The Exhilarating Merry-Go-Round of Burgundy’s Grand Vineyards

By | 26 May 2024

A flurry of acquisitions and exchanges has brought significant change to the ownership of some of Burgundy’s biggest names.


Sarah Marsh MW

There is nothing new about vineyards changing hands in Burgundy. Were it so, much of Burgundy would still belong to the Church. Nor does the acquisition of choice vineyards by outside investors—luxury brands, banks, insurance companies, or wealthy individuals—cause more than a light ripple of surprise. But several recent sales, mergers, and reshuffles of vineyards merit more than a raised eyebrow because of the importance of the appellations traded. 

In September 2022, French billionaire François Pinault, owner of Château Latour and other distinguished wine estates, extended his influence in Burgundy from his holdings in the Côte de Nuits (Clos de Tart in Morey-St-Denis and Domaine d’Eugénie in Vosne-Romanée) to the Côte de Beaune, as his wine company Artémis Domaines merged with Maisons et Domaines Henriot. The latter included Bouchard Père & Fils and Domaine William Fèvre in Burgundy, together with Maison Henriot in Champagne and Beaux-Frères in Oregon—”A partnership in which Henriot is a minority partner and all the important decisions will be made by Artémis,” explains Vincent Pépin, recently appointed commercial director for Bouchard Père & Fils.

Domaine Bouchard, part of the Henriot portfolio, was highly valued due to its extensive land holdings in the Côte d’Or. Henriot Champagne was swiftly sold to Terroirs et Vignerons de Champagne, while without much fanfare, Fèvre was put up for sale. The reason lies in the fact that the Fèvre family retained their vineyards when they sold to Joseph Henriot in 1998 – a condition that does not fit well with Artémis’s philosophy regarding vineyard ownership. Thus, William Fèvre was sold to Domaines Barons de Rothschild Lafite (DBR Lafite) on January 9, 2024.

Similarly, Bouchard Père & Fils’s Burgundy négociant wines will be gradually discontinued as grower contracts end, a process that Pépin believes could take up to seven years in some instances. Pépin views Bouchard as a hidden gem that boasts an astounding terroir and immense potential. He states that the real value was lost among the négociant wines.

According to my observations, since assuming the role of winemaker, Frédéric Weber has significantly enhanced the quality; an impressive achievement for the technical director of a house that, at the peak of its négociant activities, procured fruit from the Côte de Nuits to the Mâconnais and produced almost 90 cuvées. Weber notes, “Historically, the négoce part accounted for over 75 percent of our activities. In 2022, that figure has dropped to 15 percent, and in 2024 it will be reduced to nil. With Artémis, our focus will exclusively be on our own domaine, which, as you know, is supremely exceptional in the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits.” Indeed, it is exceptionally noteworthy as the largest owner of grands and premiers crus on the Côte d’Or. This brings me back to my initial comment about the remarkable grandeur and scope of the recently reorganized vineyards.

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils holds the title of the largest owner of Chevalier-Montrachet. It boasts 2.33ha (5.7 acres) of the grand cru, in addition to 0.21ha (0.52 acre) of vines in lieu-dit La Cabotte, a desirable parcel of Chevalier situated above Montrachet. With regard to Montrachet, the Domaine has 0.89ha (2.2 acres) and of Bâtard-Montrachet, it secures 0.8ha (1.97 acres). Remarkable indeed. On Corton’s hill, Bouchard proudly owns just over 7ha (17 acres), divided quite evenly between Corton-Charlemagne and red Corton. And speaking of grand cru, Bouchard is not short on the Côte de Nuits either, claiming 0.15ha (0.37 acre) of Chambertin, 0.24ha (0.59 acre) of Bonnes-Mares, 0.45ha (1.1 acres) of Clos de Vougeot, and 0.39ha (0.96 acre) of Echézeaux, together with some excellent premiers crus: 0.25ha (0.62 acre) of Gevrey-Chambertin Cazetiers (a personal favorite) and over 1ha (2.47 acres) of Nuits-St-Georges Les Cailles (yet another premier cru deserving of your attention).

