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Domaine Joseph Voillot Volnay Premier Cru Les Champans 2005
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
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.
One of the most finicky yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is a labor of love for many. However, the greatest red wines of Burgundy prove that it is unquestionably worth the effort. In fact, it is the only red variety permitted in Burgundy. Highly reflective of its terroir, Pinot Noir prefers calcareous soils and a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality and demands a lot of attention in the vineyard and winery. It retains even more glory as an important component of Champagne as well as on its own in France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions. This sensational grape enjoys immense international success, most notably growing in Oregon, California and New Zealand with smaller amounts in Chile, Germany (as Spätburgunder) and Italy (as Pinot Nero).
In the Glass
Pinot Noir is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry and cherry with some heftier styles delving into the red or purple plum and in the other direction, red or orange citrus. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and a lively acidity. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount) it can develop hauntingly alluring characteristics of fresh earth, savory spice, dried fruit and truffles.
Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon and tuna but its mild mannered tannins give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry: chicken, quail and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, Pinot noir has proven it isn’t afraid of beef. California examples work splendidly well with barbecue and Pinot Noir is also vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.
For administrative purposes, the region of Beaujolais is often included in Burgundy. But it is extremely different in terms of topography, soil and climate, and the important red grape here is ultimately Gamay, not Pinot noir. Truth be told, there is a tiny amount of Gamay sprinkled around the outlying parts of Burgundy (mainly in Maconnais) but it isn’t allowed with any great significance and certainly not in any Village or Cru level wines. So "red Burgundy" still necessarily refers to Pinot noir.