dijon in the north and Maranges in the south is known as the Côte d’Or or “golden slope.” The Côte d’Or comprises two main sections, both composed of limestone and clay soils: the Côte de Nuits in the northern sector, and the Côte de Beaune in the south. Both areas produce magnificent whites and reds, although the Côte de Beaune produces more white wine and the Côte de Nuits more red.
Chablis is Burgundy’s northern outpost, known for its flinty and age-worthy Chardonnays planted in Kimmeridgian limestone on an ancient seabed. Vézelay is a smaller area south of Chablis with similar qualities, although the limestone there is not Kimmeridgian.
To the south of the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise extends from Chagny on its northern end, down past Chalon-sur-Saône and encompasses the appellations of Bouzeron in the north, followed by Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny.
Directly south of the Chalonnaise begins the Côte Mâconnais, which extends south past Mâcon to the hamlets of Fuissé, Vinzelles, Chaintré, and Saint-Véran. The Mâconnais is prime Chardonnay country and contains an incredible diversity of soils.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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