My name is Jonah Beer, and I am an importer, winemaker, and entrepreneur. With that out of the way, let’s start things off with a confession. I don’t like Champagne. I know that this will infuriate some, and I can already hear the text messages being clicked out with unsolicited advice such as, “but wait until you try this Champagne!” Now, please don’t confuse the issue here. I understand Champagne. I can tell the good ones from the pedestrian and the ordinary from the stellar. But I never care for a second glass, no matter how ‘unbelievable’ the bottle is. My dismissive nature of Champagne makes me a pariah amongst most Somms and Winemakers. And I don’t care because I win them all back with my love affair of Burgundy and Piedmont. When you look in our cellar, there are 500 bottles of old-school Napa Cab, 500 bottles of Burgundy, 500 bottles of Barolo, and one lone bottle of bubbles for our friend Nicole.
My amazing wife Sara and I started our import and distribution company—True North Wine Merchants—to focus on our love of Burgundy and Barolo (and we began Pilcrow to celebrate old-school Napa Cab). Six years later, we find ourselves more enamored, gobsmacked and charmed by all that Bourgogne and Piemonte have to offer. I’ve come to believe that these two regions were separated at birth. For everything I love about Burgundy—like the intricacies of the climats—I find in Piedmont too (MGAs). For everything I love about Piedmont—like the generations-long family ties to the land—you find the same thing in Burgundy. And let’s be clear. Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo often share the exact ethereal nature. Long-lost twins, or soul mates, choose your analogy. But join me over a four-week journey of discovery and exploration of Burgundy and Piedmont, and for a moment, ignore all the Somms shoving Champagne down your gullet.
The village of Verduno is, even amongst the tranquil villages of Barolo, quiet. Compared to the bustle of tourists in the village of Barolo, or the drama of Monforte d’Alba, it is a charming place of locals going about life at a slower pace. The wines from Verduno almost reflect this nature as if they too are easygoing and quiet.
Diego Morra is a new producer to the states but not the region. Generations of the Morras have toiled the land and tilled vineyards of their estate just north of the village and on the famed ridgeline that separates the vineyards from the Tanaro river. This side of Barolo produces the most feminine, delicate, and Burgundy-esque Barolos of all the Langhe. To me, Verduno is the Vosne-Romanée of Barolo. And, if that is true, then undoubtedly, Monvigliero is the Richebourg. This particular MGA (Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva, which is Langhe-speak for what the fine folks of Bourgogne call a climat or cru) is one of the most important in all of Piedmont. The Monvigliero from Diego Morra is precise, polished, and elegant. Their wines almost defy the stereotype of Barolo while also reinforcing that Nebbiolo can perform amazing feats of complexity just like its sibling on the Côte d’Or.
From the deck of Diego Morra, you can see the village of Castiglione Falletto. And if you squint really, really hard, you can almost see the most elegant, polished, and chiseled young winemaker of all of Barolo. Seriously, look him up. Our friend Lorenzo Scavino is the scion of the legendary Scavino family that has been watching over their estate, Azelia, for the past 100 years. Lorenzo—almost always clad in what I contend is a Prada t-shirt—carries the family tradition into this next century. Their farming is precise, focused, and organic. They have long eschewed herbicide and pesticide, and it must be working. I mean an entire century of family farming. Damn. His Barolos have a sophistication to them that mirrors Lorenzo’s own style. Never pushy, always precise, and they all look like they will age gracefully for darn-near ever… just like a Richebourg.
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Last week we talked about Diego Morra from Verduno and Azelia from Castiglione Falletto. Both are pillars of organic and farming excellence in Barolo. And across the Alps in Burgundy, a man is on a mission to eradicate herbicide and pesticide from Bourgogne, full stop. He is Thiébault Huber of Domaine Huber-Verdereau, and he has taken his passion for farming to a whole new level. Biodynamic. Plowing by horse and walking barefoot in the vineyard. But he’s no “natty winemaker” who flies without a net, just hoping the wines come out ok. No, he’s the Burgundy Grower’s Association president, a former Sommelier, and star of the documentary film, “Three Days of Glory” (check out that documentary, BTW, it is fabulous). Thiébault is a powerhouse of a man, but his wines are as elegant, focused, and a mirror to the climats and lieux-dits from which they emanate. Without question, his farming brings a tremendous amount of life and biodiversity to his vineyards. But it does more than enhance the mycorrhizal fungi and heighten the vine’s sap flow—it brings joy to the vineyards. A joy that can be seen in the bright, taut, freshness of the wines. His counterpart in Piedmont just might be Marina Marcarino at Punset in Barbaresco. She’s equally fierce in her farming fervor, and her wines twinkle with the same sense of joy. But I digress.
Thiébault is, of course, not alone in his pursuit of farming excellence in Burgundy. The list of household names that are pursuing similar viticultural higher ground is a long one in their own way and on their own paths. Leroy, Rion, Lafarge, Dujac…and Sauzet. SAUZET; six letters and four generations that get the tastebuds tingling of anyone who loves Puligny-Montrachet. Founded in the early 20th century and having endured some family splits (Jean-Marc Boillot, for instance, took his inheritance out of the Domaine holdings), the vineyards became organic in 2006 and broadly biodynamic in 2010. The result of this farming (and winemaking excellence) is a Puligny-Montrachet that almost vibrates with life. A little verve, as it were.
