A Benchmark Storms Back – Burgundy’s Michelot

Writing in 2008, Burgundy expert Clive Coats said, “Nearly 40 years ago, when I was studying for the Master of Wine examination, one of my tutors recommended two estates which produced yardstick white Burgundy: Michelot in Meursault and Sauzet in Puligny-Montrachet.”

That “yardstick” status came from the hard work of Bernard Michelot, a fifth generation winegrower who modernized the winemaking, increased the use of new barrels, and tended his large set of vineyard holdings with meticulous care.

Inheritance Issues
In the 1990s and early 2000s, though, the estate failed to keep up with the ever-improving quality of its neighbors. As Bernard aged, he was forced to split up the estate between his children and sell off some vineyards to deal with France’s punitive inheritance taxes.

Daughter Genevieve Michelot took seven ha and founded Michelot Mere et Fil. Son-in-law Jean-Francois Mestre and his wife, Odile Michelot, kept Domaine Michelot but were forced to place some of the wine and vineyards in a separate cellar, Domaine Mestre-Michelot. The separate cellars and Bernard’s continued presence (he passed away earlier this year at age 99) perhaps served as barriers to further innovation.

Reuniting and Re-energizing

michelot-familyOver the past decade, though, Domaine Michelot has come roaring back. Jean-Francois has been allowed to merge the two separate cellars – so all the wine is Domaine Michelot now. He and his son Nicolas have converted all of their vineyards to organic farming. Grass is allowed to grow between the rows to stress the vines and then plowed under to enrich the soils. Most chemical treatments have been dropped and copper and sulfur use have been reduced substantially.

In the cellars, Mestre has slightly increased the amount of new oak used – around 33% for the 1er Cru wines – but also moved to larger barrels to prevent too much oak flavor in the wine. All of the wines – from Bourgogne Blanc up – spend 12 full months in barrel before wracking by gravity into tank. There they rest for an additional 4-6 months to harmonize and settle before bottling.

The result of all these changes: superb wines that are once again “textbook” (or “yardstick” if you prefer) Meursault. Rich, full of ripe fruit, creamy in texture with plenty of vibrancy, and laced with plenty of toasted buttered nut goodness. The 1er Crus are majestic and, if young, promise a decade-plus of drinking delight. The Meursault Narvaux is at once sleek and sexy; hard to imagine anything more delicious with lobster or morels. And the Bourgogne Blanc – made entirely from vines grown within the village of Meursault – is simply the most outstanding white Burgundy value we’ve seen in years.

Folks, do not miss the Michelot wines while they are available at these superbly discounted prices.

Why 2014 is the White Burgundy Vintage to Buy
michelot-mersautA reasonable question for any Burgundy lover to ask: Should I buy extensively from the currently offered vintage or save some room for harvests yet to come. For the 2014s, here’s the answer to that question given by Burgundy’s foremost dedicated reviewer, Burghound: “I would again urge you to strongly consider buying the 2014s.”

Why? First, the wines of the best producers in general, and Michelot specifically, are outstanding in a classic (if ripe) white Burgundy style. Burghound’s overall assessment of the vintage applies here in spades:

“They are classic middle weight white burgs that possess excellent freshness, solid but not high alcohols and acidities along with terrific transparency to the underlying terroir. They are also exceptionally refreshing and energetic which makes them fun to drink as one sip invites the next…The 2014s are quite finely balanced as they combine reasonably good levels of dry extract that generally does a fine job of buffering the moderately firm acidities. As such they should be approachable young but should reward mid-term cellaring.”

Price Increases to Come
Second, while the jury is still out on the quality of the 2015s (which I suspect will be much better than Meadows projects) and 2016s, we know one thing for sure: white Burgundy prices will skyrocket over the next 24 months. While growing demand in Asia is certainly part of this story, the bigger issue is simple: vintage 2016 was nothing short of a disaster in terms of quantity produced.

Over the past few months, I’ve spoken with multiple importers plus growers in Gevrey-Chambertin, Chablis, Pouilly-Fuisse, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, and Meursault. All have said the same thing. The quality of fruit in 2016 is superb. The quantity is down 30-80% – and for white Burgundy, losses of 70-80% are common.

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