Burgundy Plus: For a Changing World

A Special Long-Read Report on Burgundy’s Complementary Geographic Denominations and the Attractive Value They Offer

By John Szabo MS

It would be wishful for Burgundy fanatics to think that a global pandemic would slow demand for wines from the marquee Côte d’Or appellations and most sought-after domaines. Even with restaurants closed around the world, I highly doubt it; there is hardly enough to go around at the best of times. And in any case, for many years now, these wines have been absorbed into the cellars of private collectors who are no doubt managing just fine amidst global economic turmoil. Restaurants can’t afford them. So, if anything, pressure on limited supply will grow.

But there is a cure if you’re looking for a fix that won’t require begging for a mortgage deferral: try a dose of wine from one of the 14 so-called “Bourgogne Plus” regional designations. These formerly humble and little-known vineyard areas scattered throughout the region are still authentic Burgundy in every way: pure pinot noir and chardonnay with region-defining freshness, delicacy and perfume. And quality today is genuinely exciting. There is even growing evidence that Burgundy’s future grand crus lie waiting to be crowned midst their relatively obscure lieux-dits. And you could be among the first on the scene, like a Cistercian monk 800 years ago.

Dénominations Géographiques Complémentaires: « DGCs »

Officially known as Dénominations Géographiques Complémentaires, or DGCs, these 14 complementary geographic denominations can be appended to the generic regional Bourgogne AOC for wines that meet the standards, especially, of course, having to originate in the specified geographic area. They are not exactly new; the DGCs existed previously as their own regional appellations. Then in 2017, Burgundy re-jigged its famously micro-terroir-oriented appellation system, and collapsed 23 separate regional appellations into eight, including “Bourgogne”, plus one of the 14 complementary geographic mentions.

[For the record, the other seven regional appellations are: Bourgogne Aligoté, Bourgogne Mousseux, Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains, Côteaux Bourguignon or Bourgogne Grand Ordinair, Crémant de Bourgogne, Mâcon, and Mâcon-Villages or Mâcon plus the name of the Village. All but the latter two can be made anywhere in Bourgogne, while Mâcon (plus Village) can only be made in the Mâconnais area.]

The 14 DGCs that can appear in conjunction with Bourgogne are: Bourgogne Chitry, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise, Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois, Bourgogne Côte d’Or (the newest), Bourgogne Côte Saint-Jacques, Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse, Bourgogne Épineuil, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits, Bourgogne La Chapelle Notre-Dame, Bourgogne Le Chapitre, Bourgogne Montrecul/Montre-Cul/En Montre-Cul, Bourgogne Tonnerre.

Each of these DGCs refers to a specific area within greater Burgundy, contrary to Bourgogne AOC without a DGC, allowing winegrowers to declare a wine’s origin with greater precision, and provide more guidance and transparency for consumers who take the time to understand the distinctions. They range from the far north near the town of Auxerre, to the south on the border of the Mâconnais near the town of Châlon. The move reduces the splendidly complex Burgundian appellation hierarchy to a mere 84 different AOCs.

Auxerre Cathedrale-3901 copy

Auxerre Cathedrale

But the recent changes are not just in the nomenclature. Indeed, the most exciting change is the dramatic increase in quality of wines produced in these formerly peripheral, minor appellations, as well as the value they represent.

There are two principal reasons for this: for one, climate change is hitting Burgundy hard. 2018 and 2019 were both torrid vintages. The vineyards that were naturally-selected hundreds of years ago for their reliability to ripen grapes regularly, now called premier and grand cru vineyards, are in some cases too well exposed, too well drained and too warm, at least to produce the fragrant and delicate wines on which the reputation of Burgundy was built – all factors that made them great in cooler times. Many of the 2018s and 2019s I tasted on a recent visit in December of 2019 showed evidence of this, with more than a handful of unnaturally dark, pinots and ripe, tropical chardonnays from famous vineyards that resemble ‘new world’ paradigms more than classical Burgundy.

