Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard: it’s complicated 


Share this post

Mother-and-son Caroline Lestimé and Philippe Lestimé stand in front of a tractor.
Caroline Lestimé and her son Philippe hard at work. Photography: Jason Lowe

Can it be that it was all so simple then?  Caroline Lestimé has spent the past three decades making life complicated for herself – and the wines from her family domaine in Chassagne-Montrachet have never been better 

Caroline Lestimé wasn’t expecting visitors until this afternoon. It’s just gone 9am and she’s got a lot on her mind, not least the 2023 harvest; picking finished last month and she’s been working flat-out in the cellar since. It’s a homely cellar, labyrinthine in layout if not size. Space is at a premium because this year’s crop is big, and Caroline makes 11 separate Premiers Crus from Chassagne-Montrachet alone. Finding a home for each will be a complicated logistical operation. 

Things used to be simpler here at the estate which still bears Caroline’s father’s name. 

Making life complicated

Jean-Noël Gagnard inherited his share of his parents’ domaine back in 1960: a smattering of tiny parcels, mostly Chardonnay, dotted around the village of Chassagne-Montrachet.   

The 0.13-hectare plot in the Premier Cru of Blanchot Dessus, for example, might yield 600 bottles in a good year, little more than two barrels of wine.  

For Jean-Noël, producing many different wines in such small quantities would have been to complicate matters unduly. Blending individual plots to create a smaller number of bigger bottlings was much simpler. “He wasn’t thinking about micro-cuvées,” Caroline says. His focus was on “volume, volume, volume”.  

When Caroline took over in 1989, she had other ideas. “My first decision was to vinify some plots separately,” she explains. Having grown up among these vines, she knew them intimately: the slight changes in exposition or soil composition as you step from one end of a small plot to another; the barely perceptible change in temperature between two sites that almost touch one another.

Bottles of Chassagne-Montrachet Les Masures from Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard.
Les Masures, one of Caroline’s individual Chassagne-Montrachet bottlings

Blanchots Dessus sits a little lower on the slope than nearby Les Chaumées (0.59 hectares), both at the northern end of the commune. Yet each can yield a distinct expression of Chassagne-Montrachet – if given the chance. Les Chaumées is tight, tense and high in acid, with a chalky mineral character. Blanchots Dessus touches the Grand Cru of Le Montrachet; it’s got some of the weight and density of its prestigious neighbour, with sunny stone-fruit flavours and stinging freshness. 

Breaking things down in this way was certain to complicate the operation, but for Caroline, the decision was no decision at all. “It was obvious,” she says – though perhaps not to the rest of the Gagnard clan.  

This plot-by-plot approach may be ubiquitous today, but it was a radical suggestion for Caroline to put to her family at the time. “In my family, you always have to struggle a little bit for everybody to agree,” she says. 

With the family’s blessing, she got to work, reshaping the range with an emphasis on expressing the specificities of those individual sites. What had been one large village-level bottling of Chassagne-Montrachet soon became three. Her father had bottled a large Premier Cru blend; Caroline split it into four. 

The estate today

Three decades on, her vision and her patience have paid off. It is the Premiers Crus in particular that have helped Caroline take the domaine to new heights and critical acclaim. The estate’s modern reputation is built on these age-worthy single-site bottlings, notably her flagship, Les Caillerets. 

Caroline can’t make enough wine to meet the increased demand. She has bought additional plots over the years, though hasn’t grown her overall production materially. Her yields have reduced over time, she says, due to working organically in the vineyard (since 2010) and the impact of climate change. 

To scale up her production a little, she decided in 2015 to open a négociant business. With her warm, friendly demeanour, round-rimmed glasses and colourful fashion sense, Caroline doesn’t exactly look the part of the hard-nosed wine merchant. Suitably, Maison Caroline Lestimé is less a corporate behemoth and more a gentle extension of the family firm. Her son Philippe now tends a small 1.5-hectare domaine of his own; for now, Caroline buys his grapes as well as fruit from vineyards belonging to members of the wider Gagnard family. The négociant wines bolster her production somewhat, but this is still a very modest operation. 

