Burgundy’s magic lies within its terroir, and the region’s best winemaking has always been about magnifying the natural qualities of individual vineyards. Here, we look at current trends in Burgundian winemaking and highlight a few of the producers on its cutting edge.
Tradition of low intervention
Natural or low-intervention wines have taken the world by storm over the past decade. The trend still divides opinion, and many of the more experimental natural wines remain a world apart from the luxury fine wine market. But the philosophy of ‘low intervention’ has gained prominence in all segments of the wine world with top producers championing their low-intervention techniques.
Many of these techniques are nothing new in Burgundy, where producers have focussed on achieving the purest expression of their terroir as possible. Names like DRC, Leroy, Leflaive, Lefon, Joseph Drouhin and Pierre Morey were among the early adopters of organic and biodynamic principles in the 1980s and 1990s.
Biodynamic principles call for the vineyard to be treated as one self-sustaining ecosystem, meaning each element naturally contributes to the whole rather than relying on outside influences or products. More broadly, low-intervention winemaking limits or avoids the use of synthetic sprays and fertilisers in the vineyard, favours indigenous yeasts over commercial strains, and eschews adding unnecessary sulphites or artificial clarifying agents. It’s easy to understand why such an approach fits with Burgundy’s terroir-driven wines.
Biodynamic and low-intervention methods are helping Burgundy cope with the changing climate as part of an increased focus on sustainability. It is thought that adopting more natural farming methods, such as reducing or eliminating the use of outside products, will help maintain Burgundy’s coveted terroir the way it has been for over 2,000 years.
A biodiverse vineyard with a mix of plants among the vines can also help reduce erosion while improving water retention. This latter point is especially important in the face of hotter, drier summers the region is experiencing. 2020 provided a prime example of a hot, sun-soaked growing season with the best growers able to emerge with a still high-quality crop.
“Global warming is changing the wines of the Côte d’Or, and yet the vines are resisting the effects witnessed in 2003, so that even in a precocious season like 2020, they retain desirable freshness, tension and alcohol levels that have not spun out of control,” - Neal Martin, Vinous.
Another technique that has seen a steady rise in popularity over the past decade is fermenting grapes as whole bunches or clusters rather than destemming prior to fermentation. This process is often associated with Pinot Noir and, consequently, Burgundy.
There are several reasons why more winemakers are adopting at least partial use of whole clusters, but most cite an increase in the wines’ aromatic qualities, often in the form of lifted floral or spicy herbal notes. Whole cluster fermentation also ties in with the focus on tradition. In the past, nearly all wine would have been made with whole clusters before the advent of destemming machines in the 19th century.