Yet now, once-marginal, notably cooler areas like the upper hills above the Côte d’Or in the Hautes Côtes de Nuits and Beaune AOCs, and the collection of vineyards and villages between Auxerre and Dijon in the l’Yonne department to the north, previously on the edge of viability for grape growing, are now ripening grapes to degrees not seen for centuries (ever?). The top wines are starting to bear an uncanny resemblance to great Côte d’Or wines from the 1980s and 1990s when the world was cooler.

Hautes Côtes de Beaune

Hautes Côtes de Beaune

The second reason is economic. Land prices in the Côte d’Or are all but untouchable, that’s if you can find any vineyards for sale, which is rare. This has forced the current generation, without direct family connection to vines, to seek vineyards in the outlying areas where prices are less vertigo-inducing. And this younger set of winemakers, well-travelled and quality-focused by necessity, bring a level of ambition rarely seen in the earlier generations of grape farmers on the fringe, content to squeak by on a meagre income.

And not only newcomers, but also established Côte d’Or producers looking to expand their often-minuscule production have begun to explore these outer DGCs, purchasing grapes, buying land and planting vineyards, or acquiring established vineyards. They bring a Côte d’Or mentality – quality at all costs – and of course vast winegrowing experience to bear on production.

Great Burgundy will never be cheap, even from the DGCs. But relatively speaking, because the sub-regions remain obscure for now, even when followed by a famous producer’s name, the prices are a fraction of similar quality bottlings from the hallowed Côte d’Or. There are many truly exquisite wines to be had. And I must add, it’s quite exciting to be part of the (re-)discovery of great terroirs and vineyards in a region thought already exhaustively explored and mapped out. There’s yet more to learn. So, don your tunic and let’s go for a tour.

Touring the DGCs: Key Regions, Domaines and Wines

Grand Auxerrois: The Greater Auxerre Region

DGCs : Bourgogne Chitry, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, Bourgogne Côte Saint-Jacques, Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse, Bourgogne Épineuil, Bourgogne Tonnerre.

Chablis is of course well-known, but less-well known is the collection of DGCs surrounding it on the very northern fringes of Burgundy. But it’s here in these soft, green, rolling hills bathed in cool, shimmering light, that some of the most exciting DGC wines are being made.

Grape growing is hardly new to the villages of Coulanges-La-Vineuse; the very name – Vinous – indicates a long and close connection to wine. Images discovered nearby depict the harvest circa the second century C.E., and the village itself was developed around vineyards. “There was no water in Coulanges until 1705”, Magalie Bernard of Domaine du Clos du Roi tells me, “when a well was finally discovered”. The implication is that the only reason to settle in this area without easy access to water was its suitability to agriculture, of which growing grapes was evidently an important part. The lavish architecture of the village and the impressive size of the church are testaments to Coulanges’s former importance and wealth, its wines once considered in the same quality category as those of the Côtes de Nuits. The king himself owned vineyards here: the Clos du Roi, for which Bernard’s domaine is named.

Coulanges La Vineuse-3916 copy

Coulanges La Vineuse

The greater Auxerre region was reportedly home to over 40,000 hectares of vines in the mid-19th century, but was completely ravaged by phylloxera. Coulanges itself had upwards of 4,000 hectares, but like much of the region, wasn’t replanted to vines. Other agriculture took precedence, notably cherry orchards, which thrive under similar soil and climate conditions.

Today, Bourgogne Coulanges-La Vineuse counts about 120 hectares and growing, 100 of which are dedicated to red varieties – pinot noir and césar – and 20ha of chardonnay, produced by 16 growers. César, a minor variety particular to the Auxerre area, has a long history. In fact those ancient stone harvest images depict césar, recognizable by a perfectly preserved sculpture of its distinctive leaf shape, while DNA studies of seeds from the 2nd century winery establish the genetic link to modern césar conclusively.