Philippe Lestimé cleaning some equipment with a powerhose.
Philippe Lestimé during harvest 2023

Caroline sells about 95% of what she makes on allocation every year. Demand is so high, and her wines now so highly regarded, that she could surely make a lot of money selling to deep-pocketed suitors. But she seems to value loyalty too much to fall for sweet talk. “This one promises me beautiful things if I work with them,” she says. “But no, first we have to look after the people we work with for the long term.” 

Running for everything

Notwithstanding youthful stints living in the nearby cities of Chalon-sur-Saône and Dijon, and ultimately Paris, Caroline remains firmly rooted in Chassagne-Montrachet. The population has declined steadily in her lifetime, with just 288 inhabitants at the last census. At the same time, the village and the wider Côte de Beaune have rocketed to international acclaim. 

A lot has changed, and Caroline is a little nostalgic about how her hometown once was. “With age, when you look back, sometimes you think it was better back then,” she says. “It was different, things moved slowly. Now we have to run for everything.” 

The pace of life is not the only thing that has Caroline lamenting for times past. The erratic nature of recent growing seasons is an increasing concern. “We’re stressed all throughout the year,” she says. “In the morning it might feel like winter and by the afternoon it’s like summer.” Burgundy has been hard hit in recent years; Caroline has felt it acutely. 

Her Sous Eguisons cuvée comes from a small 0.41-hectare vineyard in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, above and to the west of St Aubin. At over 430 metres’ altitude, the cooler temperatures here can offer some respite against excessive heat. Yet in 2021, her entire crop here was wiped out by a cruel combination of frost and powdery mildew. Many of her other vineyards were affected that year: Les Caillerets, which can yield as many as 25 barrels, produced just eight. 

Many growers facing such challenges would just blend what they could together to achieve some sort of critical mass. Such is Caroline’s belief in her approach, however, that she managed to bottle something from each of her Chassagne-Montrachet sites in vintage 2021. Reassuringly, Caroline was a lot happier with her volumes in 2022. And 2023, still a work in progress, was so generous that Caroline found herself struggling for space in the cellar. 

What one little bit of land can do

This morning’s visit, though, is all about the 2022 vintage. There has been a slight scheduling mix-up, but not to worry: as our Buyers bow their heads to get through the low door and descend into the cellar, Caroline is on hand with a bag-for-life full of wine glasses. Fold-up chairs are proffered and passed around. An upturned foudre, sawed in half, makes for a suitable desk. 

Caroline was planning on preparing our barrel samples later in the day, so this will be a tasting on the fly. Pipette in hand, she dashes between one part of the cellar and another. She draws a sample of Sous Eguisons, alive and very well in 2022, and pours a delicious drop into each outstretched glass. 

There’s sniffing, swirling, spitting. The patter of laptop keys, the scratch of pen on paper. Caroline is up and down, in and out of the cellar’s various little nooks and crannies: a sample of this cuvée here, a detailed account of what happened in that vineyard there. Props, including a large cardboard map of Chassagne-Montrachet, are put to good use. She might not have been expecting us, but Caroline knows her work inside out. Spend an hour or two with her and you feel the benefit of her decades of working in this way. She is completely and utterly prepared. 

A tasting here pre-1989 would have involved a small number of perfectly respectable, relatively large multi-site blends. Today is a richer, more complex and more complete experience. These wines are the fruits of Caroline’s labour this year, of course. They are also the result of more than 30 years of meticulous attention-to-detail, of patience and of borderline obsession with what one little bit of land can do that its neighbour cannot.

Browse our range of Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard wines.

Category: Burgundy Wine

Bottles to gift and share for Lunar New Year


Share this post

The turning of the lunar year is one of the most important celebrations in the Asian calendar, calling for special gifts that embody good fortune and luck. With the Year of the Dragon upon us, Jacky Cheng from our Hong Kong office suggests five bottles that are guaranteed to delight your loved ones.  

Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, is celebrated not only in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong but also in many other countries across East and Southeast Asia. It is the most important holiday in the majority of Asian cultures. The new year symbolises luck and fortune, so houses are cleaned to rid them of bad luck and memories, and new clothes are bought to mark a fresh start. 

Plenty of gifts are given and received when families and friends visit each other and have meals together. Gift-giving during the new year is an act of love and respect. Every gift speaks to a wish for your loved ones to have a year full of good fortune – an abundance of wealth and happiness. We like to pack our gifts with “lucky” colours such as red, gold, and yellow, which symbolise wealth and prosperity.  

We are entering the Year of Dragon. Traditionally, the Dragon is an auspicious symbol of strength and power. It is associated with good fortune, wisdom, success and protection. The last three Dragon vintages are 2012, 2000 and 1988, so gifting wines with these years could be a particularly thoughtful touch.  

Below, I’ve selected five bottles that would make a perfect gift for a loved one this Lunar New Year.  

2012 Champagne Louis Roederer, Cristal 

This opulent, lavish Champagne comes from one of the Dragon years, and happens to be one of the best vintages in Champagne of late. It has beautiful notes of honey, orchard fruit, ripe peach and white flowers, with tropical touches. Presented in a striking gold bottle, it’s sure to make an impression.  

2008 Rare Champagne, Rosé 

This is an exquisite cuvée with a great concentration of flavour, offering notes of strawberry fruit, orange blossom, spice and crushed rocks. Rosé Champagne is a style that pairs especially well with a range of Chinese dishes, which makes it a fantastic choice to share around the table. The gleaming rose-pink label makes it an irresistible gift.  

2000 Château Mouton-Rothschild  

One of the world’s most famous wines, this is guaranteed to impress the serious fine wine lover in your life. It comes from another great Dragon year, and the bottle itself is a work of art. It features the “Augsburg Ram”, an etching dating back to 1590 and attributed to German goldsmith Jacob Schenauer, silkscreened in fine gold. The wine is equally special, with notes of rich dark fruits, beguiling spice and incredible complexity.  

1988 Château d’Yquem 

This is another iconic Bordeaux wine from a great Dragon vintage. This exquisite golden wine has notes of apricot, mandarin, honey and citrus, with a remarkable richness and weight. The Chinese name for Yquem roughly translates to “drop of gold” or “good wealth”, making it a dream choice for new year gifting.  

Berry Bros. & Rudd Dailuaine, Year of Dragon Single Malt Scotch Whisky 

Finally, we can’t go without mentioning our special Year of the Dragon Scotch whisky bottling. This delicious spirit comes from Dailuaine distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland, and it’s been matured in ex-Oloroso Sherry butts, giving it a gloriously deep, concentrated colour and flavour profile. It offers notes of prunes, dates and spiced oak, with touches of ripe orchard fruit. A glass of this will make a fine toast to the new lunar year. Gan bei!  

Category: Miscellaneous

Domaine Faiveley: big and small


Share this post

Erwan Faiveley standing in the vat room at Domaine Faiveley.
Erwan Faiveley has “a pretty sweet job”, really. Photography: Jason Lowe

Erwan Faiveley leads one of Burgundy’s largest domaines – and one of its smallest major négociant houses. Domaine Faiveley doesn’t fit neatly into any one box, so how well do we really know it? 

Quiet little side streets are ten a penny in Burgundy. Lots of Burgundian domaines sit along streets like Rue du Tribourg in Nuits-St Georges, though none of them is quite like Domaine Faiveley. Nothing in Burgundy is quite like Domaine Faiveley.

The vat room is big and bright. Daylight pours in through a massive arched window, framing the vista of vines just outside. This doesn’t feel particularly like Burgundy; you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in one of the better postcodes of Bordeaux or halfway up a mountain in the Napa Valley. Downstairs, the cellar is vaulted ceilings and oak barrels as far as the eye can see. It’s not very Burgundian in scale. Few Bordeaux châteaux have anything of this magnitude; it could be a Champagne House, or something out of the wine world altogether. Not quite the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark, though not a million miles away either. 

