Play it by tier: Bourgogne’s new classifications

Changes are afoot in Bourgogne, with a new geographical denomination added to the AOC Bourgogne: Bourgogne Côte d’Or. We examine what this move means for producers and consumers alike.

Bourgogne Côte d’Or vineyards in Meursault. Picture credit: BIVB / Michel Joly

Among quality-minded producers in the world of wine, there is an overriding aim to express particular site characteristics. This is because if your wine style is connected to a certain combination of climate, soil, rock, aspect, grape and viticulture, then you will be hard to replicate. Essentially, if your area produces a wine that is different and distinctive, as well as delicious, then you will be in demand but also protected from imitators.

Of all the parts of the wine world renowned for expressing terroir, Bourgogne comes top. It is a fragmented region, where site accounts for much of the stylistic differences, rather than the brand owner or winemaker.

But even in Bourgogne, where centuries of winemaking have yielded a detailed demarcation of vineyards, there are changes taking place.

Such developments are being driven by an urge to better reflect variations over space, while sating an appetite among consumers for something more closely connected to its source.

Importantly, such change is not occurring at the very top of Bourgogne’s classification, but further down, as producers and buyers become more aware that further subdivision is necessary at the more accessible end of the offer. But don’t be scared off, such changes are not confusing, but are logical extensions to help those as they discover more about Bourgogne, and delve deeper into the high-quality and good value offerings, in contrast with the famous premiers or grand crus of this French fine wine region, which are becoming pricier, in line with increasing demand.

Such an evolution is taking place to reward those doing something quality-orientated, and to encourage others to follow suit. The most newsworthy change is the arrival of bottles featuring a new geographical denomination added to the AOC Bourgogne: Bourgogne Côte d’Or.

While this was approved by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) in June 2017, the wines bearing its name are just starting to reach the shelves. What’s on these labels today represents the result of a push started in the last century.

Sylvain Dussort, from Domaine Sylvain Dussort in Meursault, explains: “The project to get Bourgogne Côte d’Or recognised as a Régionale AOC with geographic denomination goes back 20 years when four winemakers, including myself, got together because you could be drinking a wine from Chablis to Mâconnais that was called Bourgogne Blanc or Rouge, but we felt that producers in the Côte de Beaune or Côte de Nuits needed a special appellation, because their wines were different.”

Dussort highlights the particularities of a Bourgogne Côte d’Or, which relate to the aspect of the vineyards. “The Côte d’Or takes its name from a shortening of the word Orient, because the slopes are east-facing, and that’s what makes our wines different from Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge.” He adds: “There may be a lot of awareness for the Côte d’Or, but there’s no longer official classification.”

Patrick Javillier, from Domaine Patrick Javillier, was another instrumental figure in the establishment of the new appellation. He gives a further motivating force for its creation. “When I started at the domaine 45 years ago, half of the producers in the Mâcon would declassify their wines and say they were Bourgogne Blanc, so we wanted to make the distinction between the wines from the Côte d’Or and the Mâcon.”

It was for this reason that, 45 years ago, Javillier launched a new white wine from his domaine, blending grapes from different parcels, which he called Cuvée des Forgets. This was followed 15 years later by another, which he named Cuvée Oligocène.

“We did this out of necessity,” he says, referring to the need to find a point of difference for these wines, which were high quality but were classified as Bourgogne Blanc.

Both have kept their respective names, but now carry the appellation Bourgogne Côte d’Or, signifying more clearly their source area.

Meanwhile, Dussort says the impact of the appellation has already been positive, and surprising in its strength.

“Since we started using Bourgogne Côte d’Or we have found that demand for our wines has increased.”

He also makes the point that the appellation comes with stricter rules than those for Bourgogne Rouge or Blanc, with producers having to meet tougher rules on planting density and yields. The area for the new classification is also limited to the lower slopes of the Côte d’Or.

While producers making wine from the highest points of the region can use the Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune Régionale appellation – or its equivalent further north, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits – Bourgogne Côte d’Or is designed to encompass wines from vineyards beneath the mid-slope villages, but above the plains, which provide grapes for Bourgogne Blanc or Rouge.

Currently, such a production area offers a potential of 1,000 hectares of Pinot Noir for reds, and Chardonnay for whites.

However, the launch vintage, the 2017, has seen around 300ha of wine that was previously classified as generic Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc become Bourgogne Côte d’Or, with 200ha used for whites, and a further 100ha for reds.

Albert Bichot was the first négociant to make the switch. Upgrading its Secret de Famille blend from Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc to Bourgogne Côte d’Or, the producer is pleased to report that this wine now receives the recognition it always deserved.

Guillaume Deglise, the new CEO at Albert Bichot, says: “We are very happy to make a distinction between the Secret de Famille and other Bourgogne Blancs, because the way we make this wine is closer to a Meursault. I see a very good future for Bourgogne Côte d’Or because it means that the wine is more premium.”

Christophe Chauvel, estates manager at Albert Bichot, agrees: “It is Bourgogne plus, which is important because Le Secret de Famille is vinified and aged like a Village wine: it is made in barrels, not a vat.”

Deglise adds: “With Bourgogne Côte d’Or you are getting closer to the treasury of the great wines of Bourgogne.”

In short, the region needed a new tier to differentiate the wines from sites that were superior to the flattest parts of the Côte d’Or, but couldn’t carry the names of the many famous villages along this famous east-facing part of Bourgogne. A step up from Bourgogne Blanc or Rouge in terms of sourcing and managing, they required recognition of their superiority.

And with Bourgogne Côte d’Or that is assured – after all, this is a geographic descriptor that wine lovers the world over associate with quality.

3 Responses to “Play it by tier: Bourgogne’s new classifications”

  1. Charles Crawfurd says:

    Logical but communicating the difference to the consumer will be key. As these wines one assumes will sell at a premium to ‘straight’ Bourgogne the consumer will need to understand why.

  2. barnaby33 says:

    Industry puff piece much? This is nothing more than a way for producers to squeeze more money out of Bourgogne level wines.

  3. Tim Clarke says:

    I have long sought out the Bourgognes from decent estates on the Côte d’Or which are often from parcels very close to their village sites and made with much the same care. Such wines are great value and I’m sure I’m far from alone in seeking them out. However, I’ve tended to not bother with the negociant offerings, presuming that these come from basic sites in the Maconnais or Chalonnais. So, now we have an appellation that brings clarity to the situation. This is an important change which is long overdue.

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