For some growers like Magalie at Domaine du Clos du Roi, césar is an important part of local heritage, and it plays a role, up to the 15% maximum, in certain cuvées like the cuvée Coline named after her daughter. It’s a later ripening variety than pinot noir with large, long bunches, and it’s a yearly challenge to get fully ripe, especially the stems. Magalie chooses to crush it by foot in stone lagars, a gentler form of extraction than traditional pressing where the risk of releasing green tannins is minimized. Yet in this way she’s also able to capitalize on the positive aromatic effects of using whole bunches, partially ripe stems and all.

Clos du Roi is a family run affair with the lion’s share – nearly 10 hectares- of the former royal vineyard, with a range of good to very good wines, all particularly sharp values. The pinnacle of the portfolio is the Bourgogne Coulanges-La-Vineuse Rouge ‘Chanvin’ a pure pinot noir from the Clos du Roi, fermented with whole bunches in stone lagars and aged in mostly old barriques, a delicate and classical limestone expression. It would land in Canada under $30.

Just across the Yonne river to the northeast of Coulanges is another village with an etymological connection to wine: Sant-Bris-le-Vineux. Keen students of Burgundy know that Saint Bris is the only village in all of Burgundy where sauvignon blanc takes center stage, as it has since at least the 17th century. It’s reserved for the cooler north-facing hills surrounding Saint Bris and neighboring villages, and has its own Village-level appellation: AOC Saint Bris for 100% Sauvignon, with some 160ha planted. The south-facing slopes, on the other hand, fall under the Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre AOC, a Bourgogne+ appellation for whites, reds and rosés with just under 120ha planted.


Domaine Guilhem et Jean-Hugues Goisot is the leading producer in the village, making wines that rival almost anything from the Côte d’Or. The domaine has been certified biodynamic since 2004 even if the philosophy has been practiced since the early 1990s. The vast Goisot range, which also includes wines from the Saint Bris, Bourgogne Aligoté and neighboring red-only Irancy AOCs, is nothing short of extraordinary. These are marvels of purity and transparency, often micro-cuvées of singular parcels, each with their own identity though all showing a confident overarching hand and refined house style.

The nuances of predominant Portlandian and Kimmeridgean limestones, familiar to Chablis producers, are teased out in tantalizing fashion, as are gradations of elevation and aspect. Guilhem Goisot also points to his use of old clonal material as a defining quality factor, having selected vines with smaller berries but more open bunches, which ripen a little earlier than other commonly used clones but with uniform berry ripeness. He also notes that alcohol has not risen in recent years as it has with the modern Dijon clones; his wines register rarely more than 13%, even in hot years like 2018, a distinct advantage.

Guilhem Goisot

In some cases it’s not old clonal material but old vines themselves that make the difference, as in the extraordinary Irancy ‘Les Mazelots’, a vineyard with century-old pinot vines planted on a “mille-feuille” of limestone, layered with grey clays, which produces wines with momentous minerality in youth, evolving to a beguiling floral-spicy expression in time. In a divergent style, the Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre ‘La Ronce’ is one of the meatier, less fruity-floral pinots in the range, which puts Goisot’s mastery of texture on full display: always refined even when richly structured.

Whites, tasted here after reds in the traditional Burgundian fashion, display consistent finesse and elegance, and an extra-dimensional mineral signature that many a Chablis or Puligny producer would envy. Highlights include the Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre ‘Biaumont’, a rare hilltop vineyard with deep clays over a Kimmeridgean limestone base (deeper clays are usually only found lower down hillsides) generous on the nose but tight on the palate, and the mind-bendingly-good Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre ‘Gondonne’ from blue marls, a tight, firm, saline and sapid expression with scorching stoniness. I’d recommend everything from this address without hesitation, even considering the premium prices relative to other producers in the region.


Heading northeast through Chablis over to the right bank of the Serein River, and up past the Montée de Tonnerre 1er cru (“Path to Tonnerre”), one eventually reaches the village of Tonnerre itself. Since the 10th century, the monks of the abbeys of Quincy, belonging to the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny, have been growing grapes and producing wine in the area. As elsewhere, viticulture was once widespread – some 5000ha at its apogee. But phylloxera, a shortage of labour post-WWI, a mini ‘ice age’ in the early 20th century and a devasting country-wide frost in 1956 virtually eradicated the vine – only 5ha remained.