“In 18 years, I’ve never seen the cellar this full,” says Erwan Faiveley as he shows us around. The 2022 and 2023 vintages here have been generous. Erwan was just 25 years old when he took over the family firm. He doesn’t look a lot older now than he did back then. A little less hair, perhaps, but he has kept a bright, youthful air about him.  

In that same time, however, there has been profound change here – and the Faiveley wines of today are in some ways unrecognisable from those of the past. 

Faiveley family history

Faiveley is an old name in Burgundy, with the wine arm dating back to 1825. Turning the adage about how to make a small fortune in the wine business – you start with a big fortune – on its head, the family later became manufacturers to the railway industry in the form of the multinational Faiveley Transport. 

In the early days, Faiveley was a négociant. His ancestors “were buying fruit, making wine and bottling it under our name,” Erwan says. Before long, the downside of relying on other growers became clear – “especially in Burgundy, where the notion of terroir is so important.” To build a lasting legacy, they decided they would have to own their own vineyards; they bought their first plot in 1834.

A view of Clos de Vougeot, where Domaine Faiveley has considerable vineyard holdings.
Faiveley has considerable holdings throughout Burgundy

Over the years the family holdings have grown considerably. With around 120 hectares of vines, Faiveley is among the largest owners of vineyard land in Burgundy today. The portfolio is enviable, with a handful of monopole vineyards including the Grand Cru of Clos des Cortons Faiveley, along with a string of prized Grands Crus, Premiers Crus and village-level vineyards, for both red and white wine. Despite the domaine’s overall size, many of its individual holdings are tiny: the smallest, a microscopic (0.14-hectare) share of Musigny, yields no more than 500 bottles in a good year. They still operate as a négociant, those wines bearing the historic Joseph Faiveley label – and accounting for the equivalent of another 40 hectares of vines.  

This puts Faiveley in a rather unique position: it’s bigger than virtually any other domaine, and yet the overall production doesn’t come close to that of the largest négociant houses. The scale is perhaps more Bordelais: Château Lafite Rothschild alone isn’t much smaller than Faiveley’s estate holdings; add sibling estate Château Duhart-Milon, and that one branch of the Rothschild family’s Pauillac holdings alone outweigh Faiveley’s entire domaine and négociant production the length and breadth of Burgundy.

By local standards at least, Faiveley is something of a giant. The structure of the family tree has played a part: there has never been an especially large extended family here. Many a Burgundian domaine has become progressively smaller as already small plots are divided among a raft of siblings and cousins, or because of familial in-fighting. “Wine companies in particular tend to blow up because you have too many cousins and stuff,” Erwan says. 

Not so here. The domaine belongs entirely to Erwan and his two siblings. His sister, Eve Faiveley, has been playing an increasingly prominent role here since 2014. Each generation has managed to keep the estate intact while also making prescient, measured investments in new vineyards. And as he approaches his 20th year at the helm, Erwan’s mark has surely been felt. 

“A pretty sweet job”

Erwan had aspirations of becoming an engineer until his father broached the idea of him running the domaine. François Faiveley had led the firm since 1976 and was starting to think about succession. “I began to realise that, well, it’s a pretty sweet job,” Erwan smiles. 

Though he hadn’t planned on taking over when he was quite so young, Erwan’s time had come. “My father literally gave me the keys and he left with my mum; they moved to Switzerland.” (A strangely similar story is reported to have happened a generation earlier when 25-year-old François took over from his own father.) 

When he took over, Erwan considered Faiveley to be “still a kind of classic négociant, a one-stop shop.” The range was far broader than it is now, offering wines from as far north as Chablis and as far south as Beaujolais. Erwan decided to simplify things, reducing the overall number of different wines, placing more of a focus on the estate-owned vineyards and less on bought-in grapes and juice: “We got rid of all the things that didn’t matter.” 

