Burgundy: understanding allocations

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Martyn Rolph, Commercial Manager at Berry Bros. & Rudd, photographed in black and white in a wine warehouse.

Every year, demand for the finest Burgundy outstrips supply. Here, we talk to Commercial Manager Martyn Rolph about how – and why – we manage our customers’ allocations.

What exactly is an allocation?

An allocation is simply the amount of wine you receive. As merchants, we receive allocations from producers. In turn, our customers receive allocations from us. The best, most sought-after wines are usually only offered on allocation; we all want more of them.

Why do allocations matter in regions such as Burgundy?

In short, scarcity. Production levels across most of Burgundy are very small. Each individual vineyard is often split between many different growers. Some producers own just a row or two; this means they make tiny quantities, often just a few barrels.

How much do vintage conditions impact allocations?

The individual vintage has a huge part to play: a difficult vintage with low volumes will directly impact our allocation from producers. Recently, we’ve seen a succession of smaller Burgundy vintages due to hail and late frosts. The 2020 and 2021 vintages were particularly affected, so there will be less wine for the coming few En Primeur releases. It’s a very challenging situation, especially as demand is so high.

How do you decide a customer’s specific allocation?

Our starting point is to be as fair as possible. When we have really limited availability, we consider a few things: firstly, the customer’s previous purchases from particular producers – we want to help customers buy from producers who they’ve supported in previous vintages. We also consider how involved they are with us – for example, coming to tastings and events, storing wine and engaging with offers.

Ultimately, we want to spread high-demand wines as widely as possible, but it’s important that customers buy a range of wines – not just the big names. This support of growers across the region is essential. It’s much more difficult for us to help customers who only want a single, in-demand case.

Interestingly, producers increasingly express a desire to see their wines go to customers who want to enjoy drinking them, rather than those who are buying to sell on in the future.

How can I increase my chances of getting a particular favourite wine?

Firstly, make sure your Account Manager knows exactly what you’re hoping to buy and be prepared to purchase a selection of cases. Also, keep in mind that we try to reward buying loyalty. Say, for example, you want a particular Premier Cru Vosne Romanée: make sure you continue to purchase in the “lesser years”. This is vitally important as producers need to sell their wines every year, not just in the great vintages.

Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that – regardless of vintage conditions – the best growers rarely produce poor wines. The 2013 vintage is a good example: it’s often referred to as a “lesser vintage”, but I’ve enjoyed many 2013s over the past few years. Most are delicious now – and will be for years to come.

What’s your best advice to a frustrated customer who isn’t getting the wines they want?

The best place to start is by speaking to your Account Manager. We’ll be able to talk to you about the specific wines you’re looking for and shed light on how we are allocating the vintage. For example, there may be a year where we see our allocation for a particular wine drop by more than 50%, making it unattainable. In this situation, we’ll always be transparent and help you find the “next best” option.

Currently, we’re seeing such high demand that very few customers now receive all the wines they would like. It’s a frustrating situation – especially if you’re looking at what you’ve previously been able to purchase – but the landscape has changed significantly. It’s important to be flexible in your approach to get the best out of buying Burgundy En Primeur.

Where should I be looking for the “next best thing”?

In Burgundy we see a conveyer belt – albeit a slow-moving one – of producers whose wines become more desirable and so harder to purchase. For example, Ghislaine Barthod’s Chambolle-Musigny was readily available five to six years ago; Sylvain Cathiard was relatively straightforward to buy 10 years ago – both are now allocated and can be difficult to purchase. More recently, Clos de la Maréchale from Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier has moved into that bracket.

The good news is that, in my view, quality has never been higher. Currently, I’d look to the excellent wines produced by Domaine de la VougeraieBenjamin LerouxDomaine Castagnier and Domaine François Buffet. There are many, many exceptional wines to be found, and our Buyers are continually exploring new producers.

In terms of regions, St Aubin now produces wines that can rival the great white producing villages. and I think that Morey-St Denis is often overlooked by some – incredibly pure, perfumed wines, Domaine Lignier Michelot is a favourite producer from that commune.

