Throughout my career in the Burgundy trade – one that spans nearly 3 decades now – I have often been asked the question, “What is it about Burgundy that captures your attention and keeps you so passionate about its wines?” Above all else – I reply – is the fact that when the next generation takes over in Burgundy, there is this palpable sense of change. And it is this change – as the sons and daughters begin managing their parents’ vineyards – that enthralls me, entices me, excites me and keeps me coming back for more.
Nowhere else in France have I experienced such vinous revolutions as I do in Burgundy. It’s as if the small families who continue to inhabit, own, manage and operate their centuries old estates and domaines have seen the results of the practices in such faraway places as Bordeaux and Champagne and have made a collective decision to eschew such nonsense. Or perhaps it’s their Cistercian roots; nobly connecting the Burgundians of today to the gentle philosophy of self-sufficiency. Whatever the cause, the results are undeniable; as each generation takes the reins from their forebears, the incoming progeny more times than not seems determined to overwhelmingly impress.
As my career has unfolded, I have enjoyed the experience of witnessing firsthand the passing of the baton. I’ve watched (and tasted) as Christophe Perrot Minot has transformed Domaine Perrot Minot. Likewise, my palate has been thrilled with the work at Taupenot Merme, where Romain and his sister Virginie have tenderly coaxed a new level of exquisiteness from their family’s holdings. Others I’ve witnessed include the changes at Comte Liger Belair, Comte Armand, Domaine Magnien, Dujac and so, so, so many more.
But perhaps one of my most memorable experiences with the new generation – based solely on the number of vineyard sites (lieu dits) being successfully managed – is the one I continue to enjoy with each new release at Henri Boillot. Whether the wine being tasted emanates from one of the various family-owned plots (Domaine labeled), or is sourced from one of Boillot’s dozens of managed sites (Maison labeled, or simply labeled as Henri Boillot), each example invariably runs to the very top of the score range. Tasting Boillot’s wines from any given lieu dit is a study in just how spectacular that plot of land’s resulting wines are supposed to be.
Just about the time yours truly was entering the wine trade (back in the mid 1980s), Henri Boillot struck out on his own to form a negociant business. He had been the winemaker for the family business in the Cote de Beaune – known at that time as Domaine Jean Boillot – for 10 years, but a desire for more expressive and singular wines was burning within him. A negociant business in Burgundy is unique from those in other parts of France in that it allows one to purchase in a host of different forms: land, vines, grapes, juice, must, finished wine, etc. And because Henri desired a palette on which to showcase his art, this new-formed negociant business proved perfect for building a new portfolio. Henri could pick and choose across myriad vineyard sites – buying as he saw fit – rendering wines that mirrored his visions. The world of Burgundy was his.
It didn’t take long before Henri’s grandfather – managing director of the family business, Domaine Jean Boillot – became seriously impressed with Henri’s work. So impressed was grandfather in fact, that Henri was beckoned home and restored as the family winemaker. Soon after the turn of the century, Henri – driven by perfection – offered to purchase each of his sibling’s shares in the family domaine. Once complete, the former Domaine Jean Boillot was renamed, christened Domaine Henri Boillot (with the negociant wines continuing with the name of Henri Boillot). This move to rename the domaine was important to Henri in that it identifies his efforts towards perfection while establishing a new label that is distinctly different from his brother’s estate known as Jean-Marc Boillot.
Today, with literally dozens of unique lieu dits available, Domaine / Maison Henri Boillot represents one of the most important, impressive and quality driven properties in the entire Cote. The notoriety from international critics certainly supports this position, as comments such as the following have become routine for the man many Burgundy lovers now call the master:
“I have heard Henri Boillot described as an iconoclast but in my opinion this is not entirely accurate. Rather, I would describe him as a vigneron who both preaches, and practices, extreme rigor. He believes that there are no shortcuts and that nothing is free. Work properly and seriously and the results will be there.”
“Henri Boillot decided a few years ago that he wanted to dedicate himself to the production of fine wines. Since then he has gone from strength to strength, sparing no expense, obsessing over every detail, fashioning magnificent wines….Thanks to the superhuman efforts of Henri Boillot, Domaine Boillot should now be counted among the finest producers in the Cote de Beaune for both reds and whites.”
“As a group these wines showed vibrancy, excellent acidity, genuine vineyard character, and they tasted damn good too! Differences between Meursaults from Charmes and Genevrieres were obvious. It was much the same for the Pulignys and the Grand Crus. In every case, the Boillot wines served as excellent representatives of the fundamental character one has come to expect from these vineyards.”
EWS, Wine Advocate
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