Nonetheless, Domaine Bouchard is more renowned for its selection of wines from the Côte de Beaune, where it owns substantial vineyard holdings in Beaune itself, including the premier cru monopole Clos Landry (1.98ha) [4.9 acres], planted with Chardonnay) and a sizable 4ha (10 acres) of its most acclaimed red premier cru, Beaune Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus. However, in my opinion, this cuvée competes with Volnay Premier Cru Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot, where Bouchard also holds an astounding 4ha. This all adds up to: “More than 106ha [260 acres], from the Clos Vougeot, to the Montrachet,” according to Frédéric Weber.

Nevertheless, changes are afoot. Under new management, Bouchard’s Côte de Nuits vineyards are transitioning to Domaine d’Eugénie. In 2023, the Bonnes-Mares, Cazetiers, and Chambertin were vinified. The rest, including some village wine, will be vinified in the upcoming vintage in the small winery previously utilized by Bichot’s Domaine du Clos Frantin in the heart of Vosne-Romanée. It’s expected that Eugénie’s winemaker Michel Mallard will face a bit of a challenge. Tasting the new cuvées will be intriguing, but some change is anticipated as each winemaker adds their unique touch.

This shift will allow Domaine Bouchard to concentrate more. Pépin outlines the borders and aspiration. “Bouchard is an iconic domaine in the Côte de Beaune, from Puligny to Aloxe-Corton.” Weber shares this fervor. “To be able to focus solely on our domaine allows me and my team to be much more precise in vineyard management, vinification, and élevage. You are aware of my passion for our incredible collection of climats, and we intend to continue authentically expressing each terroir, while respecting the vintage as well.”

William Fèvre estate manager and winemaker, Didier Séguier, expressed great excitement in January when the sale to DBR Lafite was announced. He sees it as a promising opportunity both for William Fèvre and Chablis. As a technical director for William Fèvre since 1998, Séguier tirelessly focused his efforts on improving the vineyards, adopting organic farming in 2000 and incorporating biodynamics for the grand cru climats in 2010. It is confirmed that all vineyards for the 2023 vintage will be organically certified.

DBR Lafite has made a commitment to organically certify all its French estates from the 2023 vintage onwards. Saskia de Rothschild, the CEO of DBR Lafite, praised Séguier’s organic approach and mentioned it as a remarkable factor in their decision to acquire Domaine William Fèvre. The first time she visited the vineyards alongside Séguier and François Ménin, the chef de culture, she was impressed by the care taken in the vineyard cultivation. According to her, being vignerons at Lafite, they strongly related with the organic and biodynamic approaches which require close observation and quick adaptation to changes in the vineyard. She also noted a profound sense of culture and knowledge inherent in the Fèvre team.

Under Henriot’s ownership, the vineyards leased from the Fèvre family expanded from 48ha (119 acres) to 70ha (173 acres), primarily from acquisition of village parcels. Currently, the estate manages 15.9ha (39 acres) of premier cru and 15.2ha (37.5 acres) of grand cru. Nearly one third of these vineyards are owned by the domaine. There is also a renewed 50-year lease on the Fèvre vineyards.

In spite of the expansion in Chablis vineyards, Séguier finds it necessary to source grapes from the village level to meet demand, although this is anticipated to reduce with the new ownership. According to Antoine Granger, commercial director of DBR Lafite, the négociant side will mainly serve specific markets where they are unable to meet the demand with their own fruit, such as Japan and Australia. They also plan to reduce Petit Chablis. Séguier agrees with this approach, recalling how William Fèvre stood against the concept of Petit Chablis, labeling it as ‘Sous Chablis’ or Below Chablis in the past.

Burgundy marks a new direction for DBR Lafite, and by all appearances, a domaine on the Côte d’Or might seem more fitting to its portfolio. However, Saskia de Rothschild was captivated by Chablis. She shares, “It appears as a region that remains modest and family-owned, presenting several prospects for the future.”

If DBR Lafite is primarily red wine-focused, why the shift toward white wine? It would seem that Saskia de Rothschild is seeking a more diverse portfolio. “Our winemaking team has collectively shifted its focus in recent years, notably at Duhart-Milon and Rieussec, where we’ve been honing our dry whites since 2021. Personally, I relish learning new things, and honing our skills in dry whites has been an exciting new segment of our journey. We’re thrilled to have discovered a terroir and team who are experts in this field.”