The vineyard has since recovered ten-fold though still tiny, counting 50ha today of chardonnay for the white-only AOC Bourgogne Tonnerre, and just over 60ha of pinot noir (and pinot gris) for the red and rosé AOC Bourgogne Épineuil, named for the village just north of Tonnerre.

When Dominique Gruhier and family arrived in the region in 1990, Tonnerre didn’t yet officially exist as an appellation. Buying a former outpost of the Cistercian monks of the Abbey of Quincy, founded in 1212, but abandoned since 1914, the road to renovation and renaissance has been long and costly. Yet the estate, taking the name of Domaine de L’Abbaye du Petit Quincy, has now been completely rebuilt, preserving its character and some of the region’s most beautiful cellars. And the wines are among the best of the Tonnerrois, produced organically since 2007, and otherwise minimally vinified with nothing but sulfur added, and tiny amounts at that.

Dominique Gruhier, Domaine de L’Abbaye du Petit Quincy

From 30ha of vineyards covering the Tonnerre, Epineuil and Chablis AOCs, Gruhier fashions a complete range from impressive Crémant de Bourgogne headlined by the Pinot Noir d’Edouard Extra Brut Cuvée, through to single parcel pinots, including potential future crus Les Dannots and Côte de Grisey, both substantial and meaty, belieing their northerly origins. Gruhier uses whole bunch to great effect, adding lift and spice to temper low-yielding density.

Hautes Côtes de Nuits and Hautes Côtes de Beaune

Travelling up one of the many combes (narrow hollows without a river) that cut through the gentle escarpment of the Côte d’Or, expansive monoculture of the vine cedes temporarily to forests. Only when in the upper hills above, in the Hautes Côtes, do vineyards reappear in the landscape, overlooking the Saône River plain and the Alps to the distant east. Officially recognised since 1961, this regional appellation covers 16 communes of the Hautes Côtes region in the département of Côte-d’Or, plus the more elevated areas of 4 communes in the Côte de Nuits.

Alexandre Parigot

At elevations that rise up to near 400 meters, and exposed to the cool weather systems that blow in from the west across the Massif du Morvan from which the lower slopes of the Côte d’Or are largely protected, the wines of the Hautes Côtes were once notably pale, light and thin. “Now harvest is only about 5 days later than the Côte d’Or”, says Alexandre Parigot of Domaine Parigot Père & Fils in the village of Meloisey in the Hautes Côtes de Beaune. “And it’s perfect in warmer years like 2018 and 2019”. With high temperatures becoming the new normal, many others are also looking to the upper hills. Parigot lets out that Domaine Leflaive is planting 10ha in the Hautes Côtes, while Vincent Dancer has already planted a hectare of chardonnay in Nantoux, and Pierre Yves Colin has bought a domaine near Nolay above Puligny and Chassagne.

Alexandre Parigot, Hautes Côtes de Beaune, fog in the Combe de Pommard

Alexandre Parigot, Hautes Côtes de Beaune, fog in the Combe de Pommard

And like these celebrated Côte d’Or producers, as well as an increasing number of Hautes Côtes-based producers, Parigot, who also owns parcels in Savigny-les-Beaunes, Pommard and Volnay, treats all of his vines to equally lavish attention. They’re planted in high density and farmed to low-yielding, exacting standards. The difference is in the final bottle price. Parigot’s exceptional Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune Clos de la Perrière, from a lieu-dit in Meloisey at the top of the Combe de Pommard, sits very comfortably next to his Savigny-les Beaunes 1er cru Les Vergelesses in a side-by-side 2017 vintage comparison. Yet the Savigny sells for over 1/3 more. And while the wine will likely not age as well as Savigny or Pommard or Volnay bottlings, on the near and mid-term pleasure scale, there’s little to tell between the two.

