Written by: Kevin McLean
Image from Domaine Joliet

Exploring Burgundy’s Changing Landscape

Market Wines was built on discovering small, family-owned wineries; the kind that work tirelessly to craft wines that really speak to their land. When we were getting started, the first region we really dug our teeth into was Burgundy. We knew it had immense potential, particularly the lost vines of Fixin, and there was limited representation in Alberta at the time. 

Embracing Burgundy’s Evolution

Burgundy, a region steeped in tradition and history, has undergone a remarkable transformation. They make particularly stunning Reserve wines and I knew it had immense potential. It was exciting to visit producers in every village and put together a portfolio of the very best Domaine’s from each. We are very proud of the list of names we’ve assembled and introducing them to our clients over the years has been a real privilege.

But times have changed drastically in Burgundy; gone are the days of knocking on the doors of the top producers and bringing home their wines. Burgundy’s surging popularity has become its own worst enemy as the best producers are overrun with requests to visit their property and purchase their wines. This worldwide demand has led to unprecedented price increases and a real scarcity for many of the best wines. 

If you’re a Burgundy lover you’ve likely felt the pinch of lower allocations and soaring prices.

Pioneering Beyond Burgundy Tradition

As the Burgundy landscape continues to evolve, the quest for exceptional Reserve wines has us looking beyond the usual suspects. Today, we need to find new suppliers, lesser-known and often younger producers who have wine to sell, hopefully at more reasonable prices. But that’s not such an easy task in a region that gets as much attention as Burgundy does.

Although the challenge is now greater than ever, we take pride in finding the up-and-comers that will one day rank amongst the top names. There are still fantastic values to be found, they just take a little more effort to uncover. While hunting grounds like Meursault or Volnay yield fewer treasures, we have to open our scope to uncharted appellations.

Rediscovering Fixin

Now-a-days we’re spending more time on more remote places like Mercurey, the Hautes-Cotes and most recently, the ancient village of Fixin. This village nestled next to the famous Gevrey-Chambertin, had been more or less forgotten by enthusiasts over the past few decades. There are 5 Premier Crus’ to be found within Fixin: Arvelets, Hervelets, Clos du Chapitre, Clos Napoléon and Clos de la Perrière. Sadly, none of these are particularly well-known, but all that may be about to change… at least in the case of Clos de la Perrière.

Clos de la Perrière: A Forgotten Monopole

This obscure vineyard, owned entirely by the Joliet family, was thrust into the limelight in June of 2022. Eric Asimov, a renowned wine writer from the New York Times, cast a spotlight on Domaine Joliet and their monopole vineyard Clos de la Perrière. In his article, he cited several older documents that described this vineyard as comparable to the great Grand Cru’s of Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny. It seems if one goes back far enough, Fixin was not such a humble village after all, but one of the very best. Asimov writes, “More than 200 years ago, the early French wine authority André Jullien, in his book “Topography of All Known Vineyards,” cited the Clos de la Perrière as being among the top vineyards in all of Burgundy”.

He ranked the vineyard, here in this small village near the northern end of the Côte d’Or, the heart of Burgundy, in hallowed territory alongside Chambertin and Musigny. These illustrious names are still murmured reverentially today and among the most prized and coveted of all wines.

Asimov’s praise was echoed in 1855 by Jules Lavalle, a botanist and authority on Burgundy’s vineyards, in his seminal work “History and Statistics of the Vine and of the Great Wines of the Côte d’Or.” Lavalle, if he does not place Clos de la Perrière in his highest echelon of vineyards, holds it among the best with other esteemed names like Bonnes Mares and Grands Échézeaux. Yet today, Clos de la Perrière’s exalted past and its owner, Domaine Joliet, remain lost in the shadows of Gevrey-Chambertin. 

It would seem, however, that this 4 hectare vineyard in Fixin that nobody had paid much attention to was capable of producing some serious wine. The only question left was when would it happen?

Bénigne Joliet: Unearthing Potential

The Joliet family purchased the Clos de la Perrière in 1853, making the current winemaker Bénigne, the sixth generation of his family to work the land. But because of inheritance laws in France, the vineyard ownership was fragmented among his relatives over the years. With so many voices and opinions from aunts, uncles and cousins, it was impossible to create any real vision for the wines and thus the quality never lived up to the potential.

In 2004, Bénigne realized that if he was ever going to make great wine here, he would need to purchase back the entire Clos from his extended family. So with a fresh loan from the bank, he bought back every parcel and positioned himself to make the very best wine he could. There was much work to do and the vineyard would require years of diligent farming to get the vines healthy and capable of growing top-quality grapes. Bénigne believed that the Clos de la Perrière had a very special microclimate, not unlike many of the neighboring Grand Cru’s.

Clos de la Perrière has distinct soils that Joliet vinifies separately and blends at the end. With limestone-rich areas, clay-enriched patches, and cool, rocky expanses, the vineyard mirrors the essence of Burgundy’s greatness. The oldest vines are nearly a hundred years of age and he has used these ancient clones to replant new parcels giving further character and distinctiveness. Joliet farms organically, although he has never sought certification and his confidence has grown immensely over time – you can see that in his wines.

A Triumph Acknowledged

Bénigne’s big breakthrough came when Decanter Magazine scored his 2019 vintage 96 points, adorning it on their Burgundy cover alongside some of the region’s biggest stars. So while it may seem that these wines have appeared out of thin air, these wines are the culmination of persistent efforts over time.

While we can’t say for sure if they will ever stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Burgundy’s most famed Grand Cru’s, I do think it’s safe to say they are remarkable and worthwhile wines. With many of the top wines out of reach I think this Fixin is a terrific buy at around $100 a bottle; it delivers not only a great drinking experience, but also a great story. And if they ever do regain their old fame, I’m sure the price and availability will follow suit and you’ll be glad you bought it when you could.