The extent to which climate change influenced DBR Lafite’s decision to acquire Domaine Fèvre, located in the far north of Burgundy, was queried. De Rothschild’s response wasn’t unexpected: “We’ve constructed a risk map for our existing estates to foresee each terroir and individual situation’s future. Looking at the models, the two climatic variables considered were the potential development of drought risk and the change in nightly temperatures in 50 years. This is also the logic we employed when considering this potential investment, as the aim is to look 50 years ahead.”

Regarding the hands-on work of winemaking, Séguier is ready for his long-awaited opportunity to revamp the winery. He’s ecstatic at the thought. DBR Rothschild’s Granger assures, “He will receive all the funding he requires.” “Bouchard had different priorities, but we aim to provide him with the best tools to improve the quality.” De Rothschild supplements this by stating, “We take our time to formulate a plan that can secure our future for the next 50 years, and that’s what we plan to do with Didier in the forthcoming year.”

The importance of having ample space and the necessary equipment, especially as the temperatures are usually high during the vintage, is crucial in Burgundy. Maybe the potential quality is defined in the vineyard, but even talented winemakers need an adequate winery to translate the quality of the fruit and the representation of the terroir into the bottle. This trend has led many producers from the congested medieval cellars in the villages of the Côte d’Or to the modern, more functional wineries beneath the RN74. All of them striving to bring more precision to their winemaking.

Funding by LVMH, thankfully, removes the need to go for an industrial estate. The winery at Domaine des Lambrays in Morey-St-Denis was completed in just two years, just in time for the 2022 vintage. Jacques Devauges, the director and winemaker of the estate who joined in the 2019 vintage, is of the view that about 20% of the final quality of the wine can be credited to this spacious, bright, and airy Gothic construct. Now it houses temperature-controlled cylindrical wooden tanks custom-made by François Frères and fitted with floating caps having inflatable seals. With these tanks, Devauges can produce 11 distinct cuvées from the clos, optimized to express the diversity of the terroir and blended later. On top of that, there is an ingenious glass elevator for gravity-assisted movement. 2022 is the first vintage where Clos des Lambrays has demonstrated its potential as a grand cru and the new winery has no doubt contributed to this.

But it’s not just a new winery at Domaine des Lambrays for the 2022 vintage, new vineyards and wines have also been introduced. Although new, they also have a history. Three premier cru vineyards were kept by the Cosson family when the domaine was sold to the Saier brothers in 1980, and are located directly below the château and winery. These are back with the domaine now. The acquisition includes 0.9ha of Clos Baulet, the smallest premier cru in Morey-St-Denis. Also, 0.55ha of Les Blanchards are added to the Morey-St-Denis premier cru called Les Loups. The young vines of Clos des Lambrays, now 22 years old, are replaced in the grand cru. Devauges considers the soil in Blanchards as rich and heavy clay which he says “brings tannins that are sticky on the palate. So, now Les Loups is a bit more dense and compact.”

Clos Sorbé, a slightly warmer site with red soil, is located directly across from the domaine’s gateway. “This vineyard couldn’t be closer,” notes Devauges. Currently, 0.95ha has been added to the existing 0.3ha. All the “returned” premiers crus are clos, though strictly speaking, they are not monopolies, just like Clos des Lambrays (Domaine Taupenot-Merme owns 0.04ha).

This could be an exciting opportunity for Morey as a whole, given that its premiers crus have always been rather overshadowed by its grands crus. I’m hoping that the marketing muscle behind Domaine des Lambrays might bring them greater recognition.

Devauges tells me that Domaine des Lambrays belongs to an elite group of four estates dubbed Vins d’Exceptions within the LVMH portfolio; Château Cheval Blanc, Château d’Yquem, and Colgin Cellars complete the quartet. “The common point is the pursuit of excellence,” remarks Devauges, who discreetly declines to comment on the management styles of corporate owners for whom he has previously worked but says, “Mr Arnaud is astute in allowing the managers of all his domaines autonomy. It’s in the DNA of LVMH to allow freedom and creativity.” Whatever it is, it’s producing results. He adds, “Mr Arnaud has a brilliant approach. It’s why I like working here so much.”

In an entirely separate deal, in 2021, Arnaud acquired 0.45ha (1.1 acres) of Vosne-Romanée premier cru Les Beaux Monts—one third of which was planted as long ago as 1924—and 0.9ha (2.2 acres) of Nuits-St-Georges premier cru La Richemone. They have become part of the Domaine des Lambrays estate, but quantities were so small in 2021 (about 450 bottles of the former and 600 of the latter) that they will be released with the 2022s in March this year.