Heading north from the Hautes Côtes de Beaune and crossing into the Hautes Côtes de Nuits in the village of Magny-lès-Villiers, a similarly exciting pleasure-price ratio is found at David Duband. David’s father Pierre produced wine in the village of Chevannes from 1965 until David took the reins in 1991. In a period when vineyards were easier to come by, Duband expanded production to cover 17ha in 23 appellations, including Grand Crus Echezeaux, Chambertin and Charmes Chambertin, and Clos de la Roche, and premier crus and village wines from Chambolle-Musigny Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée, and Gevrey-Chambertin – an impressive portfolio.

The wines are exceptional to be sure; Duband’s 2017 Charmes Chambertin is a near perfect wine, with muscular 2018 Chambertin, velvety 2018 Échezeaux and a very seductive Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er crus Aux Thorey from the Vosne side of the appellation not far behind. But yet again, in terms of pure value, the top wine in his range is the Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits Pinot Noir Louis Auguste. At about half the price of the premier crus, the exceptional 2017 from 40 year old vines offers classic Côte de Nuits perfume with its darker berry fruit and earthy-spice, while 50% whole bunch drives complexity, freshness, drinkability and pitch perfect balance on the palate.

Both Parigot and Duband were fortunate in that their fathers already owned vineyards, but others, like Julien Cruchandeau were land-less to start. When the former sommelier set out to establish his domaine in 2003, prices in the Côte d’Or were already out of reach. So, he looked south first to the village of Bouzeron, an AOC for Aligoté (the only one in Burgundy) on the border between the Côte d’Or and the Côte Châlonnaise. He next expanded in 2007 with the purchase of a house in Chaux, in the Hautes Côtes de Nuits, which came with large cellars for vinifying and ageing. Yet even with growing success, it was only by attracting a group of outside investors and setting up an agricultural land group (GFA), “Aux Saints Jacques”, that he was able to access grapes from the Côte d’Or.

Rainbow in the Hautes Côtes de Nuits

Rainbow in the Hautes Côtes de Nuits

The two original wines, an aligoté from the lieu-dit “Village” and the Bouzeron ‘Massale cuvée, a portion of which is from 100 year-old vines, plus a small part of massale selection from another old vineyard of Aubert de Villaine, remain two of the most exciting values in his solid range, and show why aligoté was once considered in the same breath as chardonnay. To underscore his devotion, Cruchandeau has joined the Les Aligoteurs, an association of aligoté lovers, founded by chef cuisinier Philippe Delacourcelle and a group of vignerons led by Sylvain Pataille.

Meanwhile, his smoky, exotic Szechuan pepper, and pink peppercorn-inflected 2018 Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits Blancs is worth far more than a mere 1/3 the price of the also excellent and stony 2018 Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Hameau de Blagny, and the multi-parcel Hautes Côtes de Nuits Rouge Les Cabottes is at least equal in sheer pleasure to more vaunted and costly Savigny, Ladoix and Nuits-Saint-Georges bottlings. Today, 4.5 ha of Cruchandeau’s 7.5 are in the Hautes Côtes.

The Côte Châlonnaise

The Côte Châlonnaise region, between the Côte de Beaune to the north and the hills of the Mâconnais to the south, has been a source of sharp value Burgundy perhaps longer than any of the other DCGs. It’s also considered the cradle of Crémant de Bourgogne, with sparkling production dating from the early-mid-19th century. But history runs much deeper here; the of wines of Châlon have been praised since the time of the Bishop Gregory of Tours in the 6th century CE. The port of Chalon-sur-Saône once bustled, an important market centre with access to the Rhône River. It was likely a decline in the importance of Châlon and transport by river that saw commercial focus shift from vineyards in the Côte Châlonnaise to those nearer to Dijon.