With all due confidence and firsthand experience, I can say that the farming choices of Domaine Huber-Verdereau and Etienne Sauzet play a key and central role in the wines’ reflection of terroir, completeness, and ability to age. Don’t believe me? Snag a few bottles and see for yourself!
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We’re staying in Burgundy this week. And, we’re going to talk about something near and dear to vintners in both Bourgogne and Piemonte: Family. For hundreds and hundreds of years, both regions have seen family legacy—and land—handed down from generation to generation. In Burgundy, this is seen in, among other ways, the almost infinitesimally small plots seen in some climates. One often sees a vineyard perched on the slopes of the Côte split so many times that one might only own two or three rows.
It is hard to imagine the number of hands that a plot of land passes through over hundreds of years. The scale is just too hard to wrap your mind around. But what is plain to see and wonderful to witness is the onboarding of a new generation. That moment when a son or daughter decides that it is time for them to join the family business. To add their link to the chain of familial legacy. Such a moment is underway at two of my favorite domaines. Domaine Patrice Rion in Nuits-Saint-Georges and Domaine Méo-Camuzet in Vosne-Romanée.
Maxime Rion is the son of Patrice Rion. He joined Domaine in 2005 after completing oenology studies in Dijon. He apprenticed with several well-known winemakers in different regions, such as Nadine Gublin in Meursault, Hubert de Bouard in Saint Emilion, and Dr. Neil McCalum in Martinborough. He has brought that energy, knowledge, and passion back to the domaine and the family vineyards. And, in his father’s footsteps, he continues to innovate in the cellar and drive organic, thoughtful farming practices throughout their holdings. The result of this decade-long “handing over of the reins” is a consistency in the style of the wines. A style that is refined without being polished. Elegant without being insipid. And powerful without being weighty.
Just up RN74 in Vosne-Romanée is another domaine welcoming in the next generation of vigneron. Jean-Nicolas Méo had watched over Domaine Méo-Camuzet since the mid-1980s when he apprenticed under the domaine’s iconic winemaker, Henri Jayer. Today, Jean-Nicolas welcomes his son Tristan into the ranks of the domaine after his recent graduation from university. Much like Maxime over at Patrice Rion, Tristan has worked worldwide at other wineries to learn, grow, and develop as a winemaker. Most notably on Tristan’s long CV is his time working with yours-truly at Frog’s Leap. The way I see it, I’m now just a half-a-degree away from farming Au Cros Parantoux by extension. At least, that’s how I see it. His time at the domaine has just begun, and it will undoubtedly be a decade or more until he begins to write his chapter in the book of this storied domaine. But, no matter how long the wait, it will be worth it to see one more author join the story.
Family, legacy and the next generation of authorship will always be important to the world’s great wine regions, for it is this kinship among the generations that truly binds a vigneron to their land and us to their wines.
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Last week we talked about family tradition, legacy, and the transition of a great Domaine. The very thing that Maxime and Tristan are bringing to Patrice Rion and Méo-Camuzet. Let’s bounce back to Piemonte for a moment to check in on two family wineries where the next generation of the family taking the reins of winemaking are both writing a chapter for the family but also adding a new narrative.
Let’s consider for a moment the impact of Luca Roagna on his eponymous family winery. Without question, the wines of this cantina have been heralded and regarded for decades, and with good reason. Although the family has some vines in Barolo, the family’s roots lie in Barbaresco, starting when Luca’s grandfather bought the Paje vineyard in the 1950s. Luca Roagna represents merely the latest generation to work in this historical wine estate, alongside his father, Alfredo. He adheres to the multi-generation tradition of placing a premium on massale selection when planting a new vine. This commitment provides rich biodiversity to the vineyards. Yet, he brings innovation to the winery, opting for large, French oak upright fermenters, 60-days of extraction, and minimal Sulphur dioxide throughout the elevage of the wines. The result of this blending of tradition and innovation is a wine of extraordinary complexity, the finest of tannins, and transparency to the vineyards themselves.
Another family straddling both Barbaresco and Barolo is Cerreto. Founded in the 1930s by Riccardo Cerreto, the cantina is famed for its early adoption of making and bottling single-cru wines from Barolo. But that isn’t where each generation has left their innovation. You could say that each has made an impact. Riccardo started the winery by buying grapes and making wine. He was reluctant—and probably wise back then—to avoid investing inland. Then, along came his sons Bruno and Marcello, who saw that the landscape had changed, and they invested heavily by acquiring the land that now makes up the estate. The move to single-cru bottling came next, and all seemed new again. Enter generation #3. In the early 2000s, Alessandro Ceretto, a part of that current, third-generation family, joined the cantina fresh from the enology school after gaining years of experience in wineries around the world. By 2008 his innovative thinking and approach led him to many new processes such as fermenting the different crus without selected yeasts and gradually developing a wild yeast starter used to carry out fermentation. Gen Three has created a new approach in the cantina and the community, as co-founders, alongside chef Enrico Crippa, of the Piazza Duomo restaurant, the only one in Piemonte with three Michelin stars.
Across both Bourgogne and Piemonte family is paramount. And in both regions, and in many cases, the next generation gets the chance to add a little something to the winery legacy. Sometimes it is a single, meaningful, impactful act that reflects in the vineyards or wines. Other times, it is a bold statement or the start of something new. In either case, the winery usually ends up with a little better wine…or just maybe three Michelin Stars.
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