What is Berry Bros. & Rudd doing to make sure it has the best allocations in the industry?

We have close, long-term relationships with our producers. This doesn’t just mean visiting them to taste regularly: we also support them in the marketplace and by buying across their range. Nurturing these relationships is the best way for us to maintain volumes in the smaller production years. Also, we try to identify new talent first. When you champion a producer before they become well-known you build loyalty and lay the foundations for a fruitful relationship. Our Burgundy Buyer Adam Bruntlett has unearthed some true gems in the past few years – Domaine Henri Rebourseau is just one example.

You can find out more about collecting wine with us here.

Category: Burgundy Wine

Domaine Fabien Coche: behind the barrels

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Photography: Jason Lowe

We’ve long known the value of spending quality time with the producers we work with. Here, we take you behind the scenes at our Burgundy Buyers’ recent visit to Domaine Fabien Coche in Meursault.

We’ve always believed that time spent in our producers’ vineyards and cellars is invaluable. There’s no better way for us to take the pulse of the region and accurately represent its wines. Charles Walter Berry put it neatly in his 1935 book In Search of Wine: “The job of the wine merchant is to be the closest link between the people who make the wine and the people who drink it.”

Domaine Fabien Coche

The Coche family is an old and fabled one in Burgundy. This particular Coche estate was founded in the 1940s by Fabien’s grandfather Julien, a cooper by trade. Julien was the youngest of six brothers, and “didn’t inherit much”, Fabien tells us. But he was passionate about wine, which was evidently enough to get started.

The domaine was originally known as Coche-Debord, and more recently as Coche-Bizouard. Fabien himself arrived at the estate in 1995, having studied viticulture and winemaking in Beaune. He succeeded his father shortly thereafter. “He was still around,” recalls Fabien, “but he let me make the decisions.”

Fabien’s generation didn’t have much of a choice but to take over from their parents, he says. “We were put in it automatically, something that I won’t do with my own children. I don’t regret it at all. I was always in it since I was a kid; it was meant to be. But I can’t say we had a choice, either.”

When Fabien arrived here, using chemicals to manage the soils was commonplace. He started on a cleaner path, ploughing the soil from 1998 onwards and stopping weedkillers in 2012, unless absolutely needed. “We saw a drastic change in the quality and balance of the wines as soon as we started ploughing again,” he says. “I’m quite organic at heart. If I could avoid touching the soil altogether, I would. But unfortunately, it’s not possible.”

The team’s task this afternoon is to taste Fabien’s 2020 wines. Fabien farms 11.5 hectares of vines across 27 appellations, from generic Bourgogne to Premier Cru. His winemaking philosophy is “simple”, he says. “I make wines I love. I make them to my taste. Frank, direct wines. The winemaking remains traditional but simple.”

Inside the tasting

It’s always interesting to see the inner workings of a domaine. Here, just a few steps from the barrel cellar, is a makeshift office. An employee looks after paperwork; old sample labels line the walls.

Adam Bruntlett, our Burgundy Buyer, has singled out the white wines of Meursault as particularly praiseworthy in 2020.

It’s a quiet day at Domaine Fabien Coche, the 2021 harvest already complete. Just weeks ago, it would have been a different story.

Perhaps in tribute to Fabien’s cooper grandfather, the barrels here are among the most distinctive in Burgundy. Fabien bought these barrels, complete with multi-coloured hoops, from Château de l’Ou in the Languedoc. He also sources gold-hooped examples from a friend.

Mark Pardoe MW assesses a sample of Fabien’s Meursault, Chevalières. One of the stand-out wines of the domaine, this cuvée is a particular success in 2020.

This year, our Creative team shadowed the Buyers on their trip. This meant we were able to report on the vintage and gather new interview and article content.

Fabien’s 2020s are still undergoing élevage in barrel, so he has drawn a selection.

Elle Macleod, our Burgundy Buying Assistant, finds a convenient spot to jot down her tasting notes. The team will compare notes and release their findings as part of our Burgundy 2020 En Primeur offer.