I recall exceptional Côte Châlonnaise wines tasted back in the 1990s from producers like Juillot and Joblot, at a time when many of the other regional appellations were fodder for trivia questions on arcane sommelier examinations. The area, some 40km long by about 8km wide, is better known for the village appellations contained within the regional Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise DCG, namely Bouzeron (for aligoté), Givry, Mercurey, Montagny, and Rully, the latter four among the earliest AOCs in all of Burgundy. The appellation Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise itself dates from 1990 and covers the wines of 44 additional communes.

Côte Châlonnaise

Unlike the Grand Auxerrois and the Hautes Côtes, the climate of the Côte Châlonnaise has always been suave, with warm, dry summers stretching into autumn and the harvest of fully ripe grapes almost always assured. While soils are similar to those of the Côte de Beaune, of which the area is essentially a continuation, the more-or-less uniform southeast-facing escarpment of the Côte d’Or transitions into a more accidented landscape spiked with gentle but irregular hills, discontinuous outcrops of the Massif Central thrown up by the formation of the rift valley known as the Bresse Trench.

The complex geology explains the heterogeneous nature of the wines, and the mixed reputation of the region. But this means of course that the finest parcels, many of which have been granted premier cru status (there are no grands crus), tend to be excellent value, the prices weighed down by the regional anchor.

Producing wines under the Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise and Mercurey AOCs, Vincent Joussier’s Domaine de L’Éveché in Saint-Denis-de-Vaux, bought in 1985, was formerly part of a larger property owned by the Bishop of Autun in the 17th century. Today, Vincent, his wife Sylvie, and increasingly their son Quentin are seeking to extract the most out of their various parcels stretched across 13 ha just south of the village of Mercurey. The house style is joyfully fruity, not overly ambitious but fairly priced, reaching its epitome in the Mercurey Rouge Les Meurgers, a particularly stony lieu-dit (meurgers in Burgundian patois refers to a pile of stones.) Things look set to evolve as the second generation takes over.

In Mercurey itself, Domaine Theulot-Juillot already fully exploits the enormous potential of some of the top crus of the Côte Châlonnaise. Mercurey is the largest red wine AOC in Burgundy, with 550ha devoted to pinot noir, and another 100ha planted to Chardonnay. Up until the mid-1990s, the majority of Mercurey’s wine, some 60% of production, ended up in the generic Bourgogne Rouges of many négociants. “The culture was to produce volume”, Jean-Claude Theulot tells me, recalling the period in the late 1980s when his wife Nathalie Juillot inherited the domaine founded by her grandfather, Emile Juillot, and they took over production. But now the balance has shifted, with about three dozen local producers bottling 70% of production under the village AOC. Quality and reputation have risen with the shift to domaine bottling, even if prices remain relatively fair.

Mercurey is a fascinating village, with myriad nuanced expressions worthy of deep exploration on its own. The village itself lies at the bottom of a bowl-shaped, aptly-named, “Golden Valley”. Vineyards, protected from moisture-bearing winds from the northeast, surround it like a horseshoe up to 330m on all sides save for the southeast where the bowl opens. This means take your pick of aspect: vineyards face in virtually all cardinal directions except due north. And, “There are 56 different soils”, says Nathalie, if all are minor variations on typically Burgundian limestones and marls, and more rarely gravels, so the palette of possibilities is rich.

Jean-Claude & Nathalie Theulot, Theulot-Juillot, Mercurey

The couple produce some excellent wines under the Vignobles Nathalie Theulot label for bottlings made in part from purchased grapes, such as the classically-styled 2018 Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise Chardonnay, full of white flowers, green apple, lime and lemon. All-estate wines from their 12ha are bottled under the Domaine Jean-Claude & Nathalie Theulot label.

The broad range of superbly made lieu-dit and 1er cru wines provide a mini-masterclass on Mercurey’s terroirs: 1er Cru Les Saumonts Blanc is described by Theulot as a wine from a “red terroir planted in white”, with 35 year old vines, (not planted by Theulot-Juillot), high in elevation and always the last chardonnay to be harvested. Yet former disadvantages of the cru are now advantages, performing very well in warm vintages like 2018 with its pleasant phenolic grip bringing refreshing bitterness and appealing licorice and tarragon flavours on a precisely delineated palate.

