Burgundy, a world of nuances
From Gevrey-Chambertin to Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy has built its myth by producing wines that express site character and vintage nuances like no other region. Incompressible geological specifics, the “terroir”, combined with unpredictable weather patterns are what make Burgundy wines at the same time so unique and different year on year.
In other words, the same story is rewritten over and over again, sparking endless heated discussions. What other vintage does 2022 most resemble? What do 2020 and 2010 have in common ? Is vintage 2019 more faithful to the Burgundy DNA than 2018 ? Perhaps, but I don’t mind the more rounded contours of the 2018… and the conversation goes on, that’s the beauty !
Without these nuances, there would be no conversation, much less passion. Why is it then that the rise of temperature triggers so much fear and the belief that Burgundy is on the edge of extinction ? There is no doubt that global warming is changing parameters. But in Burgundy change has always been the norm rather than the exception.
Global warming, the end of Burgundy or a new beginning ?
Certainly, the weather episodes are now more extreme. Early budburst makes the vine more vulnerable to frost. Long heatwave periods further stress the plant and dry out the berries. But new foliage management techniques are emerging. While summer pruning was traditionally intended to prevent excess foliage from competing with the growth of the grapes, the trend today is to leave more leaves on the top of the vines, in order to create a protective canopy effect.
Without necessarily claiming organic certifications, leading Burgundy producers have long abandoned the chemical driven farming principles from the past century in favor of respectful practices and natural treatments that preserve the quality of the soil.
Mechanical weeding improves soil aeration, its physical structure and water penetration. It promotes biological activity and soil life, which improves the nutrition of the vines. By cutting the surface roots of the vine, it also forces the vine to take root deeper.
Other producers have opted for the opposite approach. They prefer not to plough, convinced that the accumulation of organic matter on the surface serves as a protection from the excessive heat while also infusing life into the soil.
Aside from entertaining philosophical debates, these different soil management techniques share a common objective, which is to ensure the vines are offered natural solutions to access vital nutriments and produce the highest quality of grapes. They also are a testimony of Burgundy producers’ sense of adaptation and constant quest for excellence – as it has been for centuries.
Dominique Le Guen, who manages the family estate Hudelot-Baillet in Chambolle-Musigny, believes there is an evident correlation between sustainable agriculture and the impeccable balance of his 2022 range. In an era where the use of whole bunches has become fashionable, with a view to add a structural element and influx freshness to the wines, Domnique remains faithful to destemming 100% of his harvest.
His wines are quintessential Chambolle-Musigny, displaying head-turning fruit purity wrapped in ripe and smooth tannins. The refined structure, built around an elegant inner core of acidity, cuts short the discussion the need for stems. Freshness and length emerge seamlessly. When trying to penetrate the mystery of such harmony, from the delectable Chambolle-Musigny Vieilles Vignes to the rare and stunning Bonnes Mares, Dominique simply believes his carefully maintained 70- and 90-year-old vines have acquired the capacity to self-regulate when facing heat waves and drought episodes.
The Cros-Parantoux user case
Some sites that have been historically facing challenges to reach full maturity, due to their northerly orientation or exposure to cool breezes flushing through perpendicular valleys, may even welcome a moderate rise in temperature. And we are not talking about villages or generic appellations. According to Jasper Morris, one of the most respected voices in Burgundy, the Cros Parantoux 1er Cru site in Vosne-Romanée, made famous by Henri Jayer half a century ago, is “a site that may be enjoying global warming, at least to the extent that it has so far reached.”
Overlooking the Richebourg and Romanée-Conti holdings, the confidential single hectare Cros Parantoux plot is shared between Emmanuel Rouget and Meo-Camuzet. While both estates have been producing remarkable wines for decades, Jasper Morris confesses that “the recent warm vintages seem to be bringing out a more majestic element the Cros Parantoux.”
In Burgundy, business as usual
During my visits over the fall, in Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Nuits Saint Georges, I witnessed more resilience and faith rather than panic in the face of climate change. The intention here is not to minimize its effects nor the concerns that producers may have. But urgent matters seemed less related to climate change than to the rising costs of supplies, the availability of qualified resources to manage the vineyards and harvest the grapes, not to mention the inheritance taxes that threaten to dilapidate land assets of historic owners.
When we are disconnected from the context, we tend to extrapolate the drama. Like often, regardless of the topic, our perception is biased by a limited amount of information when the reality is more complex. Social media coverage of candles in the night to fight the frost or news flashes showing the devastating consequences of summer hailstorms do not mean it’s the end of the world.
In a year of record long heat waves, wines are simply beautiful. Vintage 2022 is blessed both in volume and quality. The real question is perhaps not whether Burgundy will survive climate change, but rather how – a question to which Vincent Lecheneaut from the eponymous domain in Nuits Saint Georges provides the straightest answer : we are not going to plant Syrah tomorrow !