It’s all rather like the party game musical chairs. Who will be sitting on what when the music stops in Burgundy? In this round, Christophe Perrot-Minot found himself without a seat—or almost. His lease of Beaux Monts expired, but he came away with a deal in which LVMH sold him two ouvrées (0.05ha [0.2 acre]) of Richemone. Christophe says, “We don’t know the exact year when the vines were planted, but we assume the age of the vines to be about 80 years old.” These join the vines he already owned here, which are also about 80 years old, to give him a total of 0.6ha (1.5 acres) of Richemone.

Domaine Perrot-Minot enthusiasts would be aware that Christophe has created two Richemone cuvées. From now on, there will only be one—Cuvée Ultra. In the ’22 vintage, there were seven barrels. Beaux Monts (which is my personal favorite in the Perrot-Minot collection), has captured the delicate elegance of the prime Vosne-Romanée area, as shown in the 2022 offering from Domaine des Lambrays, which Devauges and I tasted last October.

Let’s delve further. Vine parcels often change ownership within families when leases terminate. At the closure of 2021, the Gros family from Vosne-Romanée experienced slight changes to their domaines when several leases ended. Domaine Michel Gros gained 0.37ha (0.9 acre) of Echézeaux (Les Loächausses) and 0.41ha (1 acre) of Richebourg (in Les Verroilles ou Richebourgs), while Domaine Anne Gros inherited some Grands Echézeaux. These parcels, originally belonging to Colette Gros, were divided among her nephews and nieces and managed by Domaine Gros Frère & Soeur until 2021.

Moving back to Domaine des Lambrays, the domain acquired a 0.08ha (0.2 acre) parcel of Nuit-St-Georges premier cru Les Cras in 2021, enough to produce one barrel of wine. Due to its small output, it isn’t part of our normal distribution,” reports Devauges. The wine is exclusively sold at LVMH’s Cheval Blanc hotel’s restaurants in Paris. A slightly larger parcel (0.18ha [0.44 acre]) of Nuits-St-Georges premier cru produced just enough for two barrels. But due to frost damage in 2021, only one barrel was produced from both parcels. This was sold as a Nuits-St-Georges Premier Cru to French restaurants. These small, oft-unheard-of adjustments occur because the amount of wine produced is insufficient to warrant significant attention.

However, don’t brush past the development of a grand cru parcel—0.52ha (1.28 acres)—acquired in a separate transaction. Ruchottes-Chambertin (another grand cru that tops my favorites list) is now a part of the domain. Don’t get too excited, though, as it’s being leased until November 2030 to Domaine Frédéric Esmonin. Devauges ingeniously devised a metayage (cropshare) system to replace the initial fermage (leasehold). Instead of monetary rent, Esmonin gives his rent in Ruchottes-Chambertin grapes, amounting to two barrels,” Devauges explains. These are vinified under a négociant status. The aim is to keep the négoce Ruchottes-Chambertin (about 600 bottles per vintage) in reserve until 2033, when it will be released alongside the 2031 as the first domaine vintage. The vintages will be sold in boxes of mini verticals. “It’s a long-term project,” exclaims Devauges.

Reflecting upon the ever-spinning carousel of vineyard amalgamations, transactions, and leases, one can’t help but wonder, what’s the latest news for those making investment moves in the wine industry? A glance in the rearview mirror uncovers the advantageous stories of those financially resourceful enough to acquire their wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. This predominately red wine-oriented establishment took on a new shade with the introduction of a second white wine in 2018, thanks to Domaine Bonneau du Martray leasing out a large portion of their Corton-Charlemagne land, subsequent to being bought by E Stanley Kroenke, the multi-millionaire entrepreneur.

The activity on the leasehold side of things is equally fervent. Domaine de la Vougeraie, identified as one of Boisset’s estates, expanded its vast holding by incorporating Chassagne-Montrachet premier cru Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle starting from the 2021 harvest. According to general director Sylvie Poillot, the newly acquired land is being farmed organically. The substantial patch of land, leased from Domaine Duc de Magenta, boosts an impressive single ownership status.