The lieu-dit Château Mipont pinot noir, from the mid-way point between Châlon and Autun where a bridge and small fortress were built, is highly distinctive, planted in 1963 with full southern exposure, though shows an appealing herbal streak over taut and sharp, red and black raspberry fruit; 1er Cru La Cailloute monopole on Oolitic (corral limestone) is a more sturdy, firm expression with a big shell that takes time to develop stuffing (but eventually does, as a 1999 vintage showed), with black fruit and high acid retention; 1er Cru Les Combains, on the other hand, a warm, south-facing cru meaning “depression” from the topography, lying as it does between two hillsides with brown marly soils, offers a ferrous, earthy edge, with fruit in eau-de-vie, blood orange, and blackberry notes, highly sanguine. All are excellent and would arrive in Canada comfortably under $50.

The Cave de Vignerons de Buxy, established in 1931, is another Châlonnaise stalwart and address for value-seekers. The cooperative counts about 400 members, though only 260 are active, the rest are retired shareholders. Unlike most large corporate companies, the Cave aims at a very modest 1% profit margin yearly; members instead receive top prices for their grapes rather than dividends, and the rest is re-invested into production to maintain and improve high quality.

The co-op was ahead of its time from the beginning, inviting growers from outside of the village of Buxy when most in France were exclusively village-based, and, more radically for 1931, hiring a company winemaker after first sending him to the Lycée Viticole in Beaune for training. More recent forward thinking moves include setting up multiple meteorological stations to monitor weather and send up-to-the-minute recommendations on vineyard treatments directly to growers’ smart phones. Two full-time viticulturists are also on staff to assist the growers.

As far as Côte Châlonnaise appellations go, the Vignerons de Buxy is pretty much a one-stop shop, covering 15 AOCs, including the majority – 70% – of the Montagny AOC in which Buxy is located. Each year 110 vinifications are carried out, from lots as small as just 4 barrels (1000l) up 100,000l.


Wine students used to snicker at the mention of Montagny, ridiculing the curious, and decidedly non-Burgundian feature that all wines over 12% alcohol achieved 1er cru status -none of the vineyards were officially classified. But there’s some history here that explains the anomaly: towards the end of the war in 1945, the Germans had requisitioned wine from local vignerons, but only ‘village’ level wines, respecting the French people’s right to drink their own top crus. The clever villagers of Montagny decided to declare all of their wines as premier cru to avoid the forced donation, and, well, the designation stuck. The situation has since been remedied, and there are now 49 climates classified as premiers cru, though still representing a generous 60% of the AOC’s 325ha.

Montagny is white wine country exclusively, a favorite of the monks of Cluny. Here, as in the Côte de Nuits or at Chassagne-Montrachet, wine-growing and stone-quarrying share the landscape, and wines tend to the lighter, more floral and fresh end of the chardonnay spectrum. The Vignerons de Buxy make at least seven versions under their premium label, including a discreet and fresh basic AOC Montagny, and moving up to multiple premier cru selections like the 1er Cru Montcuchot, an early-maturing, south-southeast-facing parcel, yielding a broadly appealing, fleshy wine, the even riper and fatter 1er Cru Vigne du Soleil, which, as the name implies, sees sunlight from sunrise to sunset on heavier clay soils, and my personal favorite, the 1er Cru Les Coères, a cooler, east-northeast facing cru with thin topsoil that delivers a wine more akin to fresh mountain spring water, very stony, green, pure and tight, a very mineral expression.

These are just a few highlights of the Bourgogne “Plus” universe, an increasingly exciting collection of emerging special wines, Burgundies for a changing world. I’ll be continuing the exploration, hoping, like a 12th century monk, to find the next grand cru.

That’s all for this special report. See you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

See all John Szabo’s Burgundy reviews