François ran the firm for around 30 years and is considered to have put his own stamp on the style of the wines, particularly the reds. “My father has always loved very big and tannic wines,” Erwan says. By the mid-2000s, the domaine was closely associated with dark, dense and extracted red wines in that vein.

We are not our parents, though, and our wines need not be our parents’ wines. Erwan had a vision to shift the style here, “to focus more on the texture and the silkiness of Pinot Noir.” He didn’t quite have the know-how, so he enlisted the expertise of industry veteran Bernard Hervé, erstwhile head of Bouchard Père et Fils. “That was a gamechanger,” Erwan reflects. Together, they set about transforming the wines: adapting work in the vineyard and winery and hiring Bordeaux-native Jérôme Flous to oversee the necessary changes as vineyard manager and technical director. 

One major development was switching from using pumps in the winery to using gravity. Pumping juice and skins from one vessel to another can extract additional tannin or colour from the grapes, making for a bigger, fuller-bodied style of wine – the antithesis of what Erwan was looking for. “By stopping the pumps, we changed the profile of the wines,” he says. “It’s like night and day.” 

A worker during harvest at Domaine Faiveley.
There has been a significant shift in how the red wines are made here

Stepping in and changing course was a big deal, and a risk. “My father was a little concerned,” Erwan admits. François’s wines had a loyal following, chiming as they did with the prevailing preferences of Robert Parker. There is well-documented history between François and the ubiquitous American wine critic (“my father hated him, and that’s an understatement”), though Parker rated those wines favourably, nonetheless. In the end, all but the most dyed-in-the-wool followers embraced Erwan’s new take on the wines. 

“Wine is pretty much like fashion,” Erwan says. “The taste of Pinot Noir in the 1990s is not the taste that people want today. The more structured and tannic your wines are, the less people want them now.” Parker has stepped off the public stage and tastes have moved on. Whether the current appetite for “less extracted, subtler, silkier wines” is here for the long haul, Erwan can’t say. But after nearly 20 years working this way, you couldn’t accuse him of just following a fad. 

A lot of ground to cover

The vast Faiveley estate covers vines from Marsannay at the northern tip of the Côte de Nuits all the way down to Montagny in the southern reaches of the Côte Chalonnaise. This is small-scale farming on a big scale; there is a lot of ground to cover. Organic conversion is underway for the entire estate, with certification expected in 2024. Covering such a broad sweep of land in the necessary detail is a logistical challenge, calling for around 70 vineyard workers, broken up into smaller teams.

A worker among the vines at harvest time at Domaine Faiveley.
This is small-scale farming on a big scale

Fifty kilometres south of headquarters, Mercurey is the base of Faiveley operations in the Côte Chalonnaise. This particular côte sits between the Côte d’Or and the Mâconnais, and is often overlooked – but it has long been an important part of the Faiveley story. 

Guy Faiveley, Erwan’s grandfather, bought the family’s first vines here in 1963, though his father, Georges, had worked with contract vineyards here as early as 1933. It’s more important than ever today, it seems. Erwan opened La Framboisière, the family’s state-of-the-art winery here, in 2016. The facility is impressive, as are the wines, which include several Premiers Crus. 

Erwan is grounded in his ambition, though. “I don’t want to make Mercurey wines that look like wines from Gevrey-Chambertin,” he says. “They are not the same terroirs. There’s no way that Mercurey will compete with Mazis-Chambertin. And that’s a good thing.” 

Having a foot in both the grower and négociant camps, and deliberate focus now on the former, has set the firm up to deal with changing power dynamics in Burgundy. “Fifty years ago,” Erwan says, “access to the market was very costly, so négociants were very powerful.” 

Today much of the power is in the hands of individual growers, and in many cases it’s the négociants that are beholden to growers. Faiveley appears to enjoy the best of both worlds. 