The wines of Domaine Fabien Coche are part of our Burgundy 2020 En Primeur offer, which is now live.

Category: Burgundy Wine

How not to collect Burgundy

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Illustration: Anje Jager

Many of our colleagues are avid collectors of Burgundy. But they’ve also made their fair share of mistakes along the way. Here, they open up about some of the things they’d do differently if they were to start all over again.

Spend any amount of time in a Berry Bros. & Rudd office and it’ll become clear that many of our colleagues genuinely love the wines of Burgundy. Their day job might be to buy, sell or talk about these wines, but it runs deeper than that. These are knowledgeable people, naturally, but they’re also passionate collectors. Some have enviable Burgundy cellars, built up over many years; others are just getting started.

We asked them to share their mistakes, their regrets and, most importantly, their advice to anybody looking to get started with collecting Burgundy.

Look beyond the big names

“I wish I had tasted outside of the more established appellations sooner,” says Will Wrightson from our London office. “And then to have bought what I liked, and not slavishly chased the bigger names. This, I think, is where the story is now: the up-and-coming areas with serious exciting producers working the land.”

This chimes with the view of Mark Pardoe MW, our Wine Director and an advocate for the quality of Burgundy’s less-celebrated communes. “The best wines from these ‘other’ appellations can easily match many wines from the more famous villages,” he argues. “This is especially so at the village level, but even, on occasion, with some of the Premiers Crus.”

Listen to the whole album

Alex Harrison is based in our Tokyo office. His biggest regret is not looking deep enough into a producer’s range. “I now buy a broader range from individual producers, rather than just picking up cases of my favourite wines each year,” he explains.

“For me, drinking just the one wine from a producer is like only listening to the hit single and ignoring the rest of the album. It might be the one you come back to the most, but sometimes it’s more enjoyable to take a step back and enjoy the bigger picture, the full expression of a person’s work. As your tastes evolve, some of those wines might develop into new favourites that would otherwise have been overlooked.”

There is also a practical benefit to buying more widely from your favourite producers, says Martyn Rolph from our Commercial team. When wines are in scarce supply, we allocate them to those customers that have supported a given producer in the past.

“Ultimately, we want to spread high-demand wines as widely as possible,” Martyn writes on bbr.com, “but it’s important that customers buy a range of wines – not just the big names. This support of growers across the region is essential. It’s much more difficult for us to help customers who only want a single, in-demand case.”

Don’t follow hype

“It’s easy to get caught up with trendy producers or the next big thing,” says Account Manager Tatiana Humphreys. “But lots of producers fly under the radar, making sensational wines without the hefty price tags.”

David Jones, also a London-based Account Manager, believes that the sometimes-overlooked generic-level wines are a lot more age-worthy than they are often given credit for. “Lay down more Bourgogne-level reds and whites,” he suggests. “Two or three years after release, they can develop to offer delicious drinking. From the best vintages and best producers, they have the potential to age even further.”

Don’t overlook Chablis

Both Tatiana and David believe that Chablis is overlooked – and undervalued as a result. “I often forget about Chablis,” says Tatiana. “A Premier Cru from an excellent producer like Duplessis or Eleni et Edouard Vocoret will cost you a fraction of a white Premier Cru from the Côte de Beaune. Don’t bypass Chablis.”

“I regret not laying down more Grand Cru Chablis,” says David. “It has become more widely appreciated recently, but for some time I wasn’t aware of just how deliciously intriguing mature Chablis can be. These wines can rival famous names from the Côte de Beaune yet come at comparatively very attractive prices. Fortunately, it’s not too late: you can still find strong value from the best Premiers and Grands Crus, given the quality and potential they offer.”

Adam Bruntlett, our Burgundy Buyer, agrees. “Despite growing interest and outstanding quality, the prices here remain remarkably reasonable,” he says. He points in particular to the high quality of Chablis in 2020. “The wines are perfectly proportioned, with succulent citrus and white stone-fruit, and a firm backbone of bracing acidity. The ’20 vintage in Chablis is a true classic.”

