Les Domaines Bouchard Père et Fils
15, rue de Château – 21200 Beaune
+33 3 80 24 80 24
On a perfectly crisp autumn day, I visited Domaine Bouchard, which is located within the regal 15th century Château de Beaune. Domaine Bouchard includes 4,000 square meters (13,123 square feet) of cellars (yes, this is not a typo) and 321 acres of vineyards (33 acres of Grands Crus and 183 acres of Premiers Crus). Oui, c’est vrai mes amis, Bouchard Père et Fils is massive. Yet, as gargantuan as they are, they hosted each guest with the utmost warmth and intimacy. This also holds true for the care in which they craft their wines. Despite their historical contributions to wine as a whole and their Burgundian legacy, Bouchard exhibited nothing but humility and true passion for wine. If you plan a trip to Burgundy, a visit to Bouchard is mandatory.
Their colorful history dates back to 1731 when a family of cloth merchants, who used to sell wines as they were traveling to and from the north of France, realized that selling wine was by far more lucrative than their cloth trade. So in 1731, they packed up the cart and moved to Burgundy to focus on wine full time. They were extremely successful in their new wine venture and in 1810, the family was able to purchase the Château de Beaune, a castle that had been used by the King of France to monitor and establish control of Burgundy, a region which had been independent from France.
The château and all of its contents (including the massive cellars stocked with elegant wine) were seized by the Nazis during the occupation of France in WWII. The Nazis loved good wine and helped themselves to as much as they could get their hands on. However, someone had the foresight to put a fake wall in front of the older part of the cellar, so the great library of wines was preserved. How fantastic is that?
My husband’s grandfather Pépé Tin was in a Nazi camp during the occupation of France. Years later, whenever he would open a good bottle of wine, he’d smile, have a sip and say “that’s another one the Nazis won’t get.” As a result of someone outsmarting the Nazis, the museum section boasts of a decent volume of older wines, with 2 bottles dating back to 1846 (1 Chablis and 1 Meursault Charmes). Christie’s recently auctioned off one of these older bottles (1864 Montrachet) for 10,300€. These wines have been maintained in the proper temperature and handled gingerly, so, despite their age and fragility, they are indeed drinkable. Interestingly, for these older and treasured bottles of wine, to ensure the preservation, Bouchard changes the corks every 20 to 25 years. Isabelle Philipe, External Relations Manager for Bouchard, shared the following with me, “The oenologist tastes only one bottle (of the lot for that year) and uses it refill the other ones and then puts new corks. The bottle we use to refill the other ones is of course from the same appellation and same vintage. We carry out this changing of corks regularly the whole year long, which represents thousands of bottles each year.”
Presently, the château stores 2.5 million bottles. By the way, there’s another 2.5-3 million bottles stored in at their logistical plant in Savigny lès Beaune, which rotate quickly as orders get filled. At the plant, they bottle, label and ship, but it is not open to the public. Each year, Bouchard produces 3-3.5 million bottles of wine, with about 18% coming from their own domaines. The bulk of their production comes from acting in their capacity as negociant. Bouchard exports 52% of their production, with the residual 48% remaining in France. That’s 1.5 million bottles to the Frenchies each year! Clearly the French imbibe what Bouchard produces. Bouchard shared with us that typically, a winery in this region can export around 70% of their production. They just opened their tasting room in the château 3 months ago.
When you are established, you can do and say whatever you want. You’ve earned that right and if people don’t like it, who cares. Sometimes, you end up setting the standard. My friend Premila has a friend with a 96 year old grandmother. She keeps her garage stocked with liquor (just in case there’s another depression and she needs to barter). Everyday at 5PM, she has a cocktail. If she happens to be en route to someplace at 5PM, she packs a traveler for her daily ritual. (She is no longer able to drive – so don’t fret). Bouchard is one of the granddaddies of Burgundy. They are established can do whatever they want. That’s the way it is. I love wine, but like so many things in life, some get caught up in pompous and stuffy rules. Or, they blindly follow the leader instead of marching to the beat of their own drum. While there is often logic with many of the guidelines with wine, keep in mind, first and foremost, it is meant to be enjoyed. You can make your own rules sometimes. Tastings at Bouchard start with red wines and end with white (so reverse of convention). Our guide at Bouchard stated, “It’s the way we’ve always done it and we are determined to keep it this way.” They prefer for palates to end on a light and clean note, rather then “laden with tannins.”
(Please note, because Bouchard exports a significant volume of wine in countries all over the world with various import fees and taxes. As such, they have asked that I not display the prices for the wines we tasted at the site, so prices have been deliberately omitted below.)
Reds (100% Pinot Noir)
- 2003 Côte de Beaune Villages Rouge (negociant) strawberries, vanilla, minerality, fruity, tannins; heat of 2003 shows
- 2000 Beaune Marconets Premier Cru (Domaine Bouchard) cherries, decent tannins, freshly cut wood
- 2001 Corton Renardes Grand Cru (Domaine Bouchard) cherries, tobacco, slight hint of coconut and leather with some mushrooms; very pleasant color and finish; ready to drink now
Whites (100% Chardonnay)
- 2003 Beaune (Domaine Bouchard) melons, fresh, creme soda, minerality
- 2006 Meursault Premier Cru (negociant) hazelnut, creme soda; I wrote the word “love” next this one.
- 2003 Beaune du Château Blanc Premier Cru (Domaine Bouchard – a blending of various Premiers Crus from Beaune) creme soda, apples, honeysuckle
- 1997 Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru (Domaine Bouchard) apples, honey dew melons, jasmine, minerality, elegant finish
What did I buy, why and what would I pair it with?
We purchased all of the wines at a very good price compared to what we’d pay in the States. Luckily, I have a father-in-law who happily offered to store our wine in France for us.
- 2001 Corton Renardes Grand Cru – I’ve always said Pinot Noir is everyone’s friend. It goes with almost everything and offends no one. Fish, chicken, duck, pork, red meat… it’s all good with all of the above. This Grand Cru had complexity with a silky finish.
- 2003 Côte de Beaune Villages – I just couldn’t beat the complexity and minerality for this price point. They already aged it for me. What can I say? With that fresh melon and minerality, shellfish and fish would go very nicely and it wouldn’t break the bank.
- 2006 Meursault Premier Cru – I am thinking a perfectly butter poached lobster for this guy, although I think it could hold its own paired with a juicy roasted chicken with savory herbs, duck (because of that bit of apple) and fish. We had this wine with a butter nut squash soup over the weekend. The rosemary and sage in the soup was spectacular with this wine. I did write the word “love” next to it while I was tasting… enough said.