“The wines are supremely clean and elegant: definitive examples of Pinot Noir. Above all, they have richness and breed, the thumbprint of a master winemaker.”
So wrote Master of Wine Clive Coates in his book, “Cote d’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy.”
The estate about which he was writing: Domaine Faiveley.
Founded in 1825, Faiveley is situated in the heart of the Nuits-Saint-Georges, and has expanded strategically through seven generations of family members.
The domaine now includes prestigious crus from Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune, as well as the most renowned appellations of Cote Chalonnaise (such as Mercurey). It encompasses 296 acres, 80 percent of which are family owned.
Gen-7 took over in December of 2004 when Francois Faiveley – after directing operations for 30 years – handed control to his son, Erwan.
Then 25 but mature for his age, Erwan knew what he knew, but more importantly, he knew what he didn’t know. So he hired Bernard Hervet, a man with more than 20 years of experience in Burgundy, to help strengthen the technical teams, and refine the viticulture and winemaking methods.
This sent shockwaves throughout Burgundy, a winemaking region where change traditionally has come both slowly and reluctantly. But Erwan knew that in order for the family domaine to remain strong well into the 21st century, it had to evolve. That process is ongoing, and the results have been stunning.
Take the 2008 Corton Clos des Cortons bottling, as an example. An extremely focused wine with outstanding structure and beautifully defined fruit flavors, it is in such high demand that only 10 cases were exported to the United States. That’s 120 bottles for the entire country. And even if one were to find a bottle, they’d have to ante $167. That’s the suggested retail price, but when allocations are so low, “suggested” becomes the key word.
What have Messrs. Faiveley and Hervet done thus far to improve quality?
In 2006, they invested in new wood tanks that allow fermentations to take place with minimal temperature fluctuation.
That same year, they implemented changes in the barrel program, trimming their list of suppliers to just two, and ordering only light toasting to assure that the wonderful fruit flavors of their wines are never masked.
The next year, they created a new position – technical director – and hired Jerome Flous for it. Flous, who had consulted for some of Burgundy’s leading domaines, is tasked with assuring total cooperation between the workers in the vineyards and the workers in the cellar. In the past, grapes were picked somewhat haphazardly; now, they are harvested only when they attain optimum ripeness.
Additionally, greater attention is paid to quality control in the cellar, making sure that the proper temperature is maintained at all times and that pumping – moving wine from one barrel to another – is kept to a minimum. Simply put, the wine is now handled much more gently than it was in the past.
Once their own house was in order, the new management team began looking outward, seeking to expand the domaine’s vineyard holdings. In 2008, they bought Domaine Monnot, which has Grand Cru vineyards throughout Burgundy. They also hired Julien Bordet to manage the vineyards.
Today, of the domaine’s 296 acres, 74 are in Cote de Nuits, 24 in Cote de Beaune and 185 in Cote Chalonnaise. These include eight Grand Grus and 16 Premier Crus spread over 15 villages.
In the Cote Chalonnaise, Faiveley owns the largest domaine in Mercurey, and still has 49 acres of potential vineyards awaiting cultivation permits.
Erwan Faiveley balances his vibrant youth and focused business style with a mindful respect for his ancestors, their vineyards and family traditions. With an engrained knowledge of wine and the family business, he has given himself time to gain the necessary experience to develop his own style, and has begun making enhancements to ensure continuity for future generations.
“When one travels to Burgundy, one could have the impression that time stands still,” he observes. “Nevertheless, a new generation is coming, with high-profile, well-educated and internationally savvy leaders. This generation will have to show consumers and critics that it is possible to keep a very careful eye on history and culture, while looking forward.”
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