Buying at release

The annual Burgundy En Primeur release is a highlight of the fine-wine calendar. Buying at release has various benefits, and in some cases is the only opportunity to secure certain wines. “I regret not buying enough at release,” says Hugo Thompson from our New York office. “I was so focused on Bordeaux at the start of my wine-collecting journey that I ignored Burgundy. With hindsight, it’s relatively easy to buy mature Bordeaux. But with Burgundy in such short supply, it quickly becomes a scarce commodity.”

Jose Lau from our Hong Kong office thinks along similar lines, noting another practical consideration: rising prices after release. “When I compare the release prices with what these wines often sell for a few years later, I often regret not picking up more,” he says.

Our Burgundy 2020 En Primeur offer is now live. Find out more about collecting wine at bbr.com

Category: Burgundy Wine

The London Shop: what we’re drinking

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A photo depicting a tray of whisky glasses being served in our London Shop at 63 Pall Mall

Each month, we turn the spotlight on a different bottle that our London Shop team are currently enjoying. To kick off a new year, Tom Leigh has selected Walsh Whiskey’s Copper Pot from Irish husband-andwife team Bernard and Rosemary Walsh.

This article distinguishes between “whisky” (the common spelling of the spirit) and “whiskey” (used exclusively when referring to the Irish style).

Walsh Whiskey, Writer’s Tears, Copper Pot

What is it? 

In short, this is quite possibly the best whisky on our shelves under £50. 

It’s an easy-to-love spirit, with the requisite balance and complexity to feel both at home in the well-used glass of an enthusiast, yet delicious enough to ignite a peat-fuelled fire in the belly of a future whisky-lover. Few whiskies have that ability to appeal to experts and novices alike; that versatility and unpretentious nature is what makes Copper Pot so endearing. 

Most apparent on the nose are toasted almonds, oats and butterscotch, forming a rich and enticing base. Some orange peel and a suggestion of gingerbread too. This richness is tempered with brighter aromas of crisp green apple, hay and beeswax. The texture combines slightly oily single malt with creamy pot-stilled spirit for a luxuriously structured and flavoursome palate. 

What’s the story behind it? 

A family-owned operation, Bernard and Rosemary established the award-winning Walsh Whiskey in 1999 with the aim of helping to revive the reputation and and appreciation of the Irish whiskey industry.  It is certainly an exciting time for whisky’s fastest growing region. Just three distilleries were operational in Ireland at the time of Walsh Whiskey’s conception; two decades later there were over 30, one of which being Walsh’s.  

Copper Pot is the entry point of the Writer’s Tears range, a recreation of a lost style from the 19th century – Irish whiskey’s golden era – combining premium single pot stilled and single malt distillate. It was known as the “Champagne of Whiskey” at the time, a cuvée which capitalised on the scope for innovation afforded in Ireland relative to its more rigid Scottish cousin. 

Single pot still whiskey is a style native to Ireland, using both malted and unmalted barley. The unmalted barley originally featured through necessity – a cunning means of dodging the riot-inducing malt tax imposed by the English in the 18th century – giving the whisky a unique character: viscous texture, spice, and cereal grain flavours. More barley-ish, for want of a better word. 

This single pot-still style remains popular today, as fans of Redbreast or Middleton’s “Spot” range will recognise, but the unique marriage with single malt showcases Walsh Whiskey’s eye for innovation, while paying homage to Ireland’s rich distilling roots.  

What to drink it with? 

Whisky is seldom given the respect it deserves as an accompaniment for food. Pigeon-holed as only a digestif, the bridesmaid of the meal and never the bride. The nutty character and richness of Copper Pot paired with cured scallops in ajo blanco – a Spanish creamy almond sauce – would make a compelling case to change this perception. For the less extravagant fig frangipane or buttery flapjacks work a treat. 

Shop the Walsh Whiskey Copper Pot here, or visit us in our London Shop at 63 Pall Mall

Category: Miscellaneous