Domaine Joseph Voillot Volnay Les Champans Premier Cru 2010
Much as Joseph, son-in-law Jean-Pierre (pictured) came up steeped in Burgundian culture. His father managed grower relations and wine selections for the then family négociant firm of Bouchard Père et Fils, and it was a natural for Jean-Pierre to study enology. After his degree, he embarked on a stint as a courtier, or local broker, of wine in Beaune, and fell in love with one of the three daughters of Joseph Voillot. That marriage put him at the right hand of Joseph, and for fifteen years the two worked together until Joseph's retirement in 1995. During those years, Jean-Pierre joined the staff at Beaune's viticultural school and taught winemaking to all manner of students, both French and foreign.
In the late 1990s, shortly after becoming managing director at the domaine, he undertook a series of small steps that came to be systematic changes. In the vines, he moved to sustainable farming. In the cellar, he did away with fermenting with a percentage of stems because he liked the essence of fruit. He did trials on the length of barrel ageing, and came to bottle his premier crus after roughly sixteen months in wood followed by a month in steel (fourteen months in barrel for the Villages; twelve to fourteen for the Bourgogne—with both classes also receiving a month in steel to rest and clear before bottling). The two Meursaults moved to a roughly fourteen month barrel regimen (Joseph left the wines of both colors in barrel significantly longer).
Jean-Pierre has also shied more and more away from new oak, moving from around 30% new barrels for the premier crus to today using 10-20%. He lowered the sulfur additions. He experimented with filtration systems, and for several vintages bottled the premier crus without filtration. Eventually, he settled on one very light filtration at the mis, if necessary, because for him this gave the wine just that extra little touch of lift and purity. No fining for the reds; a light fining of the whites.
He's an old soul, Jean-Pierre, one quite committed and modest. Elegant in argument and clear in vision, he has no truck with tra-la-la. He cares deeply about Burgundy's traditions and the structure of the family domaine, and the cultural and artistic diversity that such things inspire (which is why this deeply pragmatic man won't go for strict organics in what is a wet, northern climate: the first rule is to have a harvest to survive; everything else flows from that).
He is, as Neal Martin has written, the proverbial winemakers' winemaker, known above all for purity of fruit, finesse, and clear expressions of terroir.
Today the domaine farms parcels spread across Volnay and Pommard (plus a piece in Beaune's 1er cru Coucherias, which is partially declassified into the Bourgogne). All of the Villages parcels are farmed the same, and all of the premier cru parcels are treated the same; ditto for how these wines are treated in the cellar. The differences come from the sites.
On the hillsides between Pommard and Meursault, Volnay is one of two villages in the Côte de Beaune that is recognized for its extraordinary Pinot Noir. Pommard is the other; the rest of the villages are most known for some of the most exceptional Chardonnay in the world. While Volnay Pinot Noir tends to be light in color and more delicate than that of Pommard, they typically stand on par with each other in regards to quality and demand.
Volnay can’t claim any Grands Crus vineyards but more than half of it has achieved Premier Cru status. Volnay Premiers Crus vineyards stretch across the entire village from northeast to southwest, abutting and actually falling “into” Meursault. Where they merge is a vineyard called Les Santenots. Pinot Noir grows in this Meursault Premier Cru but since that village is most associated with stellar whites, the Pinot Noir from Les Santenots, takes the name Volnay Santenots. Immediately above it are Volnay’s other prized Premier Cru, Le Cailleret, Champans, Clos des Chênes and Le Cailleret.
Volnay Pinot Noir are earthy with red or blue fruit. Aromas such as smoke, herbs, forest, cocoa and spice are common and on the palate they are gorgeous and concentrated with finesse but won’t truly charm you without some age.
Thin-skinned, finicky and temperamental, Pinot Noir is also one of the most rewarding grapes to grow and remains a labor of love for some of the greatest vignerons in Burgundy. Fairly adaptable but highly reflective of the environment in which it is grown, Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate and requires low yields to achieve high quality. Outside of France, outstanding examples come from in Oregon, California and throughout specific locations in wine-producing world. Somm Secret—André Tchelistcheff, California’s most influential post-Prohibition winemaker decidedly stayed away from the grape, claiming “God made Cabernet. The Devil made Pinot Noir.”