2009: A Very Good Year for Burgundy and Vincent Girardin
Post by Chuck Hayward | November 16th, 2011
Highly acclaimed, the 2009 burgundies are slowly arriving on our shores and it’s shaping up to be an excellent vintage. Perhaps you’ve read the press, and while the descriptions are pretty accurate, nothing beats actually trying the wines whether here or in France. Fortunately, I have been able to do both!
In assessing any vintage, I like to use two different methods to discern its quality. One is to visit as many growers and domaines as possible, though the drawback is that one winery may be located in Gevrey Chambertin, another in Meursault. So not only is a lot of traveling involved but it can be difficult to gather an overall perspective of a vintage by looking at just a few places. Therefore, I make sure to also include visits to good negociants who make wines from vineyards up and down the Cote d’Or, thereby providing the perfect opportunity to gain a broad look at a vintage.
Where many firms have long and rich histories going back centuries, a number of new operations have cropped up in the region over the past few decades. Some are outsiders who immigrated to Burgundy from other countries, such as Alex Gambal who came from the United States.
Then there are those like Vincent Girardin, representing a new wave of the negociant business in Burgundy. The Girardins have a rich history going back to the 17th century but the path to top negociant wasn’t paved until Vincent began his winemaking career in 1982. The domaine quickly grew from 5 to 65 acres of vineyard holdings with additional fruit brought in under contract. A broad range of sites fills the portfolio, including numerous premier cru and grand cru holdings throughout the Cote d’Or. And like many other negociants looking to expand their vineyard holdings, Girardin has traveled south to Beaujolais and the Cote Chalonnaise where land prices are more affordable.
The rise of new negociants in Burgundy comes from recent changes to the local economy. Prices for the best sites, the premier and grand cru vineyards that give the region international acclaim, have risen to stratospheric heights. Grand cru sites have tripled in value over the last ten years and can command 15 million Euros per hectare. Many families sold their plots to the only buyers who could pay the prices—large insurance and finance companies that have little connection to the burgundian lifestyle and culture.
But as with the real estate crisis in the US, a number of these purchases were made with loans. In many of our conversations with winemakers, stories abounded of grand cru fruit being offered by companies who needed to pay off their loans right away. Selling fruit gave them immediate cash that would otherwise take years to collect by selling finished wine. This has allowed negociants like Girardin to gain access to fruit from prized parcels that were previously out of their price range or to purchase small domaines undergoing financial difficulties… a situation that is expected to continue in the near future.
Girardin’s success has allowed the family to not only expand their holdings but to also construct a new winery in 2002. Located near Beaune, the new state-of-the-art facility allows Vincent to conduct the many separate vinifications necessary for their new grape sources.
Tasting through the soon-to-be-bottled 2009s at the winery, the Girardin style came through perfectly with a clear expression of each wine’s terroir. Girardin’s wines also emphasize fruit, not in an overly dramatic way but so that the core of each wine shows plush textures along with forward aromatics. Tasting the finished wines a few weeks ago confirmed the quality of the vintage and Girardin’s wines, as his Echezeaux and Corton Charlemagne bottlings proved to be exceptional.
Burgundy fanatics can look forward to some tasty treats as soon as they land!