To grow or not to grow

Appearances can be deceiving. A quiet side street might bely the immense, almost otherworldly cellars lying beneath. A wine estate can be simultaneously very big and really quite small; three siblings can run one of Burgundy’s largest domaines and one of its smallest major négociants

He’s decisive, well organised and clearly has a head for business but, by his own admission, Erwan is not overly future-focused. “I try to work with a 10-year plan,” he says. “After 10 years, you never know what’s going to happen.” One thing conspicuously absent from his current plan, however, is expansion. “I don’t want to grow anymore,” he says. “I’m very happy with what we have.” 

The word “never” doesn’t seem to be in his vocabulary, though. “If tomorrow, someone offers me a little bit of Montrachet, then why not?”

Browse our range of Domaine Faiveley wines.

Category: Burgundy Wine

Burgundy 2022 En Primeur: tasting the vintage


Share this post

In January, we hosted our Burgundy 2022 En Primeur tasting. Alexandra Gray de Walden takes us behind the scenes.  

On a cold and frosty yet beautifully bright January morning, over 60 wine producers from Burgundy made their way to Lindley Hall for our Burgundy 2022 En Primeur tasting.

It was charming to see so many of them greet one another as old friends. Once again, I was reminded of the camaraderie and community of winemakers in Burgundy. Whether they already knew one another or were meeting for the first time, the convivial buzz of the French language and friendly laughter echoed around the vast hall as tables were set, bottles unpacked and corkscrews laid out.

Amid the hustle and bustle, I managed to speak to Louis Vallet of Château de Charodon and Florian Remy of Domaine Chantal Remy. Having interviewed them both at their respective wineries in October, it was strange to see them now in London and both more formally attired. “It’s great to be in London” Louis boomed at me across the table with his signature enthusiasm when I asked about his visit.

I was given the honour of pouring the wines for Domaine Michel Bouzereau. After opening and tasting the four wines, happy in the knowledge there were no faults present in those bottles, I waited for the first tasters of the day: the press and other members of the wine trade.

With 2022 being such a stellar vintage in Burgundy, I knew it was going to be a popular one with the press. They would all be eager to taste as many wines from across Burgundy and its myriad communes as they could – all with a view to presenting a comprehensive report of the vintage to their readers. It was the busiest press tasting in my seven years at Berry Bros. & Rudd. Familiar faces, deep in concentration, tasted wines then scurried off to jot their findings down on paper. I tried to read expressions to gain any insight into what they made of the four Meursault wines I was pouring – unfortunately, they were too well hidden in notebooks for any evaluation.

In the shorter-than-expected time available between the press tasting and the tasting for our private clients, I took the opportunity to leave my post. I was keen to taste wines from some of our other producers and hear their experiences of the lauded 2022 vintage.

Asking Guillaume Michaut of Domaine 47°N 3°E if he was happy with 2022 felt somewhat rhetorical. Our Burgundy Buyer, Adam Bruntlett, described this as “one of the best vintages I have tasted in over a decade” and both quantity and quality were streets ahead of 2021.  

In his charming way, Guillaume confirmed that he was delighted with his 2022 wines. “After the struggle of 2021, it would have been hard not to be!” He talked me through each of his four Chablis cuvées and I was particularly taken by Cairn. “This is its first vintage” Guillaume said. “Made with two plots of my father’s and one of my grandfather’s.” His proud explanation displayed another Burgundian quality – that of heritage and family.

There was quite a buzz around the wines of Domaine Ghislaine Barthod as I moved towards that area of the hall. There was a heavy throng around the Barthod wines and I knew this would be my only chance to taste what all the fuss was about. Quelle surprise, Ghislaine’s Chambolle-Musigny Les Baudes was my favourite. Its core of concentrated ripe strawberry and black cherry flavours was ably supported by chalky tannins and licking acidity.

If I was one of those familiar faces of the wine press now scribbling away my impressions of this vintage, I would be sure to convey the immense quality of 2022. From newer names like Guillaume’s to long-established dynasties like that of Domaine Faiveley, each producer has grasped 2022 with both hands and made it a vintage for every collector.

To find out more about our Burgundy 2022 En Primeur offer, visit our dedicated webpage here.

Category: Miscellaneous