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Rise of the négociant in Burgundy?

With the rising cost of land in Burgundy and a revamped image of the négociant business, the region’s young talents may increasingly use it as their business model.

Charles van Canneyt: photo credit: l’Imperatrice

One winemaker who thinks so is Charles van Canneyt, winemaker at his family’s estate Domaine Hudelot-Noellat.

Van Canneyt started his négociant business with the 2012 vintage, “confident” in his role as winemaker at Hudelot-Noellat that had begun in 2008 but also keen to have a different sideline he could put more of his own stamp on.

‘They’re two completely different things,” he told the drinks business. “At the domain it’s family, I work for my grandparents. This is something for me.”

The range began with five grand cru AOC – all from vineyards not produced at Hudelot-Noellat – and grew to nine in 2013 including Bourgogne Rouge.

Backed by a business partner who shares his desire to produce “classic styles”, the wines are only produced in small quantities – one or two barrels worth of each – and while the aim is to grow the business, various AOC will or won’t be produced from year to year depending on the quality.

“There’s no Corton-Charlemagne in ’13 as there was in ’12 as it was hit by hail,” explained van Canneyt by way of example.

He explained that it was becoming increasingly common for young and even some more established winemakers to have a négociant business now and for the young in particular it was a way to get their foot in the winemaking door.

Even if, as previously examined by db, short harvests and death duties are making land in Burgundy more available than usual, prices of €1 million or €2m per hectare in good appellations is prohibitive.

“You can’t buy land, prices are crazy,” continued Canneyt, “so it’s easier to buy grapes.

‘A small percentage of domaine, years ago, had négoce activity but many more do now. It has a much better image today with the likes of Méo-Camuzet doing it.”

Even if land prices are exorbitant, grape prices from top AOC are not exactly cheap though they are at least set.

Only the very wealthy (or with a wealthy backer) could stretch to buying wine in barrel.

“I could make more money selling the domaine wine (from Hudelot-Noellat) in barrel than ex-domaine in bottle,” said van Canneyt.

“It’s why some good domaine are sometimes selling wines or grapes to get ready money.”

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