Over in Chassagne, Domaine Bernard Moreau underwent division in 2020, with siblings Alex and Benoît Moreau determining distinct pathways after nearly two decades of collaboration. While Alex’s wines, made independently since 2021, stand out particularly his Premier Cru Grandes Ruchottes, a tasting session of Benoît Moreau’s wines last year left quite the impression. It’s clear the younger Moreau has confidently settled into his stride.

Lastly, an intriguing division occurred between the Lamarche cousins, Nicole and Natalie, who fragmented their shared vineyard, Domaine Lamarche, within Vosne-Romanée. Elocution of such an arrangement by Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, the co-shareholder of Natalie’s share, suggests a shared income and risk agreement. Liger-Belair will oversee an exclusively biodynamic cultivation of these vineyards, aligning with his already biodynamically certified vineyards. Natalie’s choice to partner with Louis-Michel Liger-Belair raises eyebrows, to which he confidently claims it’s due to his unparalleled skill in the field.

Comte Liger-Belair extends his Burgundy portfolio, adding notable parcels which include Echézeaux, Grands Echézeaux, La Croix Rameau and the Vosne-Romanée premier cru Aux Malconsorts. These additions were formerly part of the estate that was sold in 1933 that included La Tâche and Les Brûlées. The first vintage from these new vineyards under Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair will be in 2022. Nicole Lamarche, who has been involved with Domaine Lamarche since 2013, will maintain complete possession of grand cru monopole La Grande Rue, neighboring la Tâche.

Coming down a bit from these lofty dealings, an intriguing recent reshuffle in the vineyards of Burgundy occurred between Vincent Dauvissat and Simonnet-Febvre, part of the Louis Latour group, in Chablis. Dauvissat extended his lease on the Chablis grand cru Preuses by offering a lease of his premier cru Fôret to Simonnet-Febvre. Consequently, Simonnet-Febvre acquires a fine selection of the Chablis Premier Cru, contributing to around 800 bottles of Fôret annually, tended by Vincent Dauvissat. Unchanged, is our ability to enjoy Vincent Dauvissat’s Grand Cru Preuses. Indeed, a win for all parties.

Entire domaines rather than only vineyards have been changing hands recently. Charles van Canneyt and his wife Anne-Sophie Gagey bought Domaine des Chézeaux in October 2021. Van Canneyt insists that the previous owners did not have foreign investors in mind and the couple financed the purely French project entirely with the aid of a bank and guarantees.

Chambertin, Clos St-Denis, Griotte-Chambertin, including others, are an impressive set of Vineyards acquired by Domaine des Chézeaux. They will run the new estate separately from their previous one, Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat in Vougeot. Domaine des Chézeaux was previously operated by three families, including Amélie Berthaut, François Leclerc, and Laurent Ponsot. The new owners, including Van Canneyts, managed to reach an agreement with Berthaut and Leclerc before the 2023 harvest, intending to produce Griotte-Chambertin, Gevrey premier cru Cazetiers, and Clos des Chézeaux. They also hope to work out a beneficial plan with Laurent Ponsot for the future.

So, does all of this amount to anything beyond fulfilling our natural curiosity to know who’s got what? I believe so—and not least as reflection of how Burgundy has evolved this century. The land of horny-handed farmers quietly tilling their vineyards has receded in the limelight of international attention (see also Roy Richards, WFW 82, pp.116–18). Along the way, Burgundy has changed. We may lament the loss of a traditional way of life, but we can also embrace the change, for somewhere along the line, variable quality and underperforming vineyards and wines have also receded.

Significant evolution is fueled by investment—and whether we like it or not, hefty investment now comes from outside Burgundy, injecting not only money but energy and a fresh perspective. I can fully envisage quality shifting up another notch at Bouchard Père & Fils and William Fèvre, as it has at Domaine des Lambrays—without diminishing what has already been accomplished to date. As Frédéric Weber remarks, “Artémis allows us a long-term vision for the vineyard, with more investment in the vineyard and in the vinification, and more people at each stage. That is really exciting and a source of motivation for my team.”

This century is a new and glitzy era for Burgundy, with a virtuous circle of investment and an increase in the quality and consistency of its wines all the way up the hierarchy—from Bourgogne, to grand cru. Escalating prices are a real concern in Burgundy, and it’s sad that a few wines have become investment vehicles as well. But if the trade-off is a collective improvement in the expression of the terroirs and the quality of the wines, is it not, on balance, worth it? 

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