Bourgogne is renowned for its exquisite wines and centuries-old winemaking traditions, with vineyards dating back to Roman times. As the wine industry grapples with the effects of climate change, a new generation of Bourgogne winemakers are confronting those challenges while preserving the authenticity and deep-rooted traditions of the region.
These young vintners are stepping up and addressing these impacts, setting the stage for future generations. They combine their passion for winemaking with a deep understanding of each vintage’s unique path to the glass. This group, and many more like them, are securing a resilient and dynamic future for Bourgogne’s winemaking heritage, which begins with recognizing their ancestral history.
In this intro clip from Inheriting the Future, available exclusively on SOMM TV, we meet Thibaud Clerget of Domaine Yvon Clerget and Pauline Charles from Domaine Charles Pere et Filles who speak about their experiences in a multi-generational wine family.
Understanding the Appellation System
Bourgogne abides by a renowned classification system that is crucial to the area’s wine identity. It not only emphasizes origin and quality but also highlights the influence of unique plot-based soils. “From one vineyard to the next, it’s completely different terroir,” explains Clerget.
At the summit of this classification hierarchy are the Grand Cru vineyards, which comprise 33 prestigious sites. These vineyards, including Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, and Montrachet, produce wines of unparalleled prestige. One of the contributing factors to their excellence is the presence of distinct soils, such as limestone, marl, and clay, which impart specific characteristics to the grapes grown in these vineyards. This category accounts for a mere 2% of Bourgogne’s wine production.
Directly below the Grand Cru vineyards are the Premier Cru vineyards, recognized for their high quality, albeit slightly less exclusivity. With over 600 vineyards falling into this category, each possesses its own unique combination of soil types. This diversity of soils, including limestone, calcareous clay, and stony soils, contributes to the wine’s complexity.
The Village level wines, originating from specific villages within Burgundy, also showcase the impact of local soils. “For example, our Mersault Les Chevalier Chardonnay, it’s a soil that’s very calcareous. It’s maybe 90% limestone rock. This terroir will bring freshness and tension to the wine,” says Clerget. In contrast, “Our Pommard Les Rugiens comes from soil that is quite ferrous and red, which will give structured tannic wines, but with a nice length.”
Lastly, regional wines, encompassing a broader geographical area within Burgundy, showcase the influence of regional soils. The soils in these areas are a mix of limestone, clay, and gravel, contributing to the overall character and style of the wines.
Vintage Variation and Climate Change
With centuries of winemaking law that specifies quantity regulations, alcohol and yield limits, and harvesting guidelines, among many other things, the climate can reign chaos.
“We cannot irrigate,” says Clément Barraud, winemaker at Terres Secrètes. “We don’t control the rainfall, the amount of water in the plot, so we are completely subject to the weather. That’s what makes the beauty of each vintage.”
In addition to not knowing what to expect year to year, winemakers in Bourgogne are aiming for a moving target regarding the ever-changing climate. “We see it in the date of the beginning of the harvest. We’re starting earlier and earlier,” says Gabin et Felix Richoux winemaker Gabin Richoux. “My grandfather used to start harvesting at the end of September and the beginning of October. My father used to start in mid-September. And now we regularly harvest at the end of August.”
“We are taking over in a moment that is both easy and complicated,” adds Pauline Charles from Domaine Charles Pere et Filles. “Easy, in the sense that we have a reputation today, which is very important. And complicated because there’s always this same problem of climate.” She continues, “I arrived at the domaine in 2015, and we began to see a big change. We have more and more climatic accidents: frosts, hail, too much rain, or not enough.”
Despite these challenges, there’s beauty to find in every vintage. For example, according to the Vin de Bourgogne vintages overview, the low yielding frost-ridden 2021 vintage offers “lively wines with delicate aromas that can be enjoyed in their youth.” Whereas in 2018, the dry growing season resulted in “an ideal vintage” with generous volumes and superb quality.
A Generation Looking to the Future
As successors to the eras before them, these young winemakers, like Pauline, acknowledge the gradual yet significant change. “We are a generation slowly taking up the torch,” she says, expanding on the amalgamation of old and new. “We reuse what existed before but with today’s new materials. We have new ways of doing things that are a bit more developed, with more research.”
In terms of technology, Clerget acknowledges the fortunate advancements available to the new generation, explaining, “We are lucky to have new technology in the vineyards, mechanization, and tractors better adapted to the soil. In vinification, we have thermo-regulated tubes that tell us the temperature.” However, despite these advancements, the young winemakers’ commitment to ancestral methods remains, recognizing their simplicity and timeless value.
For Richoux, the inspiration for change comes from seeing advancements in other winemaking regions. “Unlike the older generation, we have been very lucky to travel and see other places,” he says of his work experiences in Champagne and New Zealand. “It gave us a new perspective, a more international view. Since returning, we’ve tried modernizing while keeping some traditional, authentic practices.”
Overall, the next generation of winemakers in Bourgogne represents a fusion of tradition while embracing innovation, resulting in a dynamic approach to winemaking that respects the past while adapting to the future.