Small vineyards with small productions are commonplace in Burgundy and with the price of land increasing rapidly over the last few decades the cost of production is high. This goes some way to explaining the difficulties in finding a decent bottle of Burgundy that doesn’t cost a fortune.
But this increase in land value has made for a positive shift in focus when it comes to wine production. Vosne-Romanée is prime real estate in this part of the world and exceptional wines are made here, so if you’re going to invest you’re also going to make sure you get the best out of your plot. And this doesn’t only apply to the Grand Cru holdings; the need to produce top quality wine has spread to the Premier Cru and village wines as well making it a better prospect for the consumer.
We have decided to look at three producers from the region that all have good reputations but perhaps for slightly different reasons. Interestingly, all three Domaines have recently been handed over to the next generation of winemakers and change is occurring. What this means for the established style of each is another aspect that sets them apart.
A rising star 20 years ago Cathiard is now firmly entrenched in the upper echelons of the Burgundy producers circle with a strong reputation for exceptional winemaking. Attention to detail seems to be the key to Cathiard production and ‘meticulous’ is a word commonly used to describe their ethos.
Having worked in the vineyards for several years Sylvain eventually took charge in 1995 when his father Andre retired. There is a simplicity to the winemaking at the Domaine that, although it follows traditional methods, feels modern in its outlook. A large part of the hard work goes into the vines which are kept in immaculate condition and tended to with individual care rather than a blanket growing policy. Organic principles are followed but to allow flexibility in difficult years certification is not sought. Grape selection is of high importance with a table de tri used in the cellars to sort through the hand selected grapes.
Sebastian Cathiard took over production from his father Sylvain in 2011 but has continued the Domaine’s established style with a heavy focus on the vineyards. The only real change is in the amount of new oak used, the argument being too much oak can mask the more subtle elements of the terroir they are trying to harness.
All this hard work goes into producing wines that are bright, full of energy and with a reputation for purity that has gained them a serious following. It has also ensured prices are fairly high with even the village wines setting you back a fair bit. However, the argument can be made that Cathiard’s village wines are of better quality than some producers Premier Crus. Classification does not always delineate quality.
2017 Sylvain Cathiard Vosne-Romanee £150 per bottle
A little young but will be improving nicely over the next few years. This is a far more interesting and surprising wine than its classification might suggest – delicate, sweet fruit but with a lovely sour cherry edge that lifts it in the glass.
2007 Sylvain Cathiard Vosne-Romanee Aux Malconsorts Premier Cru £785 per bottle
Bright, fresh and full of depth this is a great example of the Cathiard purity that comes through in their top quality offerings.
Jean Grivot is an old established burgundy domaine run by Etienne Grivot who took over from his father in 1987. Etienne’s reign was slightly marred at the beginning by a controversial following of the winemaking practices of Guy Accad. Accad is well-renowned for his expertise in soil analysis and had long been extolling the virtues of cutting back on fertilisation and encouraging a more harmonious balance in soil when he joined Grivot in the late 1980’s. He seems to have been rather demonised on the burgundy producers scene and his winemaking practices were decried as fraudulent. Interestingly, his theories on soil analysis are ones that are now commonplace in viticulture.
Accad and Grivot parted ways in the late 1990’s but Grivot retained many of Accad’s theories on soil analysis but chose to move forward with his own winemaking style. This meeting of ideas seemed to turn the tides around and Grivot’s wines have been well-regarded for the last two decades.
The Domaine follows biodynamic and organic principles but is not certified (a common occurrence in Burgundy) and is keen to keep the viticulture as natural as possible. Like most good producers in Burgundy, Grivot favours low yields to increase flavour concentration which he achieves with densely planted vineyards (the theory being that the increased competition between the vines produces less fruit and deeper roots).
The Grivot wines from Vosne-Romanée are full of fruit and elegance with each one harnessing its own unique complexities. The more basic offerings tend to be just that and it is definitely worth stepping up to the premier crus to get the real benefits of the Grivot winemaking.
His daughter Mathilde and son Hubert have now taken over production at the domaine but Grivot only retired in 2020. So far the impetus is on retaining the same level of care and attention in the vineyards with no major style changes announced as yet.
2015 Domaine Jean Grivot Vosne-Romanee Les Suchots Premier Cru £230 per bottle
Full of energy and minerality with great structure and elegance that will keep emerging over time.
2017 Domaine Jean Grivot Vosne-Romanee Les Beaux Monts Premier Cru £190
This is a surprisingly approachable wine already with a lovely floral nose and plenty of red fruit on the palate.
2014 Domaine Jean Grivot Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru Aux Reignots £345 per bottle
This is a much richer, deeper example of a Grivot wine. The frivolity and freshness of youth has given way to black cherry and orange zest with a herbal undertone.
Pascal Lachaux took over production of the winery from his father in law, Robert Arnoux, who died in 1995. Both had different outlooks on how wine should be approached with Arnoux favouring a more wild and free approach to the vineyards and Lachaux following a more meticulous and careful plan for how the vines should be cared for. The latter approach had a more positive effect on the wines and the reputation of the Arnoux-Lachoux brand improved considerably. They developed a reputation for elegance and finesse with good concentration of fruit thanks to low yields and well-tended vines.
The Domaine has since been taken over by the next generation Arnoux-Lachaux with Charles, the eldest son of Pascal and Florence, taking over management in 2015.
Arnoux-Lachaux offers surprising value for the quality but this may be changing gradually as Charles develops his skills and obtains a more commercial following. It is well-known that he has been mentored by the infamous Lalou Bize-Leroy which I’m sure will encourage an interest amongst her followers.
The change in management has created a sense of instability in style, not necessarily quality, which may make it harder to understand where these wines are going. The 2010 vintages listed below have now reached drinking age but are from before Charles’ time. With changes to both the growing and wine making techniques the wines are evolving and Charles seems determined to put his own stamp on this Domaine focusing on honing a more precise sense of terroir from the vineyards. Change can be positive though and a fresh pair of eyes on a well-established Domaine can produce insight others may have missed. A before and after tasting may be a worthwhile experiment.
2010 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Vosne-Romanee Les Hautes Maizieres £125 per bottle
Les Hautes Maizieres is a small vineyard under the village classification but should not be overlooked as a result. This is a big wine that required some years to settle down but is now about perfect. A heavily fragrant Vosne-Romanée with lots of succulent fruit and a touch of oak that doesn’t overpower.
2010 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Close de Vougeot Grand Cru £270 per bottle
Technically not in Vosne-Romanée but such great value it can’t be overlooked. A fine balance is the aim with a Grand Cru, the marrying of flavours that allows each one to be present but never overpowering. This is a delicate wine with a precise yet gentle combination of fruit and oak.
This is an interesting time for all three of these well-reputed Domaines and time will tell whether the new generation will embark upon the same level of overhaul of growing and production practice their parents undertook. Or whether their parents’ generation had the good fortune to take on the vineyards of Vosne-Romanée at the crucial moment in time and there is now little left to change.